Heroes Behind the Masks: Comicare

Here is another new group starting this year but they are already making a name for themselves!  I follow several of their cosplayers individually as well as the group on Facebook.  I can’t wait to see what they do next.  Through something simple they brighten the days of many children.  When it comes to this group always remember: “Your comics. Their smiles.”   –Mala

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Group Name: Comicare

Interviewee: Zeff, creator of Comicare

Location(s): We operate mostly in Arizona with occasional trips to neighboring states in the Southwestern U.S.

Mission Statement: While not an “official mission statement”, we simply strive to brighten the day of hospitalized children by delivering comic books and visiting superheroes.

When was the group started? 
Amazingly, we have only been operating since June of 2014. We have made amazing strides due to careful planning and organization and parlaying momentum built while with a prior organization.

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What inspired you to create Comicare or CAUSEplay in general?
A few years back, a friend of mine contacted me with an idea to deliver comics to kids in hospitals. He had been hospitalized with Leukemia as a teen and learned the value of the distraction that regular comic book deliveries offered. This idea immediately struck a chord with me! As a comic book collector, I was aware that many of us ‘comic-heads’ had amassed portions of our collections that were no longer important to us. As a collector, you end up with books from many sources: received as gifts, bought as part of a bulk deal, or just some you no longer care about. There is NO value to most of these books (bulk comics can be valued as low as $.05 each) and shipping them to a niche collector is cost prohibitive. I realized what an EASY charity this could be! I ran with the charity here in Arizona and shortly after, he organized the group in another state. After a few years we had a falling out- but I was so proud of the organization we had built in Arizona and we had such great momentum and public support, that we NEEDED to reorganize and created COMICARE.

Shortly after I began receiving books as donations I came up with the idea of having costumed characters deliver them. As obvious as it seems, it was never a part of the plan! It is surprising, the things that have organically arose while conducting business. For one- we have found what an amazing treat our visits can be for the siblings of hospitalized children. Many of these kids are forced into a similar isolated lifestyle but with the added psychological confusion of maybe feeling less attention which can create an odd guilt dynamic. Those little brothers and sisters are also suffering. Visiting the staff at these medical facilities is another bonus we hadn’t counted on. These angels are the front line and work with these kids every day. On occasion we have even visited some senior patients and found something interesting. They are so excited to see these superheroes and are anxious to take pictures to share with their grandchildren. That act of a grandparent showing their loved one some exciting photos they took may be one of the final chances to bond with and impress their beloved grandkids.

Probably the most substantial realization we have made is that we nearly offer the comic book community as much of a service as we do the hospitalized children. I really believe that everyone likes to be charitable. By offering this service we provide an avenue for comic collectors around the country to do something that makes them feel great. What a bonus! We get to give the gift of giving charity- what’s better than that?! We have so many wonderful donors that help us out. We are helping them share their love of comics with a new generation that may have not otherwise been exposed to it. I am especially proud when someone goes through their collection- or heads to a comic shop- to carefully select a book or storyline that sparked their own love of comics, and is anxious to share that same experience with a child.

Do you have a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization status or other designation?
We are currently a State of Arizona non-profit corporation. We are 501(c)3 pending. We are currently going through the process of finalizing our filing.

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How can someone join Comicare?
We take pride in being an organized and efficient group. One of the ways we do that is by keeping our staff very small and only including people we know well. For that reason it is actually very difficult to “JOIN” Comicare- however, we consider our supporters family! We are entirely dependent on comic donations from individuals and shops. If someone just follows us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, we consider them as having “joined” us. We need that kind of encouragement from the public. Many of our followers ACTIVELY share our posts and events- and we love them for it. We have also gotten requests from people to visit their family members or friends. Also, we sometimes receive requests to visit a facility that has served someone’s family in the past. This whole experiment only works as a “community project”. Sometimes you just need the public support to remind you that you are doing something worthwhile.

