A Man of Many Parts
Mark Glassy ’78 shares his passion for science and science fiction in a new UCR exhibition on display through Dec. 14.
By Sandra Baltazar Martínez
When trying to understand what makes Mark Glassy tick, it’s best to start in a place he affectionately calls the “Inner Sanctum of Awesomeness.”
This shrine to geekdom in Glassy’s San Diego home features numerous collect-ibles such as B-9, the robot from “Lost in Space,” who greets visitors. It’s also where the cancer researcher spends many evenings sculpting figurines of his favorite science fiction film characters. On other nights, he’ll compose articles for the scientific journal he founded, Human Antibodies, or finalize details for an international science conference.
“It’s me. Look around, it’s me,” said Glassy, 66. “No matter how hectic, how stressful my day has been, when I walk into my room, it all washes away. I can’t help but smile.”
Over several decades, Glassy has collected more than 100,000 science fiction items. A number of those, as well as many of his own creations, will be exhibited at the Tomás Rivera Library’s Special Collections and University Archives in a 12-week special exhibition titled “Mark Glassy and Frankenstein: Men of Many Parts.” The exhibition, which coincides with the 200th anniversary of author Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” includes sculptures, comic books, posters, magazines, and other pieces relating to the novel and subsequent film adaptations. The fourth-floor exhibition will feature special tours and conversations with Glassy, as well as other guest speakers. It will be open to the public until Dec 14.
“Having an alumnus return to support his alma mater is a validating moment for the institution,” said Cherry Williams, director of distinctive collections within UCR Library’s Special Collections and University Archives, and a curator of the show.
“Mark’s gift represents a culmination of both personal and professional attainment on his part, which he is sharing with our UCR community, as well as the Riverside community at large, and for which we are truly appreciative and grateful,” Williams said.
Glassy’s interest in science fiction started early on, and it only grew with age. He recalled wearing spaceship pajamas as a boy, being transfixed by the 1956 movie “Earth vs. Flying Saucers,” and becoming mesmerized during a visit to London’s Madame Tussauds wax museum in the 1960s. He was inspired to make figures of his own after discovering the “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine, which was launched in 1958. His parents bought him his first “Frankenstein” model kit in 1961.
In high school, he and his brother shot 8mm short films and made movie sets, costumes, and props — including an adult-sized coffin Glassy still has in his garage. They also used G.I. Joe action figures as extras during action scenes.
That’s also around the time Glassy discovered pulp magazines, known for the cheap wood pulp paper on which they were printed.
“I loved the smell,” Glassy said. “You turned the pages and they kind of crumbled in your hands. The odor of them is just awesome. The writing was atrocious, but that’s the fun of it.”
‘Inner Sanctum of Awesomeness’
The space consists of Glassy’s home office and two bedrooms, which have been converted into exhibit rooms for the items he’s acquired and those he’s built by hand. His collection grew even more once he became a father — three children required three sets of toys. Now, some have been passed down to his grandchildren.
The office features a wooden desk surrounded by superhero toys, VHS tapes, comic books, and science fiction posters. Shelves line the walls, holding thousands of mementos and figurines representing decades of science fiction history, such as R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” a cardboard cutout of “Superman” Christopher Reeve, a human-sized model of the titular “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and a collection of 1-foot-tall, hand-sculpted “Frankenstein” characters.
In order to create his sculptures, Glassy plops down on a love seat in the office to watch — and rewatch — a scene until he’s able to sketch it in his mind and translate it into art. Next to the couch sits a sculpture space consisting of an old elementary school desk surrounded by molding tools, small paint bottles, and jars of Apoxie Sculpt clay.
While his day job sees him in a research lab searching for a cure for brain cancer, his inner sanctum has become a different sort of laboratory. But for Glassy, the parallels are obvious.
“The best way to describe me is: Clark Kent plays with the collection, Superman is in the lab,” Glassy said.
His work and collection “are the things that make him a ‘mad doctor,’” said JJ Jacobson, UCR’s Jay Kay and Doris Klein Librarian for Science Fiction, and one of the exhibition’s two curators. “Mark has the kind of vision, passion, energy, and concentration that make it really fortunate for the rest of us that he’s not the kind of mad doctor who wants to rule the world. Instead, he’s mad for science fiction, comic books, and horror movies; absolutely mad about the range and power of the human imagination; and, of course, really mad at cancer,” Jacobson said.
Glassy arrived at UCR in 1975 to begin his doctoral studies in biochemistry. He said UCR provided him the necessary support and independence that was required while spending endless hours in the lab designing his own experiments and researching B-lymphocytes — white blood cells that support the immune system by fighting off germs and diseases.
For the past 37 years, Glassy has been working at UC San Diego, most recently taking on the role of visiting scholar at its Moores Cancer Center.
During his time at UC San Diego, Glassy founded Nascent Biotech Inc., which develops pritumumab, a pharmaceutical drug designed to treat brain cancer by boosting the body’s natural ability to generate an immune response. The drug has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for review.
When Glassy heard UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox speak during a San Diego reception two years ago, he was impressed with UCR’s growth, diversity, and its mission to support first-generation students while simultaneously supporting faculty who conduct world-class research.
UCR’s Eaton Collection of Science Fiction & Fantasy, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of science fiction, fantasy, and horror items, makes UCR a natural place for Glassy to showcase his collection. As someone familiar with the university’s own trove of treasures, Jacobson said the items on display are truly one of a kind.
“There are many collectors out there who love Frankenstein; there are many model makers who do wonderful work, but what sets the material in ‘Men of Many Parts’ apart is all that combined with Mark’s incredible eye for detail, the scientific understanding with which he views the popular culture of monsters, and his extraordinarily wacky sense of humor,” she said.
Visit library.ucr.edu to learn more about the exhibit and RSVP.
A Few of Mark Glassy’s Many Parts
Family: The youngest of three children, he has been married for 44 years to Donna Glassy, and together they have three children.
Books: He is the author of three books, “The Biology of Science Fiction Cinema” (2001, McFarland), “Movie Monsters in Scale” (2010, McFarland), and “Biology Run Amok!” (2018, McFarland).
Favorite movie: “Metropolis” (1927)
First comic book purchased: “Superman”
Favorite author: Isaac Asimov’s books piqued his interest in robots and introduced him to other sci-fi novels, including those written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Writing: Inspired by Asimov, Glassy has been journaling nightly since the 1970s. He is now on volume 40, having written more than 16,000 pages.