STATE COLLEGE — While studying food science, Matt Conrad might have cooked up Marvel Comics next T-shirt logo.
Conrad, 29, a Penn State student, is a finalist in the national Make My Marvel Mighty Design Challenge. Hes hoping to crush four competitors for the honor of having his Avengers-inspired design adorn an official Marvel Store shirt. A $200 store gift card also is at stake.
Fan voting on the Make My Marvel Facebook page ends at 11 a.m. today. Late Thursday afternoon, Conrad was in second place.
Its a heady turn of events for the mild-mannered Navy veteran and Marvel Comics fan who has been drawing superheroes since age 10.
Ive always dreamed of doing something for Marvel Comics, and they selected me, he said.
His design the Avengers A superimposed over a composite figure formed from parts of the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow came about after he discovered the contest while checking out Marvel merchandise online.
Figuring his chances were slim, he passed at first. Then he noticed the submission cutoff date, Aug. 26, was his birthday. Friends called it a sign, so he flexed his drawing muscles and took a leap.
I thought, What the hell? he said.
Since the competition allowed multiple entries, he submitted two ideas both initially sketched as he worked making nighttime deliveries for Insomnia Cookies.
When it was slow, I would be doodling in between orders, he said. He had a practiced hand.
From the time he first set pencil to paper, comics have captured Conrads imagination. One masked man particularly entranced him as a boy.
I traced every Spiderman image I could find because he was my hero, he said.
He loved the work of artist Mark Bagley, still one of his favorite illustrators. As Conrad grew older, he began replicating characters, spurred in middle school by his mothers gift, the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
It was really my first insight into how they do it, he said.
Armed with knowledge, he drew. And drew. And drew some more.
I got into a lot of trouble in high school, he said. When I should have been paying attention, I was drawing in notebooks.
After Sept. 11, 2001, he became a man of action himself.
A Navy brat, he had considered enlisting after graduation. Seeing the Twin Towers collapse on TV sealed the deal.
The next day, my recruiter called and said, Are you ready to join? I said, Yes sir, Conrad said.
As an electricians mate, he served on the USS Springfield, a nuclear attack submarine, for more than four years before a knee injury prompted his discharge. He enrolled at Penn State, later switching his major from chemical engineering to food science.
Hed like to do company research or work for a government regulatory agency. Now, thanks to Marvel Comics, hes also thinking of creating a graphic novel.
It definitely boosted my confidence, he said.
When Conrad saw the email from Marvel on his phone, he expected a polite thanks for playing.
I opened it up and the first word was congratulations, and my heart skipped a beat, he said. I was shaking.
Since then, friends have been pulling for him. Coworkers at Lowes have tracked his daily standings, posting Facebook updates.
But unlike with the Avengers, if Conrad loses, it wont be the end of the world.
Im definitely asking people to vote for me, he said. But Ive said if dont win, I wont be disappointed. I came this far. Its a dream come true.
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews