DC Superheroes Attempt Real-World Famine Relief

Comic Book Icons and Fine Artists Aid the Horn of Africa

By Scott Huver
|  Thursday, Jun 7, 2012  |  Updated 4:00 PM EDT
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DC Entertainment's ‘Darkness & Light’ art exhibit is part of an effort to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

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Sometimes heroes need to do something more profound than punching out the Joker. And sometimes there’s an art to it.

That’s why the men and women of DC Entertainment – the legendary comic book publisher of such superhero mainstays of film and television as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, among others – lent its Justice Leaguers to the We Can Be Heroes campaign to raise awareness and aid to help combat a very real world menace: the deadly famine crisis in the Horn of Africa.

And in the spirit of the DC characters’ ever-evolving graphic depictions, DC tapped a international pool of contemporary artists – plus a few skilled in-house colleagues – to create a collection of more than 100 stunning art pieces featuring classic, humorous and avant-garde interpretations of the iconic heroes for an exhibit dubbed “Darkness and Light: Art Inspired by Heroes & Villains, Hope & Heroism.”

DC kicked off a traveling series of awareness- and fund-raising exhibitions last month with a debut showcase in the company’s brand new offices in Burbank’s sleek The Pointe, where DC co-publisher and renowned comic book artist Jim Lee told PopcornBiz about their effort to save lives and inspire compassion.

“There's been the worst drought in about 60 years in that region and the UN had declared a famine there,” Lee said of the dire conditions in the Africa’s eastern horn region, which include Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. “It's the first time in 21 years that that had happened, and so obviously there was a lot of displacement, starvation and famine. I think as part of the company's corporate philanthropy initiatives we just decided to support this.”

“It's actually something that we've done before, 20 or 25 years ago, when there was famine in Ethiopia and DC had done 'Heroes for Hunger,'” said Lee, recalling a 1986 one-shot comic book that featured the superheroes battling famine in pages written and illustrated by an all-star roster of comic book superstars of its day. “That was the spark of the initial discussion at a very high level within the company to do something that tied in with DC because of the history that we'd had with that. So that was kind of the impetus.”

Lee is himself a comic book icon who broke out in the early ‘90s as the artist and later writer of Marvel’s “X-Men” before co-founding Image Comics and his own Wildstorm imprint – with his signature creation W.I.L.D.Cats before merging his interests with DC and illustrating wildly popular runs on Superman, Batman and, currently, the monthly Justice League book that served as the flagship for “The New 52,” DC’s line-wide re-launch – complete with revamped continuity and many freshened-up looks for the classic heroes, which Lee had a hand in designing.

For “Darkness and Light,” Lee provided a specially crafted piece of art featuring a longtime favorite, Batman, highlighting a large profile close-up of the cowled Dark Knight with a spray-painted African-inspired color scheme. “I wanted to do something fairly somber that tied in thematically with Africa, so I chose the colors of Africa: the black, red, green and yellow,” he said. “I kind of toyed around with doing something more expressly connected to the crisis in the Horn of Africa, but I decided to do something on a more subtle level. As you can tell from this whole exhibit, it's a wide range of art and types of pieces.

“I just had fun with it,” Lee said of the Batman piece. “It's very different from what I do in the comic books, which is more traditional black-and-white pen and ink. It's much more expressive. I think it's much more modern with the spray paint and everything, and ultimately it's just me having fun with the process of creating and it's a great way to spend time and it's a great cause. So I had a great time doing it.”

Other artwork in the diverse exhibit was crafted by well-known artists including Kiyoshi Nakazawa, Martin Ontiveros, Mike Palermo, Nathan Sawaya, Bwana Spoons and Amanda Visell, and features a roster of DC heroes and villains both traditional and eclectic – everyone from the marquee names of the Justice League and baddies like the Joker, to second-stringers like Batgirl and more obscure characters like Plastic Man. Several of the pieces pay direct and indirect homage to famous pop cultural tie-ins, like the “Super Friends” cartoons, the Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” TV series and director Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

The exhibit will hit what will likely be its highest profile location July 13-15, when it will be on display at the Michael J. Wolf Gallery in San Diego, during the heavily attended Comic-Con International, followed a multi-city tour in as-yet-to-be-announced cities. Meanwhile, singer and longtime comic book fan Daughtry will be promoting the We Can Be Heroes campaign with an acoustic version of his song "Rescue Me" available on iTunes with all profits going toward hunger relief efforts via Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps, and he'll be singing the song in concert appearances with a video backdrop of the art images.

For more information about the We Can Be Heroes campaign and how to contribute, visit www.WeCanBeHeroes.org.

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