In times of terrible need, comic creators have assembled for a greater good, be it for famine in Africa with Marvel’s 1980s Heroes for Hope comic or the graphic novels made after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. More recently, Love Is Love sought to help the victims of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine entering its seventh week, more than three dozen creators, among them numerous Eisner winners and veteran comic icons, have come together for a charity book that seeks to raise money to aid Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war.
Titled Comics for Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds, the anthology book is the brainchild of Scott Dunbier, a veteran industry editor currently at IDW who teamed up with comic crowdfunding platform Zoop and charity Operation USA for the effort.
“The horrible images on the news every single night, they kept on getting worse and worse,” said Dunbier of what galvanized him to act. “Every night there was a new atrocity. There was one image of an unexploded Russian missile and on it was written ‘For the children.’ It resonated with me and I had to do something.”
He started calling creators with whom he had worked and asking if they would be willing to collaborate on a book. Almost every single one said yes, and now an all-star group is already working on their stories for a 96-page collection that will be released three months after fundraising wraps.
Some creators are contributing brand new stories featuring characters and properties they haven’t worked on in decades. Walter Simonson, who took Marvel’s Thor to new heights in the 1980s, will have a new Star Slammers, his sci-fi property, for the first time since the 1990s. Howard Chaykin is writing and drawing American Flagg!, his political sci-fi satire for the first time since the end of the 1980s.
Elsewhere, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson have a short story featuring their award-winning title, Astro City, while Chew co-creators John Layman and Rob Guillory will have a new story featuring their tasty FDA agent, Tony Chu.
Louise Simonson and June Brigman, who created Power Pack for Marvel, Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons and Chris Sprouse (Tom Strong), veteran scribe Mark Waid and Gabriel Rodriguez (Locke & Key) are among those making original stories not based on previously created characters. Alex Ross is painting the cover for a hardbound edition, while soft cover options include jackets by Arthur Adams, Dave Johnson and Bill Sienkiewicz. Signed editions, prints and T-shirts will also be offered.
Busiek, who is writing the new Astro City story, had already donated to Ukraine relief efforts before getting the call from Dunbier. “I wish we didn’t need to do this,” Busiek told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s appalling. So being able to help in a small way, I’m glad to be doing this.”
Busiek and Anderson’s Astro City story, like some of the stories from the creators, will not necessarily be Ukraine or Russia specific but will have themes that echo the humanitarian crisis. Astro City, the comic, told tales of superheroes and supervillains through the point of view of regular folks.
“Our story doesn’t happen in Ukraine, but it deals with an invasion and efforts to resist that invasion. This is not a story about superheroes, but a story about people defending their homes,” Busiek noted. “If anything, the situation we’re looking at in Ukraine is that there aren’t any heroes, at all, coming to their rescue. This is Ukrainians themselves doing the fighting. And in echoing that, in Astro City, it’s not going to be about superheroes coming to save people.”
Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo contribution follows a similar path. Yojimbo is a comic following an anthropomorphic rabbit Ronin in Medieval Japan, a far cry from today’s events. But the story will feature the character helping refugees being run off their land by a warlord.
Some segments will be more Ukraine specific. Joshua Dystart is reporting on Ukrainian artists, while Y: The Last Man artist Pia Guerra and alternative artist Peter Kuper are drawing political cartoons.
Minus certain hard costs such as printing and credit card fees, all proceeds for Sunflower Seeds will benefit the Ukrainian relief efforts of Operation USA, an organization chosen by Dunbier.
“I wanted to find a charity that was small, had low administrative costs, and did real work,” Dunbier says. “This is something that needs to have movement quickly. And OpUSA ticked off all my boxes.”
The fundraising initiative for Sunflower Seeds began earlier this week and proved to be a surprise hit, becoming fully funded in one day. But the more the group raises, the more copies of the book will be printed, and the more funds go to OpUSA. The campaign runs for the next 27 days.