We are pleased to be presenting the author, Brad Ricca, author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — the Creators of Superman.
Brad lives in University Heights. More about him can be experienced through his website brad-ricca.com.
Before the upcoming program, Ben Gulyas had the pleasure of interviewing Brad on a range of topics.
Ben: Tell us about your earliest library experience.
Brad: I grew up in Westlake, so I am a Displaced Sider. We had a really small library back then, but I remember going there in the summers and coming back with huge stacks of books that I would immediately carry up and pile on my nightstand. I always knew where my favorites were — Mercer Mayer, John D. Fitzgerald, and D. Manus Pinkwater — and would head to those spots immediately. I would always be kind of mad when one of ‘my’ books had been checked out by someone else. Luckily, they almost never were. I was kind of a weird kid.
Do you have a favorite library experience?
In doing research for Super Boys, I spent literally months of Saturdays in the Microfilm Room at the downtown Cleveland Public Library. There were some nerdy “Eureka!” moments down there, but I just generally love that overall experience — being there, pretty much alone, in that huge room with all this history flashing across your eyes. On a Saturday morning, there is no better place to be. I really like libraries.
Tell us a little about your own reading interests.
Well, I read a lot of different stuff. I just finished Neil Gaiman’s newest, which I really didn’t like until near the end when I completely and totally fell for the whole thing based on a single word. I read a lot of biographies while doing Super Boys, but have left those alone for a while. Of course, I read a lot of comics. I could say that it was just for research, but I would totally be lying.
What books or authors have you maintained a kinship with in throughout your life?
I like that old-time American literary religion: Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne. For newer writers, I like Richard Powers and Jennifer Egan. If I see an author or poet (and like them), I will tend to follow them for good.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a small poetry book called Echo Echo Light by Kit Frick that is really excellent. I’ve just started Paul Cornell’s London Falling. I was reading Michael Clune’s memoir White Out but my wife stole it. I’m also enjoying Marvel Comics’ Infinity, which is great so far.
Do you have any advice for getting published?
The best advice I ever got about getting published was from Harvey Pekar. He said, more or less, don’t worry about it. He said that if you worry and stress about what other people think or how to do it the right way you will never get published. He said: “Let them worry about that” and it really made a lot of sense to me. Soon after hearing him say that, I just started sending things out. Just write a lot, the rest will happen. It takes luck and hard work for sure, but writing always comes first. I need to keep reminding myself of that. I think everyone does.
What was it that inspired you to write, Super Boys? Was there a tipping point where your interest became the decision to write this book?
It was a lot of things. I’d been thinking about it, researching it; I even made a little movie about it, but the more I kept finding, the more I knew that the only place to tell the story I wanted to would be in a book. I never really made the decision, it was kind of making itself for a long time and by the time I realized what was happening, I was already doing it. It was a story stuck in my head.
Was there a portion of your research that you found most intriguing?
It sounds nerdy, but I really liked all of it. I suppose you have to if you are doing stuff like this, so I’m really glad I did find it interesting. The one thing that still gets me is finding out, through a long, Sherlock Holmes-esque series of events, that one of Jerry Siegel’s alias names was actually a real person. When I was working that out, I thought I was losing my mind.
In your book, you write, “Everything was leading to something, like invisible threads through the universe that he could almost just see.” Where has this book lead you?
That’s a great question. I do think that projects and ideas and circumstances do lead us places that we have to trust in, even if you can’t see the whole picture yet. I love books, libraries, and even used to work in a bookstore, so everything that has happened because of this — going to author readings, being reviewed in big places, getting amazing notes from people — has really been a dream come true. Not as some ego thing, but just really cool. Sharing stories is cool.
Have you ever had a dream with Jerry Siegel and/or Joe Shuster? If so would you care to share?
Ha — no, and I’m kind of glad about that. I think that anyone doing a biography at some point gets to the “creep point” where they sort of stop and say to themselves: “Why am I spending all this time writing about this other person?” I definitely went through that, and it is weird, but you come out of it realizing that you are actually writing about bigger things. That’s really important, I think. This is an interpretation of a life, and not the life per se. I sometimes worry that the family members think I’m this weird obsessive Superman guy, but I’m really not. The two guys, Jerry and Joe, really impress me, but I don’t worship them. That’s important, too. I think if I ever met their ghosts or something, we’d just say “Hey,” nod, and move on — after spending so much time on this, it feels like they know as much about me as I do about them.
You also work in the medium of film. How often do you visualize the world around and/or within you terms of film? How does that process work?
I am an amateur when it comes to film, but trying it that way first helped enormously in writing the book. I really wanted to have a high level of detail in the book, not only to reflect the visuality of comics, but to bring these really caricaturized figures to a higher definition of story. I really wanted to put the reader in the room, not hovering over a set of numbers and fact.
Regarding your website, what do you want people to experience there?
I have no idea. They told me I should “do a website” so I did — I think it’s turned into a kind of authorial diary, but I keep at it. They told me to put up reviews and stuff so I’ve been doing that, even though it feels like I’m some PR guys. But it’s given me a place to put up some interesting things like comics and leftover art that didn’t get into the book.
When do you choose between blogging, Tweeting & Facebook?
I am an equal opportunity procrastinator. Over this last summer I’ve really gotten hooked on Twitter (@BradJRicca) even though I swore I wouldn’t. I’m not sure it does anything for the book, but sometimes it’s really funny. It’s also great for listening to an Indians game with. But sometimes it just needs to go away.
Do you have other social media interests?
I’m seriously considering quitting Facebook because it has totally desensitized me to birthdays.
Do you have any local hotspots you like to go for indoor enjoyment? Outdoor? Eating?
I like Gordon Square (sorry East Side) — all the places there and the Capitol Theater. I used to live in Little Italy so that is still a good place. I like going to The Colony, Big Fun, Mac’s Backs, the usual spots. I like Willoughby, too — that place is like Disneyland.
How do you feel about the literary/art/music scene in greater Cleveland? Are there any writers/artists/musicians or venues you wish more people new about?
Writing a book has hurt my ability to go to the Grog Shop or the Beachland as much as I used to, so I’m behind on local music. Art-wise: I’m a big fan of John G. who does a local comic called Lake Erie Monster that is really great. I’m also a huge fan of MJ Robinson, who goes to school at Oberlin. We collaborated on a comic based on the writing of the book and it just floored me. It’s on the website (with links to her work). For comics people though, a great venue for this stuff is Genghis Con, an annual indie comics con held at The Beachland on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
As one who has done a bit of traveling, what is one of the more memorable travel experiences that you have had?
I was lucky enough to go to Japan a few years ago and it was like being on another planet. For about fifteen minutes in the airport and train station, I was literally the largest, fattest, most colorful man in sight. It was really surreal. I went to Comic-Con this year and it was, now that I think of it, oddly similar.
Describe your favorite time of year.
Fall. October. Leaves. Halloween.
Describe your favorite time of day.
Morning because it means coffee; late night because it means the work.
You also write poetry. If you were to open this upcoming author program with a poem of yours, which would it be? Could we get you to share it?
I do a have a Superman poem that’s ok. I have a way better Batman one, though. But that might be too off-mission to talk about Batman at a Superman talk. That’s civil war with some audiences.
Is there a question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
Nope. I’m glad you didn’t ask me about this summer’s Man of Steel movie. We can talk about that at the library.