Taking Sides: Comics Industry for Obama

Taking Sides: Comics Industry for Obama

With the fervor of the upcoming Presidential Election reaching a fevered pitch, it’s no surprise that folks from within the comic book industry are starting to use their voices more and more as the United States closes in on Election Day on November, 4th. With creators like Erik Larsen endorsing Barack Obama in Savage Dragon as well as a number of biographical comics based on popular candidates hitting shelves in the coming months, it’s no surprise that vocal comic book creators have their own personal opinions as to who they’d like to have as the next President of the United States.

Over the past few weeks, a distinct banner stating “Comics Industry for Obama” has begun popping up on various social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook—and this week, they’ve launched their own website, www.comicsindustryforobama.com, in an effort to raise money for the Obama campaign with an art auction with art provided by a number of politically active comic book creators, including Eisner Award winning creators like Eric Powell and Mike Mignola.

Newsarama sat down with website moderator, Sarah Grace McCandless and The Goon’s Eric Powell to discuss their work with Comics Industry for Obama and the upcoming art auction.

Newsarama: Sarah Grace, how did the Comics Industry for Obama movement get started? For the sake of readers who aren't familiar with your background in the comic book industry--give us a little background information on yourself.

Sarah Grace McCandless: The idea popped into my head about two weeks ago after attending the Brooklyn Book Fair. On the way home, I had picked up The New York Times, primarily to read their piece about Sarah Palin – don’t even get me started on how many different ways this woman continues to horrify and offend me. I do have to say, I just love how McCain’s campaign cried sexism when the press and the public tried to vet a person who – shudder – could ultimately be second-in-command of our country, but seemed to think it was perfectly fine to have McCain refer to her as his “soul mate.” Call me crazy, but I seriously doubt he would have chosen the same words had it been Romney or Lieberman on the Republican ticket.

Anyway, I’d already donated a few times to Obama’s campaign directly and MoveOn.org, but had an urge to try to do something a little more widespread. I got inspired by some other artist-focused efforts, such as the Artists for Obama and MoveOn.org’s Manifest Hope auction, I thought, hmm, couldn’t we do a comics industry version of this?

Eric and I had been friends for years and I knew we were on the same page with this, so I sent him a text message and asked him thought. He got on board immediately and shortly after I reached out to Mike Mignola about doing a sketch to auction. Once they both committed, things developed as quickly as possible from there.

I first came into the comics industry in 1999 as the Marketing Manager and eventually Marketing Director for Dark Horse Comics – at the time, Michael Martens was my boss and we totally bonded thanks to our Midwest roots among other things. I’d grown up around comics by proxy, courtesy of my older brother Matt. He’d probably deny this today, but he would make Wolverine hands out of my father’s golf gloves and tin foil, and then terrorize me with them. Nice, huh?

I left Dark Horse in 2004 to focus more on my own writing career, but as my pal Eric told me, “Comics is like the mafia – you never really get out.” Indeed, and gratefully so – the industry really feels like family to me and I’ve been fortunate enough to maintain my relationships with retailers, editors, artists, writers, and of course the awesome fans, too. In fact, Christine Norrie did the cover for both of my novels, as well as the interior illustrations on my first book, and the legend that is Diana Schutz invited me to contribute a story to the Sexy Chix anthology, which was an amazing experience. Joelle Jones did the art for piece – I was blown away. Jamie S. Rich was very wise to scoop her up as his primary partner in crime.

NRAMA: What is the primary goal of the Comics Industry for Obama website?

SGM: The goal is to offer a central meeting place where Obama supporters across the comics industry can mobilize, with a focus first and foremost on doing get out the vote push, followed by fundraising efforts for the campaign.

NRAMA: Eric, how did you become involved with Comics Industry for Obama? How active are you politically?

Eric Powell: Well, Sarah will probably touch on this in her answer, but we were talking about things we could do to help make a change because we both felt compelled to do something. I tried to organize something locally that didn't pan out. I live in Tennessee, and there is little chance Obama will take this state, but you have to try. Sarah had the idea of getting the comic industry together to do something. I was all for it and told her I'd help in anyway I could.

I am not very politically active. I am very much to each his own kind of person. But in this case I can't be that way anymore. We messed up. The American people put the Bush administration in office, let them use their fear tactics to push us into anything they wanted, and now we are in domestic and international crisis. I'm worried about the future of my children and I have to speak up even if I step on some toes. I can in no way support someone who supported Bushes policies 90% of the time and is known for being one of the biggest deregulators in Washington. We are in this economic crisis because of those deregulations. And don't even get me started on the gimmicky choice of his running mate.

NRAMA: Have your personal political beliefs been prevalent in your work in the comic book industry?

EP: I did one comic that was totally spawned from my frustration over the extreme right wing agenda that seemed to be growing out of control. People who follow my work will know which one it was. Other than that, I try to keep my politics out of my comics. Like I said, to each his own. Everyone is entitled to their point of view and if more people considered that, we'd be a lot better off. However, when our country is being run into the ground and my kids have to inherit this crap that goes out the window. As citizens it's our responsibility to take care of our country and it's time to get off our asses and make a change.

NRAMA: Sarah Grace, let's talk about the art auction--who do you have contributing so far? Where and how will people be able to bid on artwork provided for the auction?

SGM: Initially, I thought it would be really cool to have participating artists do their take on Obama with one-of-a-kind sketches that could be as down-and-dirty or as detailed as they had time to create – i.e., Obama a la Powell, or Obama a la Mignola. Some people are doing that, while others are donating pages, signed books, or merch featuring their work. It’s a little tricky, because we can’t really accept any sketches or art for donation and auction that features copyrighted characters, unless the artist making the donation holds the copyright.

