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SHUT IN THEATER: Kind acts in the comics community in the time of COVID-19

Some of the ways the comics community has banded together in these trying times.

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“Comics will break your heart” is such a well-known phrase in comics that Faith Erin Hicks used it as the title of her debut novel. But, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, a pandemic unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, almost the entire comics community seems to have its heart in the right place. Comic book creators, publishers, and fans have stepped up to support this industry and art form, raising money for creators and comic shops in some really incredible ways. Here are a few examples of how individuals and organizations are supporting those in need in the comics community during the time of COVID-19.

Art Auctions

A number of art auctions have popped up in recent weeks with proceeds going to the sectors of the comics industry that need it most. SKTCHD raised money for shops by organizing art giveaways with creators including Ramon Villalobos, Declan Shalvey, and Daniel Warren Johnson

Rob Liefield is drawing new sketches daily and selling the original art through Instagram to raise money for comic book stores. Liefield predicts his auctions will net a total of $100,000 for comic book stores.

Jim Lee is similarly auctioning off one commission a day for 60 days with all proceeds going to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC). A single piece sells for between $5000 and $13,000, which after 60 days will mean a staggering sum of money going to a foundation made to provide relief to retailers.

Eric Stephenson’s open letter urging publishers to help retailers

On March 18, the Chief Creative Officer & Publisher of Image Comics Eric Stephenson released an open letter sharing that all of Image’s new product on FOC for the next 60 days returnable and the publisher is canceling non-essential releases like second printings and reprints. He urged other publishers (Marvel and DC in particular) to take similar steps to protect the backbone of the comics industry. Retailers have taken issue with how other publishers reacted to the pandemic, but Image Comics was widely saluted for taking an early stand in support of its retail partners.

TKO’s retailer-friendly offer

TKO Studios announced that when fans order comics from their website, half the proceeds will go directly to the comic book store the customer selects. Stores are already reporting that they’ve received checks from TKO, even ones who have never purchased their books before. By giving so much to comic shops, TKO may not be making much money from sales of its comics, but they’re taking that hit to give stores a boost they desperately need.

Donny Cates paying for customers’ pull lists

Newsarama reported that Donny Cates purchased the pull lists of every customer at Austin Books & Comics to ensure fans get their books and the store isn’t left with outstanding orders. Cates encouraged customers to spend that money on new product at the store if they have the means to do so. The writer shared Newsarama’s post on Twitter, but only to encourage other creators in privileged positions to follow his example.

Sharing of free comics

People under stay-at-home orders are hungry for content but may not have room in their budgets for nonessential purchases. Recognizing the need, publishers have started offering a wider array of free comics. DC Essential Reads includes first issues from some of the publishers’ most iconic series. Dark Horse also introduced a wide selection of free first issues. Marvel made 12 popular series free through Marvel Unlimited. Short Box is releasing its acclaimed indie series as pay-what-you-want digital titles on Gumroad.

Publishers Weekly has an extensive, regularly updated list of special offers, events, and discounts so comics fans can stay up to date on everything creators, publishers, and other organizations are doing to keep us entertained at home.

The Hero Initiative, stepping up

Comic book shops aren’t the only part of the comics industry in need of help. Creators are losing gigs left and right in the wake of this pandemic. Marvel alone just cut 30% of its line, depriving the canceled series’ creative teams a source of income. Thankfully, there’s the Hero Initiative, a nonprofit focused on helping comic book creators in financial need. The organization is ramping up its efforts in order to raise money for the creators financially impacted by the pandemic. They recently began offering chats with creators in exchange for donations. Creators contributing their time include Tim Seeley, Ron Marz, and Brian Azzarello, and Dave Gibbons, amongst others.

Comicbook United Fund

Small businesses across the country are struggling to receive loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, so the announcement of the Comicbook United Fund was welcome news for retailers. Lion Forge set up the Forge Fund last year to provide relief for distressed comics shops, which has never been more important than it is now. The $100,000 Oni-Lion Forge put into the Forge Fund was combined with DC’s $250,000 grant to BINC to create the Comicbook United Fund. That will be of great help to retailers and, as a result, the comics community as a whole during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, we’ll see additional pledges from other publishers that can afford to contribute.

Creators for Comics

This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the sensation that has taken off like a jet plane, Creators for Comics. The grassroots movement was organized by Kami Garcia, Brian Michael Bendis, Gwenda Bond, Sam Humphries, and Phil Jimenez. Creators have been auctioning off artwork, merchandise, opportunities, etc. on Twitter with the hashtag #Creators4Comics. All proceeds go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), where comic book stores can apply for emergency relief.

As of this writing, almost 600 auctions are running under the #Creators4Comics banner, and some of the items up from auctions constitute major sacrifices. Kelly Sue DeConnick, for example, is auctioning off her Captain Marvel jacket exclusive to the cast and crew of the 2019 film. Some of the creators contributing are likely struggling themselves, but they’re putting their time and energy towards supporting other corners of the industry.

All the fans making an extra effort

Fans can’t meet with creators at comic conventions, but they’re still opening up their wallets to support the industry and art form.

We can’t forget about the consumings buying and bidding on what creators are auctioning. Fans are pulling out their wallets not just to receive a cool piece of art or memorabilia, but to do their part to support the comics industry. Outside of the high-profile auctions, fans are also increasing orders at their local comic book shops not to win anything, just to show their support. The comics community wants this industry to survive the era of COVID-19 so that it can eventually thrive. Fans are making that happen with every purchase at a comic book store, every bid on an auction, even just by expressing their love for stores, creators, and comics on social media. Those individuals deserve a big thanks for their continued support of the medium and all its participants.

This list is far from exhaustive, but I hope it offers a look at how the comics community has banded together to support the industry in these unprecedented times!

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