Many of America’s comic shops are leaders in helping schools and libraries promote literacy throughout the country. Shop owners take special pride as they encourage reluctant, emerging and ELL readers (as well as more advanced readers) to build a lifelong love of reading.
Retailers Scott and Lainie Tomlin, longtime co-owners of Seattle’s venerable Comics Dungeon, have taken that pride to a whole new level. Effective February, they have converted their comic shop to a nonprofit. The new C4C3 (short for Comics, Compassion, and Culture) will convert all profits from their retail store into funding for their charitable operation.
As Scott told me at this year’s Emerald City Comicon, “It’s all about making willing readers out of everyone. We’re looking to get comics into schools, libraries and classrooms, whether for instruction or for recreation, and make it easy for people who want to read. We’ve done programs with local schools and libraries for years and we want to magnify it. It’s been received incredibly well. Teachers want the material but the budgets are incredibly limited.”
In fact, the connection to Comics Dungeon to C3C3 allows the charity the ability to, as Scott said, “magnify the effect of donations. You donate $500 to a library, that library will have to go buy $500 worth of books at retail prices. You donate $500 to us, we can pay wholesale. We can almost double the effect.”
The charity has already excited young readers, in areas Tomlin didn’t quite expect. “We’re just beginning but a lot of the demand comes for the teenage reader books. The Raina Telgemeier books like Ghost and Smile are big ones. Miles Morales Spider-Man is another one of the characters that the readers actually identify with, with their backgrounds. Ms. Marvel is another one that has a lot of demand with the young Muslim readers. We’re finding even science teachers are interested in some of the nonfiction books that are coming out. There really isn’t a place that we haven’t found a fit yet.”
As Lainie Tomlin added, “Our goal is to encourage more willing readers, including English language readers, across many topics and genres.”
When I asked Tomlin about his inspiration for this effort, he revealed there were two major reasons. “One, just the reaction we had when we were in with the schools. But two, we just — Lainie and I got to the point, particularly this year, where we wanted to do something positive about a lot of the negativity we’re seeing in general. I can’t do anything about the election. I can’t do anything about the political environment or anything like that, but I can bring joy to a few people through this program.”
Tomlin’s family has a longtime passion for education. “Education and libraries is in my blood. My mother was a librarian. My folks were teachers. My cousin is a teacher.”
Joining the Tomlins on the board of C4C3 are three well-recognized experts in the comics industry and education. They are Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the bestselling Amulet and Copper series; Rob Salkowitz, educator, columnist and author of Comic-con and the Business of Pop Culture; and Tracy Williams, an experienced curriculum director in Washington state public schools.
Fans all over the world can donate money to this 403(c)3 IRS certified charity. For Seattle area fans, as Scott reports, donations can be made in several ways. Fans can donate “books, comics money and we’ll be starting a volunteer program as well. If people want to come in and stuff bags and boards, alphabetize a longbox, we’ll have all sorts of tasks. We’ll have a kids’ drawing club that we’ll be asking for some volunteers to help us out with as well. As soon we receive our federal approval, companies like Nintendo and Microsoft will be able to match and contribute for those volunteer hours as well.”
Thus far the new charity has gone very well. “Reception has been great from parents and teachers. We’ve been collecting cash donations here at the convention and been doing well at that as well. We have yet to receive even a slight negative comment.”