The comic book industry failed.
Unless you’re being willfully ignorant, you have at least some idea of how the comic book industry has treated its creators. You’ve heard stories about unfair work for hire contracts, unpaid royalties, amoral if not criminal dealings where every last drop was squeezed from a creator solely to make the publisher a few more dollars. The Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons/DC contract for Watchmen is a bargain compared to what was done to creators like Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, and Jack Kirby. And that barely scratches the surface.
Some of the most talented comic book creators to ever grace the pages of the medium ended up destitute, not a penny to show for all the work they did, all the characters they created. These are people who made comics their life’s work, only to find themselves unable to support themselves or their families. More often than not, these are older creators who are no longer getting offers from comic book companies because their style of work no longer sells.
Imagine having barely enough money to get by, even while the company you freelanced for continues to make money on your creations. Now imagine getting sick.
Not too long ago, we ran a piece about a campaign to raise money for the wonderful artist Don Perlin. He’d had surgery to stop bleeding in his head, but there were complications. The internet comic book community raised nearly $22K in less than a month to help cover some of Don’s expenses.
Don’s situation is not unique, save for the fact that he knew the right people to rally the internet to his cause. Hero Initiative helps creators like Don on a regular basis.
But what makes Hero Initiative different and, you could argue, more important that the online campaigns to raise money is that they take care of the kinds of things most people don’t think about. They don’t just help with medical expenses, they pay for utilities, they send out grocery cards, they pay for housing. When a creator is hit by a surprise financial burden, there’s a domino effect. Medical expenses are surely the biggest blow financially, but there’s a difference between surviving and living; Hero Initiative helps creators to live.
I would imagine there’s some segment of the comic book audience who don’t understand why the Hero Initiative is necessary and, honestly, in a perfect world it wouldn’t be. I’m sure there are those who think that these creators should be able to take care of themselves, that they were paid for a job and that’s enough. But it’s not. Fair royalty plans for creators is a fairly new phenomenon, and even now it can still be a complicated, disheartening process. Even getting the money that is legally due to them can be difficult for creators given that they have to navigate through what are now part of two very large multi-national corporations.
Here’s a perfect example, from the Hero Initiative web site, from another legendary creator, Russ Heath:
“At 86 years old and with a bum knee (or two!), things are just a little more difficult. But Hero Initiative has been able to help me with finances, smooth over some medical expenses, and find me some very nice-paying art jobs. And now, one of their associates has just helped me in a new and immense way.
I did some animation work back in the 1960s and was part of the Motion Picture Industry’s Pension and Health Plan. I paid in to the plan…and forgot about it. The 1960s were a long time ago. Well, earlier this year, the Plan finally tracked me down and told me they had a lump sum of old money for me that had accumulated some interest and benefit. The notice came along with 11 pages of documents that were a little different to navigate. So I called the Hero Initiative.
They set me up with Harlan Wenig, their financial services advisor. Harlan speaks the language of those 11 pages a lot better than I do. Hero got copies of the documents to Harlan, and he called me to review and explain everything. He then conference-called the Plan with me on the line, and stayed on hold with me for hours as we were routed from department to department. Harlan had a feeling about something in those documents. Turns out…he was right.
Looks like I actually had about five times the money coming to me the Plan originally thought. Harlan knew the questions to ask, the people to talk to, and the way to get things taken care of. He was cheerful and professional throughout, and got the job done. At the end of a two-hour phone call, and once I finally got all the documents signed and sent in, I had a very nice check coming to me—again, about five times what I originally expected.
I’ve seen first-hand what the Hero Initiative does. Money, medical, financial advice—they work.
Like I say, I’m a pretty lucky guy.”
These aren’t creators asking for handouts, either. These are writers and artists who created and worked on some of the most famous characters in the world who are literally only asking for enough to get by. Think about how comics have shaped your life. Now think about the fact that some of the people who created those comics are unable to pay their rent and, in most cases, elderly. These aren’t handouts or even assistance, so much as repayment for the gift that these people gave us. It’s also a way to right a wrong committed by an industry that we’re all invested in.
You can donate to Hero Initiative here.
Or take a look at some of the amazing items they have in their shop.