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“And so it’s you,’ Spiderus snarled, ‘who dares to interfere!’ ” David Kirk roared at his audience in a not-quite-successful attempt to cow the rowdy group into submission while reading from his newest work, “Miss Spider’s Wedding.” His dead-on, charming, loud rendition of the arachnid bad guy does little to quiet the bulk of the group--the 2- and 3-year-olds--but does get the attention of a few of the noisier adults, who stop talking for a moment.

And so it goes for the author on tour, in this case a 17-city cross-country swing that began for Kirk on Sept. 12 in New York City and ends Dec. 7 in the nation’s capital. He’s feeling a bit harried but remains cheerful: “It’s going fine; the publisher treats me very well. I show up and they tell me what to do, sign or read.”

The crowds show up as well. This reading/book signing/art show at Storyopolis has a continuous flow of families, never fewer than 50 people milling about from the 6 p.m. start to the close at 9 p.m. The upscale Westside crowd is clearly enjoying a Friday night out with the kids. Storyopolis is across the street from movie industry power restaurant the Ivy, and a store publicist points out an MCA executive in the crowd lining up for a piece of the sheet cake inscribed “Warmest Wedding Wishes, Miss Spider & Holley” and apple juice served in plastic champagne glasses.

The books are moving. There are two large boxes full of presold copies to be autographed by Kirk during rare lulls in the seemingly nonstop line of folks waiting to get their copies autographed. There are also limited edition prints of Kirk’s lush illustrations from “Miss Spider’s Tea Party” and “Miss Spider’s Wedding” ($925 unframed) and imported pull toys--yellow spiders with red top hats and the like--designed by Kirk ($50) that aren’t moving quite as well.

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The reading comes midway through the evening. A full-sized Miss Spider (one of the Storyopolis owner’s daughters in costume) wanders out and stands, then crouches, next to Kirk, who sits on a chair upholstered in maps. About 30 adults and kids pack into the small carpeted reading area, and Kirk asks for “an official picture turner.” “Are you all lovers of bugs?” he asks and starts off, doing a nice sing-song rendition over the chorus of gurgling babies and fidgety 3-year-olds.

Kirk came to this pass by a somewhat unlikely route. The author-illustrator had been running his own failing toy companies in the 1980s, selling his whimsical creations--a devil jack-in-the-box, robots with flashing lights and swinging arms--when an editor at Rizzoli, who loved the illustrations Kirk had done on the boxes his toys were sold in, encouraged him to write a children’s book and gave him a $5,000 advance.

This offer was then topped by book packager Nicholas Callaway, the man responsible for Madonna’s “Sex” book that set off a media firestorm a few years back. Like the Rizzoli editor, Callaway had fallen in love with Kirk’s box illustrations when he chanced upon them in a Manhattan toy store. He tracked Kirk down and offered him a $20,000 advance and promises of a major-league printing. Rizzoli, which had planned only a modest run, was gracious enough to release Kirk.

Callaway Editions inked a deal with Scholastic, which gambled on the unknown author and launched a full-press marketing blitz. The rest, as they say, is history: “Miss Spider’s Tea Party” sold hundreds of thousands of copies; there’s a line of Miss Spider toys, the new book is out and Kirk is toying with a CD-ROM version.

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The former toy maker might be spinning a web over Hollywood as well, having “finished most of a first draft” for a Miss Spider movie. My money’s on Sylvester Stallone. Who else could do justice to an eight-armed muscle T-shirt?


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