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Comic Book Hero

Andre Campbell is legally blind, but has a vision of making it as a comic book artist.

Despite his poor eyesight, Campbell had an innate talent for drawing. He started off with dinosaurs, wildlife and landscapes, but nothing beat drawing superheroes. "They could do anything," he said. "I actually saw myself as a superhero because they were different from regular humans. So 'I'm Blind Man,' you know? 'I'm different.' " Stepping into the imaginary world of superheroes and supervillains was, he said, "a way of forgetting how hurt I was when people teased me." Kids would trip him or hold their hands in front of his face and say, "How many fingers I got up?" or "I don't want to be around him -- I might catch what he got."

By the time he was 14, he already knew that he would spend his life trying to be a comic book artist.

Campbell managed to graduate high school (by then he had given up on eyeglasses) and studied graphic design at the Community College of Baltimore County and the Professional Institute of Commercial Art. In his graphic design classes, he fell in with some other African American artists who also loved comic books and had experimented with their own creations. There were 14 of them in the beginning, and they formed Heritage as a way to stay motivated.

In 1995, Campbell, who had been unable to get a job as a graphic artist, was working as a janitor at Goodwill, which sometimes farmed out its services to the Social Security office in Baltimore. On one occasion, he was emptying a trash can in the printing area there when he noticed some crumpled drawings of superheroes. Campbell was astounded. "His anatomy was great, his composition was wonderful," Campbell recalls of the artist. Campbell asked an employee if he knew who the drawings belonged to, and the man pointed Campbell to Eades's mother. Campbell explained his interest to her, and soon he and Eades connected. "I was kind of shocked and, you know, amazed," Eades, then a college student, says of Campbell's conviction that Eades could create his own comic book. Buoyed by Campbell's praise, Eades began regularly attending Heritage meetings; he found the group to be talented but disorganized, with conflicting ideas about how to proceed. "I didn't really think we were going to do anything -- actually put out a comic," Eades said. A few years in, he was thinking, This isn't going to work.

During that time, Campbell was struggling through a difficult first marriage. Part of the tension revolved around his devotion to his comic book dream. He says his wife, also legally blind, was frustrated with the lack of results, given all the time he put into it. Eventually, Campbell told her, "With you or without you, I'm going to do this."

But his efforts to keep Heritage together were faltering.

"I kind of considered Heritage dead," Eades says. In 2000, he joined the Navy. He and Campbell lost contact for several years, during which time Campbell divorced, married his childhood sweetheart, went on full-time disability and saw Heritage fall apart completely. He pressed on alone.

When Eades left the Navy in 2006, he and Campbell reconnected. "Now that I've got my buddy back," Campbell told him, "let's do it again."

Eades was reluctant, but he started drawing again -- and he liked what he was coming up with. So did Campbell. Over that summer, the two kept talking, but Eades figured he'd be leaving Baltimore as he sought new career opportunities. The thought of disappointing Campbell pained him, however. Eades believed that his departure "would be like a kind of dream crusher."

Eades decided to stick around and found a job as a technician, fixing equipment in Maryland's vehicle emissions program. Campbell offered him the title of Heritage vice president, which Eades didn't want and didn't think was necessary, since the group had only picked up two new members at that time. What was the vice president even supposed to do, Eades wondered. But he relented when he saw how important the matter seemed to Campbell.

Eades found a printer for the first Alpha Agents comic, for which he and Campbell split the bill. Then Eades began drawing his part of the next installment. In two years, they had accomplished more than they had in all the years before Eades left Heritage.

Just as Campbell had wanted -- and needed -- Eades was slowly starting to believe.

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