A number of other artists and writers have already reached out about participating in the auction, from veterans to newcomers and rising stars. I’m really thrilled by the response so far – interested artists can email us at comicsindustryforobama@gmail.com to find out more about how to get involved.

NRAMA: Can you give readers a breakdown of how the contributions made via the art auction will be managed?

SGM: There are a bunch of rules and regulations when it comes to donations to political campaigns and organizations, and of course we also didn’t have the time to register as an official non-profit organization. That said, basically, I have to follow the rules outlined for an individual in terms of contribution limits (details of which are posted on our main website), but once I reach that max for Obama’s campaign, the DNC, and MoveOn.org, Eric can become the next “individual” and so on. I’ve set up a Comics Industry for Obama account on eBay to house all the auction items – they have the best safeguards in place in terms of making sure bids are legit and payments are handled appropriately. I will, of course, also make public all records of final bid amounts and subsequent transactions to Obama’s campaign, the DNC, and MoveOn.org.

The plan is to launch the auctions the week of September 29 – we’ll probably do them on pretty short runs, no longer than five-day spans per auction, so we can make sure to turn around the donation in time to benefit the campaign. That said, we’ll also likely close the auction component no later than October 24.

However, we’re also building and launching a Zazzle store with merch featuring the Comics Industry for Obama logo that Eric created. The profit from this is a lot, lot less – basically it’s 10% of the total sale price, but all of those profits will also be donated to the campaign as well.

And again, the donations and the auction and such as of course great and helpful, but mostly I hope this encourages as many Obama supports as possible to register to vote – and show up on Election Day to actually do so!

NRAMA: How strongly do the two of you feel about Obama's pursuit of the Presidency? Are you both active politically at the local and State level as well?

EP: I feel strongly enough about this to put myself out there and voice my opinion on the matter publicly. That's pretty strong for me. We have to get this one right this time. Like I said, Tennessee is a pretty red state, but I'm doing what I can to get friends active and try to make it competitive here.

SGM: This is hands down the strongest I’ve ever felt about a Presidential bid, or any campaign for that matter. Our country is in a state of crisis. I actually feel a little sorry for Senator Obama, because he’ll be inheriting this mess and with that comes an enormous amount of pressure, but I fully believe in his ability to lead our country and make better choices that will improve the state of affairs. I don’t expect him to be perfect, and I don’t expect things to happen overnight, but I am confident that he is by far the best man for the job. I live just outside of New York on the Hudson in New Jersey, which traditionally goes to the Democrats, but I will be doing whatever I can to make sure that tradition doesn’t change – and yes, I am registered to vote in my county!

NRAMA: How important is it for younger, objective readers who are of voting age to at least register to vote?

EP: Very! No matter who they vote for. We need more kids taking notice of the world around them. We need more Barack Obamas and less reality TV stars.

SGM: Critical – younger voters such as college students have the ability to make a choice now that will greatly impact what the world looks like and what opportunities are available for them once they graduate and head into the work force. The first election I could vote in was in 1992 – I was 18 years old, a freshman at Michigan State University, which actually hosted one of the debates between Bush, Clinton, and Perot (wow, remember his Powerpoint charts?). To be honest, at the time I wasn’t thinking about how this would impact my life at 22, or 25, but fortunately I voted for Clinton. I think younger voters today are really powerful, especially with all the technology now available to not only become informed, but spread the word. I didn’t even have email until my very last year at MSU!

NRAMA: What types of resources does the website provide for potential voters and folks interested becoming more aware during the 2008 election?

SGM: The main website, http://www.comicsindustryforobama.com, is hosted via Ning, a newer service which allows anyone to create a social network based on a shared interest. The website provides links to super easy voter registration resources such as Vote for Change, and also info on state deadlines – time is running out, so please check the website to make sure you get your paperwork filed in time! The website also features links to the Obama campaign headquarters, the Democratic National Committee, MoveOn.org, political news updates, and more.

NRAMA: Eric, artists from other forms of entertainment have been outspoken in their political beliefs before and, at times, they've been met with criticism for using their notoriety to push an agenda; are you worried that your allegiance with Comics Industry for Obama may sour some of your more conservative fan-base?

EP: I spoke about this with a fellow comic creator who signed up. We both acknowledged the fact that we could face a backlash from some readers for being associated with this. We were both of the opinion, "Oh, Well." It's time to grow a pair, people. I love my readers and if your views don't mesh with mine, fine. If you don't like Obama, work for McCain's campaign. That's your right. Just like it's my right to support the candidate of my choice. That's what the process is all about. Why does it have to be about getting pissed off and hating a guy because he has a different point of view? I have never understood that but some people just have assholes. Oh, well.

And as far as using my notoriety, uh, I make funny books. I doubt the six o'clock news is going to scream, "POWELL ENDORSES OBAMA!" and it's not about using some kind of notoriety. It's about organizing people in the comic industry and comic readers who want to make a difference.

NRAMA: Comics Industry for Obama isn't just relegated to the actual website--where else can readers find out more about your website and potentially connect with the support?

SGM: We also have a MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/comicsindustry4obama) and a Comics Industry for Obama Facebook group. Joining the main site as well as our other offshoots only takes a few minutes, and I strongly encourage people to register with all three to show their support. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive – my only regret is we didn’t launch the project sooner!

Links for references made within Q&A

Artists for Obama - http://store.barackobama.com/Artists...ama_s/1018.htm

MoveOn.org Manifest Hope - http://pol.moveon.org/mh/gallery/

eBay auction site – http://myworld.ebay.com/comicsindustryforobama08

Zazzle store – http://www.zazzle.com/comicsindustryobama

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