Mike Grell had long been a supporter of the Hero Initiative, a charity that gives financial aid to cash-strapped creators in the comic book industry.
Many work on a freelance basis, and don’t always get regular paychecks or health benefits, Grell said.
Still, he never thought he would be the one who needed help.
Grell, a writer and artist who’s based in Washington state, got cellulitis two years ago and was hospitalized for 17 days. He struggled to pay medical bills and rent.
“It had never dawned on me to call the Hero Initiative,” said Grell, who has worked on comics including the Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Iron Man and Batman.
But when he did, “it took exactly one phone call.”
“These guys make it easy, painless,” Grell said. “They are the real heroes.”
Jim McLauchlin, president of The Hero Initiative, founded the charity 15 years ago to help struggling creators. A former sports writer, he knew there were similar charities in place to help professional baseball players back in the days before they made millions.
Since then, The Hero Initiative has helped about 70 people who work in the comics industry, doling out about $750,000 over the years.
The cyclical nature of the business leads many to seek help, McLauchlin said.
“They might be drawing Spider-Man this month, and nothing next month,” he said. “We’ll get calls from someone who is 24 hours from being evicted. Sometimes it’s simply economics. Sometimes it is health related.”
The Hero Initiative has been helping Burbank-based comic book colorist Tanya Horie off and on since 2012, years after Horie acknowledges she probably should have sought help.
Horie has rheumatoid arthritis. But even before she was diagnosed, she and her husband, who is also in the industry, lost their home when the economy tanked in 2008.
“I was sick with an undiagnosed illness and working from hospital beds—I didn’t want anyone to know I was sick, because it can affect you getting work,” Horie said. “And when you’re freelance, you’re always looking for the next project to keep you going.”
The Hero Initiative has made sure she and her husband have a roof over their heads and health insurance, Horie said.
“It’s not every single month—I try to get work when I can,” she said. “But without income, I can’t pay for my medications, and without medications, I can’t stay healthy. I would go backwards.”
She said the idea of not having the charity to help her, and other artists like her, brings tears to her eyes.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” she said.
Karl Moline, a Clearwater, Fla.-based artist who created Fray alongside producer and screenwriter Joss Whedon, sought help from The Hero Initiative when his health insurance lapsed for about five months.
Moline, now 42, has Type 1 diabetes and underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant two years ago. Due to a loophole in his Medicare coverage, he couldn’t pay for medication he needed following the transplant, which cost $980 a month without insurance.
A friend submitted his name and explained his situation to the charity.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Moline said. “They saved my life.”