Go inside the creation of a Marvel comic for children’s hospitals!

One of the things many of us love about comics is their ability to inspire and uplift. With that in mind, Marvel, Disney and hospital child life specialists have created a custom, quad-fold comic that features some of our favorite young heroes, and addresses topics like teamwork and asking for help when you need it. It will be distributed to select children’s hospitals nationwide. As Kevin Callahan, Vice-President, Community Engagement and Strategic Philanthropy at Disney Citizenship, commented:

“We are proud to work with the Marvel Publishing team and child life specialists in creating the fourth custom comic book for children’s hospitals. The message about the importance of friendship, aligns well with Disney’s commitment to bringing happiness, hope, and comfort to children and families who need it most.”

We caught up with writer Marc Sumerak, artist Craig Rousseau, and colorist Carlos Lopez about their experience working on this powerful project.

Marvel.com: The team of characters who have now formed the Champions are perfect for this project. What do you think makes them a good fit?

Marc Sumerak: Marvel has a whole new generation of young heroes, so I see it as quite natural that some of them might occasionally find themselves in over their heads as they explore their own limits. Whether they’ve made it to the big leagues and served on the Avengers—like Nova and Ms. Marvel—or they’ve carved their own heroic paths—like the Totally Awesome Hulk and Viv Vision—these young champions are still in the process of learning what it really means to become a hero and how to work as a team to save the day.

Craig Rousseau: The Champions seem like a young group trying to find their own place and role in the world, working together to help each other and others.

Carlos Lopez: I agree! They are young, and in the process of learning to become heroes. Learning about their place in the world. Children often find themselves in the same situation. And this journey is fantastic!

Marvel.com: What do you see as the significance of making stories like this available in hospitals?

Marc Sumerak: I’ve always seen Marvel’s heroes as symbols of hope. When times get tough, they rise above it all and find a way to win. But that doesn’t make it easy. Even heroes have struggles and doubts, and they know they can’t always do it alone. Seeing a hero’s strength, and at the same time recognizing their vulnerability and humanity, can really inspire the readers.

Craig Rousseau: I absolutely see stories like this as positive motivation and encouragement for kids spending any length of time in a hospital.

Carlos Lopez: Comics like this are amazing. They have the power to bring joy and hope.

Marvel.com: What has it meant to you personally to participate in this project?

Marc Sumerak: It’s always an honor to contribute to a project that uses Marvel’s iconic characters to share a very important message. These heroes speak to fans of all ages, and if their trials and tribulations can inspire a young reader somewhere to make the right call when they need help, I can’t think of a greater reward.

Craig Rousseau: I jumped at the chance to work on this, knowing from experience just how much it can make a difference; our youngest has Type 1 diabetes, and when she spent days in the hospital after her initial diagnosis, it was the books and stories she read to pass the time and engage her imagination that helped the most.

Carlos Lopez: It made me very happy to have the honor of contributing to a project as incredible as this.

Marvel.com: Can you tell us about your experience working on a project that has this kind of specific purpose in mind? Has it impacted your creative process?

Marc Sumerak: For me, the most important thing when working on a story like this is making sure to incorporate the message in an organic way. I wanted to integrate the main ideas—in this case, relying on others and working together as a team—into the core of the story from the very beginning. It has to make sense for all of the characters involved. No one enjoys reading a story and suddenly having a character teaching you an awkward lesson out of nowhere. If we’ve done our job well, that lesson will unfold naturally over the course of the story in a way that feels as fun and exciting as any other mainstream Marvel comic.

Craig Rousseau: I try and gear my artwork towards a specific audience if appropriate, and this one felt like it needed to be big and to have action-packed fun.

Carlos Lopez: I felt very proud. I remember thinking, “This is a really special project, I have to make something really great here.”

Marvel.com: What other characters do you think would work well in a project like this? Maybe Nadia Pym or Lunella Lafayette?

Marc Sumerak: Marvel’s younger characters all want to make their own mark as heroes. So many of them feel willing to step up and face danger alone when the need arises. But we also see them starting to understand the value of surrounding themselves with other like-minded—and like-powered—allies. I’d love to see more of Marvel’s newest generation, from Ironheart and Moon Girl to Wasp and Wolverine, expounding the virtues of teamwork.

