Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

12. Bill MantloRom Spaceknight

There he is on the wall behind me [Lewis has large panels from Rom Spaceknight on the wall in his apartment]. It’s an old Marvel comic from the late ’70s/early ’80s that I liked when I was a kid. Rom was from outer space, he came to Earth to defend the Earth against these evil aliens. He crash-lands in West Virginia and ends up staying there. That’s basically the storyline. As a child there was so much in the comic book world that had already had a history by that time. When I started to read comics as a little kid in the late ’70s, if I picked up an issue of The Hulk or X-Men or Justice League, these characters had such a complicated history. There were all these villains and supporting characters and situations that you had to get familiarised with. Whereas Rom was sort of separate from all that. He had a little bit of crossover – other characters, like Dr. Strange, would appear – but Rom wasn’t really part of the very complicated world of the Marvel universe. So you could come to it as a new reader and be in on the ground floor of this whole different storyline, without having to know all these backstories and characters.

Another thing that is interesting about Rom – he has no face. Characters like Superman, Batman or Spider-Man, have very simple iconic faces and logos, but Rom is even more simple and iconic than all of those because he’s just two eyes in a white square. So maybe that also made it more compelling to a little kid. Along with the fact that every other comic – Spider-Man, The Avengers, Daredevil – they all took place in New York City and I was growing up in New York City. Rom took place in Clairton, West Virginia, a suburban, almost horror movie-like locale. Like the kind of town The Blob would land in. So maybe that was interesting to me too. Of course I never thought of it that way at the time, but as an adult looking back on it it’s like, "Oh, I wonder if the reason that Rom was my favourite character was because it presented such a completely different community and environment than what I was used to.’ If you read Batman it’s obviously supposed to be NYC. Rom‘s suburban environment made it stand out from every other superhero in their urban environment.

Another thing that makes Rom continually special to me is the rights to the character are tied up with a few different companies, so it’s never been reprinted. Nobody knows who this character is. There’s no cartoon, no animated series, no movie, no spin-offs, no guest appearances. Rom remains completely tied to my own childhood because they’ve never been able to bring him back due to the legal situation with the character. He remains an unknown character peripheral to the rest of the comic book world, which allows it to keep a certain childhood magic for me.

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