Omar Spahi and Hannah Means-Shannon of ‘Help: The Hero Initiative Anthology’: The Conskipper Interview

Since 2000, The Hero Initiative has been there for those in the Comic Industry when they need help the most. Whether it was because of medical emergencies, financial difficulties, or disasters, the organization has provided support and an avenue back into paying work for many artists and writers.

It is probably no surprise then that the Hero Initiative would also step up to help those impacted by COVID-19 through their latest Kickstarter project: Help: The Hero Initiative Anthology. We got a chance to speak to the guiding forces behind the project, Omar Spahi and Hannah Means-Shannon, in this exclusive interview.

What was the impetus behind HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology Kickstarter project? 

Omar Spahi: The mission was to do some good and raise money for a worthy cause. People are still being affected by the world being shut down a year ago, and I know people are tired of talking about it, but that doesn’t make the reality go away. It’s important to talk about the difficult things going on around us and come together as a community to do some good.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Omar and I have known each other as friends and professionals for several years, and he contacted me with an idea for the anthology and the hope that we might be able to do something positive during such a dark time. We spent time researching and thinking about how best to do that, and so many awesome creators loved our idea and wanted to jump on board. When we decided to work with The Hero Initiative, everyone unanimously agreed that this was the best outcome to make a difference in the lives of comics professionals.

Every industry has been impacted by the effects of COVID-19, but how did you see it impact the comic industry specifically?

Spahi: In the comics industry we lost one third of our yearly revenue as freelancers, but bills didn’t go away for those months: rental costs, food and utilities didn’t suddenly go away. So there hasn’t been anything like this ever that affected the whole community. It’s special to see so many creators donate their time to do some good.

Means-Shannon: I totally agree with Omar on the basic math of the situation. Many comics were paused, others were totally cancelled, and even if worked has resumed for many freelancers, they still haven’t caught up on that time and wage loss. Then add to that comics professionals that have families where medical costs have piled up or partners also lost work. It’s a scary aftermath as we try to rebuild the fine balance that a freelance life necessitates. I personally had several comics projects cancelled or postponed for long periods due to COVID-19 and that’s part of what galvanized me into wanting to do something positive by editing the HELP anthology.

What was the response to HELP from the comics community when the project was announced?  

Spahi: It was so overwhelming to see people come out of the woodwork and HELP. The community coming together to help itself is nothing short of miraculous in my eyes. It’s in my core beliefs to always help others when I see an opportunity and I’m glad I’m not alone.

Means-Shannon: Even before the project was announced, we had a ton of support and advice from people at every level of comics and once it was announced, just about every comics professional I’m in touch with on social media has shared the campaign with the world. With 120 comic creators who worked on the book, they are tirelessly promoting it, too. But we still need help spreading the word! We encourage everyone to share the campaign.

How do you go about planning the tiers for a Kickstarter campaign like this one? Stretch goals? 

Spahi: We’ve got some amazing tiers including a hardcover copy of HELP and the Steve Dillon Sketchbook for only $100, as well as a copy of the softcover of the book for only $25. Also, it’s been amazing to have so many cool creators donate their original artwork. The number one goal is making sure we can fulfill the campaign, so for stretch goals, we’ve got some really exciting announcements coming up as we get closer to hitting them. 

Means-Shannon: We’ve had a lot of great examples to look at on previous Kickstarters since the platform has been such an excellent environment for comics and graphic novels for a number of years now. For tiers, we tried to keep things really clear and simple, and think about what we would want as comics fans: options for digital, softcover, and hardcover, as well as a couple of extras. For stretch goals, we really wanted to get some great signatures included in these books, so bookplates are on the horizon for our 15k goal. Beyond that, you’ll have to watch the campaign to find out, but we have some exciting creative ideas!

When arranging the one-page stories, is there a narrative focus in terms of how the book “reads”, since you have such a variety of storytellers and fiction and non-fiction entries? How does the theme of “help” tie it together?

Means-Shannon: That’s a really great question. Firstly, when creating the book, there was no limitation on art style or genre of stories included, aside from wanting it to be in color and wanting “help” in its many forms to be the theme. But we did work with pitches to make sure that no two stories were too similar in concept. Once the pages came in, I actually created a “dummy book” out of all the art pages and experimented with arranging them in a way that I felt worked. I made sure that a wide variety of art styles and types of stories were spread throughout the book, so no matter where you opened to read, you’d see the wealth of creativity and possibilities that the comics medium can offer, all with heartfelt storytelling. That’s the main ingredient that ties the book together, a kind of unparalleled honesty and emotion from comic creators making their stories during a very difficult and uncertain time in the world.

Omar: The Image Comics Getting It Together trade was recently released.  What are your favorite memories of working on the series? 

Spahi: Well, I was a victim of the pandemic on this one. Right as we were about to release Getting It Together, comic stores around the world shut down. It was heartbreaking, but to see people flock to stores to pick it up when it was released was a really heartwarming experience. Our project spoke to people—we had people write plays based on our comic, do spin-off zines, and send care packages.

Hannah: You have worked extensively in the world of music and comics. Is there a correlation between them in terms of your experiences as an editor/writer? 

Means-Shannon: I’ve worked as a comics journalist, a music journalist, a comics editor, and an editor of music-inspired comics, and I’ve seen points of comparison in all of those fields. One of the obvious things is that fans of comics and fans of music have a lot in common in terms of how much value they place on that work in their daily lives. If you love comics, it’s because they hit you emotionally and intellectually in a way that stays with you and enriches your life experience. It’s definitely that way with music too. A great comic and a great album will stay with you your entire life. But there is also a whole swath of music history that relates to storytelling, whether it’s in Folk music, Rock music, or even Metal music, which is one of my favorite genres.

These concepts and narratives created by bands draw us into the musical experience, and that’s definitely part of the appeal for me. There’s the added bonus that both comics and music have awesome live events you can be a part of when there’s not a pandemic to wrestle with, from comic conventions, which is definitely where I got my start, to big stadium concerts for your favorite band.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?  

Spahi: I’m always working away on various comics, plus podcast and animation projects through my company Creation Station. But honestly, none of them are more important than this. So if people can “help”, we encourage people to back the HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology Kickstarter.

Means-Shannon: I don’t have any projects that have been announced yet so that I can talk about them, but we’ll be handling the HELP anthology for a while, working on fulfillment and making sure The Hero Initiative gets what it needs. You can find me on Twitter as @hannahmenzies and Instagram as @hannah_meansshannon, where I often talk about music, journalism, and comics, and where you can find out about my projects.

HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology Kickstarter project is currently available to back in a number of different ways, with a Help softcover and hardcover edition available for purchase, as well as a number of perks.

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