Kapow! U.S. comic book stars raise money for Ukraine refugees

April 21 (Reuters) - Like Batman forming the Justice League of superheroes, or Iron Man helping assemble the Avengers, comic book editor Scott Dunbier needed to put together a team of stars.

The call went out and Dunbier quickly signed up the biggest names in the U.S. comic book industry to collaborate on a special anthology to raise money for Ukrainian war refugees.

The result is "Comics for Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds," a 96-page book produced by the best writers, artists, colorists, letterers, designers and editors that Dunbier could find.

Proceeds, estimated to reach $200,000 to $500,000, will go to Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based disaster relief agency raising money for Ukrainian war refugees. Over five million Ukrainians have fled abroad since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

By Thursday, three days after launching, it had raised $78,000 on the Zoop crowdfunding site. The publication date remains uncertain, depending on how much is raised through pre-orders after a month, Dunbier said.

As many comic books do, the Ukraine project has an origin story.

"It was basically me being glued to my TV watching the horror, the atrocities unfold, and just feeling like I had to do something. And, you know, then it clicked. I thought in some small way, maybe this would help," Dunbier said.

The project makes no pretense of being unbiased, depicting Ukraine as David confronting the Russian Goliath.

Russia calls its incursion a "special military operation" to demilitarize and "denazify" Ukraine.

The front of the hardcover edition, selling for $60, was painted by Alex Ross, one of the industry's best-known cover artists, with a blue-and-yellow-clad Ukrainian standing up to a faceless giant brandishing a hammer and sickle.

Three different soft covers, on sale for $40 each, were designed by three other heavy hitters: Arthur Adams, Dave Johnson and Bill Sienkiewicz.

"If I can put my finger in the eye of an authoritarian, or step on the bully, and trip them, I love that kind of stuff," Sienkiewicz said. "I despise Putin."

His cover shows a Ukrainian wielding a shield and a sword before a giant bear, nose bloodied, who is surprised to meet resistance. The sword has impaled a teddy bear resembling Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Others donating work include Brent Anderson, Sergio Aragones, June Brigman, Kurt Busiek, Howard Chaykin, Joshua Dysart, Mark Evanier, Emil Ferris, Dave Gibbons, Rob Guillory, John Layman, Gabriel Rodriguez, Stan Sakai, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Chris Sprouse, Jill Thompson, Matt Wagner and Mark Waid.

While some of the stories are set in Ukraine, others are allegorical.

Sakai is creator of the Usagi Yojimbo comic, about a rabbit warrior set in feudal Japan. His story depicts villagers being run off by an evil warlord, Dunbier said.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, Calif.; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles and Norma Galeana in San Marcos, Calif.; Editing by Richard Chang

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.