Stegron, Church Camp, and Growing Up

This is Stegron the Dinosaur Man.

"'Sup, y'all."

Stegron is a Spider-Man villain who wants to turn the human race into dinosaur people. He once led an army of dinosaurs down Broadway before getting his ass handed to him by Spidey and the Black Panther.

"Doin' what I do. Keepin' it real."

He may also be the reason I’m not a racist today.

The time was the late 1970’s. I was a little kid growing up in rural Michigan, heading off to church camp for the first time. The way it worked was that a lot of churches pooled together and rented space at this camp during a week in the summer. There must have been a dozen or more churches from all over Michigan at this camp that week. The church that my family went to wasn’t part of this arrangement, but the Dutch Reformationist church down the road from our house out in the boonies was, and they let other local kids sign up to go with them (probably so they’d have enough kids to qualify).

That last detail is important, because the area of Michigan I’m from was settled by a bunch of families from Holland way-back-when, and the kids with the Dutch last names sometimes had a bit of a chip on their shoulders about it (it seemed like nearly everything in the area was named after somebody Dutch, and I am actually part Dutch myself, way back in the bloodline somewhere, although I didn’t know it at the time). These kids certainly didn’t care for those of us who didn’t actually go to their church going with them to camp.

Upon arriving at church camp, and being the smallest kid of the lot by far, I soon learned this lesson in painful fashion. Of course there were nice kids at church camp, but once you have a target on your back (and chest, and face…) they tend to give you a wide berth lest the bullies come after them too. By the by, you wanna know what’s worse than being bullied at church camp? Being forced to room in a cabin with the kids bullying you at church camp. Good times.
"Praise Jesus! Now time for your nightly ass-whuppin'."

At that point I often found myself sitting by myself when it was meal time or arts & crafts time in one of the big buildings. Since the place was crowded, getting far away from the other kids meant sitting next to the black kids. The black kids were basically ignored by the white kids and just kept to themselves at the far end of one of the long tables.

I was scared of the black kids. I had literally never seen black people in person before that I could recall. I knew they existed because I was a big sports fan, but that’s about as far as my thinking went. My grandparents were, and my parents are (their protests to the contrary notwithstanding), overt racists. I guess it hadn’t completely rubbed off on me yet because there simply weren’t any black people where we lived, otherwise I probably would have heard it a lot more. Nevertheless, I’m sure whatever my youthful thinking about black people was, it was neither generous, rational, nor factual. But the white kids who harassed me were scared of them too, so at least sitting next to them meant a temporary reprieve from torment.

So there I was sitting next to the black kids, fearfully ignoring the bullies, escaping into my own little world as I often did. Normally my current obsession was drawing Star Wars stuff, and although I tended not to draw when depressed, I felt compelled to draw Spider-Man riding a dinosaur. Why?

Yep, Stegron.
This is probably the best story featuring Stegron ever.
"That's right, the Steg-man is--HEY!"

See, while I was already a comic book fan, I mostly kept to the characters I knew from Super Friends (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern) and Captain America (the Bicentennial had made a big impact on me). But at a garage sale not too long before the events of this church camp epic, I had gotten a hold of an old Spider-Man comic (Marvel Team-Up #20, 1974, to be exact) where he fought Stegron the Dinosaur Man alongside the Black Panther. Somewhat ironically, I didn’t even remember Black Panther was in this story until doing research for this article, but Spider-Man fighting dinosaurs sure made an impression.

So there I was doodling Spider-Man riding a dinosaur, imagining that Spidey had captured a couple of them after fighting Stegron and would now ride them into battle against other villains (I mean, why wouldn’t he?), when a deep voice said, “Hey man, that’s cool.”

It was the rather large black kid sitting next to me who had spoken. I froze. I was terrified. What do you do when a black person talks to you? (You really see how terrible and pathetic growing up racially segregated is in this story, don’t you?) I didn’t say anything.

“I like Spider-Man,” he added.

That worked, though. “You like Spider-Man?!” I blurted. Black people knew who Spider-Man was??? I had no idea! My erstwhile cabin mates had made fun of my twin obsessions of superheroes and Star Wars, so this was amazing and somehow rewarding to me on multiple levels.

“Yeah. I like dinosaurs too.”

It was on now! I launched into a hyper-verbal explanation of why I had drawn Spider-Man riding a dinosaur (so he would know that I wasn’t stupid or something), who Stegron was, and my theories on Spider-Man: Dinosaur Rider. He seemed fascinated. His friends leaned over and listened and asked questions. This was the best day of my life to that point!

“What else can you draw?” they asked. So I drew Jim Rice batting for the Red Sox. They knew he was and liked baseball too! Black people liked sports. Who knew?
"To be honest, I did."

Star Wars? They liked Star Wars too! It just kept getting better. I ended up telling them about my cabin problems, so they invited me to move into one of their cabins, which I did. The bullies left me alone because they were terrified of the black kids, and I had new church camp friends and was happy. More importantly, I started, in my own intellectually clumsy way, to realize that these mythical black people were actually just people like me.

And that’s the story of how Stegron set me on the path away from the racism I grew up around. I’m not going to pretend that this experience made me “woke” or completely non-racist. It’s taken me a lifetime to become the better person I am today, and there’s always room for improvement, but yeah, Stegron indirectly made the difference.

"Now imagine how much better we'd all get along if we were all dinosaur folk! Work with me, people!"

Chris Maka is a veteran video game and mobile app developer who also happens to be an illustrator himself (he has an online portfolio and additional artwork up on his DeviantArt page). He also tweets and instagrams occasionally. Chris started the Creative Encouragement Facebook group, dedicated to encouraging and motivating folks to not worry about how good they are and just have fun creating -- everyone is welcome, so please come join the fun! Chris is one of the Fifth World's founders and editors, and if you want to communicate at him directly, you can email him at

Stegron, Church Camp, and Growing Up Stegron, Church Camp, and Growing Up Reviewed by Chris Maka on Wednesday, November 22, 2017 Rating: 5
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