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Comic creators calling on fans to tune in and take part in online telethon 'Be Our Heroes, Canada'

In this Following Up feature we chat with Jennifer Haines from The Dragon about the Be Our Heroes, Canada, live Facebook event May 16 and 17 to help rescue the struggling comics business

The Dragon, like most retailers, has been hit hard by the pandemic and even though the award-winning store has been able to stay afloat most comic shops and creators are struggling.

“We are down to about 30 per cent of our sales before the shutdown,” said Jennifer Haines founder of The Dragon. “Everything takes 10 times longer than before for 30 per cent of the revenue which is crazy. So, it has definitely been a very strange life this last six weeks.”

The Dragon’s survival is due, in large part, to their loyal customer base and their ability to market online

“We are in the store every day and we’re processing orders that come in through Facebook and email and our online store and Instagram, you name it,” said Haines. “I’ve had a few people who have texted me orders. It’s crazy.”

Their online presence has provided a lifeline that they are extending to other comic shops and creators through a live Facebook event this weekend called Be Our Heroes, Canada.

“A lot of it is me trying to leverage 20 years of relationships I have built up with creators and media contacts,” said Haines. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s do this thing and try to raise the profile of comics in Canada and get some help’.”

The two-day event will be hosted by Haines as well as comic shop owners, Andre Greenidge from Heroes World in Markham, Carlos Camara from Gotham Central Comics & Collectibles in Mississauga and Darryl Spiers from Cyber City Comix in Toronto.

“There are two streams here,” said Haines. “There are the retailers who are doing live sales from their stores and they keep those funds. We have a whole bunch of creators that are donating pieces of art and things like that and those funds are going to the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund to be redistributed to stores and creators in need.”

The event features dozens of artists from across the country including Guelph’s own award-winning graphic novelist and artist Seth, whose five-part graphic novel Clyde Fan was recently shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Ontario Books.

Also taking part is Guelph comics artist, animator, script writer and television cartoon creator Jay Stephens.

“Those are the two that are Guelph centred,” said Haines. “We’ve got Scott Chantler who lives in Stratford now, but he is a long-time supporter of the store. He comes and does lots of signings for us.”

The live Facebook event kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday May 16 and runs until 10 p.m. It picks up again at 10 a.m. Sunday May 17 until 10 p.m. It will include Q&As with shop owners and creators as well as live drawing sessions and sales.

"People just have to follow the @beourheroescanada Facebook page and over the course of this week we will be announcing the time slots for each of the stores and each of the creators and then it is just a matter of going to the page and watching the live event as it unfolds over the course of the weekend,” said Haines.

Haines started The Dragon in 1998 and over the last 22 years has grown the business to three locations – two in Guelph and one in Milton. The Dragon qualified for assistance under the Canadian Emergency Business Account program, but most comic bookstores don’t qualify and they hope the money raised and the extra publicity created by the event will help get them through until they can reopen.

“We received the emergency government account, the CEBA, but a couple of my colleagues who are helping organize this, aren’t eligible because they either have seasonal staff or are more, one-man, operations,” she said. “They are waiting to see what is going to happen with commercial rent relief because it hasn’t been properly organized or formalized yet. There are a lot of retailers who are really worried right now.”

Adding to their woes was the inability to get new comics to sell.

“Diamond Comics which is the only business that ships comics shut down all shipping on March 24,” said Haines. “So, we have all been without new product for close to two months now, which is pretty crazy. It is starting back up on May 20 but that is a long stretch of not receiving anything new that we can sell to our customers.”

Over the years The Dragon has accumulated more than 50,000 back issues and Haines has decided to take advantage of the lockdown to do a full-store inventory.

“Honestly, when the government said May 13, we are going to start rolling it out, I said no, I’m not ready,” said Haines. “I need two more weeks because I still want to do a full inventory. Also, we need to clean every single surface within an inch of its life. No one has been in here for six weeks except for my family but that does mean two small children have been running around and touched everything. So, everything needs to be cleaned. I am looking ahead to a June opening. That’s what I think is going to happen.”