Interview with J. Mark Madison

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Joshua Ranger, Interviewer | uwocs_J_Mark_Madison_11122020
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |


[Beginning of Interview]


JR: Yeah. Ok, well this is an interview for our Campus Stories Oral History Project. I'm Joshua Ranger. It's November 12th, 2020, and I'm speaking with-

MM: Mark Madison.

JR: Great Mr. Madison. Thank you so much er -- Dr. Madison. Thank you so much for taking this time. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself? Your childhood? Where did you grow up?

MM: Yeah, I moved to Oshkosh from Illinois when I was about three, I think, my family. We moved there 'cause my dad was -- taught at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. And then I left after about second grade I left to live in Stoughton, 1:00WI for a couple years when my dad did some graduate studies at the Madison campus. And then we came back to Oshkosh. And my mother started working at Appleton High School, commuting up there each day. Then, I'm by myself I went to the South Park Junior High and then went to the single high school at Oshkosh had then. And it's at that time around tenth grade that I met Mark Gruenwald 'cause our family had moved, moved from south side of Oshkosh to West Haven subdivision. And I lived a couple doors down across the street from where Mark 2:00Gruenwald did. That's where I met him.

JR: Got it. And your father taught English, right? So, growing up as a professor's kid, what was that like? Did you socialize as a family with other faculty?

MM: My parents did in terms of like having people over for dinner and things it didn't -- my brother and myself, we weren't much affected by that.

JR: Ok.

MM: Yeah, but there was a lot of dinner parties and that kind of thing that my parents were involved with.

JR: Was there any kind of stigma at the high school of being professor's kid, good or bad?

MM: No, I don't think -- I mean, I think people knew that, but it didn't really 3:00-- it was just considered a separate world. They would -- I think if anyone - they certainly didn't -- I wouldn't say they thought it was good or bad, it was just what it was.

JR: So, you met Mark Greenwald then in high school-

MM: Yeah.

JR: and did you guys share, other than being neighbors, did you share interests?

MM: Yeah. We hung out together a lot. He -- I consider him my best friend in high school and I'm sure he felt the same way about me. And so, we had a lot of -- we had overlapping classes and things. He had sort of gravitated to more -- 4:00he had a definite artistic bent. But I was doing more science stuff. But we had a lot of overlapping interests. We had English classes together, Latin classes, that kind of thing. And then he is a very -- he was a gifted organizer, so he always had projects going, usually based within a class at school or something but some of them just completely independent. And so, we worked together a lot on stuff he was -- he had started this high school newspaper called Spectrum sort of, a little magazine like pamphlet that came out. And I think it was once 5:00a month if I'm remembering right and it was just sort of a student publication people would write things and it had fair amount of variety in it.

JR: Like creative writing?

MM: Yeah, there would be some of that. Also, some sort of reporting of what was going on, what people thought of, essays on what people thought of various issues and that kind of thing it was considered a fairly liberal thing for the high -- for students to be doing. Obviously, the war was going on, the Vietnam War was going on then, so there were -- it was definitely a liberal bend to it.

JR: Right Vietnam, then, just prior to that you guys grew up through the Civil Rights Era and women's rights were coming to forth. So, you would consider him 6:00politically liberal?

MM: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, very much so. And I mentioned some projects that we worked on in in high school. He -- besides this Spectrum, this sort of magazine, one big project we started on was he had this idea to write a rock opera. And so, we did that. And it had its own story, storyline and then we wrote original music and then lyrics to go along with it and I don't know took -- but we taped it all on like this old eight track tape recorder and he played it, he presented 7:00it at gatherings in the high school. We have thirty to forty students and then we can play this Rocka [sic] and it, is obviously was not done by -- it wasn't that we were extremely talented with it, but we managed to pull it off. It was pretty decent by the end of it. Now-

JR: That was his project?

MM: Yeah, yeah, that was him, his organizational skills were really at a high level even in high school he had to pull together, there were probably like twenty or so of us involved in doing different pieces of it and piercing it all together.

JR: Did you play an instrument?

