HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology cover by Charlie Adlard

The Kickstarter campaign for HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology is in its final days this week, and the project has been a resounding success. Conceived of last year as a way to help struggling shops during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the finished product is a collection of one-page stories based on the theme of giving and receiving help. The anthology was developed by editors Omar Spahi and Hannah Means-Shannon, who recruited an incredible roster of creators to contribute in support of The Hero Initiative.

Spahi and Means-Shannon chatted with The Beat about the evolution of the project, the appeal of single-page stories, and the challenge of working with more than 100 creators at once. You can find that, plus an exclusive look at a pair of stories from the anthology, below.

Joe Grunenwald: Who came up with the idea to do this anthology? Did one of you recruit the other, or did you develop it together?

Omar Spahi: I was concerned about the pandemic being the end for the comics industry, so it came through conversations together to build something through comics to make a difference.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Omar and I were chatting about projects, since we’ve known each other professionally and personally for several years, and he bounced the idea for an anthology off me to get my opinion on it, not necessarily expecting me to be involved, but it perfectly fit my feelings about wanting to do something active and helpful at the time. So, we started exploring the subject further together. Omar knew that it needed to be about HELP and that felt right too.

Grunenwald: What made Kickstarter the ideal method of funding this project?

Spahi: Kickstarter is the best way to connect with people in an honest and sincere way. It’s the easiest way to directly connect creators and fans.

Means-Shannon: Kickstarter has become a very comics-friendly platform over recent years, and comics readers have become very familiar with it as a go-to place to find cool projects. While Kickstarter already has been increasingly the home of high-profile comics projects, since the pandemic started, that momentum has jumped up a notch. Kickstarter is also inherently transparent and easy to use for newcomers.

“S.O.S.” by David Pepose, Tony Donley, & Dave Dwonch

Grunenwald: The campaign page says this project started as a way to help comic shops impacted by the pandemic, before shifting to become more creator-focused and benefit The Hero Initiative. How did that shift impact the way you’ve worked on putting this book together? Did it make any aspect of the project easier or more difficult?

Spahi: In the beginning, we all wondered who would need the most help with the pandemic. Was the comic industry going to survive? Or was this it? Is the pandemic the nail in the coffin for comics? I think we all had some scary thoughts at first, but then it changed into ‘where can we do some good’?

Means-Shannon: Because our contributing comic creators have been so awesome, patient, and supportive, they were able to be part of that conversation in shifting the focus from the brief, earliest phase when we were exploring helping comic shops, to the secondary phase where it became clearer that working with The Hero Initiative made the most sense for the project. This didn’t change the storytelling in the anthology very much, since the idea of helping others is so universal and encompasses so many possible approaches, but it did give creators a chance to talk to us about why The Hero Initiative was important to them, personally. Support for that decision was unanimous. That feedback actually encouraged and emboldened me and Omar to move forward with confidence.

Grunenwald: What appealed to you about using stories that are just one page long for this anthology?

Spahi: With the community coming together to create 1-page stories for similar fundraising graphic novels like Love is Love and Where We Live, we decided to do the same and were able to include more stories from more creators.

Means-Shannon: This whole time period has been pressurizing in terms of time, energy, and resources, and particularly for comic creators, many of whom had stop-and-go schedules during the pandemic. Suggesting one-page stories was a way of opening the door to as many creators as possible, some of whom may only have had the ability to commit to a short project because of other needs and responsibilities. But, personally, I have always been an anthology fan and an editor of anthologies whenever possible, and I think the short form style challenges creators and often encourages them to deliver some of their finest work, pared down to their most meaningful storytelling.

“Waiting” by Hannah Means-Shannon, Alfie Gallagher, & Taylor Esposito

Grunenwald: What’s the most challenging aspect of this project been for each of you? I imagine with the number of people involved there’ve been a lot of moving parts to keep track of.

Spahi: You hit the nail on the head—the number and quality of people involved has been nothing short of astounding. Hannah has done a fantastic job getting everyone together and helping put together a kick-ass anthology.

Means-Shannon: Thank you, Omar! Because I had previously worked as an editor of teams up to 90 people, I was more able to handle working with 120 people on this project. I used a lot of organizational methods gleaned from past experience to take us from the first story in the collection to the last. But the real help was the professionalism of our creators who kept in great communication with me at each stage of their comic, from pitch through layouts, line art, colors, and letters, making sure we could stay on track. The most challenging part of the project for me has actually been working on design and layout editing because of the virtually limitless possibilities of a book with such a wide topic and such varied approaches to story and art style.

Grunenwald: Who are each of you most excited contributed to the book? Do you have any personal favorites of the stories?

Spahi: It’s not fair—I have so many favorites, so I don’t think it’d be fair for me to pick one. But I’d love to highlight Hannah’s story about helping not always being in the way you’d expect. I also love Michael Jan Friedman’s story about an age-old classic getting turned on its head. What am I talking about? You’ll have to check out the anthology on Kickstarter to find out.

Means-Shannon: As an editor, I definitely can’t have favorites, but I am extremely grateful for every single story that was created for this book. I’m also totally impressed by the ingenuity and heart of the comic creators involved. I am excited that the book reflects the decision we made early on, that slice-of-life comics, fantasy, sci-fi, and all points in between, would be included in the book, and also a wide array of art styles. We wanted to show as accurately as possible how broad the comics medium can be alongside this message of help, and I believe the book does that.

Grunenwald: Given the success of this campaign do you have any plans for future volumes of HELP?

Spahi: The mission to help The Hero Initiative isn’t a one-time goal, it’s about continuing to help them day after day. So, while there are no plans beyond this campaign, I’d love to see others continue to come up with projects and ways to help The Hero Initiative in the future.

Means-Shannon: I definitely want to see this anthology continuing to support The Hero Initiative in the future in whatever way it can. But also, I have had such a positive experience working with The Hero Initiative on this project that it does make me want to find other ways to support them in the future for the immense good they do.

An additional pair of stories from the anthology: “Alone Together” by Curt Pires, Antonio Fuso, Oliver Mertz, and Micah Myers; and “Up The Mountain” by Magdalene Visaggio, Ilias Kyriazis, Cris Peter, and DC Hopkins

Grunenwald: What would you say to someone who’s on the fence about supporting this project?

Spahi: If you can support this book, do it. You’re going to get an amazing book and support an amazing cause with The Hero Initiative. It’s as simple as that.

Means-Shannon: Some of the finest comic creators working right now made time during a very scary period in their lives to say something meaningful in this collection, and you can experience that in a very direct way by reading these short, punchy stories. You’ll be honoring their work as well as supporting an incredibly worthy cause with The Hero Initiative, who are improving the lives of comic creators facing big challenges on a daily basis. They are needed more now than ever.

The Kickstarter campaign for HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology ends this Thursday, July 15th, at noon Eastern.