By Mack Olmsted, Asst. Production Editor
He has the brawn of Samson, the intellect of Socrates and the courage of Achilles. He is Jasperman.
Jasperman was a comic strip featured in The Jasper Journal, a student-run newspaper at Manhattan College that ran from 1966-1970. The story and illustration of the Jasperman character came from the imagination of alumni Jerry Breen.
The Green Gladiator first debuted on Oct. 7, 1966. Behind the costume, Jasperman’s secret identity is Johnny Jasper. Jasperman’s first episode told the story of his origin. Johnny Jasper was looking for self-discovery. He drank an elixir that unlocked a voice deep within him that cried out “BIC”, which stood for the brawn of Samson, the intellect of Socrates and the courage of Achilles (however in later installments BIC stood for the might of Beowulf, wisdom of Ikhnaton and the daring of Caser). The elixir granted Johnny Jasper superpowers and he became the Jasperman.
Jasperman was supposed to represent the Manhattan College community. From freshman orientation to watching the MC’s football team go up against the Fordham Rams, Jasperman showed different aspects of life at MC.
Breen has a love for drawing cartoons and admires his time at Manhattan College. The comic strip was done independently by himself. His brother Edward Breen went to MC before he did and showed him issues of the Quadrangle before he started school. After Breen joined MC the Jasper Journal was formed. Founding editor Steve Burchik asked Breen to do a comic strip which he was enthusiastic about and eagerly volunteered to join. Breen explains where the inspiration for the Jasperman comic strip came from.
“In high school, I had done a strip lampooning my favorite teacher, Brother Jerome McConnell as “The Flash.” I started with what I knew of Manhattan so far … “Johnny Jasper” was already an established name for the average Manhattan student. I did a variation on ‘Superman’ with ‘Jasperman.’ Like Billy Batson/Captain Marvel, Johnny underwent a magic transformation, while saying the magic word “BIC,” for Bronx Irish Catholic, rather than “Shazam.” Kelly green berets with white pom poms were popular on campus at the time, for supporters of the Jasper football club, so that completed his outfit.”
The Jasper Journal would publish every other week, with The Quadrangle publishing in alternate weeks. When Jasperman was first starting out a lot of events were going on and off campus at the time. During the Jasperman comic strip, the comic went through a few changes and would later reference worldwide events that were going on outside of MC. According to the summer 1968 edition of the Manhattan College Alumnus magazine, Jasperman references Concern Day involving the Vietnam-War.
“In a recent edition of The Jasper Journal Breen’s hero took a stand advocating the withdrawal of the US forces from Vietnam, along with endorsing National Concern Day, a day of recollection held on campus across the country on April 26 , On that day students cut classes in protest of the Vietnam conflict and attend seminars and other organized activities concerned with discussing the problems of World Peace.”
Over time the character grew and gained a larger audience. Because of the wide impact Jasperman had at MC, the character went through different storylines in the episodes that were produced. Burchik looked back on Jasperman and stated in an email his thoughts on the MC community’s impact from the comic strip.
“Jasperman was an early hit for both The Jasper Journal and the college. Many students and faculty members delighted in the competitive nature of journalism with two student newspapers on campus. Jasperman was a character that many students could relate to and understand. My favorite thought about Jasperman was the fact that he wasn’t perfect and would often save the day, but with a few mishaps along the way.”
In the comic strip there were a few recurring characters like his girlfriend, Marvel Mountie. She was meant to represent the College of Mount Saint Vincent. And his arch nemesis, The Ram, who was meant to represent Fordham University.
Over the course of three and a half years, Jasperman had a total of 40 episodes within the Jasper Journal comic strip and would also occasionally show up in ads for campus activities like covers on the football programs. Jasperman was an icon at MC that Breen created from his imagination. Breen explained his appreciation towards Jasperman and what the character meant to him.
“My favorite part of doing the strip was seeing people read it and knowing that people enjoyed it. For a few years, I was ‘famous’ in a couple of square blocks in the Bronx. But the only “outside” exposure I ever got was an article in the weekly Riverdale Press,” Breen said.
1970 wasn’t entirely the end of the green protector’s career. Breen tried to do a variation of the character as Captain Boomer. The character was now a retired superhero kiddie TV show host. The character would reappear once more in a comic strip where he was the proprietor of “Boomer’s Edge City Diner ” but the comic strips went unpublished.
Breen insinuated that if Jasperman was still around today, “he would be the alter ego of an embittered old cartoonist” inside of political cartoons talking about the upcoming presidential election in 2024.