Comic Book Curious

Superman is Real, and He is From Portland

August 11, 2021

Excalibur Comics, Justin Zimmerman and Their Superheroic Community Work

The 2020’s were hailed as the decade to put an end to the 2010’s and bring a new age of hope and enlightenment to the masses of the world. We are well past Blade Runner, and the future is finally here! Unfortunately, the exact opposite has happened. The world has been plagued by a pandemic, climate change and civil unrest. If there was ever a time in history that we needed superheroes, it was this decade. Luckily for us, we have found some supermen and women, and they live in Portland.

Comic book author and collector Justin Zimmermen has partnered with local comic book shop, Excalibur Comics to donate over 100,000 comics to the Northeast Emergency Food Program in Oregon. Together, Zimmerman and Excalibur have assembled the donated books into packages that the shelter pairs with take home food boxes for the families they serve.

A kid with a shocked expression after being handed a comic book

This seems to be the MO of the local heroes working at Excalibur Comics as they have a history with helping the NE Emergency Food Program on a regular basis. In October of 2016, the shop held a similar food drive where kids could come and pick comics out of a donation pool to take home with them along with the food donated. I reached out to Zimmerman and the Excalibur Comics team to get an inside perspective on the community work they do:

Justin Zimmerman kneeling between two kids who hold comic books

Justin Zimmerman:

“I started a comics for kids program getting comics to kids who need 'em most right here in Portland, Oregon. I partnered with the Oregon Food Bank and the Northeast Emergency Food Program, but it is Portland's oldest and coolest comic store - Excalibur Comics - that has donated tens upon tens of thousands of comics to me to pick up, sort and deliver. I've been doing this for years, and Debbie Smith and her team have never received much recognition... until last week, that is, when Debbie received the Bronze President's Volunteer Service Award, along with the 2021 Endurance Award from the Northeast Emergency Food Program. This HAS to be the first time this honor has gone to comics.

I received the Silver President's Volunteer Service Award for my work leading the effort, but the real story here is the shop. A story with some hope through the pandemic, about how comics can really bring a suffering community together. The NEFP delivered more food than any food pantry in the STATE this past year, and 40% of their clients are children. And those kids get comics too. And, as we all believe, the right comic at the right time can change a life.”

Debbie Smith holds up a comic to the camera

Debbie Smith, the co-owner of Excalibur Comics:

“Excalibur Comics was started by my parents in 1974. I co-own Excalibur with my father, Peter. We are Oregon's oldest continuously running comic store, and we’ll be turning 50 in three years!

My parents believed that they should always take care of our community, and they raised me to continue their good work. We’ve always surrounded ourselves with like-minded people. Justin Zimmerman has been by our side for years, helping us reach more people and better get our ideas out to the world. He has been invaluable to our family and our store. When Justin came to me with his Comics For Kids program, I knew that we could help him make this an impactful project. We believe in the power of comics to help feed minds and souls. We have made sure that the food bank never runs out of comics for all who need them, no matter how many. As we’ve been doing this for half a decade, it must be over a hundred thousand, easy.

In the early days taking care of the community was exhibited by my mom taking in and feeding the local kids that would hang out after school. There are still customers who come into the shop and talk about how wonderful she was. She always gave them her full attention, listening to all their stories and dreams, as well as the snacks she had under the counter for them. Parents always knew their kids were safe when they spent their afternoons at the comic shop.

Over the years, taking care of the community evolved as the needs of the community grew and changed. My father was instrumental in getting comics into classrooms before that was considered the norm. He knew that comics were a perfect way to help struggling readers to learn to enjoy reading. He talked to so many teachers and librarians over the years and helped them get the right comics for their classrooms and kids.

Excalibur Comics has held art auctions to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local battered women and children’s shelters with our Women of Wonder Day. We do a food drive every year (except during COVID) to raise awareness of the food disparities in our community.

A little girl holds a drawing of Wonder Woman

When the pandemic hit and there was a shortage of face masks for our medical workers, my husband and I stepped up to the plate and started sewing masks for the hospital workers and then the general public. We sent hundreds to the Native American Reservations here in Oregon, food banks and schools as far as New York. Wherever the need we would sew and send. In the end we made over 5000 masks before retiring our machines and scissors when masks became readily available everywhere.

Service is ingrained in us as a family and as a store. As I raise my son in these aisles I can only hope that I will be able to keep the tradition going for another 50 plus years.”

The work done by Excalibur and Zimmerman goes above and beyond what we think of when we picture a local comic book shop, but it is work that comes straight from the pages of the books they sell. We read these stories about far out space adventures, and normal people pushing themselves to the brink all while trying to save those in need, and those involved with Excalibur have done their studying and taken the charge into their own hands. And, it doesn't look like they are going to stop anytime soon.

You can support Excalibur and all of their community efforts by donating to the Northeast Emergency Food Program at their website: and you can contact Excalibur at for more information on how you can support the store directly.

For a look at another Portland business dedicated to doing good, check out Brian Sheridan's article here!

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