Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Comicare is a nonprofit organization that delivers comic books to children in hospitals and medical facilities. Their motto? “Your comics, Their Smiles.” I discovered the group on Facebook and have followed their amazing work diligently. The joy on the children’s faces is evident in the many photos on their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages as the children receive gifts of donated comic books from the tireless cosplay superhero team, “The Comicare Crusaders.” Anyone who has been in the hospital for any length of time, as a child or an adult, knows how difficult it can be to keep a cheerful attitude during such a trying time. Comicare brings some of that cheer to kids who otherwise might not have any and helps them see that superheroes are out there.
I had the opportunity to ask founder and director Joe “Zeff” Hyde some questions about Comicare, and this is what he had to say:
Every comic book has a good origin story. Tell us about the origins of Comicare.
” actually started from a perfect intersection of ideas and needs. A friend of mine had an idea of delivering comic books to hospitals. I had also spent a lot of time with friends and family members in hospitals and knew of the drudgery. I realized that there were a lot of collectors sitting on books that they had no use for. I myself had tried to give away boxes of comics in the past and found out that there was no good avenue to donate. The idea of connecting these comic collectors with pained children was a perfect fit. When it all came together, I couldn’t believe that an organization like this didn’t already exist! I looked around and there was nothing like it. It was actually during one of the early comic drop offs that I added the idea of cosplayers accompanying. We learned a lot from subsequent visits- I think we still do!”
How difficult was it to get Comicare off the ground?
“It wasn’t that it was so difficult, but it definitely took careful planning. The first version was started with the friend that I mentioned earlier. It had organizational issues and the two of us had very different ideas. When we reorganized as Comicare, we were able to take advantage of the groundwork I had been laying. I never tried to run- we were happy to crawl. A perfect example is how selective we are with our cosplayers. We could have flown out and gotten a dozen superheroes at any time. Instead, we held out for someone truly exceptional- and along came AZ Tony Stark. Again, we didn’t run out to fill the cosplay ranks. We were just fine with one superhero until we found the truly right match. Our groundwork has been laid surely and deliberately. We take a lot of pride in that. The quality of the ‘product’ that we present has helped us build a strong reputation in both the medical and cosplay communities. It is surprising how much work it is- but we have an amazing dedicated staff!”
On average, how many comics are donated per month?
“You know, it varies greatly. Some months we will have no donations and the following we will have thousands. We have a few regulars that mail us out packages periodically. Our donors have been fantastic- and we have not had to push a donation drive for quite a while. We have a good stock for delivery. It seems that by spreading our mission and letting people know about us- we get the best quality books donated. If we really push and plead with everyone for help, they tend to try too hard. When we lay back and allow people to be inspired, they share the books and stories that they themselves love- and those seem to resonate most with kids.”
I’m sure that sometimes inappropriate comics get donated on accident. What process do you use to sort through the donated comics to ensure that they are all appropriate for children?
“We don’t get as many inappropriate books as you might think. For the most part, people know what we are doing and donate accordingly. All donations get sorted according to publisher and then title and chronological. We mostly only need to scrutinize the indie books. We have a great couple on staff, Moose and Lisa, who take care of our inventory. Moose knows comics well and is able to determine what is appropriate. Also, the comics are selected and boxed to roll out to each event- allowing another check opportunity. Finally, at the hospitals, I sort through the box to find just the right book for whoever we are visiting. We bring a wide range since we see kids of all ages. Even if it is a mainstream book like Superman or Spider-man, if the cover looks a little intense, I will sometimes ask a parent if they think it would be okay for their child.”
How do you find your costumed volunteers? How many volunteers do you have “on staff,” so to speak?
“It isn’t very hard to find cosplayers- they like to be seen! We meet some online, find some at conventions and find a lot by reputation. We have to be very selective with who we choose to work as they will be representing Comicare as well as be put into delicate situations. We need people who are comfortable dealing with kids and staying in character. We also need individuals with the most iconic costumes and of extremely high quality. We also need people who are very dedicated, prompt and dependable. It wouldn’t work for us to be constantly turning our staff over. We like people who are in for the long haul. We currently work with a group of five cosplayers, some of which do multiple characters. We call them “the Comicare Crusaders.” You can find their bios on our webpage www.comicare.org. We also bring in select guests from time to time. We find it best to do visits with small groups- two or three at most.”
Do you ever get requests from hospitals or other medical facilities for specific super heroes to stop by?
“We absolutely have! Most often the request is for a return visit from someone we had brought out previously rather than a superhero request out of the blue. Sometimes if a child is hospitalized for a long period of time, they may celebrate a birthday there. We have had a number of requests for a specific hero for those type of celebrations.”
Comicare recently received a donation from a Phoenix community group who sold merchandise at Phoenix Comicon to raise money for Comicare. How does it feel knowing that you have that kind of support from your local community?
“It was absolutely mind blowing! The group is called “the Blue Ribbon Army,” and they showed up from completely off of my radar. It is one of the most selfless things I have ever seen. They scooped up our cause and ran with it- did an AMAZING job of fundraising, dropped us a check and disappeared into the night like a real superhero team! There is no way that we got to thank them enough! They didn’t get a bunch of publicity or adulation- it seemed they truly enjoyed helping. It was definitely one of the brightest moments in our history- I hope they know that.”
Other than by visiting comicare.org or one of the Phoenix, AZ, drop-off locations, tell our Talk Nerdy With Us readers how they can help best help Comicare’s cause and help bring smiles to sick children.
“The biggest thing people can do is to remember us and tell others. If you are into comics, you probably know others who are. Let them know that there is a place that will get their comics into the hands of kids in hospitals. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter- share our posts –let your friends know! We meet our future cosplayers this way. We are contacted by additional medical facilities this way. We have even set up visits in other cities and states by our supporters contacting us. We want people to know where to find us when they have comics to donate or a child for us to visit. And if you want to go to our website and pick up a sticker, hat or T-shirt, we want you to be confident in knowing that your donation goes to a great cause staffed by people that value and respect your donation.”