Former Chicago Bear Israel Idonije Shares His Passion For Superheroes, Comic Books, and Community


By: Gwendolyn Y. McNutt, CSEP (@gmcnuttplans)

Passion is a superpower and Israel (Izzy) Idonije has it. For 12 seasons, he used his superpowers in the NFL as a defensive end to rush, tackle, defend, and distract the offensive line. Now that he’s retired, he uses those powers to encourage youth through stories that spread love, confidence, emotional, and social growth. His origin story begins with a kid who was encouraged by his parents to read (he read comic books), embrace his creativity, and give back to the community. As an adult, he has parlayed his passion for comic books and reading into a creative outlet for himself, and life after football.

Idonije’s passion extends to the community through his foundation iF Charities, which impacts underserved communities by providing programs focused on social and emotional life skills. Ahead of exhibiting at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) in July, he chatted with Nerd HQ about superheroes, the comic book industry, and what’s coming up for his publishing company ATHLiTACOMiCS and his DreamKidz Adventures series.

So, right off the bat – let’s get to a really important question: Wookies or Tribbles?

Definitely Wookies!

I read that you’ve loved comic books and superheroes for a long time. Can you tell me about that?

My parents only allowed one hour of television each day and encouraged my siblings and me to read, so I read comic books. Reading was a part of our family culture, and comics were definitely the key to me enjoying reading.

Comics are a great option for young readers because the images capture attention and help improve reading comprehension.

If we were to step into our time machine and visit 16-year-old Izzy, what comic books is he reading? Who is his favorite superhero?

I read many comic books; however, my favorites were the stories of the Green Hornet, the X-Men, and Spiderman.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

My power of choice would be precognition – being able to perceive, see, and understand the near and distant future! What an incredible gift that would come with burdens and challenges, but I’m ready!!!

Your entrance into the comic book world was through your company ATHLiTACOMiCS – let’s talk about that for a minute. Where did the idea come from?

During a [Chicago] Bears training camp, I decided I wanted to do something creative during my down time. I began writing the concept of The Protectors at that time. It is the story about the origin of the elite athlete, the source of their athletic abilities. I felt using the platform of a comic book was the best way to share the story. The Protectors is the story about athletes, the true power behind them, and their purpose. I started ATHLiTACOMiCS as a publishing company to offer stories that inspire, unite, and entertain.

What’s one thing you learned from football that prepared you to lead ATHLiTACOMiCS?

So many aspects of business correlate to sports, but two key areas stand out: adapting and persistence. My long-term football goals required that I adjusted constantly to what the team needed from me, and creating and writing stories requires a lot of adapting. And then to succeed in anything, tenacity is a must.

I know that you are passionate about your work with children, so is that part of the reason you decided to create the DreamKidz Adventures?

It’s definitely part of it. The Protectors is for teens and older, so I wanted to create something that younger kids and even pre-readers would enjoy. My nieces love the DreamKidz Adventures.

Working in youth programming since I was a teen, I’ve seen first-hand the importance of instilling a love of reading at an early age. Also, helping kids to understand their value and their potential helps set them on a path to success. The DreamKidz books are intended to support these areas.

Can you give our readers your elevator speech on the DreamKidz Adventures? And what characters or stories would you like the series to tackle?

The six DreamKidz characters plus two fun-loving animal friends are an entertaining, diverse group whose stories are engaging and perfect for kids ages 2-6 years old. I Love Me and I Love Football are available now in print at and on Kindle. I Love Numbers will be coming out before July.

The “I Love…” theme will continue as we add stories throughout the years. Each book encourages kindness, compassion, and love. A portion of each sale goes to iF Charities to support programs that help youth.

Two others have already been written and are in the queue for illustration. The themes will be family, sports, and school subjects.

We’ve all met talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects off the ground. What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who wants to get into this business?

Don’t take no for an answer. If you believe in yourself and in the talent you have to offer, then find a way to make it happen.

There is an ongoing conversation in the comic book world about the discrepancies between diversity on and off comic book page. As a creator in this space, what are your thoughts on that?

It’s important that we support projects and creators who demonstrate diversity in their work. Those in the comic world who have found success need to mentor young talent as well.

We all know there is negativity in life; however, I like to focus on the many positive things going on not only in the comics industry – but also in the world.

At what conventions can fans of ATHLiTACOMiCS find you? Can you tease anything new you have coming up?

We are always at C2E2 and we will be at SDCC in July. We do several local events in Chicago as well. We will also be exhibiting at Printers Row Lit Fest for the first time this year and I’ll be doing an interactive story time with the kids.

Finally, what else do you want fans of the DreamKidz Adventures and ATHLiTACOMiCS to know?

We’d love to hear from them!! On Twitter @ATHLiTACOMiCS or @iidonije and on Instagram @dreamkidzadventures or @iidonije.


  1. MichelleMay 22nd, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Great Article!

  2. Gwendolyn McNuttMay 22nd, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks so much!!! I really enjoyed writing it.

  3. Cheryl M.May 31st, 2017 at 9:17 am

    This is a great article! It is so inspiring to see our celebrities concentrate on our youth and use their platform to engage them, show enthusiasm, encouragement, and elevate them in a language they can understand and that is adaptable to our daily lives.

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