Over the weekend, I witnessed what has the potential to turn into a grassroots campaign to help one of my favorite charities, The Hero Initiative.
Singaporean author Wayne Rée released his debut book Tales from a Tiny Room at the Singapore Toy, Games and Comic Convention, perhaps not the obvious venue for the introduction of a collection of short stories. Sure, there are accompanying illustrations by several comics artists, and a number of the stories seem ripe for adaptation as comics, but it's definitely straight prose. Still, Rée chose the convention because comic books have long influenced him. This is not some keen observation; he's open about it. For about a year, he wrote a series of columns about his journey of discovering comics at The Comics Observer (no relation to this column!).
On Twitter and Tumblr, he frequently cites his love of Spider-Man, Warren Ellis and Jamie S. Rich. He even received permission to use a portion of Matt Fraction's talk "Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines" as the opening quote for Tales from a Tiny Room. And so, as a way to give back to what has given him so much, Rée announced he would donate one Singapore dollar to The Hero Initiative for every copy sold at the convention.
"[I]t seemed fitting to give to a non-profit that helps the giants who built the comics medium – especially since I was launching my book at a comic convention," he wrote.
At first glance, 1 SGD (about 80 cents U.S.) may seem like a pittance, but it can add up. Rée sold 114 copies of his book at the convention; not bad for the first time out of the gate. Bypassing the hassle of figuring out the exchange rate of the Singapore dollar to the U.S. dollar minus PayPal fees, he ended up giving $110. As a first-time author, he isn't likely to turn a profit on the book; the donation was never going to be in the thousands. After all, how many full-time short story authors from Singapore do you know? But it still helps to bring attention to the cause, and as every nonprofit will tell you, every donation counts, as it allows the organization to do more. No matter how you cut it, giving back is always a good thing.
"I think it's easier for me, since I have a day job," Rée told me. "The book is more a passion project that an 'Oh, God, I need this to sell or I'll starve' project, so it's a luxury I can afford."
Not everyone is in a situation where they can afford to make donations, but I would love to see more people adopt this approach. That's why I'm proposing the "$1 Per" campaign. I'm sure someone can come up with a better name, but the idea is to recreate what Wayne Rée has done. What comes after the "per" is up to you, whether you're a professional in the industry or a fan. It could be $1 per comic sold, $1 per comic bought, or countless variations. Whatever the barometer and guideline, any amount would make a huge difference.
The Hero Initiative is a great cause: It provides a financial safety net for creators who have fallen upon hard times. Although I was far from the first person to do so, more than a year and a half ago, I called for some kind of guild for the comics industry. Needless to say, it never happened. For creators with no 401k or retirement fund and limited finances, The Hero Initiative is one of their few options when faced with mounting medical expenses, the possibility of homelessness or an inability to work as they recover from an operation. The organization has helped Bill Mantlo, Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Russ Heath and many others.
The majority of the beneficiaries prefer to remain anonymous, but the need is there. Financial instability due to loss of health or loss of work, or both, is a terrifying reality for a lot of creators. Donating to The Hero Initiative is literally putting food on a beloved creator's table or helping her to pay for life-saving surgery or medication. Being able to be part of that is truly a heroic way to repay the artists and writers for the countless hours of entertainment we've received.
For creators: For every copy of a comic sold at a convention -- even it it's just one stop on your yearly schedule -- donate $1 to The Hero Initiative. Imagine how much money would be generated if only the writers and artists with books in Diamond Comic Distributors' Top 100 would do that. For those creators who perhaps aren't quite as successful, and who may rely on convention sales to cover the cost of their table or booth, consider donating $1 for each copy sold after turning a profit, or for every 10. For artists, maybe donate $1 for every commission or original art page sold. There are a lot of creative ways it could be done without eating up your income. It's also not strictly selfless generosity: It's sad to consider, but it could also be an investment in security for the future. Some of today's creators may, somewhere down the road, find themselves in a situation where they need The Hero Initiative.
It doesn't just have to just be creators donating, either. In fact, it definitely shouldn't only be creators. Publishers should come up with their own version of $1 Per. Retailers too could come up with their own proposal, even considering that profit margins for retailers are notoriously slim. A growing number of stores participate in the annual Kirby4Heroes campaign, but there are other ways to contribute to The Hero Initiative -- say, $1 for each customer that purchases something each Wednesday, or simply a donation bucket by the cash register.
Speaking of readers: They could set up a recurring donation of $1 for every week or month they buy comics. Or $1 for every $10 or $100 they spend. Or -- here's an idea! -- $1 for every free comic they get at Free Comic Book Day.
There are probably hundreds of permutations of $1 Per. The idea is that when you get something, you give a little something. If you can't give now, encourage others to do so, and start up when you can. Maybe it's not quite as flashy as the Ice Bucket Challenge, but I'm hoping some people are inspired by the idea of $1 Per, and we can bring some happiness to the lives of comics creators in need. They've certainly given us enough to last a lifetime.