A conversation with the co-host of the Amazing Spider-Talk podcast about his upcoming new “unauthorized” guide on all things essential about Spider-Man.
The first time you’re exposed to comics, it can be a wonderful, but daunting experience. A character captures your imagination and you wish to knew more about him or her, but you have no idea where to begin. Especially when it comes to a character with a fifty-plus year history such as Spider-Man. Which stories are essential reading? How do the comics differ from the movies? And what are the stories behind these characters?
Such is the goal behind author Mark Ginocchio’s new book 100 Things Spider-Man Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books, 336 pages). And when it comes to the web-slinger, Mr. Ginocchio has more than enough knowledge. Along with his blog, Chasing Amazing, Ginocchio also co-hosts the Amazing Spider-Talk podcast, which features several of Spider-Man’s writers and artists as guests. This includes former Marvel Editor-In-Chief and writer for Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Girl, Tom DeFalco, who also wrote the foreword for the book.
Bam Smack Pow had the opportunity to chat with Ginocchio online about his new book, the writing process behind it, and his perspectives as a life-long Spider-Man and comic book fan.
Credit: Newscom and Patricia Frey (Triumph Books); cover for 100 Things Spider-Man Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
Bam Smack Pow: Mark, your book is called “100 Things Spider-Man Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” And just so readers should know, the best way to describe your book would be “it’s a reference guide about Spider-Man.” Correct?
Mark Ginocchio: Yes. I’d like to think that the book serves as an informal fans’ guide to essential Spider-Man facts and trivia pertaining to key characters, storylines (comics and movies), and creators, among other things. The target audience is more casual fans who might be new to Spider-Man. But I tried to fit in a couple of nods to more hardcore fans as well.
BSP: So what sort of information can those fans who think they have an encyclopedic knowledge about Spider-Man expect to learn?
MG: As part of the research for the book, I talked to a number of creators who have worked on the characters over the years, like Gerry Conway, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, Marv Wolfman, David Michelinie, etc. In my conversations with them, I tried to dig a little deeper in getting some background and context for some of the major stories and characters they created in hopes of unearthing a nugget or two that might be new to a hardcore fan. If it’s not a totally new fact, it might also put a classic story in a new light. Sometimes a creator has new insights on something 20–30 years later.
BSP: Like “When I was writing the story at the time, I was thinking this, and now in retrospect, I could’ve done this.” Or “I’m surprised how well it was received by the fans.” That sort of thing?
MG: Yeah. It’s always funny when I talk to some creators about a story from the ’70s or ’80s. A lot of times the way a question is phrased gets to them thinking about something in a different way. For a lot of them, they were just trying to get the story out the door at the time and weren’t considering the impact something might have. I found that especially true in talks with DeFalco and Michelinie. They just thought something sounded like a good idea in the moment, not even considering how something like Mary Jane’s “origin” story in Amazing Spider-Man #259 or a character like Venom would be viewed today.
BSP: So which creator or creators were you most impressed by? Or at least found the most fascinating while you were interviewing or researching about them for the book?
MG: Gerry Conway is always super thoughtful and as someone who has basically worked on the character in three different eras, I really appreciate his perspectives. He’s also incredibly humble considering the impact he’s had on Spider-Man and comics in general
I spoke to [Marvel Comics editor] Tom Brevoort to hear a little bit more about what Marvel’s editorial group was going for with Spider-Man during the late ’90s, and then during Civil War /New Avengers, and really appreciated what a relaxed conversation we had. Mid/late-2000s is obviously an “interesting” time for the Spider-Man character, but Tom was very forthcoming and distinguished his personal opinion on certain things, versus what other creators / the company at large ended up doing.
And, of course, Tom DeFalco (and Ron Frenz) are as good as it gets when it comes to accommodating fan requests to talk shop about the character. They’re some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met in comics.
“It’s always funny when I talk to some creators about a story from the 70s or 80s…For a lot of them, they were just trying to get the story out the door at the time and weren’t considering the impact something might have.”
BSP: Were some them people you’ve interviewed before for the Amazing Spider-Talk podcast?
MG: Oh yeah. The podcast is more or less what helped open the door for this book to become a reality in the first place because the publisher (Triumph Books) recognized that with the show, there was already a solid foundation for the book. But beyond that, having some of these people on the podcast in the past allowed me to reach back out and dive a bit deeper on some elements that either never came up in our original interviews, or maybe just needed some additional context.
