Do What You Love: The Comic Book Hero
Ever dream about finding a way to do what you love for a living? In my "Do What You Love" column, I ask people who've done it to tell me their secrets. Here's hoping they inspire you to do the same.
James McLauchlin loves baseball and comics. And it was an idea he observed in a comic book that helped him find a way to get more deeply involved in the other.
McLauchlin, a sports writer who still dabbles in writing about Major League Baseball, wanted to find a way to help comic book creators in need. Inspired by an organization that offers financial aid to retired baseball players, he founded the not-for-profit Hero Initiative in 2000. To date, the organization has given more than $500,000 to comic book creators (artists, writers and letterers) in need.
"Hero creates a financial safety net for yesterday's creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. It's a chance for all of us to give back something to the people who have given us so much enjoyment," Hero Initiative's website says.
McLauchlin has since taken on the job of running Hero Initiative full-time. He tells BusinessNewsDaily how he found a way to do what he loves for a living and how you can, too.
BusinessNewsDaily: How did you end up doing this for a living?
James McLauchlin: I used to be a sportswriter and still dabble there a tad. Major League Baseball has a similar fund called BAT, the Baseball Assistance Team, that helps retired players. They realized that players even into the early 1970s might only have been making $10,000 a year, and many of those old players who built baseball into what it is today might have needs. Now that salaries are much higher in baseball, they're taking care of their own. Things like this exist here, there and everywhere. The local plumbers' union in your town probably has one for retired plumbers. But there had never been one in comics until summer of 2000.
Mark Alessi of then-CrossGen Comics is a big baseball fan as well, and I talked to Mark a few times about BAT, and how I thought it was a crying shame that something similar didn't exist in comics. I told him that it was always in the back of my head to start something like that for comics. Mark mentioned that he had lawyers on retainer already at CrossGen. He offered to get them working on framing a corporation and filling out the paperwork. He helped considerably in coming up with a structure, and visualizing what the organization would be.
BND: What was the crucial decision you made that led you to this place in life?
J.M.: I ran Hero nights and weekends, totally unpaid, for about the first six or seven years. The stress was pretty monumental, just finding the hours in the day. And funding was a tightrope act. We were occasionally knocking on heaven’s door in terms of just having any money in the bank. Finally I realized it had to be treated like a quote-unquote “real job.” I asked our board of directors to take me on at a salary, saying that we needed to amp up. I told them I thought I could triple our previous high fundraising year in my first year, and if we didn’t, I’d get out of Dodge. We did about three and a half times the previous high that year, so I stuck.
BND: What did you want to be when you grew up?
J.M.: Baseball player would have been nice. I also read comics as a kid and really enjoyed them. I had a notion that it might be nice to be a comic book editor. I got to do that as well. I was the editor-in-chief at Top Cow Productions from 2003 to 2006.
BND: Why do you love your job?
J.M.: As simple as it sounds, it’s the simple fact that we’re helping people and having immediate positive impact in their lives. I hear crying a lot. I really do. And I mean that in a good way. I think it’s just the breaking of a dam sometimes, and an emotional release. I can’t tell you how often I’ll be speaking to someone on the phone after the disbursement committee has decided what to do, and I’ll tell Artist X, “Yeah, no problem. Gimme the address and an account number, and we can pay off that hospital bill. Give me your landlord’s name and number, we’ll take care of the back rent, and get you paid off for next month as well. And we’re sending a check to you so you can get some groceries.” People just break down and start crying. I think it’s the stress of all these things ending, the cracking of that ice ... it’s an emotional moment. The mind, the body, something ... it doesn’t know what to do. So it cries.
It’s odd, but I’ve come to not look at a full-grown adult crying as anything bad. In fact, it’s good. For so many people, it’s the end of a long and painful road.
BND: What's the biggest misconception about your job?
J.M.: That it’s all fun and games. A certain portion of it is. But fundraising is hard, especially with the way the economy’s been running since 2006 — and don’t let anyone tell you it went to hell in 2008. Trust me — it was 2006. It’s tough, but at the end of the day, it’s satisfying.
BND: If you didn't do your job, whose job would you like to have and why?
J.M.: I’d love to be one of those regular Esquire contributors — Cal Fussman, Tom Junod, Tom Chiarella, the like. I do some feature writing for magazines where I can, and would love to be able to do that full-time.
BND: Do you think having a job you love has made you a better person in other areas of your life?
J.M.: I honestly don’t know. I never really thought about it. I guess my job satisfaction is high and job-related stress is low, so let’s hope so. Ask my wife.
BND: What's your best advice to other people who are trying to pursue their career dreams?
J.M.: There’s a somewhat flippant line a buddy of mine uses: “If no one ever made the first move, none of us ever would have got laid.” It’s funny, but there’s some real truth there. Chances are, nobody but nobody is going to pick you out of a crowd and offer you your dream job, not even knowing what it is. So you have to jump up, pursue, ask, demand and make the first move yourself.
Jeanette Mulvey has been writing about business for more than 20 years. Know someone who loves what they do? Tweet me @jeanettebnd with the hashtag #dowhatyoulove.