Do you know Ed Hannigan? Chances are, if you grew up in the late ’70s or early ’80s, you do, or at the very least, you know his work. Ed drew hundreds of covers for Marvel and DC during that time, and had memorable stints as the interior artist on titles like “Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man,” and “The Defenders,” even writing the latter for a time. After such a prolific career, one might expect that a creator would be able to retire on Easy Street, his future secured. But as is often the case in the comic industry, particularly with creators from earlier decades, things aren’t that simple.
Ed is afflicted with multiple sclerosis, a nervous system disorder that has made it increasingly difficult for him to support himself with regular comics work. And, with the health care costs such as they are these days, being without regular income was becoming more and more of a problem. That’s where the Hero Initiative came in.
Founded in 2000, the Hero Initiative is dedicated to repaying those creators who provided us with years of fond memories and treasured stories, by filling in the gaps when they find themselves in crisis. To that end, the folks at the Hero Initiative conceived of “Ed Hannigan: Covered,” a special one-shot collecting many of Ed’s more famous Marvel covers, with added content from a number of well-known contributors. All proceeds from the sales of the book will go towards helping Ed deal with the financial aspects of his situation. CBR News spoke with Hero Initiative President Jim McLauchlin to get details about Ed’s situation and what the project entails.
CBR News: To start with, what can you tell us about Ed’s situation?
JIM MCLAUCHLIN: Ed is 59 years old and suffers from multiple sclerosis. Ed can definitely work a little bit, but really not a heck of a lot. We’re looking at his situation in a “stitch in time to save nine” kind of way. Right now, Ed’s doing okay; he’s getting by, but again, he can’t work very much at all. Doing any kind of regular comics work is pretty much impossible for him. So he’ll do a few pieces here and there, the occasional cover, the occasional commission piece. But really we’re looking to do something that’s very proactive in this case, and sort of get out in front of what might be a larger financial problem down the line.
How did Ed’s situation come to Hero Initiative’s attention?
Actually, via Dick Giordano. Dick is part of our board of directors, and Dick and Ed have been friends approximately forever. And Ed is a pretty quiet guy. Ed’s not the kind of guy who’s going to jump up and make a lot of noise about himself or really complain about his station in life or anything like that. A couple of years ago, when we were putting together the “Ultimate Hulk 100 Project,” I had made a list of pretty much every Hulk artist ever. Anybody who had ever done more than 3 issues of Hulk, we wanted to see if we could get them to do one of the covers for us, and Ed Hannigan was part of that list. I didn’t have any contact information on Ed, so I sent out an email to everybody on our board saying “Hey, I’m looking for Ed Hannigan, if anyone has a phone number, an email address, I’d like to get in touch with him, I’d like him to do one of these.”
I heard back from Dick saying, “Here’s Ed’s contact information, but he’s got MS. It’s a little tough, I don’t know if he’ll be able to help or not.” So I got in touch with Ed and said, “Hey man, here’s what we’re doing; I understand you might not be in the best of health, but if you’d like to do it, we would love to have you as part of this.” And Ed just jumped up and said, “Yeah, absolutely, I would love to do one.” So, right from the get go, it was interesting in that Ed was actually helping us out with something. Definitely, when you add that on top of it, it seems only double fair that we return the favor for him.
Is that where the idea to do a collection of Ed’s covers came from, because he was doing the cover for the Hulk project?
Yeah, and also, Ed spent many, many years as an art director at DC Comics, and in a very similar capacity at Marvel Comics. Ed used to do cover layouts for pretty much all the artists at either DC or Marvel, and Ed was very proud of the stuff he did there. He would kind of do a thumbnail sketch, more often than not in color, and kind of give the artists a direction for everything Marvel was doing; everything from “Amazing Spider-Man” to “Daredevil” to “Defenders” to you name it. I think Ed kind of looked at as his way of putting his stamp on everything Marvel was doing at the time.
Really, that’s a body of work that Ed is very, very proud of, and he has a lot of those cover sketches, a lot of those cover layouts, to this day. We decided to do something [like this collection], because it’s something that really hasn’t been seen before. We’re going to run a lot of his cover layouts, and then we’ll run a picture of the actual cover by a different artist alongside of it; sometimes it’s John Byrne, sometimes it’s Herb Trimpe, sometimes it’s Ed himself. It could be pretty much anybody. We’ll kind of show the process; here’s Ed’s thumbnail, here’s the final piece from an artist, and more often than not, we’ll also have a little commentary from the artist on that as well. It’s kind of a way to show people some work that they probably never even realized that Ed Hannigan did, but again, it’s a way that he really made his stamp across Marvel for a number of years.
What was his initial reaction when you first told him about the idea of doing this project?
Well, he said it seemed like it was a cool idea. Like I said, it’s odd, because most fans, most collectors, would take a look at it, and say “Oh, his work on ‘Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man’ was the big thing.” But like I say, Ed is very, very proud of this work that he did, and he really considers it probably his highest moment as an artist when he was doing all these cover layouts. So I think, more than anything, he really liked the idea that people would actually get to see this work, which they probably didn’t even realize Ed had a hand in. And again, I think he was happy that this is really work that hasn’t been seen by much of anybody, so they’ll get an opportunity to check it out now.
How did Marvel come to get involved in the project?
Marvel has been very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very kind to us. So it was as simple as, I called Marvel, I explained the situation, I explained what was happening with Ed, and just said, “Hey, I’d like to do a project like this, is that cool?” And they said, “Yeah, absolutely. It’s not a problem.” Generally speaking, Marvel is a bunch of great guys. They’re very warm, they’re very big-hearted, they’ve been very kind to us in a number of ways.