What type of costumes do you accept? Do you have a costume approval process, if so what is it? What do you look for in a costume?
We work with cosplayers in a number of ways. When it comes to hospital visits, we are EXTREMELY selective. We work with very small groups of usually one to three characters. We only bring ‘A-list’ characters that the kids will immediately recognize and we do have very high standards as far as costume appearance. We also require our cosplayers to be outgoing and have knowledge of their character as they will be staying “in character” as their superhero of choice. It can also be difficult for some people to interact with children, especially in a hospital atmosphere. I know it sounds terribly excluding, but it is necessary considering our mission. We also try to have some open events where we can include everyone and really celebrate the fun of cosplaying. We enjoy seeing everyone and spending time with them. There are a number of great costuming groups in town. I understand the need to be open to cosplaying at all skill levels and preferences. Sometimes people feel left out by Comicare, and we don’t want that, so we look for every opportunity to be inclusive.

Do you accept crossplay costumes? Gender bent costumes? Customized characers?
At open events it’s more of an ‘everything goes’ atmosphere, but we are a children’s charity so we try to keep it as family friendly as possible.

Do you have people willing to help with the costume making process or a resource guide to help with the process?
We are VERY fortunate to be aligned with a few very skilled costumers in the community. Most of our cosplayers our self-sufficient, but if they need help we refer them within our organization.

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How many people are currently in your group?
On staff we currently have six. We also have a handful of semi-regular cosplayers that could be considered a part of our organization.

Leadership structure:
Being a corporation it is important to have certain roles filled. We have a director, a VP, a treasurer, a few event coordinators and a talent/cosplay manager.

What have you done for charities (types of events)?
Most of our time is spent on our narrow focus: visiting children in medical facilities. We pride ourselves on being professional and flexible, as hospital schedules and priorities can change on a moment’s notice. We are generally lead around the hospital floor by a guide who shows us the kids they believe would enjoy a visit. A visit usually consists of a hospital staff member leaning into a room and announcing “you think you would like a visitor”, after which Captain America, Iron Man or some other superhero walks into the room. The hero spends some time talking to the children, answering questions and taking pictures. We try to be intuitive as to when the child has had enough. At which point, the character ducks out of the room for a second and comes back in with some comic books, stickers and such, as a parting gift. There are a wide range of reactions we get from children. Some are off the charts excited! We do not get disappointed by the less animated ‘visit-ees’. We have heard all too often about the little shy boy who would hardly look at Iron Man, and how he acted like he couldn’t care less. Then, two minutes after we have left, he springs to life talking about his experience meeting THE REAL IRON MAN!! Many times that little boy talks for days about his special visitor!

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Do you create your own event or make appearance when requested?
We really do both. We try to accommodate special requests of events or specific superheroes. If we feel we have been idle to long, we will reach out and schedule a visit.

How did you build you “clientele”?
I suppose I see our clientele as two different parties. The main person we deal with at most medical facilities is the “Child Life Specialist”. We have worked hard reaching out to these people and developing relationships. We also try to retain our good standing with them by offering the highest quality experience possible and by being prompt, flexible, professional and available. Our other ‘clientele’ would be our donors- individuals and businesses. We have survived on word of mouth and a lot of social media exposure by providing a top notch service. Word gets around that we are committed to being a good steward of their donations.

Do you have particular organization(s) or cause(s) you work with regularity?
We don’t often work in partnerships with a lot of other charities. We have such a narrow focus that it keeps us very concentrated. We also act as a blanket for some other groups. Because we have no ego, a lot of groups will participate in our events as an extension of Comicare. We don’t want our message to be watered down. It’s really all for the kids.

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What is the most amazing thing Comicare has accomplished so far?
I think the most amazing thing is how far we have come so quickly. Many charity groups never get full non-profit status and even fewer move all the way through 501(c)3 filing. We have moved extremely fast through these hurdles. It is a testament to the quality of our staff and the passion of our supporters.

Where do you see Comicare going in the future?
We actually have a lot of plans for the near future- really exciting stuff! One thing we are looking forward to is visiting facilities in other states. We so greatly appreciate the support of our followers that we pay attention to where they live throughout the country. When we see a pocket of enthusiastic supporters, we start to feel an obligation to visit their hometown and meet with kids on their behalf. If we build strong relationships with people in those states we may look at expanding chapters. Thant is quite a ways off though.

