Superheroic support

Comic book community rallies to help local artist diagnosed with terminal cancer

Susan Schulz and Shane Will met eight years ago and have worked on several comic books together.

Susan Schulz and Shane Will met eight years ago and have worked on several comic books together.

Photo by Ken Smith

It’s been about three weeks since Susan Schulz suffered a massive, 45-minute-long seizure and was airlifted to the UC San Francisco Medical Center, and even less time has passed since doctors delivered a dire prognosis: Schulz’s life expectancy is about two years, if she survives the next round of chemotherapy.

Schulz has struggled with cancerous brain tumors since she first fell ill as a student at Chico State 12 years ago. In that time, she’s undergone two brain surgeries, several rounds of chemo and a decade-long period of remission. About a year ago, doctors found more tumors, one of which has resisted treatment and progressed to stage 4, the disease’s most severe state.

However, the 36-year-old Chico resident didn’t act like the recent recipient of such grim news last Monday (Aug. 22) during an interview at Kettil’s Keep Table Top Games, the East Avenue shop she owns with her husband, Shane Will. Schulz was quick to laugh at her own self-professed “dorky” jokes, peppering the conversation with references to comic books, movies and old TV shows. She was also possessed of a steely resolve.

“I’ve beat cancer several times now, and I’m pretty damned sure I can do it again,” she said.

Will is the owner of local publishing company CK Comics and the founder of Chico-Con, a comic book convention celebrating its third year this Saturday (Aug. 27) at the Elks Lodge. Schulz has also worked for CK Comics, inking and coloring several issues. With Schulz’s latest bout with illness coinciding with final preparations for this year’s convention, many of the couple’s friends and colleagues have stepped up to support her. This weekend’s Chico-Con will include a raffle for collectible artwork and other prizes to benefit Schulz.

“One of my fellow artists, Chuck Bowmen, asked if he could do something to help, like donate some art for a raffle or auction,” Will said. “I thought that would be great and contributed the first page I ever drew from my comic Caliber. We put those two online and the comic book community has been awesome. Some guys from Marvel and DC have given us some pages, and everyone is reaching out to help.

“It’s a friendly group,” he added. “We take care of our own.”

Chico-Con has been remarkably successful since it started in 2014 at Chico Veterans Memorial Hall. Will said he expected a few hundred attendees and hoped for 1,000 at the inaugural event; more than 2,000 showed up. He is anticipating upward of 6,000 people this weekend. The number of booths hosting vendors and industry professionals has roughly doubled each year, this year exceeding 70.

The couple said funds raised from the raffle will mostly go toward travel costs (Schulz must visit UCSF every six weeks for chemotherapy, with her next session scheduled in two weeks) and treatment not covered by insurance. Schulz said she finds it ironic that her insurance covers the anxiety medication to calm her for chemo, but not the treatment itself.

Though determined to beat the disease, Schulz said her latest diagnosis has reminded her to make the most of every minute. She and Will spoke of small trips they want to make sooner rather than later—to the coastal redwoods and Disneyland’s Star Wars-themed land when it opens.

“It’s not about going certain places as much as it is about going with my husband,” she said, describing Will, whom she met in 2008 and married three years ago, as her soul mate. “The hardest thing about going through this is that I want to spend the rest of my life having new experiences with him.”

Schulz became emotional for a moment, but laughter replaced tears as the couple started describing one another, and her illness, in terms of comic book superpowers.

“Having a 45-minute seizure feels a lot like being electrocuted,” she said. “Now if I could just get this electrical storm in my brain to come out of my hands, then I’d have something to work with.”