CBR Visits Geppi's Entertainment Museum

Tue, August 29th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Stephen Gerding, Senior Editor

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Geppi's Entertainment Museum at the Camden Yards complex.
On September 8th, when Baltimore is inundated by baseball fans as the Yankees battle the Orioles for the last time in Camden Yards this season, Geppi's Entertainment Museum will open it's doors to the public for the first time. Comic Book Resources was among a privileged few publications invited to view the museum before its grand opening. Of course, we leapt at the chance - Steve Geppi, owner of Diamond Comics Distribution and Gemstone Publishing, is well known for his extensive collection and love for the medium. With this museum having been worked on for over a year, expectations are high, and CBR News wanted to be their first to see the final result.

From the moment we entered the museum, it was clear how much this means to Steve Geppi, who arrived at the same time as us. He enthusiastically greeted everyone with a firm handshake and a smile, his excitement at the idea of sharing his new baby with outsiders tangible. As we boarded the elevator, he apologized for its plain appearance, explaining that when the museum opens to the public in about a week, the elevator should be decorated to look like a time machine, the first step in getting you in the proper frame of mind when visitors step into the museum proper.

Exiting the elevator, Geppi's comments immediately make sense, though his apologies were completely unnecessary. You are immediately transported into the past by the walls which are covered from top to bottom in classic movie posters and artwork. There's a one-sheet for a 1940s "Batman and Robin" serial over there, a Snow White poster over there

Steve Geppi discusses the new museum.
- a collector's dream come true. As the various staff members introduced themselves one at a time, you could tell that they all shared the infectious enthusiasm that Geppi himself exudes.

As you wander through the lobby wondering all along how much more impressive the rest of the exhibit could be, you receive your answer immediately on crossing the threshold into the museum's main hallway. The walls are easily 20 feet tall and are covered from top to bottom (well, about 3-4 feet from the floor) with posters, original artwork, cartoon cels, cereal boxes and virtually anything else you could imagine that has some sort of pop culture icon emblazoned on it. Far from being overwhelmingly busy, with seemingly disparate images that you might assume would be at odds with each other fighting for your attention instead coming together to form a tapestry telling the story of American culture.

While you may walk away from your visit with certain pieces as your personal favorites, there's no particular emphasis that places Poster X's importance as higher than Toy Y's. Nowhere is this more evident than in the comic book room, a mecca to the 4-color artform. Arranged by era (Golden Age, Silver Age, etc.) and again alphabetically, in this room you'll find both "Action Comics" #1 and a copy of the "Ghost World" TPB protected in mylar sleeves, under protective treated glass (The glass is specially treated to protect the displays from light, and is re-treated every seven years to maintain it's effectiveness.). As you wander through this portion of the exhibit, it soon dawns on you that while you're standing in a room that's valued higher than your house, the emphasis Geppi and the museum wants to place on the collection as a whole is less financial and more historical. This was driven home when Geppi stated that while you could argue that the fixtures of the modern age section are worth more than the comics it displays, that's not what the museum is about.

This realization is later verified by Geppi himself as he describes his vision of the museum being a place for children and adults to learn about American history and culture through images both familiar and strange. Diamond International Galleries John Snyder (father of comic book artist John K. Snyder, III) further expanded on the museum's philosophy of teaching and learning by describing the upstairs area (which was unfortunately not ready for viewing at the time of our visit), where one could get a degree in pop culture by attending classes and seminars.

But you won't have to attend classes in order to walk away with newfound knowledge. Children and adults alike will be taught through various kiosks set up to ask trivia questions based on the rooms they're in. A kid will zap his pass under the laser reader, and the computer will keep track of how many answers they get correct. At the end of the tour, the children will be able to go up to the counter and get the prize they may have earned.

Ultimately, the museum's existence owes itself to Geppi's insatiable hunger for collecting pop culture memorabilia and his need to share his acquisitions with others. Don't be confused - he's not trying to show off and make you jealous. Geppi's very obvious pride in the various displays was exceeded by the genuine joy he had in seeing and hearing our group's reactions. He was quick to praise previous owners of some of the various collections he purchased over the years, admiring their dedication to whatever subject matter occupied their days and nights. At several points, Geppi expressed a slight twinge of guilt for being able to purchase a collection whose previous owner had obviously spent incalculable time, blood, sweat and tears compiling, but it was obvious that these collections had ended up in the hands of someone who would appreciate them more than your average non-profit museum or university.

In fact, aside from his very personal passion for each and every exhibit piece, one of the things that sets Geppi's Entertainment Museum apart from other similar ventures is it's for-profit status. This allows for the potential chance for the exhibits to change dramatically through buying, trading or selling pieces of it's collection. Additionally, while the themes of the various sections will remain the same, the actual items will constantly rotate in and out, creating a new and different experience for people who wish to return for multiple visits. In addition to the constant shifting of the entire collection, there is one room in particular that will be dedicated to rotating, themed exhibits.

All in all, Geppi's Entertainment Museum is a must-visit attraction for comic book fans. When combined with the other attractions at the nearby Inner Harbor, it's completely worth arranging a vacation around if you aren't lucky enough to live within driving distance. For fans that do live in the Baltimore area, the museum will offer some forum of membership for those that want to visit more frequently, and I imagine that there will be more than a few signing up for it.

Additional Facts & Information From Our Visit to Geppi's Entertainment Museum:

  • Geppi's first foray into publicly showcasing his collection - the gallery at his Timonium, MD office - was the inspiration for this museum after having friends and colleagues tell him for years that Geppi needed to open a full-fledged museum. He also needed "a place to keep all my stuff!"

  • The vast majority of the museum's pieces are from Geppi's personal collection.

  • The glass marble collection on display in the pre-comic book era toy room is worth over a million dollars.

  • One of the oldest items in the museum is a wooden doll from the 1680s. While the cast iron banks on display in the first toy room are not going to be workable for visitors, the museum had video shot of each one in action. In addition to simply seeing the videos play, visitors will be able to run the video in slow motion to fully appreciate the workmanship and technology involved in creating them.

  • The museum features multiple interactive kiosks, including one in the comic book room where visitors can read both "Superman" #1 and "Action Comics" #1. The museum workers scanned Geppi's own original printing of "Superman" #1 from the museum's exhibit - without Geppi's knowledge! He was only informed of it after they showed him the kiosk in action for the first time!

  • In the museum is a large multi-screened kiosk that will be an interactive create-a-comic area. Eventually it will allow internet surfers to see what people are creating in the museum.

  • Opening day Baltimore Ravens game attendees (Ravens Stadium is just next door to Orioles Park, which is just next door to the museum) will receive ticket stubs that will allow them to come to the museum and get a free purple covered reprint of Carl Barks first major Duck adventure as well as a limited edition cloisonn pin featuring the Ravens logo.

  • When Geppi purchased the Overstreet Price Guide, Bob Overstreet included in the deal all of the original artwork for every edition of the Price Guide ever printed. They're on display, of course.

  • Geppi and a friend, between the two of them, own about half of all of the oil paintings Carl Barks ever produced.

  • Among the various toys on display is an original GI Joe prototype

Tomorrow, CBR News will bring you a vast gallery of photos and video from our visit to the museum.

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In addition to occasional reporting for CBR News, Stephen Gerding also runs Kung Fu Rodeo and enjoys the best Baltimore has to offer, from Natty Boh to anything with Old Bay on it.

 
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