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Comic books donated to French museum
Updated: 2005-01-01 12:43

Spiderman, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and Daredevil have bounded across the Atlantic in a single leap — a giant donation of almost 300,000 vintage comic books to a French museum.

Jean-Pierre Mercier, who manages the collection for France's National Center for Comic Books and Images, said he was "flabbergasted" when he learned in March that Marvel Enterprises wanted to donate the huge quantity of comic books dating back as far as the 1950s.

The gift, from one of the top U.S. comic publishers, was made through Gifts in Kind, a U.S. charity that distributes donated items.

"Marvel specifically requested that they go overseas to a cultural institution where they would benefit numerous children and numerous people," said charity volunteer Margaret Mallon-Pujol. She said the French comic book museum was the ideal candidate.

The museum, in the western city of Angouleme, didn't know what a superhuman task it was in for.

Mercier said Mallon-Pujol first offered 800,000 to 1 million comic books, but he declined the offer. Such a gift would overwhelm his museum. Instead, the museum selected only what it believed to be the earliest books, including some published under Marvel's early names: Timely Comics and Atlas Comics. In June, about 275,000 books arrived in 1,800 boxes. Among them were hundreds of copies of the same editions.

Most date from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. Mercier believes the collection represents nearly 80 percent of comic books produced by Marvel during that span.

The comics are being sorted into five identical collections, two for the center and others for France's National Library and a museum in Amadora, Portugal, said Catherine Bourgouin, spokeswoman of the Angouleme museum. The destination of the fifth collection has not yet been determined.

The Angouleme museum hasn't decided how it will display its colorful treasure — although an exhibit on the glory years of Spiderman, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and other superheroes is expected.

For customs purposes, the collection's value was estimated at US$300,000 (euro225,000), but experts say the real value is difficult to ascertain. A mint-condition, first-edition "Spiderman" from 1963, for example, would be valued today at US$32,500 (euro24,095), said Frederic Solti, manager of the Gael comic book shop in Paris.

Susan Corrigan, president of the Gifts in Kind charity in Alexandria, Virginia, said Marvel is one of the top donors to the organization and has given millions of comics to young people in the United States and overseas.

"They just thought this would be an effective thing to donate worldwide," she said.

The agreement with Gifts in Kind allows the museum to destroy duplicate copies, but it cannot barter, trade, sell or give any away.

"We have received e-mails, phone calls and letters from fans and specialists who protest and complain about this decision, but there is no way for us to deal with that in any other way," Mercier said.

An initial sorting, numbering and stamping of the books should be completed in 2005.

The museum is still waiting for Marvel to send about 8,000 books — the oldest, rarest ones — which the publisher is scanning into its digital archives.

Some of the most valuable include love-story comics — designed to appeal to girls — from the 1950s and earliest issues of the Fantastic Four, Spiderman and Captain America, among others.

Marvel is also home to Captain Marvel, the X-Men, the Avengers, and other superheroes.

The French museum was created in 1990 and its collection has consisted mostly of French and Belgian comics. It organizes a four-day international comic book festival each January.

The festival this year is Jan. 27-30 and includes shows on comic books figures, young comic book artists, and the origins and future of comics.

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