Hello! I’m handing over my column this month to a good friend, great Art Director, and a worthy cause. Before I do, let me introduce her. Regina Flath has been a fabulous Art Director in YA (Young Adult) Books at Random House for quite a few years, and she got on my radar because I was incredibly impressed with all these smart illustrator choices & great designs coming out of the YA market and I suddenly realized they were all coming from the same person. I knew her heart belonged to SFF publishing, and I was thrilled to see her land the Art Director position at Del Rey Books. She’s only been there a short time and is already making waves with great covers for authors like Grant Morrison. (So if you’re an illustrator looking to work on SFF Book covers, you should be sending her your promo emails and following her on twitter).
Regina has long been a force for diversity in publishing, and is very community-minded — she’s such a treasure to have in the fantasy artist world. I look forward to her taking a round of portfolio reviews at her first IlluXcon when she gets a chance to come! Meanwhile she’s been doing great work as an artist advisor for The Superhero Project and wanted to tell you all more about it because she’d love to get some more artist involvement. So consider yourselves introduced properly now, and read on!
Four years ago, Lisa Kollins reached out to me with a cold email to ask if I was interested in participating in a volunteer-based illustration project that would benefit children with serious illnesses, disability, or complex medical needs. I was intrigued. At the time, my ability to give time or money to charitable causes was limited. I was still digging myself out of a mountain of medical debt from the birth of my daughter and health issues that arose for me following her birth. I had to take the opportunity to use my art and illustration skills for a good cause.
Lisa sent me the brief, which resembles the briefs I send to artists I hire for book covers in my job as an art director. I would be creating a “Power Poster” illustration, using the child’s likeness, plus details from an interview with the child where they describe what their superhero alter ego looks like and what they stand for. The brief helps us to get to know the child beyond just their illness; we learn a little bit about their lives, their likes and dislikes, and more.
Zooming around on winged feet is The Amazing Bellazay! Inspired by Z. (age 2) & designed by Uyen Huynh.#pierrerobinsequence #pierrerobinsyndrome #vanmaldergemsyndrome #rarediseasewarrior pic.twitter.com/raEuLaLB4g
— The Superhero Project (@TheSuperheroKid) September 7, 2022
My first assignment was for a 5 year old child who had come through multiple organ failure. He was definitely a hero! I read through the notes, which included things like his favorite food (cheese), some notes about his family (a twin sister, a dog named Heidi), and of course details about his superhero alter ego. Normally, when I’m making art, I’m doing so exclusively for commercial purposes. Sitting down to make this poster reconnected me to why I fell in love with art and illustration. I wasn’t making this art to sell something. I was making this illustration so that a 5 year old hero could see himself as I was beginning to see him: a tough, kind, and gentle kid, who said his hero alter ego “stands for carrying loved ones in your heart” and who “shoots stars into the sky to remind people of who they love”.
Over the years I would create more Power Posters. I was challenged to learn how to depict different types of hearing aids, mobility aids, and in one assignment, an amazing speech pad that helps folks communicate. Now that I work in the incredible world of science fiction and fantasy art, I have even more respect for artists who can seamlessly integrate these pieces of technology into their illustrations. These aid devices are tools that are helping so many folks boldly go into a brighter and more accessible future. The most rewarding part of the process, though, has been seeing the photos of the children with their posters and hearing about their joy and excitement receiving the art.
(Photo shared w/ permission) The White Knight is here to help people with his incredible determination, kindness and happiness. Created by C. (age 10) & designed by Peter Jurado.@SpinaBifidaAssn #Spinabifida #SBA #superherokids #superheroartproject #superheroart pic.twitter.com/SALtYB17nb
— The Superhero Project (@TheSuperheroKid) September 5, 2022
As you might expect, working on a project like this can sometimes be tough on an artist’s mental health. Lisa, ever compassionate, decided to start hosting support sessions with a psychologist, particularly for artists whose designs have become memorial posters, who have been faced with stories and images of critical illnesses or significant disabilities, or who have completed multiple designs.
The Superhero Project is now celebrating its 5th anniversary of doing this amazing work. With over 1000 posters created by more than 425 different artists from over 25 different countries, the Superhero Project is making a huge impact. I’m so proud to serve on their artist advisory board, because I really believe in the mission of this organization (which is now also recognized as a 501c3 nonprofit!). I’m hoping that there are illustrators reading this who might also be inspired to lend their talents to uplift some hero kids. If you’re ready to join me and the other amazing artists who volunteer with the Superhero Project, you can visit https://www.superheroprojectkids.org/home for more info or check out their artist inquiry form directly at this link: https://airtable.com/shrX6YeV9EbEo7RDM! Or send an email directly to Lisa (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Taryn, the creative director (email@example.com) to ask about how to participate. You can also follow them on instagram and twitter.
Here’s a little video for more info on how artists can participate from their youtube channel:
And if you’d like to join Loish for an “under the sea” online drawing event, sign up for their newsletter!