MM: I played, I think piano and organ in the thing and some of the songs and wrote some of the songs and stuff. I'm sure it's some -- some copy of it 8:00probably still exists, but I wouldn't have any idea where it is.

JR: Right. Well, I gotta track something like that down. Do you remember what the topic was or the title of it was?

MM: It was -- I'm not sure that the storyline was based on the story of Icarus.

JR: Ok.

MM: And I forget the -- yeah, it might've been entitled Icarus, but I'm not sure that. (laughs) But he had like a libretto made for it written, published, written thing, sort of, little booklet on with all the lyrics. And I don't know, I imagine that, like the high school might have it in its media center or something.

JR: I'm going to try to find that. That sounds amazing.

MM: it wasn't fired because it was pop. there were these like the rock opera; Jesus Christ Superstar was just coming out then and that's obviously, where the 9:00idea that it came from to do something like that.

JR: Hey, your dad was in the musical theatre too, correct?

MM: He taught English, mainly Milton.

JR: Yeah.

MM: And I think Spencer as well. And that that was sort of his main interest, but he did acting and directing, and community theater for Oshkosh. I forget what it was called the Fox Players or something like that.

JR: Yeah, yeah, I think he directed Mame when they did that here.

MM: Yeah.

JR: So, did Mark and your dad get along?

MM: Yeah, I mean they I don't think they -- I mean knew each other really well but wasn't like there was -- and he'd be around the place -- around the house or 10:00I'd be over at his place. And so, we knew each other's parents pretty well. But it wasn't like we interacted with him that much.

JR: Did he ever take your dad's class?

MM: No, I don't think so.

JR: Obviously comics were an interest of Mark's at some point in his life. Was that true in high school?

MM: Yeah, so. Yeah, in high school he was very much into comics when I first met him. And he had a lot of them, that he kept it very -- he had these shelves, and you have each one and a special plastic sleeve, and they were all organized and on his bookshelves. And he -- yeah, he read them a lot. And I would -- sometimes I'd read them. he'd point out this is a really good one and I'd read it. He 11:00would -- he was attracted by storylines and by the artistry of it. And he was, by the time I knew him, he was already starting to do his own comic books. Write his own and they'd be on these sort of really heavy paper, almost cardboard. And he draw and write the stories. And then I was -- he would -- I would sort of -- he'd [audio cuts out] and he'd give it to me to go through and find -- tell him what I thought. And I was sort of a stickler for details, so I think that helped a little bit for keeping him on his toes about the details in the pictures and stuff.


JR: Continuity issues and all that?

MM: Yeah. And then he got obviously within the comic book world he got very interested in that whole storyline that the global storyline of, really, I think both DC and Marvel. And he knew a lot. I mean, he knew every detail of what had happened in old, old issues and who was where when. He was -- I'm not sure he was writing it down at that point, but he was clearly interested in that kind of thing. The consistency of the storylines and stuff.

JR: yeah? So, you guys graduate the same year, is that correct?

MM: Yeah, yeah, in '71.

JR: And you went off to Carlton?


MM: Yeah, I went to Carlton, and then he stayed in Oshkosh.

JR: Was there any consideration that you would go to UWO where your dad taught?

MM: Not really. I pretty much knew I wanted a sort of small liberal arts school. And in fact, when I got to Carleton, I think the whole school was smaller than my class in high school.

JR: Wow.

MM: It was very different, but that's the kind of experience I wanted. I needed to get to a smaller campus.

JR: Well, you're talking to a son of two Oles [St. Olaf College alumni]. So.

MM: Oh yeah.

JR: with how small that community is.

MM: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's -- and it turned out I really loved it there.

JR: Yeah.

MM: It was a great town, and great place to be.


JR: And you continued your friendship with Mark though, even though you were two different schools?

