Comics for Kids is a Tishomingo, MS non-profit organization that has been "delivering the gift of comic books to underprivileged and special needs children and also spreading a positive message that someone in the world outside of their primary caregivers cares about them and their future" since 2011. While the non-profit doesn't have an active website, the organization was active on both Twitter and Facebook, and had over 20,000 followers on Twitter. The organization had often called on donations for its group on various social media platforms.
The non-profit came under intense scrutiny this week after its founder (and only employee) Michael Whitehead, allegedly posted a picture of a child holding a certificate on the organization's Twitter account, stating that he would give the youth one comic for every retweet he received. The original tweet has allegedly been deleted, but the picture was originally used in the tweet below from last week:
Jase loves to read comics and draw super heroes. He was named most artistic in his class today. Please retweet! pic.twitter.com/kEc11RtQCx— Closed (@comics4_kids) May 21, 2014
After commenting (in another deleted tweet) that he'd have to give away a large number of comics due to the number of retweets, it was pointed out that the child shared the same last name as Whitehead, and when confronted Whitehead quickly admitted that it was his second cousin. Whitehead clarified in a later tweet that he was not giving the cousin donated comics despite using the non-profit's Twitter account after a user pointed out that it was illegal for non-profit organizers to give donations to family members.
Other users began to question whether Whitehead was actually helping children or if his motives were less than benevolent. Several creators noted that they had never received a tax receipt or donation slip and that, outside of two identical photos of stacked USPS envelopes, the organization had no documentation on either Twitter or Facebook of actually giving books to children at all.
Whitehead defended his organization, stating that he had given comics to over 6,400 kids since 2011, and that he had given comic books away at several events including a Halloween event last fall. He then claimed that he was considering turning Comics for Kids for-profit, so that he would no longer have to answer to critics. In particular, Whitehead lashed out at the Comics Therapy podcast after podcast host Aaron Meyers asked about the organization's practices, particularly when it appeared that Whitehead was soliciting donations for his cousin through the non-profit's account. Whitehead accused the podcast of accusing him of stealing comics (despite the podcast not actually mentioning Comics for Kids in an episode), and encouraged his Twitter followers to leave negative reviews on Comic Therapy's iTunes' page.
Whitehead later backtracked, claiming that he only encouraged followers to leave "a review" of the podcast, and didn't specify to leave negative ones. He did maintain, however, that Comics Therapy's hosts were somehow spearheading an effort to bully him online and taint his non-profit's name.
When Comics Therapy organizer Aaron Meyers noted the negative reviews he received and posted about it on Twitter, a number of people came to the podcast's defense, including creator Mark Waid, and further took Whitehead to task for his Twitter messages.
.@comics4_kids So is directing your followers to hate-spam an iTunes podcast because they (RIGHTFULLY) called you on a bad move, asshole.— Mark Waid (@MarkWaid) May 30, 2014
@MarkWaid no, it was not Mark. But neither was Superman getting married to Lois.— Closed (@comics4_kids) May 30, 2014
.@comics4_kids Everyone makes mistakes (it's my superpower). But ginning up a hate mob to defend your screw-up is loathsome.— Mark Waid (@MarkWaid) May 30, 2014
@MarkWaid you are defending someone that said I was guilty of a federal crime!!!!!— Closed (@comics4_kids) May 30, 2014
@MarkWaid I've been on the phone all day with people calling asking me with questions about fraud!!!— Closed (@comics4_kids) May 30, 2014
.@comics4_kids You represent a non-profit that hinges on goodwill. A smart one combats misinformation with truth, not counterattacks.— Mark Waid (@MarkWaid) May 30, 2014
@MarkWaid yes I am defending my self. I admitted the mistake last night— Closed (@comics4_kids) May 30, 2014
As of this morning, the backlash has seemingly caused Whitehead to shut down his organization. He announced that he was shutting the non-profit down and pulled down the organization's facebook page. He also stated that his remaining donations would be given to Goodwill over the weekend.
It should be noted that Comics for Kids is not associated with a similarly named non-profit, Comics4Kids, an Oregon based non-profit with similar goals. That non-profit has appeared at events such as Emerald City Comic Con,