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last updated: 7/15/2013

A Hoosier Superhero

From student to producer, Uslan has a passion for comics

Michael Uslan, whose childhood passion for comic books not only spawned a course at IU but also a lifelong career in the entertainment industry, got where he is today by shaking things up. "Like Samson bringing down the pillars of the temple," he says.

Uslan, who produced the Oscar-winning "Batman" movie in 1989, gained national publicity when as an IU student in the early 1970s he created the first college-accredited course on comic books. To do so, he first had to convince IU administrators of the academic merits of the genre. 

Uslan remembers the scene vividly. Wearing a Spider Man T-shirt, the undergraduate entered a paneled conference room, the administrators and professors looking particularly intimidating.  One looked up at him, across the half spectacles perched at the tip of his nose, and challenged: "So you're the one who wants to teach about funny books at my university?"


The educators were skeptical of Uslan's assertion that comic books are contemporary American folklore, despite the endorsement of Henry Glassie, then a new folklore professor whom Uslan had recruited to support his plan. Uslan's proposal to the panel argued five key points: comic books as folklore; comic books as art form; literature; the psychological impact on audience; and the sociological implications of comic books.

He made his case by asking one of the professors to summarize the story of Moses, a young baby found adrift in a basket, adopted into another culture, eventually commanded great power and influence.  "Are you by any chance familiar with the story of Superman?" Uslan asked the professor. In that story, a young baby rocketed from the planet Krypton grew up to display  his great power and capacity for goodness.

The parallels were compelling. "You're accredited," the skeptic replied.

Publicity avalanched. Soon television news stories and radio talk shows featured Uslan, and he began fielding inquiries from colleges, universities and high schools who wanted to learn about including comic books in their curriculum. Uslan helped set up 50 courses at universities around the country. 

The president of DC Comics flew Uslan to New York to discuss the industry. As a result of this visit, Uslan started writing The Shadow, and eventually, the comic book publisher allowed him to write Batman, "a dream of mine since I was eight years old," Uslan recalls. 

By the time he started law school in 1973, Uslan had amassed 30,000 comics. And, in a class of 200 students, when he was the only one interested in entertainment law, "IU was able to accommodate me," Uslan says. "They put me on the path to success in a chosen career."


From 1976-1980, Uslan was a motion picture production attorney for United Artists in charge of legal affairs for many pictures, including "Apocalypse Now," "Rocky III," "Raging Bull," and "The Black Stallion."

Uslan donated a portion of his collection of prized comic books and comic book art to the Lilly Library in June 2001.  The Lilly Library has particularly strong holdings in radio, film, and television history, and comic books, as touchstones of popular culture, complement these holdings.

Uslan is proud that he has turned his passion to help elevate the status of comics. "Comic books in America," Uslan says, "are finally getting the right kind of artistic recognition."  Thanks, in part, to Uslan and his groundbreaking work at IU.

last updated: 7/15/2013