MM: Yeah, whenever I -- 'cause I just lived -- my parents were living across, basically across, the street. Whenever I came home on breaks I would -- he'd be the person I'd be hanging out with. Carleton runs on a trimester system, so we would have these really long breaks from like Thanksgiving, and we didn't have to come back till, a long time I forget how long it was, but it would be these long breaks between trimesters so. When I when I'd come, they'd still be in classes 'cause they're on a regular semester system. And so, they were -- he was 15:00around and then I'd be with him and friends he had at school. He was a very social person, so he always had a wide circle of friends that he was interacting with, knew a lot of different people. And so, even though he didn't live on campus, he lived at home during his college years, but I don't think it -- he was just socially gifted enough that it didn't slow him down in terms of meeting people and getting to know him and working with him and stuff.

JR: Yeah, he had his fingers in a lot of pies too, so lot of places to meet people.

MM: Yeah.

JR: So, is it one of those breaks -- do you remember when or how you became aware of the Augmento project?

MM: Yeah, I don't -- see I forget how many years it ran, but I'm thinking it was like maybe three years.

JR: Yeah, off and on.


MM: But yeah, so I knew he was showing me what he was doing, and I'd sort of like I read them. I don't know if I ever got to read them as one package, but I'd see the various instalments. Sometimes he'd send me them in the mail. And so, it's something I knew he was -- one of the many things he was up to. And I forget the last name of the Augmento character that the image was based on a friend of his at school, Rick I think is.

JR: Yeah. Rick Gilbertson.

MM: Ok yeah, that's right. And so, I think it was sort of my sense of it was 17:00that it fit his sort of sense of humor. A lot of it was done in sort of a tongue in cheek, kind of way. He was someone who - a bit of a prankster. Usually not like gross physical pranks but more subtle. (laughs) And that sort of, I think that -- my memory is that that sort of came across during this strip as he was doing it.

JR: He seems to have been a fan of the Marx Brothers. He dresses up, Augmento in 18:00a Harper -- Harpo Marx hat. I didn't know if you have any memories of him being a fan.

MM: Yeah, that doesn't ring a bell, but he was into a lot of different things. I mean-

JR: Yeah.

MM: Now whether -- especially artistic stuff, but even like he was the kid in the neighborhood with a unicycle. he was -- (laughs) And he was pretty good at it.

JR: That's funny. Did you ever get a chance to meet Rick Gilbertson or Bill Bukowski?

MM: Yeah, when I'd come home on breaks, he was frequently in the group. We'd go out or I'd go over to their dorms so him and -- there were several of them. I remember Rick and Hoglund.

JR: Yeah, Roy Hoglund. Yep.

MM: Yeah. And so, I think they both had dorm rooms, so I think like sometimes we 19:00go over to some of the dorms, and I think it was their place where we would be going in.

JR: Cool. So according to the student newspaper in the summer of 1975 that you helped Mark plot out the final fifteen episodes of the comic that fall, do you know how that came to be?

MM: Yeah, I think I was -- I can't remember what season it was, but it was like -- I was on break from college. (Phone ringing) And excuse me.

JR: No problem.

MM: (Speaking on the phone) I have to call you back. (Returning to interview) I'm sorry and so he -- I was aware of the Augmento strip and its sort of general way it was going and stuff. And so, he said it was a lot of work for him and so 20:00-- because he was writing it week to week, I think. So doing all the artwork and the story and he wasn't -- when you started the first two years out, I don't think he knew where the story was gonna go. It just kind of he just kind of worked on it week to week to see where it would go. So, it was taking a lot of time and he said, "well, I want to map out the story ahead of time so that I don't have to think about it when -- Each week I'll just know what I have to do and I wanna see how that works." And it turns out later he, like a couple years later, he mentioned how important that was, that really helped him a lot. Just 21:00sped the whole process up and made it more coherent. And so, we literally just, I think it was one afternoon at like probably spent about three or four hours over at his house just talking about -- it was basically him talking out loud about what he wanted to do and sort of problem solving the storyline is as we went along. And it was actually great fun. 'Cause it was really a creative process.

JR: What was your role then? Just coming up with ideas along with him or sounding board or?