Craig Rousseau: Oh, I think we could have a lot of fun with Squirrel Girl in a story like this!

Carlos Lopez: I think Moon Girl would be very appropriate in stories like this.

Marvel.com: Would you like to mention anything else?

Marc Sumerak: The story starts with Nova in a strange place in his life. He has just left the Avengers and we see him trying to prove himself as his own hero. But when he gets in over his head, he realizes that he still has friends out there who will help him, no matter what. I think that’s an important realization that everyone—super hero or otherwise—needs to have. Even when we feel like we have no choice but to face something alone, we still have people who love us who will have our backs in our hour of need.

Craig Rousseau: Man, that was a lot of Moloids to draw!

Carlos Lopez: I’ll say the same as Craig—a lot of Moloids to color!

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Preview a mission patch that’s out-of-this-world!

Marvel will be launching into space and taking some of its most iconic interstellar characters along for the ride. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space unveiled a new mission patch last week at San Diego Comic-Con, designed by Marvel and its Marvel Custom Solutions Group. The patch itself will represent scientific payloads delivered to the International Space Station for 2016 and depicts Rocket Raccoon and Groot, two members of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

CASIS oversees the scientific research undertaken on the ISS to benefit life back on Earth; 100 research projects are expected to launch there in 2016 alone in the fields of life and physical sciences, material sciences, technology development, Earth observation, and student questions.

Rocket and Groot’s inclusion on the mission patch comes from hopes of inspiring a new generation of STEM scientists and an educational flight contest centered around the two heroes is expected to take place later this year.

“These are characters who have a bit of space-based background to begin with so both of those characters already embody some of the characteristics associated with what’s happening on the space station,” said Patrick O’Neill, Marketing and Communications Manager for CASIS and the ISS National Laboratory in a promo video for the patch.

We spoke with Editor and Associate Manager of Marvel Custom Solutions Darren Sanchez to get more details on the out-of-this-world collaboration.

Marvel.com: How long ago did this collaboration come about and how did it first come about? Will it be tied to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” arriving next summer?

Darren Sanchez: We started work on this project back in early spring, though the idea had been in discussion since February. CASIS had approached us with the idea of doing something cool with Marvel to promote a S.T.E.M. Initiative contest they were planning for October. This wasn’t directly tied to the upcoming movie. It was more of a happy coincidence.

Marvel.com: Can you describe the development and creative process? For instance, was the artist given free reign over the design? 

Darren Sanchez: The development process was a collaborative one where CASIS let us know what they needed to have on the patch: the International Space Station, specific text, and our characters. Once we knew the parameters of what they needed, we came up with a few more suggestions. I wanted it to invoke an aspirational tone, and I also knew exactly which artist to call on. We went with Juan Doe for the art because not only does he do outstanding covers in a unique fine art style, but he is also an excellent graphic designer. That combination of skills made him my first choice. Juan Doe is a space nut, and was thrilled to work on a project for CASIS, the International Space Station and NASA. Knowing his design would be going into space made it an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Marvel.com: Out of all the Guardians team, why did you choose Rocket and Groot to represent the patch?

Darren Sanchez: CASIS wanted a galactic character, which narrowed it down quite a bit for us. Rocket and Groot made the most sense because they were the best match with the STEM contest that CASIS was planning. In the contest there are two categories of entries, Organic and Tech. There is no more organic character than Groot; he’s a tree. Rocket fit the Tech category, so they were the natural choice. Plus, who doesn’t love Rocket and Groot? Rocket can be surly but he has a good heart, and he is a hero of the galaxy.

Marvel.com: Based on their personalities in the Marvel comics/cinematic universe, how do you think Rocket and Groot would feel about being the faces of this mission patch?

Darren Sanchez:  Rocket and Groot would be honored to be featured on a mission patch. I imagine the rest of the Guardians would get tired of constantly hearing about it.

Marvel.com: Will there be any more collaborations between CASIS/ISS and Marvel in the future? Anything you can tease?

Darren Sanchez: There is a limited edition lithograph planned for [New York Comic-Con] 2016, that will feature the Juan Doe art from the patch. It’s going to be a highly sought after item.

Marvel.com: Will fans have a chance to get one of these patches for themselves? 

