News | 2 February 2024
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Q&A with Marvel Exhibition creators

From rare items such as original comic book pages to movie costumes and props, Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Exhibition at Tākina has over 80 years of Marvel history on show. Creating and touring an exhibition this large is no easy feat, especially from the USA to Wellington.

Read more about the exhibition from the minds of the curators, Ben Saunders and Patrick A Reed.

Marvel curator standing infront of a case and speaking.
Marvel curator, Patrick A Reed. Image credit: (c) 2024 Marvel.

As curators of the exhibition, what can you tell people about what to expect when they go to the Marvel exhibition?
Ben: They can expect to be dazzled and delighted by the most comprehensive exhibition of art, artefacts, and interactive photo ops ever displayed in the southern hemisphere. 

Patrick: We don’t just tell the story, and make visitors watch and listen – the audience is brought into the story, viewing artefacts, and learning history within immersive galleries that evoke key locations from the Marvel Universe.

How did you decide what would go into the exhibition? 
Patrick: It’s certainly a challenge. The first Marvel comic book was published almost 85 years ago, and there’s been so many amazing stories, characters, and brilliant creators, that we could fill entire museums and still not cover it all. 

Ben: Also, we base it on narratives for each gallery. Sometimes we want to talk about the fictional history of a classic character such as Spider-Man. Sometimes we want to talk about the real-world history of the company and the creators. We make selections based on whatever part of the narrative we are emphasising at any given time.  

Black Panther in an exhibition.
Image credit: (c) 2024 Marvel.

How much do you have to know about Marvel characters if you’re going to the exhibition or can anyone go?
Ben: No prior knowledge is required. The exhibition will appeal to both hardcore fans and total neophytes.  

Patrick: We, ourselves, are deep nerds when it comes to Marvel, but we didn’t want to build something that only people like ourselves can appreciate. The joy of creating an exhibition like this is sharing what we love with others, and making sure that we’re creating something that’s accessible and enjoyable to everybody. 

Had you been to Wellington before and what did you enjoy most?
Ben: We had not! But I really enjoyed roaming around the city a bit — I love to walk, it’s a very walkable city, and I regret that I didn’t have more time to explore. I’ll just need to return soon!     

Patrick: I’d never been to Wellington but had heard such wonderful things, and was not disappointed – I took some time to browse the bookshops and record stores, and was astounded at the uniformly high quality of the food and coffee everywhere I went.     

Marvel curator Ben standing infront of the Hulk coming out of the wall.
Marvel Curator, Ben Saunders. Image credit: (c) 2024 Marvel.

What are some of the challenges faced by an international/travelling exhibition?
Patrick: The challenges in making a show tourable are really not faced by us, but by the production and design team – as curators, we are responsible for creating the outline of the show, writing the texts, selecting the artefacts, and then collaborating with all the brilliant people who bring our crazy ideas to life! 

The biggest challenge we faced is in choosing not what to include, but what to leave out! With more than 85 years of Marvel history, we're dealing with an incredibly rich world of imagination. These are stories that transcend medium – Marvel characters appear in comic books, animated series, live-action films, TV shows, video games, audio dramas, and other narrative forms, around the entire world. We also tell three unique, interconnected stories within this exhibition: the real-world history of Marvel, and its impact on popular culture, the fictional in-world history of these superheroes and their adventures, and the behind-the-scenes history of the creators who have brought it all to life.

So figuring out what the essential narrative points are, and then weaving an entire story around it – building in all manner of 'easter eggs' for the devoted fans, ensuring it's accessible and interesting to those with only a casual knowledge of Marvel, coming up with spectacular visuals that guests will remember, and somehow still keeping it concise and enjoyable – that's the tricky part, but it's also what makes it fun!

Ben: And we're conscious that not everyone comes to this show from the same place, everyone has their own individual reference points for Marvel, and not everyone wants the same things from an exhibition like this. You'll get all the essential information, you'll move through these spectacular immersives, and you'll enjoy the richness of the Marvel Universe. On the other hand, if you want to do a really deep dive and read every bit of text, get into all the details of the history, go through every interactive on a touchscreen and look at each tiny detail of the art, you could spend three or more hours to go through these galleries!

Captain America costume.
Image credit: (c) 2024 Marvel.

Could you share more about the artefacts in the exhibition? 
Ben: There are so many incredible objects in this show, items we still can't believe we get to actually see up close ourselves, let alone share with audiences around the world! But there is one piece in particular that I want to draw attention to - a page from what we believe may be the only surviving original Stan Lee dialogue script from the era when the Marvel Universe was being created.

I discovered this script while we were working on our previous Marvel exhibition, "Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing – The Exhibition", and was visiting the home of a private collector who was offering to lend items to the show. His house is full of Spider-Man original art, toys, games, books, and comics, and in that immense, overwhelming space, something caught my eye: the only paperwork in this one room of memorabilia, tucked between some items on a low shelf. 

I picked up the thin sheaf of papers and looked at the first page. It was clearly a script for Amazing Spider-Man issue #82, which confused me at first, because I knew that Stan Lee did not usually write scripts in the traditional sense – he instead worked in what we now refer to as "the Marvel Method", where he and the artist (in this case, John Romita Sr) would develop a plot, the artist would lay out and pencil the story, and Stan would write the text and make any changes he deemed necessary upon getting back the fully-drawn pages.

Flicking through these papers, I realised that there were no panel descriptions of any kind, and that’s when I realised it must be a script written after the pages were pencilled, containing all dialogue and captions, to provide to whomever did the lettering that issue. It was clearly typed by Stan on his typewriter, but also contains a number of handwritten corrections and notes. And while normally, these scripts would be sent to the letterer and then discarded after production, somehow, this one had survived, and resurfaced more than fifty years later. 

Patrick: I'll just follow up by saying that we could not do a show like this without the generosity and trust of our lenders – the props and costumes come from Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures, while all the original artwork and print comics come from private collections, and we're incredibly lucky to be in a situation where we can say "if only we had a piece of art featuring Thanos", and someone we know turns out to own the original art for the iconic cover where Thanos is wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. Then Marvel Studios offers to lend us the actual Infinity Gauntlet that was used onscreen in the Avengers films!

Each piece in this show has that kind of story behind it. Finding and compiling this material requires a certain degree of knowledge and expertise, but that would be nothing without the kindness of our associates, and a healthy amount of good fortune.

Close up of exhibition panels with the Fantastic 4 comic on it.
Image credit: (c) 2024 Marvel.

Find out more about Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Exhibition at Tākina on the WellingtonNZ website