Gotham had Batman. Metropolis had Superman. Argo City had Streaky the Supercat (lucky!). And ATL? You may not have known it, but we're protected by our very own elite squad of superheroes… though their sartorial tastes skew more toward cardboard than silken, flowing capes. Bonded together by their shared love of comic books (and lots of hot glue), the mighty Box Heroes are truly a sight to behold. We caught up with founder Stephen Larkworthy to get the intel on how this squad of superheroes came to be.
(PS: Catch the life-sized action heroes ambling through this weekend's Inman Park Parade in their meticulously crafted, larger-than-life cardboard costumery. And if you happen to spy Hellboy getting stuck in a MARTA turnstile, give him a hand. Those things are like Kryptonite, as far as these heroes are concerned.)
Tell us how, exactly, the Box Heroes came to be… and why?
Stephen: As a kid I read tons of comics and spent all of my time playing with those '70s superhero action figures, or as I like to call them, "dolls." In present day, I work for a company making packaging prototypes. So now, instead of making my mom take me to the store to buy a seven-inch-tall Batman or Iron Man or what have you, I just make one life-sized and trick a friend into wearing it around Atlanta! In fact, most of the Box Heroes painted some or all of their own suits and wear them willingly. It's become a huge group effort.
How long does it take to make a costume? How about getting yourself assembled inside one?
It takes so much time to make one. I use big 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of thin cardboard and cut them out according to templates I’ve designed in AutoCAD. Each suit is made from 10 distinct parts, all of which need to be cut, scored, folded and hot-glued together. We use acrylic interior latex paint and brush the color on. Painting alone can take days, so it really is a long, laborious process. And then, since the suits are so perishable, after each use we have to touch up the chipped areas and re-glue ruptured parts. That alone takes several hours, and each Box Hero is responsible for his/her own upkeep. It’s a commitment.
But certainly a noble one. What are some of the difficulties a Hero typically encounters while riding MARTA (or doing other basic tasks) in costume?
Ha! My friend called it “MARTAtron,” giving it a villain’s name because a turnstile ripped the arrow quiver from his back and the automatic train doors shut on Iron Man’s arm. In a box costume you can’t sit down or pick something up from the ground. Your sight, hearing and mobility are all pretty seriously impaired. I have good friends who have suffered terrible “board burn” from not wearing socks, and others who have become dehydrated. We’ve lost our car keys, iPhones, glasses and loved ones in the crowds!
What are some of the Heroes' natural enemies? Rain? Fire? Crazed toddlers?
They say Superman’s only weakness is Kryptonite. I’m sad to report that while Box Heroes can (probably) tolerate green rocks (unless thrown), we do have an extensive list of weaknesses that include rain, fire, bear hugs, turnstiles, gangs of malevolent hill people visiting the big city, itchy noses, skateboards and some combinations of bourbon and gravity.
Those last two get us every time. Best reaction(s) you've received thus far?
The reactions we see are astonishing. I can’t possibly express how great it feels to see the looks of total wonder we get from both children and adults. Sometimes I’ll be standing for a photo and I’ll feel a light pressure around my legs and know there’s some little kid there under my line of sight who is hugging Captain America, or whomever I happen to be that day. Also this year a couple of us attended a party for people with developmental disabilities, and a young man gave me a three- or four-minute hug. Another woman slow-danced with me and just looked so happy. It's a real thrill to give that to people.
Which heroes can we expect to see at Inman Park Fest this weekend?
This Saturday at Inman Park we’ll see Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Green Goblin, Hellboy, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Cyborg, Harlequin, Plastic Man and the Penguin, plus any others who can make it. See you there!