Castro Vallet Sanitary District logo“Out of sight, out of mind.” That’s how most people generally like their wastewater services to function, and that’s also the approach that special districts that provide wastewater services have generally preferred as well. Consequently, wastewater services are often overlooked or misunderstood by the general public. The actions of residents, such as placing fats, oils, and grease (FOG) down drains, flushing trash down toilets, or flushing so-called “flushable” wipes, can inadvertently contribute to causing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). Many people are unaware of the importance of wastewater treatment, how a wastewater collection system works, or how crucial their role in maintaining it is. Effective outreach and education about wastewater-related issues is essential for raising awareness, changing behaviors, and encouraging responsible practices. Staff from the Castro Valley Sanitary District (CVSan) wanted to come up with a solution that could address those knowledge gaps. 

So how does one: (1) Overcome the challenges of limited public awareness and indifference, (2) Communicate the complexities of wastewater management in an understandable and relatable way to the public, (3) Engage multiple stakeholders, (4) Encourage individuals to adopt wastewater-friendly behaviors, and (5) Do all of that in a cost-effective way? 

It’s simple – take a page, or in this case, a comic book page, from the Stan Lee playbook. Stan Lee is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in comic book history. His legacy is a testament to his imagination, creativity, and dedication to storytelling. The increase in popularity of the Marvel Universe over the past decade has created a billion-dollar industry with superheroes like Iron Man, Thor, and Black Panther becoming household names. This observation planted the initial seed for CVSan staff to create what may be the first-ever wastewater-themed comic book. 

CVSan’s “Defenders of the Bay” comic book features over 20 pages of action-packed wastewater battles and information. The story was developed by CVSan staff and gives an overview of the wastewater services that CVSan provides, while also discussing the important role this work plays in protecting public health and the environment. The comic book takes some of the causes of blockages that CVSan’s Collection System Maintenance (CSM) Department finds in the public sewer mains during daily maintenance activities and reimagines them as wastewater supervillains who threaten public health and serve as the foes of the Defenders of the Bay. The Clog Meister is the dastardly mastermind who plots to create multiple sewer overflows in Castro Valley, with the assistance of his villainous crew featuring the FOG Monster, the Trash Monster, and the Wipes Monster. A series of battles with the sewer monsters takes place, each featuring a different specialized CVSan maintenance vehicle being brought into the fight. At the end of each match, tips are given on how readers can help fight these wastewater villains and keep them under control. Does the Clog Meister succeed? You’ll have to read the comic book to find out! 

Once the story was written, CVSan contacted comic book artist John Hageman to illustrate and bring the story to life. John’s interpretation and creativity created a unique visual aesthetic that makes this comic book a work of art in its own right. His colorful illustrations and panel layout provide a great pace to the story and provide tension in just the right places. Creating this comic book was a collaborative effort, and the final product includes a glossary of wastewater terms and a series of wastewater-themed advertisements. 

In addition to the fun story, the comic book platform provides other unique aspects compared to traditional paper outreach mediums.  Comic books combine visuals and text to tell a story, making them a unique medium that engages both the visual and literary senses; this allows for a rich and dynamic storytelling experience. Comics often leave room for readers to interpret and imagine the spaces between panels. This engagement of the reader’s imagination makes the reading experience more interactive and personal. Comic books also cater to a wide range of audiences, including people who might not be avid readers; they can make complex concepts more accessible and engaging for readers of all ages. They also have collectors appeal, meaning that a resident is more likely to keep the piece of outreach to re-read or share with a friend instead of placing it in the recycling bin.

CVSan recently held an official comic book release event at the Castro Valley’s local comic book shop, Crush Comics, where members of the public could pick up a free copy of the comic book and have a limited-edition poster signed by members of CVSan’s CSM Department. This event was a great way to connect with the community and shine a light on the real-life superheroes responsible for maintaining the sewer system 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. CVSan has ordered 10,000 copies of the comic book that will be distributed at the Annual Castro Valley Fall Festival and, in early December, will host a sewer art show with works by local artists inspired by the comic book. The total production cost for the 24-page comic was $2,400.00, not including printing costs, and the comic is available for any wastewater agency to replicate. If you are interested, reach out to

About Castro Valley Sanitary District

CVSan is a small public agency organized under the Health and Safety Code of the State of California. As a California special district, CVSan is responsible for operating and maintaining the sanitary sewer collection system within the unincorporated community of Castro Valley. CVSan is also in charge of the administration of a refuse collection franchise, a 25% interest in a wastewater treatment facility, implementation and administration of State and locally mandated recycling programs, as well as participation in sub-regional wastewater discharge and solid/hazardous waste management agencies.