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Drawing a hero

Welcome to the stressful world of today's comic books. The plots are generally grimmer and more adult than in past classics, now that the readership ranges from ages 17 to 35.One artist connected with both Mr. M. and the about-to-hit-the-big-screen foursome is Forest Hills resident Jim Muniz. The "Fantastic Four" was the first comic he ever read at age 9. His cousin liked to copy the characters, so Muniz did the same. Years later, he was scouted by pro baseball teams because of his pitching skills, but an elbow injury ended that dream. "It killed me to quit, but I learned I was blessed with more than one talents," Muniz said.Muniz developed his drawing abilities and submitted material to comic editors throughout the 1990s, connecting with other aspiring comic book artists and writers through the Internet. As a doorman, he opened doors for others while waiting for doors to open for his art. When the '90s began he saw Todd McFarlane's graphic novel "Spawn," and thought "this book is what I want to do." As the '90s ended, McFarlane held a cover contest. The challenge was to draw two characters spun off from "Spawn" - Sam and Twitch - and, out of 200 entries, Muniz emerged the winner, he said.While he waited and waited for this cover to come out, Muniz kept busy illustrating an eight-page sample of the "Mercury Chronicles." The book featured Mr. Mercury, a non-super-powered ex-soldier on a quest to uncover secrets hidden by the government. Along with author Vito Delsante, Muniz pitched the work to the very popular Image Comics.Image accepted it a month later. But in the meantime, Jim submitted his new samples to Marvel Enterprises, one of the giants of the comic book industry and the pages caught their interest, Muniz said. They wanted to hire him, but since he couldn't work there and on the Mercury book at the same time, artist Mike Lilly - a fellow Queensite - took over the Mercury work. Muniz began drawing Marvel icons such as the Invisible Woman (once known by the politically incorrect name of Invisible Girl), the fireproof Human Torch and others.Mike Lilly, who lives in Kew Gardens, came up with the well-received plot about the Fantastic Four going broke, and helped evolve the character of Nightwing (the grown-up version of Batman's former sidekick Robin). He is now busy drawing characters from the final installment of the Star Wars movie saga, "Revenge of the Sith," for the official collectible cards. Lucky collectors get original art, which is included at random in the packs, Lilly said. He also creates booklets for medical offices, creating superheroes out of AIDS medications to battle the disease.Another New Yorker, Dean Haspiel, of Brooklyn, received a different introduction into the comic world. He got a call one day from one of the most well-known men in the world of comics - Harvey Pekar - who offered him work. Thinking it was a prank by a certain friend, he insulted him and hung up. Haspiel called his friend to berate him, but as his friend described Pekar's voice Haspiel learned to his horror that he had been wrong. Fortunately, Pekar accepted Haspiel's apology and he is now working on "The Quitter," the prequel to Pekar's popular "American Splendor" series, featuring entertaining tales from his everyday life. In the DVD of the "American Splendor" movie, released last year, Pekar acknowledges Haspiel's important role in it's creation: Introducing him to the producer. Vito Delsante, of Long Island, was a script doctor and has an ongoing career in acting. His background includes appearances in musicals like "Grease" and "Carousel." But Delsante took his first venture into comic book writing by sending Batman to a therapist."The therapist gives Bruce Wayne a word association test. Each panel is divided into three parts, word spoken, what he answers, and what he's thinking as Batman," Delsante said. "For example, if the word is 'green,' he says, 'cash' and he thinks, 'Poison Ivy,'" referring to one of Batman's longtime enemies.The trip to the shrink naturally gives fans a glimpse inside the complicated workings of Batman's mind, Delsante said."At the end," he said, "the psychiatrist says 'family' and the superhero later responds, 'Gotham City.' When people ask me what that means, I say, 'What do YOU think it means?' To me, it means the city is like his family because he protects it."Another one of Delsante's stories features Wolverine, the "X-Men" hero, seeking someone he's hunting in a bar while simultaneously trying to evade a girl's flirtatious attentions. "The hunter becomes the hunted," Delsante said. "It's funny.""Comic books are far superior to T.V. shows because you can control the pacing." Haspiel said. "There's something special about being able to roll one up and carry it with you, or give it to a friend."

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