Do you have advice for someone interested in creating a CAUSEplay group or getting into CAUSEplay?
I have learned a lot about cosplayers and the dynamics of their groups. One thing I will say is: Enjoy what you do! Everyone likes to ‘do charity’ and ‘visit kids’- but I really think it is important to acknowledge that you also “just like to dress up”. There’s nothing wrong with that! Most costumers really like to go to events and cosplay and they shouldn’t be ashamed of that. If you want to do charity, I really suggest keeping your goal simple and focused- and don’t confuse the two. Be proud to cosplay for YOU- and when called for “give it your all for others”.

What future events do you have?
Most of our events are private medical facility visits that we do not promote. We are very excited that in the next few weeks we will be very busy visiting children. In one week alone we will be visiting FIVE valley hospitals! There are a series of Saturday Family Fun Festivals that we will be at and we are the recipient of their fundraising efforts (Nov 8, Nov 22, and Dec 13). They are open to the public. See our social media sites for info. We will be announcing a VERY special event on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (stay tuned!) and we are trying to organize a private event coinciding with the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy DVD in December.

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Tell us about the fundraiser you are promoting on your Facebook page!
To be honest, we are a bit uncomfortable with fundraising. We take pride in our efficiency and low overhead. All of our staff donates their time and expenses. We do some light fundraising at the annual Phoenix Comicon and that covers our yearly expenses. For this initial startup year, however, we find ourselves in need of a little additional funding. We wrestled log and hard over what to do. Our main goal was simple: remain dignified. We were not interested in ringing a bell while holding a cup, or a car wash or a bake sale. These things are fine for other organizations- but we were looking for something simple and elegant. Our first couple of ideas fell through so we came to this one. Instead of hitting up everyone to pitch in a couple of dollars- we want to extend the opportunity for the really excited few to become a part of our family. We need a MUCH smaller group of people to each donate $40 (tax deductible). This group is mostly comprised of our early supporters and donors who really feel an ownership of our mission. They make a nice donation of $40 and we send them out a “CHARTER MEMBER” Tshirt. We only printed a very limited number to meet our financial goal. These “Charter Members” can be proud knowing that they were there on the ground floor and helped actually BUILD Comicare into the charity group we will be for years to come- and they can wear that pride across their chest! From now on, anyone who shows up to a Comicare event wearing one of these limited edition shirts, will be welcomed as an honored guest and usually receive some sort of gift or prize. The dream is to imagine a decade from now- someone shows up to the 2025 Phoenix Comicon wearing an old wore out “CHARTER MEMBER” Comicare shirt- and they are treated like royalty! Everyone will be so jealous of their shirt! Hahahaha This campaign will continue until our supply of shirts is exhausted. Get yours now!

How can people donate?
Email me at zeff@comicare.org with your Tshirt size and I will send you out an invoice payable with any card or paypal. For other donations of any amount- donate at paypal, user: donate@comicare.org

What do the donations do?
Monetary donations go to our extremely low operating costs. These include the costs of running convention booths and printing costs of stickers, banners and other promotional materials. We may, in the future, use some proceeds to purchase specific comic book titles needed for hospital deliveries- but it is not anticipated to be necessary. The bulk of the “Charter Member” Tshirt campaign will finance the final stages of our 501(c)3 government filing.

How can people submit comics to help your cause?
For people in the Phoenix area, the easiest way to donate is to swing by “Drawn to Comics” in downtown Glendale. They are a fantastic shop who supports us intensely! They always have a box waiting for donations. Samurai Comics in Phoenix is another great shop in town that has THREE locations! We can orchestrate a drop-off there, but need to make plans to do so. Sometimes we can meet people around the valley to pick up comics from them. If it is easier, or if you are out of state, comics can be mailed to us. To arrange a comic donation, msg us on Facebook or email us at info@comicare.org.

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Facebook: www.facebook.com/comicare we are extremely active and usually answer correspondence promptly
Website: http://www.comicare.org we are hoping to have a better presence on this site in the upcoming year
Twitter: @comicare
Email: info@comicare.org or me directly: zeff@comicare.org
Instagram: @comicareorg
Tumblr: http://comicare.tumblr.com/
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/comicare


Let me know how you are getting involved! I want to hear your stories!! And adventures!! Or tell me about a CAUSEplayer or a group you think are making a difference! Email AdventuresWithMala@gmail.com with your stories! If sending info on an individual person please let them know you have done so, to reduce the creep factor of a stranger contacting them for a potential interview.