"Do you like capes?"
That's one of three questions Upper West Side resident Sasha Harmon Matthews, 12, asks her subjects when she draws them as "everyday superheroes."
With three comic books already under her belt, the young cartoonist is taking commissions to illustrate ordinary children and adults as characters with capes, boots and gear emblematic of their unique hobbies and interests — and she's donating 100 percent of her profits.
Matthews had raised at least $2,248 for the American Civil Liberties Union as of Thursday afternoon.
"I knew I wanted to raise money for a charity, so I wanted to do it in a way that would be fun, like with drawing," said the 7th grader, a student at M.S. 54 who was "feel[ing] a little bit down about certain current events" when she launched her project a month ago.
Matthews' parents, photographer and interactive designer Scott Matthews and New York Times journalist Amy Harmon, were the first models to receive the superhero treatment in pen and Sharpie.
(Credit: Sasha Harmon Matthews)
But word of Matthews' fundraising initiative spread beyond the immediate family when her father — or her "publicist," as she jokingly calls him — wrote about the project on his Facebook page.
She has since drawn 36 "everyday superheroes." Their ranks include an anti-litter activist, an astrophysicist studying binary stars, a sommelier and a Presbyterian pastor.
“I have a super-questionnaire for anyone who would like to delve into the process of getting themselves a superhero," Matthews explained of her process. "First of all I ask if they like capes, and as you can see, every single person said yes ...Then I also ask for any favorite colors that the person might have. And the most important question is what is their special hobby or interest.”
The actual illustration takes about two hours to complete, said the artist, who draws influence from the X-Men, Calvin and Hobbes and Squirrel Girl comics.
Most patrons donate between $50 and $100 for the novelty of having their own likeness, or a family member's, transformed by the cartoonist's work. Many use them as avatars on their social media accounts, Scott Matthews said.
Upper West Side resident Pamela Guerrara attaches the image she commissioned of her 11-year-old daughter Juliana, a fencer and musician, to all her personal emails.
"I always look for opportunities where my kids can feel that they're going to be heard and they're going to make a difference," said Guerrara, a mother of two. "So I think that's what really attracted me to Sasha's project, because she's figured out at such a young age to make her mark on the world.
"Everybody just does a lot of complaining, and she's figured out how to use her talent to do something about it," she added.
"A lot of people feel powerless right now and just kind of sad in general," said Matthews. "And I just wanted to highlight the fact that you can really do something.
"Even if you think you’re ordinary, you’re actually special.”
The ACLU agrees with Matthews, said the organization's director of special gifts, Liz FitzGerald.
"Like Sasha, we think that the world is full of everyday superheroes," FitzGerald wrote in an email. "We see them in our clients and supporters who are willing to speak truth to power and stand up for their rights every single day. If Sasha is an example of what we can expect from the next generation of civil liberties activists, we know that we’re in good hands."