MM: Yeah, it was more -- it was both of those. It was like I want to do this; how do you think that could happen? And I'd throw out an idea, he'd throw out an 22:00idea and then we'd sort of see where that went. He was -- I'm not an artistic person myself, but he was very -- you could tell he was blocking it out like a storyboard on a film. He wanted to sort of have a mental picture of what the last frame in a section would look like and where the transitions in the story. And so, it was some sounding board. Sometimes I'd have some ideas and he if he liked and then he'd say, "yeah, let's try that." And well, and that's just how it developed over three or four hours. The whole thing was done. And then for him he said it was just a matter of doing the artwork each and sped it all up.

JR: Cool. And that run, then features some new villains and some new allies. And 23:00it strikes me now in 2020 as being a real sort of diverse set of people, right? You had a gay character. You had African American villain. You had an Asian American ally, and then a Catholic nun and some other folks thrown in there.

MM: Yeah.

JR: Was there a -- can you remember, was there a reason why you guys chose to sort of have that sort of identity of the week, sort of thing going through?

MM: Yeah, I don't think it was a conscious thing to me. I could say he and, I think, myself we're both fairly liberal and diversity was an issue then probably more so than now, and so it was just natural that there be a sort of a spectrum 24:00of different people in the story. In a way it's, I mean me, sort of the superhero genres, part of it is about people that are different.

JR: Yeah, I don't know my comic book history, but it didn't surprise me -- it wouldn't surprise me to learn that a lot of comic books were exploring different types of people and giving them each their own stories or their own characters. So, then that ended. He graduated that December and I believe you were off to medical school at Harvard by then?

MM: Yeah, yeah.


JR: And Mark moves to New York then. Did you guys remain in contact?

M: Yeah, not as much as I wish we had, but like I went down there to visit. I can't remember if I went down once or twice. When I was on break and just to meet him there in New York. And we had a great time. He hadn't been there very long, and he already knew all these people. (chuckles) And so we basically -- we didn't have any money, so we were just -- we'd do things like we biked, I think we biked all over Manhattan (laughs) for that week. And just sort of did things that were low cost, but it's like fun to do. Like we went to some television 26:00studios to be in the audience for some shows and that kind of thing.

JR: Cool.

MM: And then he lived in an apartment. I can't remember what street it was on. It was somewhere on the I think it was in the sixties or seventies on the West side. And it was a very small apartment. And it had like -- it looked like it was basically a cell with a window. And it had more locks than you can possibly imagine on the door. Including an iron crowbar that came out of the floor to prop against the door. And literally had a bulb hanging from a wire in the 27:00middle of the room. And a hot plate. And that was about it. But that was enough to get him going, to start with. I don't think he'd been there more than a few weeks when I went down there or a month or two maybe. And I told him, I said, "when I imagined you as a poor artist coming to New York City to make your way, this is exactly what I pictured," and-

JR: (laughs) Didn't disappoint.

MM: (laughs) Yeah. And he got a kick out of that comment, but it had stuck with him 'cause he mentioned it a few years later.

JR: Oh really?

MM: When he was much more successful.

JR: So, passed that first couple years, you guys remain in contact, as your professions took off?

MM: Yeah. So, like if I was in the New York City area I'd check in with him. But 28:00I don't think I got to visit with him much more than three, maybe four times over those years. One time I visited him when he was married to his first wife, Belinda. They had a child together named Sarah. And then it turned out he came up to Massachusetts here to visit with his daughter, had a daughter just about a year younger, I think. And so, he visited us up here and it turned out that it was that week, the week before that he had met his second wife, Kat, Kathy, I 29:00think she goes by, Catherine. So, I don't think he'd met her yet. He met her through some, there was no online, I don't think there was anything online that are very little, but it was something like that. And that turned out to be a great part of his story. So, I met her at his wedding, but I didn't -- never really got to know her.

JR: Do come back to Oshkosh much?

MM: No, I haven't been back since 2012 or so 'cause my father died in '87. And 30:00then my mother moved to Appleton, finished out her teaching career there and then retired there and got remarried herself. When she was in her late '70s, I think.

JR: Oh, wow.

MM: And so, I'd go back to the area to visit her. But she passed away in 2012, so I haven't been back there since. I realized I probably wouldn't be getting back to the Wisconsin area 'cause I had no relatives there anymore. So, I did manage to -- I made my last visit there is drive my son around Oshkosh and just sort of visit and talk with him about the various places and that sort of thing 31:00and he really enjoyed it, I think.