Darren Sanchez: The CASIS team is considering making some of these stickers to hand out at NYCC. Right now they haven’t communicated to me if they are doing that or not. We do know that the full sized lithograph of the image will preview at NYCC. The patch will not be massed produced, and therefore [will be] very rare.

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Rocket Raccoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy help out with financial literacy!

Marvel Custom Solutions, together with Visa Inc. have announced the release of a new comic book that educates readers about personal finance. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: ROCKET’S POWERFUL PLAN, released in conjunction with Free Comic Book Day, features Marvel’s iconic super heroes working together with Visa’s financial literacy expertise to introduce and educate readers on fundamental money management concepts. In addition to its Free Comic Book Day release, Visa Inc. is also partnering with the Public Library Association to make the new book available at public libraries nationwide, making money management accessible on a large scale.

“At Visa, we believe that financial education is most effective when the public and private sectors work together. Our partnership with Marvel and the Public Library Association allows us to make financial education entertaining and engaging, while also offering educators a resource that introduces basic money management concepts to the classroom,” says Visa Inc. Head of U.S. Financial Education, Hugh Norton.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: ROCKET’S POWERFUL PLAN can be accessed on Practical Money Skills for Life, an award-winning, teacher-approved financial education program created by Visa currently available in seven different languages, with more in the works. The book’s launch was held at the Cleveland Public Library where the president elect of the Public Library Association joined representatives of Visa to announce the partnership and partake in a public reading of the book by Cleveland Public Library storytellers. And no launch would be complete without a visit from a financial hero like, Iron Man, who just so happens to be featured in the comic book, as well.

“Working on this comic was a unique opportunity that enabled us to introduce core concepts about finance and savings using the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man in a fun, action-packed story,” says Marvel Custom Solutions Editor, Darren Sanchez.

To order your copy, go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com!

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Western Union campaign garners critical acclaim!

The team at Marvel Custom Solutions, along with Western Union–with the help of their cultural advertising agency, Gravity–received several prestigious advertising awards for their 2015 Custom program, including a Bronze Telly Award, a Silver Communicator Award, and a Western Union Gold Lion Award. And they were also recognized as an official 2016 Webby Honoree in the Advertising and Media-Digital Campaigns category. The award-winning program included a custom print and digital comic, product placement in Marvel’s mainline comics, and a special episode of “Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?!” that featured a battle between the Avengers and the Wrecking Crew, all supported by a wide-ranging digital ad campaign speaking to audiences across traditional web sites, as well as Pandora.

“We’re so proud that our integrated story-telling approach has garnered this recognition from the industry,” says Marvel’s Mark Basso, project manager and editor for the project. “When we first started collaborating with Marie Proto and her team at Western Union, we knew we had to be clever in our approach, but we never expected honors on this level.”

Marvel Custom and Western Union won a Bronze Telly Award in the Branded Content & Entertainment – Business-to-Consumer category, the Silver Communicator Award in the Marketing Effectiveness – Content Marketing category, as well as a Gold Lion Award for Digital & Social Integration in Western Union’s own internal awards. Gold is the highest honor in the category.

Each year, the Telly Awards honor outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, including video and film productions, and online commercials, videos, and films. With over 13,000 entries from all 50 states and various countries, it is a true honor to receive recognition in these categories, among some of the best advertising agencies and corporate video departments in the world.

The Communicator Awards, which are judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts, has been awarding marketing innovators at companies and agencies of all sizes for over two decades.

This year, the Marvel and Western Union along with Gravity are embarking on a new program to build on 2015’s success.

“We’re going bigger for 2016,” says Marvel’s Darren Sanchez, project manager and editor on the upcoming series. “Not just a longer comic story—this one will be four parts—but also in our multi-platform approach to engaging fans. For example, Western Union is hosting a social poll right now that will determine which Marvel hero will guest star in the series, so the fans can contribute to the creative process.”

Watch the Marvel Super Heroes: What The-?! Western Union Special

Read the Western Union Avengers Comic

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Mark Basso and Jim Zub detail Marvel Custom Solutions' special project for young hospital patients!

By Jessica Quinn

“I may be one-of-a-kind, but now I’m part of a group,” says Drax, the cosmic heavyweight, who makes up one fifth of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

This embodies the theme that editor Mark Basso and writer Jim Zub have instilled in this year’s Marvel Custom Solutions foldout comic poster. With the help of Disney and Child Life Council, this special comic book will be included in care packages for young patients in nearly 450 hospitals across the country.

“Storytelling is the heart of our business at Marvel, so getting to present a unique comic tailored to entertain kids in hospitals is truly an honor,” says Basso.

Marvel has worked with Disney and Child Life Council to create special comics for care packages since 2014, in hopes of inspiring patients as they overcome adversity. This year’s comic underscores a theme of friendship, camaraderie, and not feeling ashamed or embarrassed for relying on others when you need help—a challenging factor for many patients, during and after hospitalization or treatment.

With their unique attributes and ability to work as a team when faced with obstacles, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy represent the perfect example of a group of people relying on each other for different strengths, much like family members, friends, and professional caregivers.

We asked Basso and Zub about their creative efforts in this project and what putting together this special comic means to them. 

Marvel.com: This year’s comic showcases Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a group in the Marvel Universe that navigates through obstacles by working together and being dependent on each other’s strengths. What do you hope that the young patients who read this comic takeaway from the story?  

Mark Basso: I hope that the kids who read this, who may be in difficult situations health-wise, firstly get an immediate break from their troubles and enjoy a really fun adventure story with the Guardians of the Galaxy! A hospital can be a totally scary environment for anyone, so even if we can provide just a bit of distraction through entertainment, I think we’re doing something important. On a deeper level, I hope that the patients will see how the Guardians interact with each other—relying on each other in times of need—and realize that illness or injury is not a fault either, and there is nothing wrong with looking to others for help when needed.

Guardians of the Galaxy Custom Comic

Guardians of the Galaxy Custom Comic

Jim Zub: I hope the patients who read this remember that they’re not alone. The people closest to them—their friends, family, and the professionals caring for them—make up their “team” and they’re all working toward the same goal: health and happiness.

Marvel.com: As an editor for Marvel’s all-ages line of comic books, how important was it for you to be involved in this project, Mark?  

Mark Basso: Most of the comics I work on are aimed at all-ages audiences, so I’m very comfortable working with a creative team to put together stories for kids. All of the comics I’m fortunate enough to edit are a blast to create, but when there’s a special purpose behind it, like this one, it really fires up the entire creative team knowing we’re helping to bring a smile to the face of a child who can really use one.

Marvel.com: Where can Marvel fans find more information about how Disney and Child Life Council are making a positive impact on young patients throughout the country? 

Mark Basso: You can find more about the work Disney Corporate Citizenship does at thewaltdisneycompany.com/philanthropy and about the Child Life Council at Childlife.org.

Marvel.com: Jim, this was your first time writing the Guardians of the Galaxy; how did writing a storyline for this group differ from the other comics you have written?

Jim Zub: It’s a short and focused story so it was extra-important that every panel communicated our theme of friendship and teamwork.

Marvel.com: What about this group of characters was most important for you to capture?

Jim Zub: I wanted to really zero in on the idea that every character on the team is different and diverse but when they come together those differences make them more powerful as a group so they can tackle any troubles that come their way.

Marvel.com: There are so many great mantras in this story, like “I may be one-of-a-kind, but now I’m part of a group,” that directly relates to young patients and what they are going through. Which phrase resonates the most with you?

Jim Zub: “We accomplish more united than we ever could on our own.”

Marvel.com: What is the most challenging aspect of writing a story for a foldout comic poster?

Jim Zub: Making sure the comic ends on a really strong note so we can pay it off with that big inspirational poster image.

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Make-A-Wish helps one of Marvel's greatest fans become part of the House of Ideas!

Marvel’s latest creator may be young, but his career’s off to an impressive start.

With the help of Make-A-Wish and accompanied by his father, 11-year-old Eli who has a life-threatening hematologic disorder, had his one true wish granted when he visited the Marvel offices in New York to work with members of the Marvel Custom Solutions team as well as writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Sean Chen to bring his original creation, the Teen Super Corps (TSC), to life as part of a comic book. Eli conceived the members of the TSC as well as the villains opposing them and even their initial story with three friends and wowed the Marvel team with his impressive capacity for invention.

