For good or ill, many people go through high school and begin to form the adult they will become. Four St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute alumni who made their marks on the world were honored by the private school with inductions into the SJCI Fine Arts Wall of Honor during a ceremony at Buffalo State College Dec. 13.
This year's honorees include Artie Kwitchoff '84, a music promoter and owner of the Town Ballroom; Zachary Cain '98, a freelance artist, graphic designer and animator; JJ Wright '03, a jazz improviser and member of the U.S. Naval Academy Band; and Christopher Markus '87, a successful screenwriter who is one of the minds behind the Marvel Studios franchise of films.
Markus is currently determining the fate of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a co-writing role on "Avengers: Infinity War," coming this May, and an untitled Avengers sequel set for 2019, but he hails from humble beginnings. Raised in North Buffalo by a Catholic mother and Jewish father, Markus was brought up Catholic and attended Nardin Academy and SJCI.
Markus admits that high school was a difficult period for him, but the teachers at St. Joseph's were supportive of his passion for writing.
"There were a lot of good things that came out of St. Joe's," he said during a phone interview. "All my English teachers were very encouraging ... (a) general encouragement that I could write, that it wasn't a secondary skill, and that writing was important. I don't know if they still make you do those writing journals where you had to fill pages, but it's actually a very useful ability. It's very good training for being a professional writer."
After high school, Markus went onto take creative writing courses in college and then attended UC Davis in California. It was there where he met his writing partner, Stephen McFeely, and they would go onto focus on screenwriting and move to Hollywood.
Their first big screenplay that was produced was the television movie, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers." From there, they wrote several films for the "The Chronicles of Narnia" series, based on the acclaimed children's fantasy novels by C.S. Lewis.
Markus was a childhood fan of the books, which contain many Catholic and Christian allegories. For him, the appeal was the fantasy setting, not the religious metaphors; an aspect Markus didn't even understand was there until later.
"We felt the pressure that these (Narnia films) cannot be message before story," Markus said. "In order to write a functioning movie with real characters and a plot that seems to not be dictated by an agenda, you have to put whatever underlying message the author might have intended as far away as possible. There's a difference between a fable and a sermon."
In 2008, the screenwriting team was hired to bring Captain America to the screen, well before the Marvel Studios' recipe for universe building was an established success. Markus enjoyed the Narnia books and Marvel Comics in his youth, but his fandom faded as an adult. Coming back to the material with fresh eyes helped the writers adapt these beloved characters for the screen.
"There's a lot of deconstructive work that needs to be done on these things in order to turn them into a movie," Markus said. "You don't want to be disrespectful, but you have to have enough distance from the original (material) in order to go, 'We have to chop that part off and put a new part on.' You know you're successful when people watch it and say, 'Oh, that was pretty accurate,' when you yourself know how much you changed."
Markus is currently on set in Atlanta, where they are filming the next Avengers sequel due in 2019. The next two Avengers films are the culmination of almost two dozen different Marvel franchise movies that began with 2008's "Iron Man."
"It's fantastic," Markus said of working for Marvel Studios. "Each step has been, 'I can't believe we're getting to do this.' We're really at the pinnacle of seven or eight movie franchises at the moment. You feel like a kid at the world's biggest toy store, and people keep not saying 'no' to us. It's crazy."