JR: Cool. So, I promised you a half hour, we are a little over, but I wondered if you had just a couple more moments to talk about your father's time here?

MM: Sure, yeah.

JR: And I certainly don't share a lot about my work life to my kids, but about the time that you had graduated and we're going off to Minnesota and then to Massachusetts, the English Department was home to a lot of disruption and inner-scene politics and your dad was not a neutral party in these. Did he share much with you about that?

MM: No, no. Not a lot of detail. I knew he never shied away from speaking his mind about anything to anyone and it was clear from he'd say something was going 32:00on at work and it was clear that he was in the thick of it. But I think that that was, I think I'm not sure, that it was like new to just that era. I had the feeling that looking back on it, I think as a department it had some sort of troubles for years and years. And with people is sort of people getting along and that sort of thing.

JR: Yeah, no, you're right. It did go on for a while. That time period sort of reached a pinnacle with probably one of the more wilder and notorious moments. There was the commitment of Brian Riley to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. Do you remember that?

MM: No, no.

JR: OK. Your father was one of the individuals who signed off on that under 33:00false pretense. I don't know if it caused some legal issues that he was divorced from eventually because he wasn't as complicit. I don't know if that had ever come up.

MM: Yeah no. I never heard about that. The names I'm familiar with are mainly ones from much earlier, like I think, I think the Department chair was James, was his last name James, I'm not sure. I know there was someone in the faculty named Hazard.

JR: Yeah.

MM: I sort of associate those names with when I was in grade school and junior high kind of thing. Yeah, after -- see my mother and father were divorced. And 34:00that's when my mother moved up to Appleton and after that I didn't have that much contact with him. I mean, periodically would touch bases with him, but I didn't really know what was going on.

JR: Well, if you ever wanna know you come to the Oshkosh archives and there's some great newsletters. Your dad created his own newsletter here as well.

MM: Oh, yeah.

JR: If anyone wanted to write a book about Departmental politics, our English Department in the '60s and '70s would be a great choice.

MM: (laughs)

JR: Just looking over the questions I neglected to ask. There was one thing that I'm not sure if you know much about before you were involved, the previous year, 35:00Mark did a very long story line about a sort of religious cult that sort of takes over -- attempts to take over campus and the Pilgrim I think is the name of the villain. I didn't know if that was Mark working out some religious issues of his own, his relationship with religion. My understanding is he was he belonged to a Boy Scout group that was associated with the church here in town when he was younger, but I don't know if you know much about his religious point of view.

MM: If I am remembering right, he went -- was it? -- I think it was the Congregational Church there.

JR: That's right.

MM: And I went to Trinity Episcopal, my family went to Trinity Episcopal. And 36:00so, it's right across the street. And I don't recall in high school years, I don't recall him having particular issues with it. I would imagine it was mainly just his viewing all that through sort of a superhero-type lens and just a different way to frame it kind of thing.

JR: Ok, great.

MM: One other thing, back to Augmento, I did hear that that character actually ended up in Marvel.

JR: Yes.

MM: Somewhere like it appeared in one issue or something like that.

JR: Yeah, I have it right with me right here. I can send you a scan if you're interested.


MM: Oh yeah, sure.

JR: It was an issue of Quasar. Which was one of Mark's characters in a New Universe type thing and he returns to Oshkosh. And that's where this character grew up. And then there is a little bit of a, I won't spoil it for you, but yeah, he appears, sort of in the pages of it, not so much as a character, but as a reference.

MM: Yeah, yeah.

JR: But I understand, in fact I just ordered on eBay bunch of his New Universe comics that have more than a few characters from Central Wisconsin.

