PICTURED: Arsenal Comics and Games owner Timmy Heague (left) is joined by Spider-Man cosplayer Peter Norton at the Ventura location on Telegraph Road. Photo by Catlin Smith

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

He’s New York’s friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, but the heroic web slinger took a break from crime fighting to visit the West Coast and spin some derring-do of a different kind. Yes, Spidey heeded the call of the Central Coast to star in a promotional cover for local comic book store Arsenal Comics and Games. How very Hollywood (or Hollywood adjacent, at least).

The cover, which was revealed on Arsenal Comics’ social media channels on May 4, just a few days before Free Comic Book Day on May 7, features Spider-Man swinging next to the blue gum eucalyptus that remains on the ridge above Barlow Canyon — the hilltop long known as Two Trees in Ventura — with the Ventura Pier visible in the background. 

But he’s not alone.

Extraterrestrial tree-like sentient Groot is there, too, as a physical embodiment of the spirit of the second eucalyptus that gave the local landmark its name, despite being felled by gale-force winds in October 2017.

“Two Trees lives thanks to Groot,” explains Timmy Heague, owner of Arsenal Comics.

Swinging into history

Spider-Man was created 60 years ago for Marvel Comics by the legendary Stan Lee (1922-2018) and Steve Ditko (1927-2018) during a time known as the Silver Age of Comic Books. Through countless publications, television shows and cinematic films, Peter Parker’s spider-enhanced, wise-cracking alter ego has swung across the world as we know it, as well as time and space (as in the wonderful and popular 2018 animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

For most of his existence, Groot’s popularity paled in comparison to that of Spidey, but he actually predates the web slinger. Lee created Groot in 1960 with Jack Kirby (yet another comic legend) and Larry Lieber, and the character first appeared as a hostile alien invader. He was reimagined as a noble force for good in 2006, and he catapulted to fame in 2014 as the memorable, scene-stealing and, at times, adorable sidekick to Rocket Raccoon in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy—the 10th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

This limited edition cover is the first visit to Ventura for both superheroes. 

This exclusive cover for The Amazing Spider-Man #900 was designed by Marvel comic book artist Todd Nauck and features Spidey, Groot, Two Trees and the Ventura Pier. Image courtesy of Arsenal Comics and Games

Extremely successful exclusives

It’s not unusual for any comic book edition to have variant covers, and some are more popular or rare (and expensive) than others. But in this case, the Ventura-centric #900 cover, which will be released on July 6, is exclusive to Arsenal Comics. A total of 6,000 will be printed — 4,000 featuring the Marvel logo and cover text, 2,000 “virgin” editions featuring only the cover artwork. Some are signed by the artist and framed. All are currently available for pre-order, in a variety of options and price points, starting at $19.99 at arsenalcomicsgames.bigcartel.com/products. Around 25% of have already been sold, and Heague expects all 6,000 issues to sell out before their release date.

The Amazing Spider-Man is owned, published and controlled by Marvel, and this limited edition #900 cover was generated by the company, with the final design created by comic book artist Todd Nauck. (Fun fact: Nauck also famously designed the cover for The Amazing Spider-Man #583 in 2009, featuring newly elected President Barack Obama.) But the idea originally came from Heague himself.

“It’s my idea and concept. Arsenal is the only store that will have it. I wanted something to support Free Comic Book Day,” he says, adding that he came up with the “sketch, layouts, reference photos of Two Trees and the pier, then gave it all to Marvel . . . It’s the result of about 150 email exchanges with Marvel.”

According to Heague, limited edition, exclusive covers such as these are not unheard of, but they are rare. A comic book store or distributor makes a deal with the publishing company, which signs off on all artwork and ultimately handles design in house. But the printing costs are borne by the retailer. 

“It’s a sizable investment,” Heague confirms. “you have to have a hit for it to make [financial] sense.”

Amazing Spider-Man #900 isn’t Arsenal’s first foray into exclusive cover territory. 

“This will by my third,” says Heague. “I’ve got three more lined up for 2022.”

Other exclusive or shared exclusive covers carried by Arsenal feature the Incredible Hulk and Wolverine (by artist Larry Houston), Hawkeye with a dog (by Kate Bishop, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Camarillo Animal Shelter) and the Green Hornet. There’s also a special edition of AfterShock Comics’ Maniac of New York: The Bronx is Burnin #3, with a cover designed by Ventura artist Ryan Carr. 

It’s not cheap or easy to have an exclusive cover printed. Has it been successful?

“Extremely,” Heague states emphatically. “And [Spider-Man] is my best exclusive so far.”

“Comics are for everybody”

Ventura-native Heague was just 22 when he opened Arsenal Comics and Games in Newbury Park in 2014. In 2018 he added a second location in midtown Ventura, on Telegraph Road across the street from Ventura Transit Center. While many businesses have struggled the past two years, Heague says that “by the end of 2020, it was my busiest year.” This despite a break-in during the first few weeks of the pandemic. “I take pride in my resilience.”

“It’s been a dream to open up and thrive in Ventura,” he continues. “I appreciate the lovely weather outside and what a beautiful town we live in.”

The hill still known as Two Trees is visible from his shop. A photo he took of the hillside one day at work inspired the exclusive Spider-Man cover.

“Spider-Man is my favorite comic book hero,” says Heague. “I had to put Spider-Man with the Two Trees, which I can see from my store. But wait — we lost one of the trees! And I hit on Groot as my second tree for Two Trees.” 

Ventura Pier was added later, to further celebrate his hometown.

Comic book fans and collectors account for many of Arsenal’s exclusive cover sales, but Heague also hopes to appeal to the non-traditional customer.

“Comics are for everybody,” he states. “I want everyone of every age and demographic to be reading and collecting comics.” And with the Amazing Spider-Man #900, “I wanted to create something that would be a comic purchase for people who never picked up a comic before.”

Heague continues, “It’s been really exciting to feature my home town while honoring one of my favorite superheroes.”

Amazing Spider-Man #900 with the Ventura cover is available exclusively at Arsenal Comics and Games, 1610-1 Newbury Road, Newbury Park, 805-499-6197; and 3431 Telegraph Road, Ventura, 805-620-0543. Pre-order online at arsenalcomicsgames.bigcartel.com/products or contact the store for more information.