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Marvel’s Jack of All Trades and Resident Deadhead

Dean Budnick | March 29, 2018

The last issue of Relix explored a moment in Marvel Comics history when Captain America shared some positive sentiments about Grateful Dead fans. In issue No. 357 (September 1989), after it turned out that Nancy Rosenthal, the sister of Cap’s former girlfriend, who had gone missing, was not in peril but rather off on Dead tour, the superhero said to himself: “Considering all the alternatives, this country could use a lot more Deadheads.”

Writer Mark Gruenwald, who was not a Deadhead, passed away in 1996, so he is not available to share the genesis of this reference. However, his editor Ralph Macchio suggested that perhaps it was a nod to Mike Higgins, a longtime Marvel staffer and Dead fan.

While Higgins was not initially available to confirm this account, shortly after our issue went to print, he did chime in and offered, “Mark Gruenwald was a friend of mine and, while I don’t remember that reference, I am sure that’s a little nod to me.”

What follows is a conversation with Higgins, who worked at the company from 1977–1999, and whose official Marvel business card identified him as a “Jack of All Trades” and “Deadhead.” Both are accurate: Higgins occupied a variety of roles at the company, from letterer to editor. The latter designation is equally apt, as he attended over 360 Grateful Dead shows from 1978–1995, and he estimates that he’s seen at least as many performances by the band members in other incarnations over the years as well.