LIBERTYVILLE – Clad in a full Spider-Man costume and mask, 4-year-old Caleb wanders through the Alex Ross exhibit at the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville, waving goodbye to the pictures, statues and sculptures of his favorite superheroes.
His little brother, Dax, brandishes his paper plate Captain America shield and follows suit, paying special attention, of course, to the life-size statue of Captain America dominating one wall of the exhibit.
Their mother, Amelia Hunter, removes her own Spider-Man mask and watches her pint-sized superheroes wander through the remainder of the exhibit.
The Grayslake family came to the Dunn Museum on May 4 to check out “Marvelocity: The Art of Alex Ross” – a temporary exhibit showcasing several of the renowned artist’s drawings and other Marvel memorabilia – and participate in the museum’s comic book event in honor of Free Comic Book Day, a nationally recognized event in which thousands of museums, libraries and comic book vendors participate each year.
Ever since their father brought them Spider-Man and Captain America figurines, those are their preferred superheroes, Hunter says. With the recent release of Marvel movies “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Hunter says the timeliness of the museum’s exhibit and Free Comic Book Day event is “perfect.
“It’s an awesome perk for the kids with the ages they are,” she said.
The timing, museum educator Sarah Salto said, was not coincidental.
“It was a conscious decision to time the exhibit with world events,” she said. “We do that for a lot of our temporary exhibits as well – see what’s going on in the world to make it timely and relevant to people.”
The museum gave away 100 free comic books, provided by Dreamland Comics in Libertyville, and Salto said the event and Marvelocity have helped draw new crowds and new ages to the museum.
“That’s been the best part of all this,” she added. “Seeing all the different people come in.”
Charlie Balicki, the owner of Dreamland Comics, has been working in the comic book industry for more than 20 years. The store regularly participates in Free Comic Book Day since it began in 2002. This year, he says, the store was happy to collaborate with the museum for its first year celebrating Free Comic Book Day.
He said he hopes the event will help instill a love of comics in kids who may be experiencing them for the first time and, by extension, foster a love of reading.
“It’s something I always want people to experience just once a year,” he said. “It’s more of a yearlong experience. … The thing is get people picking up comics and get young kids reading – not necessarily just comics, but anything they wanna read.”
The stigma surrounding comics has changed over the past 20 years, Balicki said. While comics at one time were commonly viewed as “only for kids,” he says the trend has almost reversed itself and now his clientele is largely adults who grew up on comics, while fewer children are checking out the comic books from which their favorite superheroes originated.
“Now the younger generations – [comics] are almost lost to them unless they have a parent that was big into comics when they were younger or a grandparent,” he said. “The kids are almost lost to the comic book now.”
Balicki said comics are being replaced by graphic novels and components of the digital era – iPads and video games, to name examples.
Dunn Museum’s Marvelocity: The Art of Alex Ross will run through Sept. 8. It has two other supplemental events planned to enhance the exhibit scheduled month. “Lunchtime Tours – Marvelocity: The Art of Alex Ross” is slated for May 9 and 24. It is a 30-minute guided tour of that and other Dunn Museum exhibits ending with lunch in the museum’s cafe (guests must bring their own bag lunch). Registration is required and includes admission to the museum. Prices range from $3 to $6.