HAVERHILL — Greg Moutafis started collecting comic books when he was seven years old. Over four decades, the Haverhill artist's collection has grown to hundreds of comic books and strips — some of them rare.
Now, his impressive collection is on display at the Buttonwoods Museum during the month of August for everyone else to see, free of cost.
Story pages dating back to the 1980s can be seen neatly framed and hung on the walls of the museum. Twenty comic books — a variety of Moutafis' favorites — sit on a shelf above a glass case containing some of the oldest collectibles.
The oldest piece in the collection, a book called "Picture Stories from the Bible," which dates back to the 1940s is centered in the case, surrounded by classics like "The Incredible Hulk" and "Robin Hood."
"I like the combination of reading the visual stories, the relaxation of it, and also enjoying the types of stories that you can't tell with another median," Moutafis said, standing beside his favorite piece in the exhibit: "Rom Spaceknight #19," by artist Sal Buscema.
Images from Moutafis' own graphic novel, "Boom!Squad," a collaboration with his longtime friend and writer David Crouse, are also on display in the exhibit. The story features a group of heroines who fight against criminal masterminds and robots.
Moutafis, who has showcased his collection and comic art in museums and at the Haverhill Public Library, said he tries to show variety in the exhibits he curates.
From original comic drawings where pencil markings can still be seen on the sheet, to beautifully glossy, saddle stitched comic books, the exhibit includes pieces from many years.
Included in the exhibit were several "Archie" comics by artist Dan DeCarlo. The series is based on the Haverhill High School classmates of creator Bob Montana in the late 1930s. DeCarlo took over after Montana's death.
Before the handful of people in attendance at the exhibit Sunday had the chance to peruse the walls plastered in rarities, Frank Romano, from the Museum of Printing, gave a presentation on the production and history of the art of comics.
While in high school in 1958, Romano worked on a script for a Superman comic book.
In his script, Superman is at the beach and sees a kid with a beach ball that resembles the Earth. As a joke, Superman holds the ball over his head, and a nearby photographer takes a photo. The photographer wanted to make it a post-it stamp, but Superman wouldn't allow it.
Romano said the rest of the story revolves around Superman taking the photographer with him as he completes a number of good deeds, so the photographer can use a different photo for the stamp.
Why? Romano said the last panel of the story answers the question.
"In those days, postal services would stamp the name of the city over the stamp. If it happened to be Altoona, Pennsylvania, the two o's could go over his eyes, and you would know he's Clark Kent," he said.
Romano said early comic strips began in 1893 with "The Yellow Kid," the first long-running Sunday comic strip in American papers. The strip featured a boy with messages engraved into his clothing, rather than in word bubbles like most strips today.
The first type of art in newspapers and magazines was done by wood engraving, Romano said. Images were engraved into wood surfaces, and then filled with ink so the image would transfer when the paper was pressed against the ink.
As circulation increased, the process transitioned from wood engraving to metal engraving, because the wood was not as sturdy and had a shorter lifespan.
Romano said the transition to comic books from comic strips began in the 1930s, and the first comic books came in 1933. When they first made their debut, comic books were sold for about 10 cents. Now, they are bought at a price of around $4.
Moutafis' exhibit will be on display at the Buttonwoods Museum through Sept. 1.