When Marvel Entertainment, Inc. executive John Cerilli was a boy, he never thought he’d work in the comic book industry.
“To me it was an unreachable goal, like trying to play third base for the Mets,” Cerilli said. “It was beyond my comprehension.”
Still, Cerilli, Emerson College class of ‘89, was a steadfast fan of comic books from a very early age.
“I remember being attracted to them even before I could read them,” he said. “My aunt read a lot of horror-based comics in the early ‘70s and I would flip through them at first looking at the pictures.”
Cerilli, vice president of digital content and programming for Marvel.com, eventually learned to read and began selecting his own titles in his early teens.
“I was a Marvel guy through and through, but I read a ton of DC books, too,” he said. “The X-Men, Spider-Man, The Thing, Conan and Batman were far and away my favorites.”
Cerilli, 44, had never heard of Emerson College before his high school guidance counselor mentioned it to him, but the school’s focus on media and communications immediately piqued his interest.
“I went to visit the school and, simply, I was hooked,” he said. “I loved the fact that our ‘campus’ was the city of Boston.”
In fact, Cerilli was so enamored by Emerson and Boston that he never considered applying anywhere else.
“It really seemed fantastic and felt like home,” he said. “The vibe, it being situated in the heart of a major city, was just perfect.”
Initially, the New York-born and New Jersey-raised Cerilli thought he would have a career in sports writing or commentary when he began his academic career at Emerson in the 1985 fall semester.
Cerilli, an avid Mets fan, said, “Sports, especially baseball, were and still remain an enormous passion of mine … Little did anyone know that the Mets and Red Sox would meet in one of the greatest World Series ever played in 1986, which made the experience of going to school at Emerson all the more amazing.”
At Emerson, Cerilli majored in mass communications, but, encouraged by his teachers, quickly shifted gears.
“[I] decided to switch to writing when professor after professor commented on the quality of my papers,” Cerilli said. “I finally had a chat with one of my professors who seemed to like my writing during my freshman year.”
That professor was Mary Karr, who would later write “The Liars’ Club,” among other award-winning memoirs and volumes of poetry.
“I asked her if she thought I was good enough to pursue a career in writing and she didn’t dissuade me from that,” Cerilli said. “Just the opposite, in fact. For me, that was a major victory as I respected her enormously.”
Cerilli’s history professor was also influential in setting him on his writing career, “even if I didn’t really know how I was going to make a living from it,” he said.
“My favorite professor was Dr. John Coffee,” Cerilli said. “In fact, I achieved the entirety of my history minor by taking classes with him … [he] actually used to have a class called Cartoons and American History. It was brilliant. In fact, I ended up writing a paper on the X-Men – comparing their plight to the civil rights movement that fueled their creation.”
Even in college, comic books remained a part of Cerilli’s life.
“I was a frequent visitor to Newbury Comics on Newbury Street and would often walk back to Fensgate with CDs and comics,” Cerilli said. “I still remember the buzz around ‘The Dark Knight Returns.’ I had to have it.”