Imagine being given your first Marvel comic at six years old and it opening up your whole world. Probably not far-fetched for most of us--a very familiar story indeed, one expects.
Now imagine being chosen, some 25 years later, to appear in a Marvel comic and in a series of videos to promote the stories you love. Superfan Constance Katsafanas gets to live that very fantasy as the winner of Marvel’s “Share Your Universe” contest at New York Comicon last year.
Katsafanas makes her debut this week in MARVEL UNIVERSE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #8, now on sale, but on her way to in-universe fame she took the time to chat with us about how it all happened and her honor and excitement about the role she gets to play for Marvel.
Constance Katsafanas: When I was a kid I did not sit still for anything, you know, as kids are wont to do, and I didn’t like to read. So my grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, when I was six years old, bought me an X-Men comic book from one of those spinner racks in the gas station. That was it. I was completely hooked.
It was 1989, 1990, and you couldn’t get me to put that thing down. I read that and every other Marvel book that I could get my hands on. I was begging my parents to take me to the comic book store every week. It was an X-Men book [that got me started] and Marvel Girl has always been and remains my favorite [character].
So it started early. It was fun to see people portrayed who weren’t like everybody else. They weren’t “normal.” Everybody didn’t like them. They had their own struggles and they had their own challenges to overcome in addition to saving the world. I thought it was really neat.
I also loved the fact that there were girls on the team. I thought that was the coolest thing, that girls could be super heroes too. Because, at the age of six, that actually hadn’t occurred to me.
Marvel: That’s awesome.
Constance Katsafanas: I had always been drawn to Marvel in particular because that’s where it started, and those were the characters that really spoke to me as a kid.
Marvel: How has your relationship to comics changed over the years? What’s it like now?
Constance Katsafanas: One of things that always fascinated me about comics is [that],in opposition to other literature or other types of media--TV, film, anything like that--I can read the same story now that I did when I was 10 and still love it just as much and get something completely different from it.
Some of my absolute favorite stories, actually my favorite Marvel comics period, are the original X-FACTOR stuff that [writer Louise] Simonson did. When it was the five original X-Men and they had reformed the team after Jean Grey came back from the dead. I loved it because it was my favorite character and a lot of the story was about her coming back into the world and carving out a place for herself. When I was a kid, it was about super heroes and beating the bad guys and the good guys should win.
Now, my friends have young children--which is bizarre, that I’m at the point of my life where my friends have kids--and I get to share [comics] with them. Like this little girl turned five in September and I gave to her what is her first comic. I got her AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and we sat down and we read it together. She was enthralled. I don’t have kids yet, but to get to share that with someone, to get to be part of that…it brought the comic to me on a completely different level.
It’s fascinating to me, because I’ve been thinking about this. Marvel’s been a huge part of my life. I’ve collected art and comics and I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of the creators whose work I’ve really admired. But going through life, at every phase, comics have meant something different to me. I think that’s really unique and really special that comics can do that and the stories can do that.
Marvel: Absolutely. The particular run you mentioned, the beginning of X-FACTOR, was a pretty morally complicated run at the time. They were pretending to work for the government to control mutants while, in reality, saving fellow mutants.
Constance Katsafanas: Yes. It was incredibly complicated, and one of the main characters just up and left his wife to do it. That’s a whole other dimension to it.
You’re right. It was incredibly complicated and for a kid to sit down and work through that…there were discussions I had with parents growing up that happened because of comics. They were discussions about fairly complex social issues. I vividly remember asking my father, when I was a small child, how someone could hate someone else just because they were different. Because mutants were different, and that hatred [towards them] didn’t make sense to me. I remember that conversation with my dad, about how people are afraid of things that they don’t understand right away and sometimes they don’t understand other people right away. I remember that, and that was 25 years ago.
Constance Katsafanas: I was wandering around New York Comicon looking at all the incredibly amazing things there are to look at and I had actually read about the contest online before [the show]. You know, whenever anything Marvel shows up on my feed I click on it. Unless I think it’s going to be a spoiler, then I avoid it like the plague.
Marvel: Very good approach.
Constance Katsafanas: Yes, well, you have to.
Anyway, I had read about it and I meant to go by the Marvel booth to see. My husband was actually meeting up with a friend from high school and I said, “Let’s meet at the Marvel booth because I’d like to do this thing if they’re still taking entries.” I walked into the area and someone from Marvel was like, “Hey, would you like to do this?” and I said, “Absolutely.”
I was so nervous. I was like, “Oh, I guess I will need to talk, I probably should’ve thought this through.” But then when I started it was surprisingly easy to talk about because, like I said, it’s always been a huge part of my life.
I ran a learning center in between college and medical school and comics were a big part of that too. I gave my students comics because I figured it worked for me. I talked about that. I talked about sharing it and how much joy that I had bringing this thing that had brought me such much joy to other people. I guess somebody liked it.
Marvel: Do you remember where you were when you found out you had won?
Marvel: That must’ve been torturous.
Constance Katsafanas: So I stood there, smiling like an idiot, at work with like this mountain of work to do. The other residents are like, “Are you ok?” and all I can say is “I need to get this thing signed. I just need to run an errand real quick.”
That paperwork was returned so fast you have no idea. I was so excited! And I couldn’t tell anyone! By now, I can tell my parents and my husband at least.
You know, even if I had been allowed to tell anyone right then, I’m not sure I could’ve come up with the words for it. I couldn’t believe. I still can’t wrap my head around how I got picked for something like this. It’s the kind of thing that when I read the description of the contest I was like, “Man, that’s so me.” But not in a million years did I really think this because life doesn’t work like that.
Marvel: Well congratulations again. And as someone who’s seen his fair share of student loans, I know the pain of that all too well, so I can certainly appreciate the fear of the mysterious phone call.
Constance Katsafanas: Yeah. It’s like, “Oh good, maybe they’re calling to collect on that spare kidney I have.”
I do love what I do though. I wouldn’t change what I do for anything, even with the loans. And even here, even at work, Marvel pops up. I’ve subtly been decorating our call room here. Every time I take call I bring something for the call room to decorate it a little bit because if I’m going to be spending 24 hours in a place I’d like it to at least have stuff that I like looking at. So there’s like a little Dark Phoenix bobblehead on the desk and an Avenges calendar on the wall and there’s a dry erase board with Falcon and Iron Man on it.
The other residents have gotten into it. They leave me little notes. We’ve got a bunch of mini-figures I’m going to put up on the shelves because why shouldn’t I have a thing that I enjoy when I’m working? And the call room is freezing, so I will occasionally rock the Marvel leggings under my scrubs.
I do acute care. I’m going to be a neurologist, so I’m the one that wakes up at three in the morning when someone is having a stroke. That’s what I do. I’m the first one there in the Emergency Room, after the emergency providers get in there I’m the one who decides the course of action, who decides where the intervention’s going to go. I don’t leave the hospital when I’m on call, so it’s important to have a little space, a little comic book zen.
Marvel: So I can guess, given your enthusiasm, but knowing you’re going to be showing up in a comic book and knowing that for six videos you are going to be the face of “Share Your Universe,” how are you feeling right now?
Marvel: Congratulations then!
Constance Katsafanas: It really is. I am beyond excited. My husband says that I am like a little kid whenever I talk to him about this. And, in a testament to how awesome my husband is, he’s not sick of hearing about it yet.
I’m so excited and…I’m honored actually. Marvel Comics has given me a lot. When I was a kid, it not only gave me an outlet to appreciate the written word and to learn how to appreciate art, it gave me confidence, the idea that the good guys are supposed to win, and a sense of justice and fairness. The idea that even when things don’t go your way, you should do the right thing anyway.
It’s actually a really big honor to be, as you said, the face of this program that’s aimed at sharing something that is so important to me with other people. That’s a big deal for me.
Getting past the fan girl excitement of it--which is hard to do, by the way, because I am a bit of a fan girl, deep down, well maybe not so deep--but, getting past even that, it’s huge. It’s something I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do.
Marvel: Before you go, I want to make sure we let you let people know what your favorite books are right now, what you’re really into.
Constance Katsafanas: Well I just finished reading, because I was a little bit behind, all of the ALL-NEW X-MEN stuff, “The Trial of Jean Grey” with those original X-Men--the ones that I grew up reading, grew up loving, in X-FACTOR--coming back to the present day. I really loved that. I really loved seeing the “old” Jean, if that’s the right way to put that. The art blows me out of the water. It’s just amazing. And I love the storytelling. Right now the X-Men books are full of amazing storytelling.
I’ve never been a huge Guardians of the Galaxy fan but now I’m enjoying that [series], thanks to the crossover. It’s gotten me into other parts of the [Marvel] Universe that I didn’t know really existed, which is cool.
I’m really enjoying the all-ages books that I’ve gotten to share with my friends’ kids. They aren’t something I get to read on my own regularly but when I’m with them, we get to read those comics, which is awesome.
I am just starting to pick up the HAWKEYE series and that’s really good. I kind of binge read, like [how] people watch Netflix. That’s what I have to do with my comics because getting to the shop every week with my job can be difficult. I usually can get there about three weeks a month, but reading wise…it’s binge reading. Marvel’s got some amazing stuff right now that I’m excited to keep reading.