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The Pop Culture Hero Coalition has been using TV, comics, and film to combat bullying since 2013. The organization's members go to schools, comic-cons, and even the United Nations, with programs that range from panel discussions with familiar pop culture stars to a pilot Heroic Journey Curriculum for schools that will include mental health strategies for kids. Now, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Coalition is expanding publishing, starting with an incredible comic coloring book called SuperKids to hospitals.
SuperKids is a comic activity book for kids who have cancer and other serious illnesses. It's designed to help these kids with the anxiety, fear, and depression that can be a part of dealing with being sick and hospitalized. The Kickstarter raised more than $9,000, exceeding their $5,000 goal, which will support the wide distribution of the book.
The project began as a way to honor Coalition founder Chase Masterson's late friend Len Wein, an iconic comic book creator who had a hand in the origins of Swamp Thing, Storm, and Wolverine. After he passed away two years ago, Wein's wife directed donations in his honor to the Coalition, which sent Masterson on a mission to find ways to honor his friend. The answer was in Wein's past. Wein grew up in the Bronx and was first introduced to comics when he was hospitalized as a 7-year-old, when his dad gave him some comics as a way to keep busy during those long hours in a hospital bed.
"It was there that Len learned to love comics and said he learned his moral code through comics, so we thought wouldn't it be cool to expand on that and do something to honor kids in hospitals?" Masterson told SYFY WIRE. "Another member of our team pointed us to Montefiore hospital in the Bronx, which fulfills the Coalition's mandate of working for kids who don't have a lot of other resources, and I spoke to Dr. Sandra Pimentel, chief of child and adolescent psychology there, and Dr. Janina Scarlet and we started brainstorming."
The Coalition provided the hospital with a 100 copies of psychologist and author Dr. Scarlet's (disclosure: Dr. Scarlet is a contributor to SYFY WIRE) book Superhero Therapy for older kids, but they started to think they'd like to do something for younger kids too. Dr. Scarlet suggested a comic.
She told SYFY WIRE she can relate to Wein's story because she also spent time in the hospital as a child.
"It was stories, reading books and connecting with fictional characters like superheroes that helped me manage my illness and as an adult now, as a doctor, I utilize fiction and comic books in therapy to help my clients manage their difficulties with depression, anxiety, and PTSD," Dr. Scarlet said. "When Chase said we should put together some kind of project for younger children with cancer, it seemed like comic books were the best way to go."
They then brought on Lora Innes (IDW Publishing's Wynona Earp) to handle illustration and the idea started to form to make this a coloring book so it would have interactive aspects.
"One of my favorite things about this is that we decided to do an interactive coloring book. The doctor in the story will ask direct questions to the reader," Innes told SYFY WIRE.
The group swapped ideas and discussed what was possible. They received help from Thom Zahler with inking and lettering and Dr. Scarlet said she was so excited for the book, it took her only maybe a little over a week to write it before it went through revisions.
"There was a little bit of a challenge of fitting everything Janina wanted in the book onto the page. Some of the pages have a lot of dialogue or text and room for the kids to respond so it wasn't anything we couldn't work around, but that was my first time doing a coloring book," Innes said. "I had to keep the art and panels open enough that kids could get in there and color it."
According to Dr. Scarlet, the interactive element of the book will help kids connect with the characters. Kids will do everything from designing the characters' costumes to choosing their gender and skin color so everyone can feel represented in the book. The three worked together to make sure the book would help kids feel like they weren't alone in what they were experiencing and feature an organic self-help element. For Dr. Scarlet, this was key to how the book helps kids.
"This comic first of all normalizes these experiences and second, instead of portraying kids as somehow weak or broken, it portrays them as heroic. It portrays their struggle as a mission superheroes go through and teaches kids how to view their journey as basically their superhero training and teaches them how to understand difficult experiences and help other kids around them going through their difficult experiences," she said.
Hard copies of the book are expected to arrive Friday and soon it will be available for free to download online on the websites of the Coalition and the books' creative team. The book is also being translated into Spanish, German, and Italian and will be brought to hospitals abroad as well in the U.S. This won't be the end for SuperKids either. While they didn't meet a stretch goal to distribute a second issue, they are talking about how to make that a reality. If you donated an amount toward that goal, your money will still go to that as they work on how to put that second issue into motion.
You can continue to help bring SuperKids to hospitals by donating to the Pop Culture Hero Coalition through their website and adding a note that you want it to go to SuperKids. If you want to request the comic for a kid you know or a hospital, you can also reach out to a specific email for this project: SuperKids@PopCultureHero.org.