BSP: Which leads me to ask, how did you decide on the “100 Things” that make up 100 Things?
MG: Well, the publisher wanted the 100 things to be in a listicle-style format, which meant it needed to be ranked by order of importance, which made it a little tricky to organize. Also, I had to keep in mind given the timing of the book’s release, the idea is that people who are interested in seeing, or have seen (post-July 7) Spider-Man: Homecoming and want to learn more about the character and his universe.
So with all that said, the list needed to be boiled down to the most essential characters, stories and creators, while also including Spider-Man appearances in other media (since ultimately, the audience that reads comics is considerably smaller than the audience for a major theatrical release). As per the format of the book, I also needed to include some things to “do.” I was able to cover a lot of that by singling out stories as “must reads.” But some of the other activities I included (like listening to our podcast, or a very quick guide on collecting comics) might not have been in the list if not for some of the predetermined specifications of the book.
If I’m preempting a follow-up I apologize, but there were definitely stories, characters, and creators I would have loved to include. But in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t know if that was going “too deep,” especially with the list restricted to 100.
MG: Sadly no, though you’d be surprised how close something like that almost saw the light of day. As part of the Sinister Six chapter, I initially wanted to do a little sidebar on the “worst” Spider-Man villains, but the book was running a little long at that point, so alas …
BSP: But you do, just to make it clear for readers, list the more notable supporting characters, villains, and stories. Including some chapters you’ve labeled as “Must Reads.”
MG: Oh yeah. And again, that list was mostly boiled down by not only what is considered classic in the world of comics, but also Spider-Man media as a whole. So characters or stories that were mined for any movies, cartoons, or video games definitely received priority (hence a somewhat prominent placement for Richard and Mary Parker, thanks to the Marc Webb-verse).
BSP: Which reminds me, given how we’ve had five different live action movies, which I imagine you re-watched for this book, has your perspectives on any of them changed since then? Especially with how Spider-Man on film has evolved over time to where the character is now.
MG: Regarding the movies, my perspectives might have evolved a little bit with each (moreso the Raimi trilogy than the two Webb movies). But if anything, I think I might have made broader leaps with the cartoons. The 90s Spider-Man Animated Series was huge for me back in the day and I still mostly love it, but I really didn’t give Spectacular Spider-Man much attention when it first came out (just an episode here and there). And I ended up binging on that while researching the book and think it might, in some ways, be the best non-comic representation of the character.
Also, on a somewhat related note. An interview I read with (Homecoming director) Jon Watts where he mentions the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series made me seek that book out after more or less ignoring it the first time around. And I was actually quite impressed with what it does with the supporting cast.
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BSP: So what other things did you learn about Spider-Man, or insights about the various comics, movies, animated series that, as a fan, made you have a greater appreciation, or made you reconsider something you never considered before?
MG: The Steve Ditko essays that are found in his The Comics! newsletters are really fascinating in a number of ways, especially since A) so much about Silver Age Spider-Man has always been from Stan Lee’s mouth, and B) Ditko notoriously doesn’t give interviews. I don’t think they should be accepted as gospel because again, it’s basically an unfiltered and unchallenged opinion of one creator. But, at the same time, it does cast those first great 38 comics (and two annuals) in a new light.
Other than that, even when I’m not writing a book, almost any time I take a fresh look at a story or movie, especially one I haven’t seen/read in a while, it’s an interesting experience. For example, I’ve been evolving on the Clone Saga for a while. But, while rereading it again and then getting the opportunity to talk to Howard Mackie and Terry Kavanagh about it, I’m definitely of the mindset that it’s not the horror show most people like to cast it as.
Spider-Man 3, on the other hand, is still mostly terrible, though the Sandman CGI is still one of the most impressive visuals we’ve ever seen in a Spider-Man film.
BSP: Agreed. You also talk briefly in the introduction of the book how you first got into Spider-Man, about getting your first Amazing Spider-Man comic, and how that started a lifelong passion. You’re also a native of New York, and still live in the area according to the author’s bio. Do you think the fact that the character of Spider-Man is also a native New Yorker gave you a better connection to him than you may not have had if you were born and raised in a different city?