“I was so impressed with Eli’s creativity,” says editor Mark Basso. “He came to visit bursting with story and character ideas that he and his friends had worked out. It really blew us away the concepts he had. All of the characters had such cool powers and back stories; I personally can’t wait to see the villain Clockwise take on the TSC in the comic!”

Presented with Eli and his buddies’ pitch, Marvel Custom Solutions saw an exciting project and enlisted the equally enthusiastic Nicieza and Chen.

“Fabian and Sean both jumped at the chance to be involved when I told them about the project,” shares Darren Sanchez from MCS. “We were as excited to meet Eli as he was to meet all of us.”

“With Eli, Fabian, and Sean in the room, we had quite a super team,” adds Basso.

Nicieza and Chen eagerly clocked in with a story outline and character designs not long after that met with Eli’s full approval.

Following the meeting, Eli and his dad toured the Marvel offices, where the budding writer showed off his commendable knowledge of characters ranging from Deadpool to Beta Ray Bill, putting a smile on the face of staffers thrilled to see their work appreciated by a true fan. He even sat in on an official Marvel Reading Circle led by Tom Brevoort to offer his insight on recent releases.

Before he departed, we managed to grab an interview with Eli, learning a bit more about his background and what to expect from his debut Marvel work…

Marvel.com: You know a ton about Marvel! How did you learn all this stuff? Walking around today, I was amazed at how much you knew, and I know a pretty good deal about this…

Eli: My dad got a lot of comics when he was little, and he taught me a lot about it. We check out a lot of Marvel books from the library [too].

Marvel.com: So did you start liking Marvel because of your dad? That’s something you guys share?

Eli: Yeah.

Marvel.com: You came into Marvel and you’re going to make your own comic! I don’t want to give anything away, but what can you tell me?

Eli: It has characters and a story made by me and my friends. Their normal identities are me and my friends. Obviously I’m the leader. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: You said Thor’s your favorite character—why?

Eli: Because he’s awesome.

Marvel.com: Good answer! You also have an Iron Man shirt on. Is that your second favorite character?

Eli: Yes.

Marvel.com: Who else do you like?

Eli: Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Ghost Rider…

Marvel.com: I noticed you had a lot of Ghost Rider comics with you…

Eli: My dad has a lot of Ghost Rider comics, so they’re from his collection.

Marvel.com: You think Ghost Rider’s cool?

Eli: Uh-huh.

Marvel.com: Not as cool as Thor?

Eli: …no. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: What are some of the coolest things you got to see on your tour today?

Eli: All the conference rooms, because they’re all based on super heroes; especially the Thor one. I like the big library full of Marvel comics.

Marvel.com: You got a lot of comics. You said you were going to read them all tonight?

Eli: Yeah…I’m rethinking that.

Marvel.com: [Laughs] You’ve got to make them last! Final question: If you could team-up with any Marvel character, who would it be? Do I even need to ask?

Eli: Thor!

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The Elks Club and Marvel team-up moves into its ninth year, using popular characters to support children in the community!

Real heroes can be hard to find. Sure, it’s easy to pick up a comic book and thrill to the latest exploits of Spider-Man or Captain America, but it can be more difficult to find mentors and guidance out in the real world. That’s where The Elks Club and Marvel in School come in.

For the ninth year, the two groups have joined forces to offer grade school kids the opportunity to learn important lessons about bullying and drug use through comic books featuring the adventures of Marvel’s many heroes. More than 600,000 comics have been sent to schools along with accompanying teacher guides to fully embrace the issues at hand.

That tradition continues this year with a comic called AVENGERS: NEVER ALONE featuring the title team as well as Nova. Elks Drug Awareness Program Consultant William J. Bryan sums the issue up concisely:

“We want kids to know that as long as there is an Elks organization that cares about them, they are never alone,” he says. “The theme is anti-bullying, but building on our first issue—which deals with underage drinking and making good choices—we wanted kids to know that they don’t have to feel isolated, when in fact they are not alone.”

From there it’s a matter of assembling the heroes—in this case the Avengers and Nova—and then putting the story together.

“Basically, the Directors of the Elks Drug Awareness Program decide what theme they want,” Bryan explains. “This is usually done by polling the 50 State Chairs to see what they feel is a pressing need for them. When the issue is directly related to substance abuse, we want to be certain that the information we provide is correct; scientifically based and without credible debate. We want to be certain that the Elks are featured somewhere in the story—even if subliminally—and that there is not an overabundance of violence. The creative talent provides us with drafts and we are able—and encouraged—to make suggested changes.”

One way that the Elks find to incorporate their organization into the comic is by offering the use of their mascot Elroy the Elk.

“Elroy is the Elks Drug Awareness Program’s costumed character,” Bryan says. “He has been around for about 30 years and like many of the Marvel characters, he has developed through the years and become more super hero-like. He just likes kids and kids like him. His mission is to keep kids drug and alcohol free and to be a friendly support to children. He plays a prominent role in our kid’s website and is in attendance at many Elk Drug Awareness Program presentations and events throughout the country.”

In addition to offering digital and hard copy versions of the comic, The Elks Club is also holding a contest. Anyone who takes the Elks’ survey about the NEVER ALONE comic will be entered into a drawing and one lucky winner will be drawn in to a Marvel comic book.

Back in 2007 Vincent Buccigrossi—son of Elk Anthony Buccigrossi—won an essay contest with an entry titled “Be a Hero.” Vincent just graduated from college and is moving on to graduate school, but he still remembers the day his dad—a big fan of Spider-Man and Hulk himself—told him he’d won.

“I was actually caught off guard when I found out I had won,” Vincent says. “I was at a Boy Scout meeting and my dad, our Scoutmaster, made the announcement in front of everyone that I had won. To be honest I was excited but didn’t want to show it because I was too young to comprehend to scale of the accomplishment. Years later it finally hit me and looking back, it’s a really awesome thing to be the first winner of a national contest.”

Vincent still looks back on his winnings—toys, comics and his likeness drawn into MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN #34—with fondness.

“The toys were very unique, I was more of the type of kid that collected action figures rather than play with them, so I really understood the value of the merchandise,” he says. “The comic book portion was my personal favorite, how many kids can say they were in a comic book with one of their favorite super heroes? I still brag about it to this day! The kids I coach are almost always jealous about the fact that I was in a comic.”

With a similar prize on the line this time around, Vincent offers up a bit of advice for this year’s entrants:

“Just be honest. That’s all I did. I knew from watching Marvel movies that the real heroes are those who lead by example and do what they know is right; and that’s what I wrote about. It’s not about who uses the fanciest lingo or most professional wording and structure, but about the purity and honesty of the child’s message to advocate for a drug free life style. As Ben Parker once said ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’”

For more information check out the Elks Club website as well as the Elks Kids Zone.

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A new one-shot brings more attention towards Marvel's anti-bullying campaign!

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are out to make bullying a thing of the past with AVENGERS: NO MORE BULLYING #1, an all-new one shot featuring some of the best and brightest talents in the comic industry as they stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Arriving in January, this specially priced $1.99, 40 page one-shot contains three brand-new stories from top tier talents. Featuring Gerry Duggan, Sean Ryan, and Jeff Loveness, as well as Jody Houser making her Marvel writing debut, along with artists Carlo Barberi, Tana Ford, Marcio Takara, and Gustavo Duarte.

From the streets of New York to the furthest corners of the cosmos, the heroes of the Marvel Universe are no strangers to bullying and the damage it can cause. Heck, half the time, bullying is why Marvel’s greatest super heroes chose to fight evil in the first place! Now, Marvel’s diverse roster of super heroes are ready to stand up and help those who cannot help themselves. The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Amazing Spider-Man are out to put a stop to bullies everywhere with these three bombastic, can’t miss stories!

“From Peter Parker, Midtown High’s only professional wallflower, to the ever-misunderstood Kamala Khan, Marvel has a proud history of working to raise awareness about bullying and representing its victims as much as possible,” says series editor Devin Lewis. “Bullying is a problem that can affect everyone in a community, and it’s up to that very community to come together to combat it, and, with this issue, Marvel’s Avengers, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy are joining the fight! I know how comic books can help ease that feeling of isolation, and I couldn’t be more proud or excited about the talent we’ve pulled together for this project!”

Face front readers, as the Marvel Universe’s greatest heroes are ready to take on a real world problem more troublesome than any super villain. The best and brightest talent assemble this January for AVENGERS: NO MORE BULLYING #1!

Variant Cover by PASCAL CAMPION (NOV140750)
On Sale – 01/07/15
40 pgs./One Shot/All Ages….$1.99

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The Armored Avenger welcomes the hearing aid-empowered hero to his first comic alongside new hero Sapheara!

It all began simply enough with a loving mother and a son who wanted nothing more than to be a hero and thought his hearing aid meant he could not.

“Over two years ago, Christine D’Allesandro wrote an e-mail to Marvel asking for help,” recalls Marvel Custom Solutions Creative Director Bill Rosemann. “Her young son Anthony Smith didn’t want to wear his hearing aids because he didn’t see any of our characters wearing them. In response I sent Christina a cover image of WEST COAST AVENGERS #1, featuring Hawkeye as team leader, and told her that Clint Barton wore them back in the 80’s after he injured his ears.”

“[I told her] if Anthony wore his hearing aids—which he called Blue Ear, since they were made of blue plastic—we’d make him an honorary Avenger,” he continues. “Then, after I passed Christina’s e-mail around, Marvel’s Nelson Ribeiro and Manny Mederos were nice enough to create and draw the hero Blue Ear in two pin-ups, which I shared with Christina, and which made Anthony and his classmates very happy!”

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Not only did it make Christina, Anthony, and his friends happy, it made people everywhere excited to read the adventures of Blue Ear—except Blue Ear did not yet have any adventures.

“I was determined to make this comic happen, so I asked Marvel Custom Solutions VP Jonathan Rheingold if we could find a partner to underwrite a story that would feature Blue Ear and show how children who are hearing impaired are true heroes,” explains Rosemann. “Jonathan reached out to the Children’s Hearing Institute because he knew someone whose daughter received a cochlear implant from Dr. Simon Parisier, the founder of CHI, giving her the miracle of hearing. CHI and its executive director Melissa Willis wanted to educate the world about the hearing impaired and also share a preventative warning about the dangers of loud audio—via ear buds—that is damaging the hearing of millions around the globe.”

From there, the book needed a team to bring Blue Ear to life and Marvel turned to writer Marc Sumerak and artist Karl Moline for what would become IRON MAN: SOUND EFFECTS.

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

“I had already heard a lot about Blue Ear due to coverage in the media, but I had no idea that he had only appeared on a few pin-ups,” confesses Sumerak. “I was pleasantly surprised and honored that I got to help build him as a character for this book.”

Building Blue Ear meant creating an identity and world for him beyond his power set. After plenty of brainstorming, it all came together.

“We kicked around a few different approaches before we settled on his identity: Dr. Pedro Perez, a scientist working for Tony Stark on top-secret projects involving super-hero-level sound technology,” Sumerak reveals. “Naturally, Dr. Perez’s research had allowed him to upgrade his own personal hearing aid with all sorts of futuristic functions. But he didn’t stop there! As Blue Ear, he also created a number of other gadgets that come in handy over the course of the story.”

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Of course, as any comic book fan knows, if something happens at Stark Industries, a certain Shellhead cannot be far behind. According to Rosemann, the inclusion of Iron Man just felt right.

“We’re hoping to spread the word that cochlear implants and hearing aids are nothing to be afraid of or make fun of,” he points out. “In fact, they’re similar to Iron Man’s armor: incredible technology that helps people.”

With two classic Marvel villains involved—including one familiar to fans of the “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV series—Blue Ear and Iron Man need more help. Thus, one more hero joins the fray: the all-new Sapheara.

“When I joined the project, I knew the basics of what the Children’s Hearing Institute was looking for in this new character: a young female hero with cochlear implants,” remembers Sumerak. “From there, I worked with Bill to flesh out the rest of her personal details, including the origin of her powers [and] her background as daughter of a movie star. It made sense to have Samantha’s dad, Jackson Farrell, always in the spotlight, yet for Sam to stay away from it because she felt different from those around her. The events of the story allow the perfect chance for Sam to overcome her insecurities and embrace her differences as personal strengths.”

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

“She’s an inspiration to those who’ve been misjudged and underestimated by others, but refuse to sit on the sidelines,” Rosemann adds. “Sapheara is a fresh new star in the Marvel Universe, and it’s her turn to shine!”

“Current research is proving that with today’s new technology such as ear buds/iPods, and media gaming consoles, a younger generation is experiencing some degree of hearing loss,” says Dr. Simon Parisier, Founder of The Children’s Hearing Institute. “Part of our message is to educate this population in an exciting way on the potential dangers of technological and environmental noises. What’s unique is that Marvel helps translate the impact of this message by partnering Iron Man with two super hero characters [that] use hearing aids and cochlear implants to hear.”     

Looking at the project now, the editor feels certain Marvel stands to deliver the best possible debut for Blue Ear.

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

Iron Man: Sound Effects art by Karl Moline

“Marc Sumerak is an expert of weaving strong themes into an action-packed adventure, delivering all the drama, humor and thrills that readers expect in a Marvel comic,” Rosemann promises. “Karl Moline, who excels at drawing teen heroes, gave Sapheara the debut she deserved. Inker Manny Clark supplied crisp texture, colorist Javier Mena made the action pop, and letterer Joe Sabino made sure that readers of all ages could easily follow the story. Add on cover artist John Tyler Christopher and you have another Marvel Custom Solutions comic book that shows the world why the medium and characters we love are so powerful, fun, and cool.”

“The Children’s Hearing Institute has been overwhelmed with requests for copies of the comic book on not only a national level but internationally as well,” says Children’s Hearing Institute Executive Director Melissa A. Willis. “Our collaboration with Marvel Custom Solutions has by far, exceeded everyone’s expectations. It’s truly rewarding for CHI to know that Blue Ear and Sapheara are inspiring children with hearing related issues all over the world.”

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ESPN The Magazine commemorates LeBron James' return to Cleveland with the help of Marvel Custom Solutions!

Although it may not initially occur to you, LeBron James and Spider-Man have a lot in common.

One rises above the crowd to get the job done, inspiring many, moving with almost supernatural ease and grace.

The other we know as Spider-Man.

This month, however, Spidey and King James come together for the second time in the pages of “ESPN The Magazine.”

Inspired by James’ triumphant return to his hometown of Cleveland and his first team, the Cavaliers, ESPN decided to revisit a 2010 cover homage to “Spider-Man No More!” that coincided to his moving to the Miami Heat.

LeBron James in ESPN The Magazine by John Romita, Jr. from 2010

LeBron James in ESPN The Magazine by John Romita, Jr. from 2010

While merging comics and sports might not seem the most natural of fits at first blush, Marvel Custom Solutions Creative Director Bill Rosemann points out just how easy it can be:

“Since we are all part of ‘Team Disney,’ Marvel and ESPN have been working closely over the past few years on a number of projects,” he explains. “We’ve created everything from single pin-ups to full comics together. They reach out, we discuss the overall goals of the assignment, we brainstorm talent, they share references and—BAM!—cool, sports-related art for ESPN and Marvel fans alike is born.”

When it came time to decide on how to trumpet the return of King James to Ohio, the image referenced actually came from a suggestion by the sports side of the equation.

“We had LeBron leaving Cleveland in a rather spectacular fashion, and, in fairness, the return was just as incredible for Cavs fans,” says “ESPN The Magazine” Deputy Editor Otto Strong. “The most recent image gave us an opportunity to close the loop on LeBron’s time away.”

“Otto suggested starting with the cover art from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1, an image that would echo Peter Parker’s big return,” recalls Rosemann. “Then [artist] Miguel [Sepulveda] tried some different positions to echo the one-handed dunk pose that LeBron is known around the world for breaking out as he sails to the rim.”

LeBron James in ESPN The Magazine by Miguel Sepulveda

LeBron James in ESPN The Magazine by Miguel Sepulveda

For Rosemann, tapping Sepulveda as the cover artist made sense immediately.

“LeBron is an impressive, muscular player,” he argues. “So even though we were starting from a Spider-Man-ish pose, I wanted an artist who excels at establishing the size and mass of his figures. Miguel showed how well he could do that when we worked together on THE THANOS IMPERATIVE, so he was my #1 choice to deliver the power of the returning King.”

Fans of comics and sports—or both—alike can pick up the latest issue of “ESPN The Magazine,” featuring the homage cover, in stores now.

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