So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #037: Charitable Contributions

Photo by Carole Sharwarko of the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle

For those that know me well? I am a big fan of the long game. It’s why after Unshaven Comics took the better part of a year and a half working on our very first graphic novel (The March: Crossing Bridges in America, thank you very much…) my inclination wasn’t to immediately cut ties to the insanity of comic book production and just focus on my video game skills. No, I sat down with my brothers-from-other-mothers and said “we need to do this again!”. I dated my now wife for over eight and a half years before popping the question (and at least five years after the gem in her hand started glowing red!). And we waited to have our first kid several years after getting hitched. So, yeah. Long game.

Which is why it was so satisfying after sitting on the news for the better part of a year, I was finally able to share with my community a charitable donation I shilled for, to the tune of $1000 donated specifically to my home school district earmarked only to be used for the visual arts. Let me take you back…

And for the record? I’m taking the week off of musing on the pop culture minutiae I so often do. Instead, allow me the benefit of doubt to dole out a bit of creative non-fiction.

In April of 2018, my little hamlet of Homewood (Illinois), launched a marketing campaign that married the concept and direction of one Mary Jane Maharry (local resident and marketing guru) and my artistic and comic booking skills. “Think Homewood” got its 15 minutes of fame shortly thereafter — especially when on a slow news day the Associated Press promoted a story about the campaign. Suddenly, our graphic-novel-inspired advertisements were being discussed and enjoyed from Seattle to New York, in addition to some extra local love from the Chicago Tribune. It was cool beyond cool. And hey! I even got hate-blogged by a right-wing website. So, you know this Fish got serious fame (again for those 15 wonderful minutes). And at the height of all the Homewood love? WGN (local station, that itself is included in several national cable boxes) elected to throw a “block party” in Downtown Homewood.

Upon the announcement, the village asked me if I’d be a part of the festivities. And who am I to turn down doting elderly women who want to know if I was the one to draw all the pretty pictures? I acquiesced with glee. While planning for what all I could show at my booth during the party, I was informed I’d get a little interview segment live on air. And so it hit me: I could wear a little something to poke fun at the Think Homewood campaign that my neighbors and I could have a giggle about. And so I designed an “Avocado-Kombucha” t-shirt to mock my own campaign — lovingly.

Throughout the morning of the block party, dozens of well wishers stopped at my table to gab. I sold a few comic books. Signed a few posters of the Think Homewood campaign (we made some posters, cause why not). And time and again, passersby would read my t-shirt, laugh, and ask “So… where can I get one?!” Each time I was asked, I laughed along with them, heartily, and made a joke about the shirt being so hipster that it must remain limited edition. Guffaws shared by all.

Until the twentieth or so ask about the shirt. An idea formed. This was clearly an opportunity.

I make no qualms about my desire for financial gain. Unshaven Comics sells comics, takes commissions, and even commoditizes in the form of collectible trading cards and posters delightfully mashing up well known properties allowing us to skate under the radar as parody artists… So making a quick buck is never not on my mind. But this time, as the second and third dozen of Homewood denizens deluged me with desire for my custom duds? Only an angel perched on my shoulder with an idea:

Sell the shirts to raise money for the visual arts!

As a product myself of the Homewood school system’s visual arts education… I knew full well how expensive it is to have an art class. And furthermore in an affluent suburb with tons of boosters for sports clubs, music, drama, and the like, the visual arts always felt like an also ran among the community. Visual Art events are oftentimes occupied solely by the artists and their inner circles. Very few of our lovely townsfolk actively seek out student art events in the same manner they do athletics or music. Not that I’m complaining. But once as an active participant and now a parent / bystander… I saw an opportunity to give back to the unsung department that seemingly never is a top-tier recipient of donations and active patronage.

I threw the shirt up online — Facebook only, to several mom and dad groups I belonged to in the area — and in 2 weeks? Sold 75 shirts. I was floored. I figured I might luck out, and raise enough money to buy the kids some new paint, or maybe take the most engaged students on a gallery tour. But with this many shirts in such a short time? I was able to net $1000! And so, the money was collected, shirts printed and dispatched, and the donation was prepared. And while it took us a little under a year to create the fund by which monies could be accepted… we got there. Remember: long game. And so, I was delighted to make the donation as only I could:

I presented the art faculty a giant comic book page about handing them a giant check. Art for art. From the community that started me on my journey… a promise now to continuously and actively support that very program that my own children will be a part of in the years to come.