Comics Power

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Cover image by Alec Longstreth; lettering by Caitlin Keegan.

Comics Express is a limited-edition comic book conceived by Carmen Morais (a former editor at Nickelodeon Magazine) to benefit kids affected by the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, which destroyed 30% of the city and made thousands homeless. She assembled a bunch of award-winning comic artists and former colleagues from Nickelodeon to donate the content and labor. The comic book will give young kids up to teens something more fun to think about than damaged neighborhoods and uprooted lives. The Joplin Public Library will coordinate with local groups to distribute the comic books to kids free in July. Now they’re crowdsourcing the funding here. I asked Ms. Morais to tell us more about the Comics Express project.

What was the trigger for creating Comics Express?I was astounded by the news stories about the May 22 tornado in Joplin. At times like that, I always feel useless. I don’t know first aid, don’t have any construction skills. A week later, I saw on Twitter that a local Joplin comics shop, Hurley’s Heroes, said that there were all these kids in shelters, some had lost everything, and they were bored and/or scared. The comics shop was asking people to send old comic books for them to distribute to kids. That’s when I realized this was something I could do: I can entertain kids. I was deputy editor at Nickelodeon Magazine, which featured original comics in every issue from incredible indie cartoonists. I knew my former coworkers and I could put together an amazing comics collection that would appeal to a wide age range of kids and help them get through this tough time.

How do you believe it will help the kids of Joplin?Joplin will need a long time to rebuild and get back to normal. The aftermath of the disaster is profound: People whose homes were partially or totally demolished are living in temporary housing. Ten of their 18 public school buildings were destroyed or damaged. It’s a long summer for kids with a lot of time on their hands to wonder and worry about what’s going to happen to them. I think the comic book will entertain them with funny stories and things to do. Hopefully it will inspire some of them to spend some summer days drawing or telling funny stories or reading. And I also hope it will let them know that they aren’t alone. This terrible thing happened to them, but there are lots of people who’ve never been to Joplin or Missouri or even the midwest and we’re thinking of them and their town. We care. We want to help.

That’s why Comics Express has a mission of appealing to a wide range of ages. There will be some wordless comics for younger kids, and other comics that older kids will enjoy more, up to low teens. The sweet spot is probably age 9 or 10.

How will it be distributed?The Joplin Public Library and Hurley’s Heroes comic shop will get the comic book out to kids. The Joplin schools that are still standing are holding summer school, and they will also help distribute.

Was it difficult to get the contributors?Not at all. Most of them had created comics for Nickelodeon Magazine. Everyone was really happy to help. Beyond the comic artists, I asked my former Nick Magazine coworkers to help, and most jumped right in. Between cartoonists, editors, writers, and designers, there are 26 people–so far–donating their time to making Comics Express happen.

The cartoonists include:Raina Telgemeier (author of the graphic novel “Smile”, a 2011 Eisner Nominee, 2010 NY Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and Kirkus Best Book 2010)Alec Longstreth (Ignatz Award winner for “Phase 7” and for “Papercutter #6”)Johnny Ryan (multiple Harvey, Eisner, and Ignatz Award nominee, “Angry Youth Comix”)Ellen Forney (Eisner Award nominee for “I Love Led Zeppelin”)The full list of cartoonists so far is here.

Other links are: Comics Express and Twitter.