We're standing in front of the old McGraw-Hill building in Midtown Manhattan. It's the first stop of "Look — Up in the Sky!" That's one of three walking tours run by Evan Levy in a series called "New York Is Comic Book Country."
The tours center on comic book history in New York, and include sites where legendary comic book artists lived and worked, as well as locations where comic-based movies were filmed. Along the way, there are stops at some of the city's top comic book shops.
Called the "Jolly Green Giant of West 42nd Street," the McGraw-Hill building is the former home of Timely Comics, which became Marvel Comics. It was here that legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby sweated over the first issue of Captain America Comics.
"I'm a Captain America fan, big time," says Levy, who came to comic books as a lover of Marvel movies.
"When you're in a theater with other people who love Marvel movies and Marvel characters, who all feel like they're in the know — you're all sitting there waiting together to get that little bit of something extra to extend your experience and keep you thinking about the movie," she continued. "That whole idea is kind of what planted the seed for these tours."
Levy runs a business called ETC Custom Events, which offers a variety of quirky tours. As a fan of comic books and Marvel movies, a New York comic book walking tour seemed like a logical step. As the concept took shape, Levy set out to find the right guide. Her search led her to Forbidden Planet in Greenwich Village, where she was introduced to Michael Skloff.
"One of my favorite places to find comics in the city is Forbidden Planet, " says Skoff. "Evan walked in one day and said she was looking for a professional tour guide who could do a comics tour that she was thinking of — so the fellows in there immediately thought of me," recalls Skloff, a New York history buff and gifted raconteur who leads the comic walking tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays. That's on his days off from leading city double-decker bus tours.
New York is a city of origin stories — the origins of comics themselves. And if comic book metropolises resemble New York at times, it's because a hundred comic book characters were born here.
"It Started on Yancy Street" – the first tour in the "New York Is Comic Book Country" series – begins in the birthplace of "King of Comics" Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and others.
"Look — Up in the Sky!" is a Midtown Manhattan tour that includes the cradle of Captain America at Marvel's old headquarters. It also features the W.R. Grace building – site of the Silver Surfer's flight from the Human Torch in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – as well as the lair of Superman's nemesis Lex Luther below Grand Central Terminal and the home of the famed Daily Planet.
"Avengers Assemble" begins at the Frick Collection, Stan Lee's inspiration for the Avengers Mansion; it proceeds to the current headquarters of Marvel, and includes a visit MoCCA (the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art).
"New York has a huge comic book footprint," says Levy, who hopes the tours will introduce people to parts of New York they would never have experienced otherwise.
"We're hoping to reach the traditional comic book fans, but also the whole universe of people out there who maybe love DC Comics or a particular character or who are interested in New York and it's publishing history."