Corey Gross is serious about comic books. He's so serious, in fact, that he wants to elevate the art form from kid's stuff to an art exhibition worthy of a close examination. Zap! Pow! Bam!: The Art of the Comic Book Cover features highlights from Gross' collection (he has an outsized love for Iron Man), displaying around 250 comic books total. We spoke with Gross to learn more about the show.
Metro Times: What can people expect from this show?
Corey Gross: It's using the comic books themselves as the art objects, so it's focusing on comic book covers. It would be nice if people could thumb through them. [Pause.] It would also be terrible, because then they'd get stolen and dirty and all that stuff. They're coming from my personal collection.
MT: How big is your personal collection?
Gross: I have 60 or 70 boxes. And that's after I went to grad school in Chicago and took my collection with me years ago. I had them in storage, up on blocks, so they were off the floor, but then a pipe burst in the wall. That took out probably a third of my collection.
MT: When did you get into collecting comic books?
Gross: Back in the '80s when I was in middle school. Iron Man was what actually got me into comics. A big portion of the show will be Iron Man, because I have almost a complete run of Iron Man through the '60s. Part of it will be an "Iron Man through the ages" kind of a thing. I'll also have toys for visual interest, more superhero stuff. I have far too many Iron Man figures, but I've been collecting them since the '80s.
MT: How'd this show come together?
Gross: Laura Cotton, the curator at the Berkowitz Gallery — we are colleagues. We were both working in Montana at this small museum. We wanted to do a comic book exhibit then, but because I was an employee I couldn't display my own work there. But we both ended up in Michigan and it became a reality.
MT: What does the show teach us about comic book covers?
Gross: We'll have a section on the heroic pose, and how that's a common trope in covers. One common trope is like, "Is this the end of our hero?" — where on the cover they have the death of someone, and it was a marketing gimmick, even though we know Batman's not going to die. But every 10 issues or so, it's like, "Will Batman die?" It draws people in; it's a common trope that's used again and again. Gimmick covers were really big in the '90s, like foil-enhanced covers, die-cut covers, glow in the dark covers. The show features comics from the '60s to the present. I wish I had more stuff from the '40s and '50s.
MT: How many images are in the show?
Gross: There are about 250 images in the show. There will also be three pieces of original cover art from comics from the '70s on loan from Western Michigan University's Richmond Center for Visual Arts. They have the original artwork in their collection — Stan Lee actually donated it to them years ago. It was in their collection so we were able to borrow three pieces. So we'll have the original artwork and then the comic book version as well.
MT: What are some of the more interesting covers you have?
Gross: There's a section focused on social issues — like the character Northstar in the early '90s came out as gay. Then like two or three years ago, he got married. So here's where he came out in the '90s, and then he got married. There's Milestone Comics, a group of comics put out by DC Comics that focused on African-American heroes. I'm going to have a whole bunch of stuff through the ages, like Aquaman and Wonder Woman, just to show how they've changed throughout the '60s to now — actually, how little Wonder Woman has changed and how Aquaman has gone through some crazy changes. The idea is for it to be fun. We wanted it to be fun, visually interesting. The superhero movies are so popular right now, but comic sales are like, the lowest they've been in more than 50 years. It's crazy: Comic stores are disappearing left and right, but these characters are the most popular they've ever been. So it's really strange.
MT: Anything else people should know?
Gross: It should be fun. If people haven't really read comics but love superhero movies they would definitely find it interesting to see how they've matured over the years.
Zap! Pow! Bam!: The Art of the Comic Book Cover has an opening reception from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18 at the University of Michigan Dearborn's Alfred Berkowitz Gallery, Mardigian Library (3rd Floor), 4901 Evergreen Rd., Dearborn; 313-593-5087; umdearborn.edu; Admission is free; Runs through April 7.