Soldiers overseas traditionally have received care packages from home — toothpaste, soap, cookies and candy bars.
A future airlift from the Capital Region will include capes, masks, black whips and silver bullets. Thousands of comic books will be part of the next shipment from Clifton Park’s “Books for Troops.”
The project is part of Albany comic book shop Earthworld’s promotion for the 11th annual Free Comic Book Day, which will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the Central Avenue shop. Owner J.C. Glindmyer said his customers have donated about 10,000 books. He’ll accept used copies through Saturday.
The deployment of fictional characters such as whip-crazy Zorro, the western silver investor Lone Ranger, urban vigilante Green Hornet and assorted superheroes started last year with Don Labriola of Albany. Labriola, an Earthworld customer, donated more than 200 comics to “Books for Troops,” which also provides fictional and nonfictional diversions for soldiers in Afghanistan.
Ellen Keegan, who founded the good-will group in 2010, said she received a letter of thanks from soldier Rob Smith, who is serving with a medical unit in Afghanistan.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you have done. You have hit the biggest home run in relation to care packages,” Keegan said, reading from Smith’s letter. “You packed that box like you have known me for years. . . . if you are able to send any more like that, just know my team will be anxious to receive as much as you can send. My most heartfelt and deepest gratitude to you for making home seem not quite so far away.”
Keegan showed the letter to Labriola, Labriola got the words to Glindmyer and Glindmyer forwarded a copy to his distributors. Dynamite Comics, which publishes updates of classic characters like the Ranger and Hornet, has sent 20,000 books. DC Comics, publishers of characters like Superman and Batman, earlier this spring donated 800 comics.
Glindmyer said comic books in a war zone make a difference. He’s seen other letters of appreciation.
“One guy said because of the comics, it reminds him of being home because he used to like to read them with his kids,” he said.
It’s not a big deal for serious comics collectors to part with their books. Glindmyer said buyers often will purchase doubles. They’ll also read a multi-issue story arc in one title and decide to buy the entire story collection in a trade paperback or hardcover. The original issues become expendable.
Glindmyer is not surprised that comic books are popular in Afghanistan. They were also popular, he said, with soldiers of World War II.
“Comic books are an American tradition,” he said. “It’s one of the few arts that originated in the United States, along with American jazz and musicals.”
Keegan said soldiers may not always have time for an entire book. Ten or 15 minutes spent inside the pages of a comic book may be more appealing to some men and women. She believes they just like reading.
“It really is a tremendous source of entertainment and a lot of troops in Afghanistan are in the real outskirts and are in very small units,” she said. “They have no form of entertainment. A lot of them don’t have Internet access or television. They are craving any kind of entertainment.”
Soldiers still want snacks and soap. They still get them.
Taking minds off war
“I have a philosophy,” Keegan said. “They have two needs. First there is a need for their bodies and then a need for their souls. ‘Operation Adopt a Soldier’ takes care of their bodies very well and sends them the snacks. We do include snacks occasionally, but it’s the books that take their minds away. . . . They see a lot of horrors, and the books can keep those horrors away. While they’re reading, they’re not in Afghanistan anymore.”
Books left over after the giveaways at Earthworld on Saturday will be added to the shipment. Comics and soldier fans can also “adopt” a box of 30 to 40 books and pay the $12.50 freight charge. Information is available by contacting “Books for Troops,” 152 Oak Brook Commons, Clifton Park, 12065-2677.