Joe Stuber talks comics with the stars

Erica Thompson

“I just saw a man fly.”

That was the thought running through the mind of a stunned 10-year-old Joe Stuber as he watched the 1978 “Superman” movie at a theater in his Johnstown, Pennsylvania hometown. Of course, he'd already seen comic-book characters brought to life on TV shows like the live-action “Batman” series or the “Spider-Man” cartoon, but nothing compared to witnessing his favorite superhero on the big screen.

“That was the game-changer,” Stuber said. “[Christopher Reeve] looked like Superman. … He talked like Superman. Everything was perfect about that film. So I've been obsessed with not only comic books, but those projects where they come to life.”

Nearly 40 years later, Stuber has channeled his obsession into “Comic Book Central,” a Columbus-based podcast devoted to in-depth interviews with directors, actors, writers, producers and others associated with translating comics to film, television and other mediums beyond the page. Since launching the podcast — available on iTunes — in 2013, Stuber has recorded more than 150 episodes and interviewed more than 200 guests, including big names like William Shatner and Lou Ferrigno.

“Somebody called it the ‘Inside the Actors Studio' of comic books,” Stuber said. But conversations also extend beyond the behind-the-scenes production stories.

“I want to find out what makes them tick,” Stuber said, and shared some typical questions he asks guests: “What kind of kid were you? What did you watch? Were you inspired by any of these things?”

Stuber also hopes to capture the nostalgia of Saturday morning cartoon-watching in the '70s and '80s.

“I loved the ‘Shazam!' television series when I was a kid,” he said. “They taught you morals [and] they taught you about being nice people. … But they did it with live-action superheroes. I was able to talk to the guy that played Captain Marvel.”

“Those are the [podcast] episodes that I really love,” he continued.

Stuber began his broadcasting career as a student at a vocational school in Pennsylvania.

“Two weeks into my internship, I was on the field of [since torn down] Three Rivers Stadium shooting Steelers football,” said Stuber, who started out as a videographer. “So it was a very, very fast learning curve.”

He also gained interviewing experience; incredibly, his first subject was actor Charlton Heston, whom Stuber spoke to before the Academy Award-winner boarded a flight out of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Stuber later moved to Memphis and worked in corporate video production, winning two Regional Emmy Awards. By the time he moved to Columbus in 2011, he was contributing to “The IndyCast,” a podcast devoted solely to Indiana Jones.

All the while, Stuber had the idea for “Comic Book Central,” but as a larger-scale project. However, after hitting some roadblocks getting support for his vision, he decided to start with the podcast format.

He records “Comic Book Central” from his “super-secret lair” — the basement of his Dublin home, which is packed with bookshelves of comic-based media and memorabilia, including Star Trek figurines, an Indiana Jones cut-out and piles of rolled-up posters that will never get hung. His equipment includes a “RockBand” Wii microphone, Iron Man headphones that he may or may not have purchased from Half Price Books and his MacBook.

“It's pretty low-tech,” Stuber admits. “I haven't really felt the need to upgrade; it still sounds good to me.”

The show apparently sounds good to others, too; it has received about 200,000 downloads in more than 150 countries since its inception, and is growing steadily, Stuber said.

“It's nostalgia,” said Mitch Hallock, who works with Stuber on “The IndyCast” and produces the TerrifiCon comic convention in Connecticut, where Stuber also broadcasts and moderates panels. “A lot of these [guests] people might have forgotten because they just don't see them in the public light anymore. … All of these people that we grew up with that were legends or heroes to us — we just want to hear all the stories again.”

Through a lucky break, Stuber landed co-creator of the Marvel Universe Stan Lee as his first guest. Since that interview, Stuber has maintained a consistent lineup of other high-profile guests, including Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker. Stuber also recorded the late “Green Hornet” actor Van Williams' last interview and, after about three-and-a-half years, landed the man perhaps responsible for Stuber's passion: Richard Donner, director of “Superman.”

“It's patience and perseverance,” Stuber said of booking guests.

Going forward, Stuber hopes to expand “Comic Book Central” to include visual and/or streaming components. And he recently met with a podcasting network that has the potential to bring in a broader audience and advertising opportunities. But he is not motivated by financial gain.

“I think you have to do it because you're passionate about it. And I am,” said Stuber, who works as a freelance writer to fund “Comic Book Central.” “So far, people are listening to it, which is kinda cool.”