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Adventures inspire comic book author

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Deep in his mind, Peter J. Miele conjures stories intertwining real life and fantasy. Call him what you want - a writer, musician or adventurer - any of those titles describes this mysterious, mischievous man of many thoughts.

Best known as the mastermind behind the Trapman Comic series, Miele's obscurely interesting imagination first saw print in 1994. That's when Minneapolis-based Phantom Comic published his debut comic book, "Trapman."

"It took four years to complete the project," Miele said of the comic's creation, "from building and developing the characters to adding illustrations."

The end result was something no one could have expected - especially Miele.

Take the illustrations, for example. Miele is a writer, not an illustrator. Although never having concocted a comic, he knew the importance of the visual aspect with this type of work.

"I first went to a friend of mine in Minneapolis, who is an artist and comic book aficionado to help me put my idea for Trapman into comics," he explained. "He picked up a Star Trek comic book and said, 'This is the kind of artist you need to become famous.'"

Little did Miele or his friend know the reality of their seemingly simple conversation. The man behind the famed comic's illustrations was Gordon Purcell - whose resume is peppered with names like "Xena," "Godzilla," "The Terminator," "Spiderman" and "The Fantastic Four," among others.

Miele discovered Purcell was living in Minneapolis and looked him up in the telephone book.

"At the time he had a listed number," Miele said. "I called and that was the beginning of our relationship. To this day we are friends - and he has a private number."

With Purcell on board, Miele's idea gained visual life.

The story revolves around the ex-Marine Trapman. This regular guy has no superpowers, but he grew up with a lot of crime. He and pal Joey decide they want to do something about it.

Trapman, whose nickname comes from setting traps in Vietnam, has nothing to lose and begins to fight against crime. Others join in - and things start to look up.

Miele went on to write much more, including a three-part series titled "The Adventure of Dr. S." including "Tiggermortis," "Demononmainia," and "Souvenir Hunters from Mars."

Upon the release of "Trapman," Miele was approached by Mike Reed, the president of the Comics Magazine Association of America not only to be a member but to receive the Best First Time Comic of All Time honor. Reed also put in a personal order of 500,000 copies for the freshly published comic.

Miele's clever concoctions have pleased more than himself and comic-book cravers. Dungeons and Dragons creator Dave Arneson appreciated "Trapman" and its complexity, so he offered him the opportunity to turn the comic into a game.

The stories, filled with sci-fi thrilling twists and turns, are not only the result of Miele's creative thinking but also represent different areas of his not-so-normal, downright adventure-ridden life.

The self-proclaimed war orphan was left on a door step of a Catholic church in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y.. Miele was taken in by a family and attended Sacred Heart Catholic schooling in Yonkers for 13 years.

From there, he joined the U.S. Marines Corp, serving four years including a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965.

Upon release from active duty, Miele enrolled in the first school that accepted him: Bemidji State University.

"I was discharged in the spring," he said, recalling the departure from the state of Virginia. "(I) left with a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. When I got to Bemidji it was snowing, raining and hailing all at the same time."

One quarter later, he transferred schools and climates and found himself at the Glendale Community College in California. The two-year school gave Miele an Associate of Arts in business.

Eventually, he earned a list of academic degrees that include a doctorate in metaphysics in California, an agriculture degree with an anthropology minor from the University of Minnesota, and he returned to Bemidji State University to complete a sociology degree.

"I did everything in an orderly fashion," Miele explained of his life up to that point. "School, military then college."

Before settling down, he had one more item to check off his list: travel the world.

Eighty-seven countries, several near-death experiences and living for more than 20 years with nothing but a backpack and guitar was Miele's deal.

"The world is a very small place," he said. "My desire to see as much of it as I could was huge."

Beginning his journey in Canada, Miele eventually started working as a musician while en route. His stays would last for a few days to several months; he recalled he had little money but more than enough time.

"I had played music since I was a boy, from taking piano lessons to learning guitar and then drums," Miele said. "Through the course of travel, my first contract was with Orpheu Record Studio in Portugal."

He also spent time working for Pye Records in London. Miele beams as he recalls having bumped shoulders with Pink Floyd in Amsterdam to his later-in-life experience recording with James Walsh of the Gypsy Band and Ken Chastain, who now plays bass for Ziggy Marley.

One particularly memorable situation happened while Miele was having tea with a friend in Morocco, North Africa. He noticed a tall, slender African-American man with a distinctive hairstyle strolling down the street.

"I asked him if he was an American," Miele explained, "He said, 'Yeah, how did you know?'" Miele's response, "You look like Jimi Hendrix."

"He said, 'I should, because I am,'" added Miele with a grin. They talked for a while and Hendrix told Miele if he ever made it back to New York, he should stop by the Electric Lady Studio, scribbling a note for him with the address and his name.

Recalling the meeting like it was yesterday, Miele laughs at his brazen efforts, reflecting on handfuls of other instances where he found himself in understated "crazy" situations.

"Half the time I didn't even know where I was," he adds.

From being held as prisoner in Lebanon, to surviving through a revolution in Bolivia, to staying with the president of Bangladesh to avoid being bombed, to living in huts in South Africa and studying magic with witch doctors to an encounter with the once-thought-to-be-extinct Alma monkey (think of a smaller version of a Yeti) - Miele said he has experienced situations most would never dream of -- or desire.

But for Miele, these events color his comic books.

Sitting in his home office off East Avenue in Red Wing, Miele is surrounded with photographs and artifacts from his adventurer days.

Two giant "Trapman" comics, illustrated by Purcell and colored by Paul Fricke of DC Comics and inked with their autographs, adorn his wall behind a one-of-a-kind desk carved in Myanmar.

Shelves are lined with binders of an international collection of books, stories and letters from friends, pleading for another visit from the once long-haired American that passed through years ago.

Married now to a woman who "is totally normal," Miele said he enjoys his life in small-town America. The couple moved to Red Wing six years ago to escape the growing Twin Cities population.

Miele still writes and has almost wrapped up his latest piece, "Agent of Fate." The book has illustrations by world-renowned airbrusher Steve Fastner and pencil artist Richard Larson, who are known for the artwork in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Dark Horse Comics."

In one tale, Trapman states, "you are what you read."

In Miele's case, you could say he is what he writes.

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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