Fiat Marvel-ous Connections

The connections of Alfred University alumni never cease to amaze me! The announcement a few weeks ago about the death of Stan Lee, 95, the legendary creator of many superheroes– Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, Iron Man, and Black Panther—that continue to be the mainstay of Marvel Comics’ business, should not necessarily have caused a ripple on the Alfred University campus, but it did.

Steve Skeates ’69 knew he wanted to write after he graduated from Alfred University with a degree in English, but he also knew journalism was not what he wanted. So, even before he finished his degree, he sent out a number of applications to comic book publishers, including Marvel, looking for a job. He received a call from Stan Lee. Stan asked Steve whether he might be interested in an editorial opportunity with Marvel. While his stint as an editor was short-lived, Steve went on to write comics for Marvel, including Westerns like “Kid Colt: Outlaw” and “Two-Gun Kid.” He then moved on to other publishers, like DC, Marvel’s biggest rival, Tower Comics, and Charlton Comics.

In 2012, Steve received the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing at San Diego’s Comic-Con International. He has also won the Shazam Award (1972 and 1973) and the Warren Award (1973). Now living in the Rochester area, Steve continues to write comics.

But that’s not the end of Alfred University’s “Marvel-ous” connections.

By 1999, Marvel Enterprises was in trouble. Emerging from bankruptcy, it was looking for its very own superhero, a leader who could turn its fortunes around. Marvel found this in Peter Cuneo ’67, who has a distinguished track record in helping distressed companies. Among Peter’s turn-around credits are companies as diverse as Clairol’s Personal Care Division, Security Hardware Group of Black and Decker, and Remington Products, the maker of electric shavers.

Peter, a long-time Alfred University trustee and chair emeritus of our Board, led the transformation of Marvel Enterprises into Marvel Entertainment by realizing that the value of Marvel was not in publishing comic books, but in licensing its superhero characters for a plethora of purposes, from toys to the movie industry. Peter’s strategy was so successful that Disney bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4.5 billion! The story about the Marvel turnaround is the best-selling Harvard Business School case study of all time. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Alfred University in glass science engineering, and a stint as an officer in the U.S. Navy aboard a destroyer in the Vietnam War, Peter went on to Harvard to pursue an MBA.

Peter credits an appearance at San Diego Comic-Con, the first and the biggest of all the comic conventions, with teaching him a lesson in humility. He was with Stan Lee in crowds that were shoulder-to-shoulder. In effect, he said, he was Stan Lee’s “wing man,” breaking through the crowds, “like Moses parting the waters,” for Lee, who was idolized. Peter recalls a father and son standing on the periphery of the crowd. “That’s Stan Lee,” the father told his son, with the reverence reserved for a god. “Who’s the other guy?” the son asked, referring to Peter. “Oh, he’s nobody,” the father replied.

Most recently, Peter stepped in for a four-month stint as chief executive officer of Iconix Brand Group and is now executive chair of its board of directors. Iconix is one of the leading brand-management companies with products in fashion, sports, and home businesses. Peter is also working with acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis, who won an Academy Award for “Forrest Gump,” on a movie about how the Mona Lisa became the world’s most famous work of art.

While he was CEO of Marvel, Peter enlisted legendary illustrator John Romita, Sr., who had taken over as the primary Spiderman artist after Stan Lee’s retirement, to do a drawing for the cover of our Spring 2000 Alfred Magazine. It shows Spiderman swinging from the cupola atop Alumni Hall. How many other universities can lay claim to such a Marvel-ous connection?

Alfred Magazine cover featuring Spider-Man

The connections go even a bit deeper – Steve and Peter  were both in Alfred University’s freshman class of 1961.

Fiat More Marvelous Alfred University Connections!