MG: I probably didn’t make quite that connection when I was younger, but certainly as I got older and moved out of the suburbs and into NYC itself (now Brooklyn). I don’t think there’s another Marvel character that is more inherently connected to a real life city as Spider-Man and NYC. He definitely captures a sense of resilience and spontaneity that I think are a big part of the New York experience.
Though it bothers me to this day that “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” IDs the George Washington Bridge in the text, but the Brooklyn Bridge is in the visuals … even though everyone more or less considers the Brooklyn Bridge the location where she died now. (But then why did Gerry Conway identify the George Washington Bridge?)
BSP: Speaking of which, you also include a tour guide of sorts when you discuss that very discrepancy. Do you sometimes feel a little weird going to some of these same places which were depicted in the Spider-Man comics?
MG: Well, I’m sure my wife feels weird if we’re out with friends and I start talking about the time Spider-Man had to fight the dinosaur exhibit (and Stegron) at the Museum of Natural History.
“I don’t think there’s another Marvel character that is more inherently connected to a real life city as Spider-Man and NYC. He definitely captures a sense of resilience and spontaneity that I think are a big part of the New York experience.”
BSP: How has she dealt with being married to a guy still obsessed over Spider-Man? And has she gotten more into Spider-Man and comic books because of you?
MG: She must have learned to adjust or she would have left me years ago. Now it’s just the constant struggle of buying my son Spider-Man stuff only if he “wants” it (not because I’m projecting).
But in reality, she’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates and is an amazing negotiator which helped me secure a number of key issues in my collection. She is definitely much more into the medium now than she was before she met me. But she generally likes more of the Image/Vertigo stuff like Saga and Sandman. Any time I convince her to read a Spider-Man story she “likes” it but loves to point out what she perceives to be logic gaps and such (which she’s probably right about if you’re a total outsider who doesn’t really read superhero books).
BSP: Would you also agree that the superhero genre has become a lot more mainstream compared with how it was when you were first reading and collecting?
MG: The genre itself might be thanks to movies/tv, but the audience for those who read superhero comic books seems to be shrinking, which is an interesting phenomenon. Of course, that’s a whole other thing.
BSP: If it were possible, is there a particular aspect about Spider-Man that you would’ve changed, or something that happened in a previous story that you’d like to have seen unfold differently?
MG: At the risk of sounding like a “One More Day” defender (I’m really not), probably the biggest genie I would put back in the bottle is keeping Peter in high school/college. Like, if Marvel completely rebooted the character tomorrow and retconned everything that happened to Peter as an adult (even more than what OMD did), I would absolutely cry foul and say you can’t do that at this point in the character’s history.
But, if I could go back in time, I probably would have told Lee/Ditko to keep him in HS longer. There are plenty of great stories of Peter as an adult, but there’s no question (to me) that having a leading character that young with the problems Peter had that comes with being a kid helped distinguish Spider-Man as something wholly unique and special. Okay, now let all the hate rain on me from the pro-marriage fanbase…
BSP: I’ll be happy to provide an umbrella if you need it, Mark. Finally, you have in this book the recipe for Aunt May’s wheatcakes. Have you actually made them, and if so, are they as delicious as they’re alleged to be?
MG: Total disclosure: my wife is the baked goods maestro in our household and when planning the book out we mentioned how we had to make the wheatcakes. As I was writing the draft, we kept talking about making the wheatcakes. The first draft was submitted and we talked about making the wheatcakes. The book got published and we still haven’t had them … the first thing I’m going to do when this interview goes live is remind my wife that we still haven’t made the wheatcakes. Worst interview ender ever, right?
BSP: So are you suggesting another 100 Things as a follow-up, including the adventure of making the Amazing Wheatcakes?
MG: Either that, or the much demanded 100 Things About Silver Sable book to coincide with that upcoming movie.
100 Things Spider-Man Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die will be available in bookstores and independent stores on June 1, 2017. Ask your local comic shop about it’s availability. Copies can also be ordered online at TriumphBooks.com.
Credit: Mark Ginocchio
Mark Ginocchio is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, corporate publications, and websites such as CBR, ComicBook.com, WhatCulture, and Sequart. He is the founder of the Chasing Amazing blog, which documents his quest to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-Man comics, and is a co-host of the Amazing Spider-Talk podcast. He lives in Brooklyn.
Source: Triumph Books