There are a number of other contributors involved with this book; Mark Millar, Mike Oeming, Jim Valentino, Herb Trimpe, etc. How did they all get involved?
I sent out a mass email to a whole bunch of different comic creators, and I just said, “Hey, we’re planning this thing here; we’ll have some room not just for Ed’s work, but we’ll run a few tribute pieces in the back of the book as well, so if you’d like to jump up and contribute one, just let me know; we’d be happy to have you.” And a whole bunch of guys said “Oh yeah, absolutely, Ed’s a buddy,” or a lot of guys said “Oh absolutely, you know, I grew up on Ed’s stuff when I was a kid.” So a lot of people just jumped up and volunteered to be part of it.
Has any of Ed’s work in particular made an impression on you?
You know, I kind of think of the same thing that so many other people say; a lot of those “Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man” covers were really amazing. It’s sort of interesting in that they were amazingly forward thinking for their time, but they also had one foot planted back in the past. Ed really had almost that sort of Will Eisner design sense, in incorporating the title treatment into the art itself. So to my mind, that was really some great stuff, some very innovative stuff, and I think that Ed was smart enough to really kind of bridge the past with the present at the time he was doing this.
You mentioned that Ed’s level of productivity is lower than it used to be because of his illness, but he’s still able to do the occasional cover or commission. Is he planning to do more cover work?
I don’t know, we’ll see. He did the cover for this book, so that’s a step in the right direction. And he also wound up doing a cover as well for our “Wolverine: Weapon X 100 Project,” so once again, Ed said “Hey, I’d love to be part of that as well.”
Now, if fans, beyond this, and want to support Ed by buying more of his work, where can they go and what can they buy?
There’s a few things, and I think probably the best thing is some of the “Marvel Essentials” stuff has a fair amount of Ed’s work. I know that Ed receives a small commission off of sales on that, so really, any of the “Marvel Essentials” that contain Ed Hannigan’s work. [You’ll get] some great material, and Ed will wind up getting a couple of nickels off it.
For people who’d like to make a contribution to the Hero Initiative in general, how would they go about that?
Best way is just to hit the website, which is heroinitiative.org; it’s not a dotcom, it’s a dotorg. So hit that, and right up at the top of the page you will see a link that says “Donate Now”. And there’s an organization called “Network For Good,” which is a large sort of clearinghouse organization for lots of different charities. Fans can make a donation via Network For Good, or they can always make a donation to us via PayPal. Our PayPal address is email@example.com. We use that because that’s usually how we get paid when we run Ebay auctions.
Is there a way for people to volunteer to help the Hero Initiative?
Yeah, absolutely. Again, if you check the website, there will be a tab up top that says “Volunteer Now,” and we’re always looking for people to help us out, particularly at conventions and other live events. My experience is, most people don’t consider it work; it’s a hell of a lot of fun for people. Most fans, they’re used to standing in line for two hours, waiting to get George Perez to autograph their books, and if you’re working with Hero [Initiative], chances are you get to sit there next to George Perez for two hours, and bullshit with him, and have a grand old time as other chumps are waiting in line for two hours. So, you know, there are other ways to help as well, but again, conventions and live events – we typically need some help on stuff like that. People can find out a lot more information via the website.
So how are things going for the Hero Initiative overall?
Pretty good. You know, over the last year or so, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore, as I put it in finger quotes, “the economy that we’re in.” I’ve definitely seen a little bit more need, such as it is, from people, over the last year or two. I think in terms of our revenue side, in terms of generating revenue, we’ve been doing pretty well; the big difference is, we used to get a fair amount of what is known in the charitable business as unsolicited donations. That’s when you go to the post office box, and suddenly somebody sent a check for 20 bucks, or 50 bucks, just ’cause they felt like it, they wanted to do something nice, so on and so forth. Those have really pretty much disappeared for us. And honestly, those have pretty much disappeared for many charities; people’s belts are a little bit tighter.
Really most of what we do is we try to create product, we try to create events that people really want to be part of. I think the Ed Hannigan book is a good book. It’s worth your money, period. Outside of it having a direct financial benefit for Ed Hannigan, if you’re a comics fan, you’ll probably dig this book. It’s just a good product. So really, as long as we concentrate on providing products and providing events that people really want to be part of, I think we’ll do okay. And we’ve been doing okay; it’s just a matter of us amping our game up a little bit and making sure that we’re always doing that, providing products and services that people dig.
What other projects are you guys working on?
The “Ultimate Wolverine” thing is going on right now; as a matter of fact, if you go to Ebay and search Hero Initiative, you’ll see a lot of the original covers being auctioned. We’re doing 12 per week until they’re all done. And the “Wolverine 100 Project” book will be in stores on December 2nd.
The Hero Initiative has been doing great work in helping creators in crisis, but is there a long-term solution, so creators don’t find themselves in the sort of situation hat requires your help? In other industries, workers have health care and retirement benefits; do you think there’s a way for that to come about in the comic industry?
That question has been asked for thousands of years in every profession. There have been unfortunate instances for people – and it doesn’t so much matter if you’re a potter, or a plumber, or a politician, or something else that starts with “p”. But there’s always something that happens; nobody can ever predict fully what the future is. And you know, again, in something like this with Ed Hannigan, we are trying to sort of head something off at the pass, and look at this in a much more proactive sense. But the question you bring up is a big one, and it’s a weighty one, and again it’s something that, as long as there has been, (and here’s where I start showing my pinko side), but as long as there has been private property and capital, there’s been haves and have-nots. And you know, hopefully we do a little bit to balance those scales where we can, but again, the question is a huge one, and mankind has been wrestling with it, ever since somebody invented something called money.
“Ed Hannigan: Covered” goes on sale December 2nd.