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Kids getting a read on superheroes in Howard County summer library program

Lisa Wright of North Laurel planned to go as Supergirl to the county library's first-ever ComicCon on Saturday, fully aware that her preteen kids weren't thrilled at the prospect.

As a superhero fan, along with the rest of her family, she shared her plans last week after they attended "The Secrets Behind Superman and Batman," a talk by Marc Tyler Nobleman at the Miller library branch.

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Both events are part of the Howard County Library System's 2015 summer reading theme: "Superheroes." The program's kickoff attracted 5,200 people to the Ellicott City library on May 30 — up from 1,800 at the 2010 launch — and featured an authentic-looking Batman who arrived in his snazzy Batmobile.

Nobleman will repeat his presentation on the true creators behind two of the world's most popular superheroes July 25 at the Savage branch.

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The Wrights had Nobleman sign copies of his two nonfiction books, "Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman" and "Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman."

Brianna Wright, 12, was one of the few girls at the slide show and talk. She said she became a superhero fan after she and her older brother, Brandon Campli, recently completed a binge-watching session of Batman movies.

Sarah Willey of Ellicott City brought her sons, Chase, 6, and Cole, 8, to hear the presentation, prompted in part by the boys' fascination with the 1960s "Batman" TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which lives on in reruns.

"I particularly like how innocent those old shows are for boys their ages," she said before the talk.

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Nobleman says the superhero genre transcends gender and age as its popularity continues to soar.

"Superheroes have never been more mainstream in books and in movies," he said in an interview. "They're an archetype, a certain type of character we have known since we were born — like Greek gods in ancient times."

He pointed out to his audience that the large red "S" emblazoned on Superman's blue leotard is known the world over.

"I've never been anywhere in the world where someone who's seen that 'S' has said 'What's that?'" said Nobleman, who has spoken about Superman and Batman at international schools in Tanzania, Chile and India.

The 43-year-old Bethesda resident grew up in Connecticut. He said his own children, ages 7 and 11, tolerate his fascination with superheroes but aren't huge fans of the genre.

What pleases him about his two superhero books is what he describes as their classification as "quirky nonfiction" for ages 8 and up, a 180-degree shift from his 70 humorous fiction picture-books, which are aimed at kids in lower elementary school grades.

"They demonstrate the detective work that good books require," he told the audience about the books, which reveal the stories of superhero creators who weren't given credit for their work during their lifetimes.

Nobleman says Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, best friends in high school in Cleveland, were long overlooked as creators of Superman. He also details how Bill Finger co-created Batman, despite Bob Kane's long-held assertions that he alone was the Dark Knight's inventor.

"We all start our research on Google, but you have to get out into the real world to find information that isn't already on the Internet," he told the youths of his work to uncover the stories, which he described as "invoking rage and heartbreak."

Children in the audience were particularly adept, after a few initial stumbles, at arranging in chronological order six Superman comic book covers projected on a screen as a warm-up exercise.

The first-ever Superman comic book, which Nobleman said was turned down by publishers for nearly four years, came out in June 1938 and cost 10 cents. Of the 130,000 copes sold, only 100 are known to remain. A copy was recently sold for $1 million by a family that unearthed it in the basement of their home as they packed up their belongings after being evicted, he said.

The author told his audience, made up mainly of young boys with their eyes riveted and mouths agape, that they "don't have to give up what you love just because you grow up."

"Superheroes have been my sidekicks all of my life, or rather I've been theirs," he said.

He started as a fan but was able to later incorporate his interest into his job as a writer.

Ellicott City brothers Eric and Evan Spisz, 10 and 14, said they enjoyed the talk.

Both like Batman best, with Eric describing him as an unusual superhero in that "he has a brilliant mind, but little else" in the way of superpowers. He also likes Batman's partner, Robin.

Brianna Wright said she now plans to read the books since they reveal a truth. Her father, Jeff Wright, said Nobleman's assertions that the truth isn't always pretty but that it's everyone's duty "to do the right thing in life" added to the message of his talk.

Howard County's library system has 954 items pertaining to superheroes in its collection, including 796 printed books and 121 DVDs, according to public relations director Christie Lassen.

She said summer reading enrollment has increased in recent years, from 25,000 participants in 2010 to 32,000 in 2014.

Super Summer

The program, "The Secrets Behind Superman and Batman" with Marc Tyler Nobleman will be held at 12:30 p.m. July 25, at the Savage branch, 9525 Durness Lane, Laurel. Registration (required): 410-313-0760.

For information on enrolling in the Howard County Library System's Summer Reading Club, go to hclibrary.org/a-students-teachers/summer-reading-club. Programs are available for age groups ranging from infants to adults.

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