Fledgling comic book company steers away from adult themes

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From the time he picked up his first comic book, Ron Carter dreamed of becoming a superhero.

"There were times when I thought if I just believe hard enough, I could jump off this cliff and fly," Mr. Carter said, laughing.

Now, the Cranberry man who auditioned twice for the Sci-Fi Channel's now canceled "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" TV show, is helping to start a new comic book publishing company.

Mr. Carter and three others, Rob James, Harvel Eblin and J.B. Gestl, have created Secret Lair Comics to reflect the Silver Age of comics, a time when heroes saved those in peril, bad guys hatched evil plans and innocent bystanders got knocked down rather than bludgeoned or beheaded.

"Our target is to appeal to a younger customer and make the parents more comfortable [with the comic content] at the same time," Mr. Carter said.

For the past 20 years or so, comics have taken on more adult themes and story lines have become convoluted.

"I have a tough time letting my kids read even what these guys claim are mainstream titles," Mr. Carter said. "It's ridiculous."

Secret Lair Comics will appeal to 10- to 13-year-olds, he added, and the end result is for kids to have fun reading and exchanging the books.

The story of the new comic book company began in 2006 when Mr. Carter heard about the Sci-Fi Channel's superhero show.

That's when Mr. Carter created PASSION, an avenger who senses and controls the emotions of others. PASSION's superpower also can cause trouble. He can, under certain circumstances, become overwhelmed by negative emotions and become villainous himself.

Even though he didn't make it onto "Who Wants to be a Superhero?" Mr. Carter joined the show's online fan forum, where hundreds of people who had created original superheroes talked about their characters.

From there, forum members started writing their own fan fiction, and a new universe of superheroes was born, Mr. Carter said.

It is that national fan base that sets Secret Lair apart from other independent comic book publishers, he said.

"Our fans are already in place," Mr. Carter said. "They are just waiting for our next books to come out."

Right now, the four men self-publish the comic books for a limited audience. They are now seeking a distributor, Mr. Carter said. Finding one should enable them to open up production to a broader audience.

Secret Lair has generated two book titles. The short-term goal is to generate eight more, Mr. Carter said.

In addition to helping to create a new comic book company, the online forum members, with Mr. Carter's help, also have founded a nonprofit group that focuses on children and community service.

The forum's original, costumed superheroes visit children's hospitals, spearhead toy drives and develop kid-friendly activities at comic book conventions.

Mr. Carter, who is married with four children, is recognized for his work with The Strand Theater Initiative. After eight years of fundraising, the initiative completed two renovations to the 100-year-old Strand Theater in Zelienople.

That group is now raising money to build a stage house at the theater so it can accommodate full-scale productions.

"I lead a rich, full life," Mr. Carter said.

Rachael Conway: rconway@post-gazette.com or 724-772-4799.


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