MM: Yeah, I'll look. I don't imagine there are many from Wisconsin in the Marvel 38:00World. That was a big part of his story that I always admired was it was so different from my own experience, like I just basically had to go to school, learn what was there, and especially in medical school, you know that if you graduate you've got a job. Like that's not a question. But for him, he really had to start from scratch, just literally just being successful by his own wits. And starting from that humble apartment with the horrible bulb hanging from a wire in the middle of the room, he really -- he figured out how to do it. At 39:00least as he told me the story the thing that really made a difference from when he first went to New York, he was and he said this all through high school, he was mainly interested in DC Comics that's where he thought he was the best fit. And he read all the Marvel ones he knew them, but he just thought DC -- he liked DC a lot. And he met people there, apparently, but he clicked more with the Marvel group and got in there. And the way he described it; he had this encyclopedic knowledge of the entire Marvel World. And had mapped out and in some sort of, almost it wasn't a book, but it was like a book, mapped out the 40:00timeline, because characters are going back and forth in time and he was able to catalog all that and know -- he felt that Marvel as a group, was very interested in the consistency of the timeline in their stories, and so he was like -- no, he came to them and said "I've made this," and it was like valuable to them. They wanted him. So, he thought, as he described it, that was sort of his entry into that Marvel world. Just 'cause he was an authority on everything they'd done.

JR: Right.

MM: And could tell them, "Hey, this story won't work because in issue such you did this." (chuckles) And I thought it was very clever to create something that 41:00perhaps they themselves didn't know they needed, and sort of gain credibility in that world.

JR: So, was it a physical document?

MM: Yeah, yeah, I forget -- it had some title and --

JR: Had he done one for DC as well?

MM: No, I don't think so. I think he only did it for Marvel, but he might have, I just didn't know about it.

JR: Do you know what attracted him to DC as a younger man?

MM: I don't. Yeah, that I'm not sure about. I don't know if it was -- I think it was probably the characters, but I'm not sure about that. What it was. I think he liked Marvel a lot. He liked the artwork, but I think I think somehow long 42:00before I met him, that DC made an impression on him. The characters in DC made an impression on him and he naturally gravitated to them first. But then the whole story unfolded at Marvel for him and worked out so well. He did some odd jobs in New York when he was first there, just he needed some money. And one of the places he worked was at Chase Manhattan Bank. And so, I don't know he might have done lots of things in the bank, but he described his job to me is he was several sub-basements below ground, in the vault area. And he'd be there all night as someone who kept track of who came and went into the area. And so, he said, basically there was not a lot to do, so he's down in this sort of marbled 43:00cavern, and he practiced his guitar down there, great acoustics (laughed) and just enjoy himself. But even in that role he, from what he described, he observed them doing something in a certain way in terms of checking people in and out and keeping track of things, and he recommended them another way of doing it, and they said, wow, that's fantastic and they adopted it. But that was part of his organizational skills.

JR: Right, right. That's great. Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it. Very belated sympathies for your loss of your friend. And I do enjoy hearing these stories about him. I've talked to both Rick and to Bill Bukowski now and 44:00they all sort of have this aw of Mark and not just what he was able to accomplish but just his multi -- his Renaissance interest and his ability to make friends with folks.

MM: Yeah, yeah. He was in there -- like he did modern dance.

JR: Right.

MM: Which is well, I think with Rick

JR: With Rick. Yep, yep.

MM: Yeah. And you've talked with Hoglund as well?

JR: Well, Roy taught theater here just retired a couple of years ago. So, I'm going to reach out to him next.

MM: Yeah, because he knew Mark Gruenwald from grade school.

JR: Oh, is that right?

MM: Yeah, he really lived next door or across the street. Gruenwald's lived on Sawyer St. And Hoglund's family lived there, and then Mark Gruenwald's family 45:00moved to West Haven. And then that's where my family eventually moved.

JR: I did not know that.

MM: He's known him a long, long time, and his mother taught with my mother up at up at Appleton High.

JR: Oh, is that right?

MM: Yeah. If I'm remembering right, I am pretty sure she was -- I don't know how long she was there, but I think she was there at Appleton High for quite a while.

JR: Super. Well, Dr. Madison, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

MM: OK nice talking to you.

JR: Take care and good luck with everything you're dealing with.

MM: OK thanks.

JR: Bye, bye.

MM: Yeah, bye, bye.

[End of Interview]

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