Monday, March 9, 2009

Maggie May

The general impression from those who saw me in the costume was that is was uncomfortably hot to wear. Nothing could be further from the truth. Spandex is permeable to a degree. As the suit was greatly stretched while worn, the permeability of the spandex increased. Couple that with the fact that during most appearances my activity was minimal—posing for pictures, signing autographs—and most controlled environments i.e. store interiors, became chilly in a short while. The public’s concern for my comfort, though, was amusing.

“Aren’t you hot in there?” Was one of the most asked questions posed to me. The situation dictated which stock response I’d deliver.

“No, the radiation in my bloodstream keeps my temperature at a constant,” was the answer in most circumstances. But there were certain instances, at industry events, for example, where I was allowed to be a bit more “playful” or, in the following instance, “cheeky” may be a more apropos description.

At the 93rd American Booksellers Association Convention in Miami in 1993, Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, became the unknowing victim of Spidey’s playfulness.

The ABA, as it was commonly known back then, is a massive, yearly trade convention that gather book retailers from all over the world to get a first glimpse at the new product coming out the next year by publishers from across the globe. Retailers do a large chunk of their ordering at this event. (Or at least did. Book Expo America or BEA, as it is now called, is on life support. The continued downturn in book sales caused by less people reading books and the advent of the internet, i.e. online discount book sellers, such as Amazon and downloadable material, etc.; has seen the importance of, and need for, this event dwindle. But back in the early 90s, it was still a vibrant, essential industry show.) Competition is insane. Publishers bring in their most renown writers to gain the attention of the retailers, who’ll stand in line for hours to meet Tom Clancy and get a free autographed copy of his latest work.

Anyone with a red “Buyer” badge was treated like a star, publishers reacting like cats to catnip, whenever one came into view. Besides all the free books they could carry, retailers were inundated with tchotchkes, backpacks, books bags, T-shirts, etc. as tribute. All others were treated like lepers.

Both Marvel and Capital City Distributors—once a major comic book distributor—had booths across from each other. I was working both sides of the aisle as Spidey with a colleague playing Wolverine. As if the prospect of a free Polaroid with two world-famous superheroes wasn’t enough to induce the retailers to swarm our booths, Marvel also had Clive Barker there. Barker had created a line of horror-inspired comics, due for release later in the year, that Marvel was touting. The Razorline, as it was called, consisted of four titles: Hyperkind, Saint Sinner, Hokum & Hex—written by former Entertainment Weekly contributor Frank Lovece—and Ectokid, written in part by Larry Wachowski, one half of the famous Wachowski Brothers, who created The Matrix. Unfortunately, the line made its debut shortly before the comic-book crash of the mid-90s and died, no title lasting more than nine monthly issues.

The booths were bordered by a cross-aisle, essentially two corners of an intersection, diagonally across to which was the booth of a publisher of calendars. One of its big releases for the coming year was a swimsuit calendar, featuring the model Nikki Taylor, who appeared one morning to promote it. She wasn’t actually signing copies of the calendar, though, but rather enticing black-and-white swimsuit shots. Seeing a break in the hordes of male book buyers, lasciviously jockeying for a moment with the supermodel, I leapt over and got a quick pic and autograph. Nikki was good-humored about meeting the web-swinging idol of millions, though she didn’t get too close when the photo was taken. I didn’t care. I may not have had a date for, or even had the nerve to ask a girl to dance at, the one and only school dance I attended, but nyah, nyah, I’m getting my picture taken with Nikki Taylor (You expect maturity from I guy who makes his living as Spider-Man?)

On the final day of the show, word came back to the Capital City booth that Margaret Thatcher—promoting her book The Downing Street Years—was on her way through the hall. In fact, she was making her way down the aisle parallel to ours that instant. The Capital City Rep, who was taking the photos, mentioned how wild it would be to get a shot of Spider-Man with Ms. Thatcher. That’s all I need to hear. I bounded away with the Cap City guy at my heels. As soon as I turned the corner, I was met with a contingent of security personnel escorting Britain’s former Prime Minister in my direction. I didn’t hesitate, walking directly toward her.

Britain’s crack security detail, didn’t so much as utter an “Eh, what?” or “Blimey.” Maybe they were caught off guard (so to speak). Or maybe, seeing as I wasn’t “packing”—the suit didn’t allow for concealed weapons and my…ahem…web-shooter was no cause for concern, they didn’t perceive a threat. More likely, they received as big a kick out of it as I did. I’m certain they were prepared to take me down if I tried anything aggressive. I slinked my way through them and greeted Ms. Thatcher. She put one hand to her to her chest, taken aback, as I shook the other.

“Oh, my,” she blurted. “Aren’t you hot in there?”

“It depends on what you like,” I countered.

“Oh, oh . . .” she nervously giggled like a schoolgirl in response.

There was a flash and I was gone as quickly as I appeared. The photo was printed in the next edition of Capital City’s retailer newsletter, and the encounter was chronicled in the following month’s New Yorker in the “Talk of the Town” section. In a piece, entitled “Scarlet Lady,” Ms. Thatcher’s appearance at ABA was discussed, but the author of the piece didn’t quite get the facts straight, claiming that Ms. Thatcher asked Spider-Man if he was from New York. Perhaps, the writer was being polite. Maggie and I know what really happened (wink, wink).


Jayf said...

Hmm... Niki or Margaret. It's a tough choice. But at least you got to meet both. Amazing Spidy!

Linus said...

Great picture. You sure can mix with anyone Spidey.

Anonymous said...

Sure, Nikki's young and a model, but Mags has that sexy British accent...and the power!

Jonathan Baylis said...

That Thatcher bit is hilarious!