By Gabriel Neeb
The images were horrifying. In the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and subsequent targeting of civilian infrastructure, an estimated five million Ukrainians had fled their homes and countless civilian casualties had been incurred. Scott Dunbier (editor, IDW) was moved by these images and the situation. In his frustration, he started having conversations with friends and colleagues in comics. Thus was born, Comics For Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds.
On Friday, July 22, Dunbier and many of the creators involved with the project gathered at San Diego Comic-Con to talk about it. The editor was joined by John Layman (Chew), Mark Evanier (Groo), Richard Walken (CEO, Operation USA), BillyTucci (SHI), Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo), and Eric Moss (crowdfunding platform, Zoop).
When Dunbier described the idea of a book as a way to raise funds for humanitarian relief, many of the creators agreed to provide material and stories for the book. Some of the first steps were to figure out where the money raised would go. One of the main criteria was that the money should go to a charity that didn’t have the onerous overhead that some charities have. Evanier suggested Operation USA (www.opusa.org).
The next step was to find a title. Master storyteller Kurt Busiek suggested one based on the viral video of an old Ukrainian woman telling a Russian occupier that he should keep sunflower seeds in his pocket so they grow when they bury him (watch here). Thus was added “Sunflower Seeds” to the title.
Comics For Ukraine was originally intended as a 96-page project. However, as the word spread, more and more creators were eager to contribute stories. Of the panelists, Layman was contributing a Chew story, Evanier was contributing a Groo story drawn by Sergio Aragones (and colored by longtime Groo colorist Tom Luth who came out of retirement for this story), Tucci was contributing a Rocketeer story, and Sakai would contribute a story. Creators also involved but not at the panel were as follows:
- Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson (ASTRO CITY story)
- Howard Chaykin (AMERICAN FLAGG story)
- Walt Simonson (STAR SLAMMERS story)
- Louise Simonson and June Brigmar (new story “The Cost of War”)
- Emil Ferris
- Larry Hancock and Michael Cherkas
- Chris Sprouse
- Colleen Doran
- Greg Hildebrandt
- Jill Thompson (SCARY GODMOTHER story)
- Kevin Nowlan
- Liam Sharp
- Matt Wagner (GRENDEL story)
- Peter Kuper
- Pia Guerra
- Joe Jusko (title page and has Ukrainian ancestry)
And all this is fronted by an Alex Ross cover.
The 96-page project soon became a 128-page project. Comics For Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds is available in numerous editions through Zoop, which is accepting new orders for the next 12 days (ending August 1, 2022). The campaign has so far raised $155 thousand dollars, and Dunier presented a check to Richard Walden for $100 thousand dollars at the panel.
Questions from the audience soon began. At this time, there are no plans to publish the book in Ukraine. The priority is funds for food and live support. Attempts were made to integrate Ukrainian artists into the project but the nature of the ongoing conflict made it extremely difficult. The book is not available through normal retail and distribution chains yet. Dunier says that is the next phase of the project. Eric Moss did confirm that Zoop has sold a few bundles to retailers, and a few creators have purchased bundles to sell through their appearances.
As the conflict is ongoing, the level of destruction is approaching a kind not seen since World War 2. Even if the war ended tomorrow, relief would still be needed. A follow-on project is being considered. Tucci stated that it has been an honor to work on this book.
Comics For Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds is currently available at Zoop.gg/c/comicsforukraine. Operation USA has been providing humanitarian relief all over the world since 1979. Donations to Operation USA can be made here.