With all the events and problems in the pages of the comics we enjoy, it's easy to forget that there are conflicts that are all too real in the world today. While Norman Osborn begins his siege against Asgard and black rings bring forth the shambling remains of the dead, there are so many causes here in the real world that get ignored. On January 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, IDW creator Lora Innes is giving fans and creators a chance to be a super hero in the real world.
Innes, the creator of webcomic-turned-print-comic "The Dreamer," established a new organization called the Comic Creators Alliance in order to raise money and awareness to fight human trafficking. "We're a group of webcomic creators who have come together, volunteering our artistic talents to raise money for the purpose of ending human trafficking in the world today," Innes said.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Innes was attending a conference on the subject about a year ago when she learned that human trafficking is much closer to home than she had realized. "The conference was about what was happening in Columbus, and was called 'Human Trafficking in Your Own Backyard' with a collection of panelists talking about not only the problem happening overseas, but also in our own cities," Innes said. "They all got together to talk about this problem, and it was really eye-opening to hear that it was happening in Columbus. It turns out that Toledo, Ohio is one of the biggest problem cities for this in the entire country, just because of its location – it's got a major intersection of a number of different highways. That put it all on my radar."
Innes was inspired by a list she found online titled "24 Things You Can Do To Fight Human Trafficking." While the list contains a few simple tasks, like writing your governor or senator, one of the items reads "Do what you love - use your talents to fight slavery. Do an art project and display it in a public place. Film a movie on the state of modern-day slavery. Write about the issue and post it on blogs."
Initially, Innes' reaction was, "That's not really my personality. I thought that was really cheesy, but then, when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that I am an artist. I have a whole community online that listens to what I say. Maybe I could write something up on 'The Dreamer' website and make it a little more public, at least."
However, as 2009 passed, Innes realized that she hadn't been able to put anything together. Then something took place that really struck a chord with the creator. "Last year, I mentored a girl in Columbus City Schools, and this almost happened to her on the way to the bus stop one morning," Innes told CBR News. "I had heard about this, but it actually almost happened to a 14-year-old girl that I know at 7:30 in the morning when she was a couple blocks away from her house. That was really scary, and just really brought it home."
When November hit, Innes took action. "If I did it just on The Dreamer site, I had an estimation on how much we could raise. It would be a little bit of money, but it wouldn't be much," she said. "I have a lot of contacts and connections in the webcomic community. We all have our spheres of influence, and if we were all working together, we could really spread the word. I emailed eight friends who write webcomics, and all of them wrote me back that day with an enthusiastic 'Yes!'"
Innes' goal was to get 50 creators to donate a sketch to be included in an exclusive wallpaper that would be given to those that donate to the cause. Among those that Innes contacted were other webcomic-turned-print creators, who remember her email as a virtual call to arms.
"When Lora contacted me, it was the closest I'll get to having a TroubleAlert like in the old Super Friends cartoon," said "Love and Capes" creator Thom Zahler, who donated a sketch of his character Amazonia. "I'll let other people speak eloquently about stopping the horrible practice of human trafficking. For me, this was as much a case for 'to whom much was given, much is expected.' Drawing is the thing I do, and if taking a couple hours out of my day to draw something will help such a noble cause, how could I be not part of it?"
Echoing Zahler's sentiments was "The Dreamland Chronicles" creator Scott Christian Sava, who sketched his character Nastajia for the cause. "When Lora learned of the Human Trafficking crisis, you could see she was a changed person," he said. "That fire and conviction to do something, anything, to help out in some way inspired a lot of us to do the same. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say we wish there was more we could do. The Comic Creator's Alliance is a great first step, though, and I'm proud to be a part of it. As creators, we have the ability to reach out to others in ways most can't. Using our gifts to affect change is a privilege we don't take lightly."
While Innes may have only emailed eight of her colleagues, word spread fast. In a pay-it-forward of the webcomics community movement, others began to get wind of Innes' cause and what she was trying to accomplish, including Lar DeSouza, artist of the fan-favorite webcomics "Least I Could Do" and "Looking for Group." "Well, I was first contacted by Scott Christian Sava from 'Dreamland Chronicles' about participating," said DeSouza. "I checked out the site and realized it was a good cause. It's pretty abhorrent that in the 21st century such hideous crimes as human trafficking even occurs! If a relatively small effort on my part can contribute to a greater whole that might help make a difference - well, the decision to participate was a no-brainer."
Many other artists caught wind of the cause through the participants' blogs, websites and Innes' appearance on Geek Speak Podcast. "Fallen Angel" artist J.K. Woodward, who donated two sketches to the cause, found out about the CCA through listening to Geek Speak. "Almost immediately after hearing Lora announce this project on the Comic Geek Speak podcast, I had to get involved," he said. "I contacted Peter [David], told him about the project and asked if he minds if I do a sketch of Fallen Angel for the cause. He gave me an enthusiastic "absolutely" and I got right to it. Taking a little time to bang out a couple of sketches didn't seem like such a high price to pay when you consider the 27 million that are currently enslaved."
Growing from those original eight creators, the site now boasts almost 90 individuals who have donated their time and talent to ending human trafficking. For Lora Innes, this is only the first part of what she hopes to accomplish with the CCA. "I think awareness is a big part of it," she said. "It's something that isn't talked about, and it's really ugly. Nobody wants to talk about sex slaves, but somebody needs to. That's what's exciting to me, it's bringing awareness in the community."
The Comic Creators Alliance charity drive begins today, January 11. The proceeds will go to Love146, a global organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking worldwide, and Gracehaven House, a rehabilitative center for young girls that have been rescued from human trafficking. You can donate at the Comic Creators Alliance website.