Waid Takes the (Hero) Initiative

In comics, the industry's history of creators dreaming up unstoppable, infallible supermen has often been accompanied by the efforts of their peer group and the rest of the comics community to lift up those in need in the face of hard times and poor health. But with the coalition of comics creators past and present perhaps as big as it's ever been, it's easy for some folks to fall through the cracks, and that's why the non-profit Hero Initiative was born.

Today, the group announced a new addition to their lineup of industry veterans and volunteers who devote time and effort to bringing care and aid to the less fortunate amongst the industry by announcing that writer and BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid has joined the Initiative's Board of Directors. CBR News caught up with Waid on what his role will mean for the organization, why he's as dedicated as ever to helping those in need and what fans need to know about the work done by the Hero Initiative.

CBR News: Congratulations, Mark! Before we get into some of the ins and outs of what this new position will mean for you, I thought we'd take it back and talk about your history with the Hero Initiative. I'm sure I've seen you participating in signings for the fund in the past, but what can you say about how you've worked with Jim and the gang up until now, and at what point did that discussion turn towards you taking a more active role as a Board Member?

Mark Waid: Well, longtime attendees of Beth Widera's MegaCon in Orlando will remember my sweat-soaked tour-de-force as auctioneer at one of the Hero Initiative's first charity events in 2002, so we go way, way back. And I've known co-founder and head honcho Jim McLauchlin since our days together as stickball champions, selling newspapers on street corners and devouring the latest adventures of the Yellow Kid. Since the Initiative's founding, I've done many, many signings and benefit events, though not nearly as often as have some of the true heavy-hitters of comics who've given so much time and energy. So imagine my surprise when Jim proposed me as a board member. It wasn't anything he and I had ever discussed; I was asked if I'd be interested, and I couldn't say "yes" fast enough. Jim knows I'm dedicated to the cause.

So, as a Board Member, what are your responsibilities and plans for the organization? Obviously, there's going to be an amount of behind the scenes opinion giving and consulting, but seeing as you're such a prominent person in the comics industry, will there be any added level of outreach and event planning on your docket?

Absolutely, though we're still in brainstorming discussions as to what that might entail. I will say that, to his credit, when I asked BOOM! publisher Ross Richie his opinion as to whether or not I could spare the time and energy this will take, his first question was "How can BOOM! help?" So obviously, the backing and support of one of the fastest-growing publishing companies in the industry - that's something I can bring to the table immediately, and we're already in discussions on how best to do so. Aside from that, I'm open to any and all suggestions as to how I might use my rarified set of skills to contribute to events, so long as those suggestions allow me to maintain what little shreds of dignity I still have. As the Board knows, I have a reputation for being...well, "outspoken" is a word. So I think they're counting on me to grab a megaphone and preach the gospel.

In general, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing the Hero Initiative right now, both in terms of the particulars of the great work they do and in terms of the challenges of keeping a non-profit fund up and running these days?

Obviously, the current economy is a challenge to every person and every group in America, but we're very fortunate in that it hasn't hurt our fundraising nearly as much as, as an outsider, I would have assumed it would've. We're still very much a thriving, growing entity. There's always room for improvement in the amount of contributions we can take in, but that's the case in good times and in bad. I think where we've been extraordinarily fortunate is in the way that the suffering economy, luckily, hasn't caused a cutback in comics conventions or store signings or any of the other venues where Hero can take a volunteered stage and continue its outreach to fans. We're still able to get the word out. If we have to work harder to do that, so be it. We're up for it.

In terms of the work we do, the obstacles are certainly there; these are hard times for everybody. But that just means that our services are in greater demand, and those who are aware of Hero and contribute to it continue to be very generous in helping us meet those demands.

Of late, it seems like some of the aid provided by the Initiative is shifting to a new generation of creators who may find themselves in need. I think sometimes fans view the organization has helping out octogenarian creators who worked during the Golden Age, but what's been your experience in terms of the breadth of talent that can benefit from the fund, and why is pitching in as a Board Member for all those folks important to you?

Help me get the word out: despite what some might think, the fund's disbursements are not limited to Golden or Silver Age creators. We're eager and ready to help whoever we can whenever we can, young or old. Obviously, until McLauchlin finally perfects his basement alchemy lab and we can at last start transmuting lead into gold, there are limits to how much financial assistance we can offer any one individual, but we'll do all we can. Every instance of need is evaluated by the Disbursement Board on a case-by-case basis, and there's yet to be anyone out there who's really, truly in dire danger who we've not been able to help somehow. Our contact info is right there on the webpage. And what's really exciting to me is that we'll soon be announcing other, related assistance programs that have less to do with cash disbursement and more to do with addressing other, longer-term needs. I don't mean to sound mysterious, but that's something for Jim to talk about when he's ready.

Why is pitching in important to me? Because it's the right thing to do, full stop. I've been very fortunate in my life and my career when there are so, so many other creators who are so much more talented than I am who've hit hard times and had bad breaks - that's not fair and that's not right, and if I have the power to address that injustice, it's my moral obligation to do so. If someone is in need through no fault of his or her own, and you find yourself in a position to help...well, welcome to the human race. That's the price of admission, and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Fortunately, being part of a medium with a fan base who grew up with Superman as an ethics instructor, the creators, fans, publishers and retailers who contribute to the Hero Initiative get it. They really do.

Does this position mean that the next time the Initiative does one of those "sketch variant" cover fundraisers you're going to draw something to be sold at auction? Because I think that would be pretty great.

You have inspired me. I expect you to bid. I hope you enjoy crayon drawings. Clear a spot on your fridge.

For more information on the Hero Initiative and to contribute, visit their homepage at HeroInitiative.org.

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