With Further Ado #115: Overstreet and the Hero Initiative

I’ve often said that The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is more than just a much-anticipated book release with a bunch of back issue prices. It’s really an annual book release wrapped up as a pop culture celebration. Every year, collectors look forward to the new edition and opine on which cover – Gemstone Publishing releases many cover options each year – is their favorite.

But there’s another tradition within this tradition- a special charitable tradition that’s been going on for a decade. I caught up with Gemstone’s J.C. Vaughn, Gemstone’s V.P. of Publishing, to get the skinny!

 EC: Can you explain to me exactly what these Hero Initiative Editions are and how they work?

 JCV: Each year, beginning with The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #40 in 2010, we produce a limited, hardcover-only edition of 500 copies of the Guide exclusively for the Hero Initiative, always with covers by top artists. Hero and their affiliates are the only source for these books. Gemstone Publishing does not sell them, and as a matter of fact, we don’t take a penny for them, and neither do our printers. All of the proceeds go to the Hero Initiative.

The reason we’re starting our second decade with this project is that we believe in the mission of the Hero Initiative, which is to create a financial safety net for comic creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. Hero is a 501(c)(3) charity and they delivered more than $1 million in relief since their inception.

EC: And the insides of the books are the same as the regular editions?

JCV: The interiors are 100% the same as the standard editions of the Guide. The only difference is the cover art and design, and that all the money goes to this great cause.

EC: How did this come about and how long have you been doing it?

JCV: I had mentioned the idea to Hero Initiative President Jim McLauchlin about five years before I was in a position to get it done, but from the beginning I think Jim and I were on the same page. In late 2009, I spelled out my idea to Steve Geppi, who got it right away and encouraged me to pursue it.

EC: How do fans buy these editions?  Is the distribution channel different? This year I bought mine from Graham Crackers, the Chicago chain of comic shops.

JCV: In a normal year, there are many conventions where you can get the Guide directly from Hero. But this is 2020, so why bother talking about normal? First, you can find it on the Hero Initiative webstore or on their eBay store , or as you mentioned on the Hero Initiative store on the Graham Crackers website.

For those in Canada, it’s available from The Dragon and Paradise Comics.

EC: How long in advance to you have to start planning?  And how do you assign artists to the Hero Initiative vs. the regular Overstreet edition?

JCV: It’s a long-running series of conversations between Jim McLauchlin and me. I don’t think the conversation really stops anymore. It just goes on and on. We often discuss what Hero’s other efforts are, and we give a lot of consideration to artists who have actively supported Hero previously. And like our other covers, there is always the cool factor to consider.

EC: You’ve had some great covers on these editions. What are some of your favorites?

JCV: I’m very fond of all of them. CBPG #40 with the recreation of Marvel’s Conan #1 may have the best story behind it since it was the first one. It was the 40th anniversary of both Overstreet and Conan in comics. Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson got us the permission. Jim got Marvel to let John Romita, Jr. do the cover even though he was Marvel-exclusive at the time, Klaus Janson’s inks were awesome, Dean White’s colors were amazing, and Gemstone’s Mark Huesman’s logo and trade dress were outstanding, as usual, and our printer at the time got on board. It really just clicked. The clincher was when the books reached Jim in California. He called and said, “I don’t want to say, ‘Can we do this every year?’ but can we do this every year?”

But seriously, look at the line-up that follows that one: John Romita, Sr., Matt Wagner, Terry Moore, Herb Trimpe & Tom Palmer, Dave Johnson, Dan Jurgens, Rob Liefeld, Joe Jusko, Alan Davis, and now Kevin Nowlan.

EC: Were any of these Hero Initiative Covers especially difficult to make happen?

JCV: Not particularly, and some of them were easier because it was for Hero. For instance, I’m not sure if DC at the time would have said “yes” as quickly to Matt Wagner’s Batman/Grendel crossover cover if it hadn’t been for the Hero Initiative.

EC: I’m anxious to learn what fan reaction has been to these covers. How are sales? What feedback do you get?  

JCV: Generally speaking, the edition always sells out, it’s just a question of when. Rob Liefeld’s Deadpool cover on #47 was particularly brisk, no surprise, as was the first one, #40, but they all have done very well.

EC: The Overstreet Guide is, in so many ways, a bible for many comic dealers and comic shops. How do they choose which version they buy each year?

JCV: A lot of stores (and serious collectors) use The Big, Big Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, our oversized, limited edition. Other stores and many show dealers will just use a standard hardcover edition. I suspect the Hero Initiative editions have less wear and tear simply because some percentage of the buyers actually realize that with a print run of 500, they’re very rare from the beginning.

EC: What are your plans for 2021 and 2022, Jeff? Spill it!

JCV: Most of our standard edition covers are set for 2021, the Big, Big is in the works, and I think we’ll have one more in before all is said and done. I have pretty solid ideas about 2022, though we’re a bit behind schedule on that due to the COVID-inspired delay we took this year (we normally release in July, but this year the Guide debuted on September 2). As for the Hero Initiative edition, that sounds like another series of calls with Jim McLauchlin.