True confession: I love superheroes.
Costumes, secret identities and special powers aside, I believe superheroes represent a modern-day mythology, driving a narrative that can embody the best of what we humans should strive to achieve. I love the idea of someone standing up for the human race, taking on bad guys trying to wipe out us puny beings, often at great cost to the hero because nothing good ever comes easy.
So, with my nerd status fully established, it should be clear to you why I got excited about a recent email touting a new Spider-Man omnibus being published by Marvel in honor of IU alum Roger Stern.
A recent poll placed Stern, who graduated from IU in 1973, as one of Spider-Man’s top three writers alongside the web-slinger’s creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. With artist John Romita Jr., Stern is known for creating Spidey’s nemesis, Hobgoblin. Plus, he’s written for Superman, Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man and the Avengers.
It all started after Stern transferred to IU from what is now the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, deciding he’d rather study telecommunications instead of electrical engineering.
“On campus, I spent a good deal of time going back and forth between the Radio and TV building and the old WIUS studios on East Eighth Street,” he told Art at IU via email. “WIUS was where I would usually be found, trying to write and produce commercials to help fund the station, or spinning records on that early Sunday morning shift that no one else wanted.”
From there, he created a course in comics as part of the Foster Quadrangle Project. He dubbed it “The Comic Book in Society” and taught it for one semester before turning it over to his buddy, Michael Uslan, who had created a similar course. (Uslan, in case you’ve forgotten, is the IU alum who produced the recent series of Batman films and donated his collection of comic books and graphic novels to IU’s Lilly Library.)
“Michael and I both contributed to various comic fanzines during our college days, which I suppose gave us some visibility among some New York editors,” Stern wrote. “Once I’d graduated and was working in radio, I wrote a few freelance articles for Marvel Comics’ in-house fanzine. Other fanzine staffers had migrated to New York, and one of them happened to tip me to a staff job at Marvel, right around the time my radio career had hit a snag. I flew to New York and passed the test for the job. That was in December 1975, and I’ve been working on comics in one capacity or another ever since.”
He said many of his old Btown haunts no longer exist — a newsstand on Kirkwood where the Carmichael Center is now, the old Lucky Steer on East 10th Street, Sully’s Old Oaken Bucket downtown and “a wonderful old hippie diner south of campus called the Hour House, where you could get a cheeseburger at five in the morning.”
Stern also recalled telecommunications professors LeRoy Bannerman and Fred Brewer, referring to them as “wonderful gentlemen.”
“Professor Bannerman knew more about the history of broadcasting than anyone I ever knew, and I was delighted to read that he’d written a book about Norman Corwin; I can’t think of anyone better qualified,” he wrote. “And Professor Brewer, in addition to being my advisor, had also written comic books himself; he’d worked for Classics Illustrated and had once been the London editor for the British edition of Mad Magazine.”
Stern’s new 1,296-page story collection, “Spider-Man by Roger Stern Omnibus,” will be published in hardcover by Marvel Comics. It goes on sale in comic book stores March 26 — Vintage Phoenix in downtown Bloomington does special orders — and from online sources in April.
“I can still hardly believe how big the book is,” Stern wrote. “I mean, really, 1,296 pages? That’s a reading experience and an upper-body workout, both at the same time. But I’m very flattered that people think so highly of the Spider-Man stories I wrote and that there’s interest in reprinting them in such an upscale format. The editors at Marvel event asked me to write a new 4,000-word introduction to the book.”
Interested in reading more of Stern’s work? He said he has a new writing project in the works but can’t say more about it until details are finalized, which will likely happen sometime in 2014.
Tags: Captain America, Fred Brewer, Hobgoblin, Iron Man, John Romita Jr., LeRoy Bannerman, Marvel, Michael Uslan, Roger Stern, Spider-Man, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Superman, telecommunications, the Avengers, the Hulk, Vintage Phoenix