The following is an interview with Vanessa Shealy and David Gallaher regarding the recently released comic book, Understanding NF2, The Children’s Tumor Foundation and Bottled Lightning. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Shealy and Gallaher about the inspiration behind the comic, their creative process in working with Eisner-nominated artist Kevin Colden, the impact that Understanding NF2 may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of the new comic, Understanding NF2! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the comic’s premise, and what was the inspiration behind the project?
Vanessa Shealy: Thank you so much!
Understanding NF2 is based on the life of Billy Nguyen who was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2, or NF2, at the age of six. NF2 is a rare disease that is characterized by the development of benign tumors on the hearing nerves. The story tracks Billy’s childhood struggle to understand his diagnosis and then cope with hearing loss and fears of tumor growth.
I work as the Director of Communications at the Children’s Tumor Foundation, and much of the work I do at CTF is to create resources to educate people about all three types of neurofibromatosis. The more I worked on patient brochures, the more I realized that we could make that information so much more accessible if we used the medium of comics. So, we started with a one-page comic strip about the Foundation, then went to a four-page comic short about NF1, and now an eight-page story about NF2. The initiative is growing exponentially!
When I heard about Billy and his story, I immediately thought – his story would make a great NF2 comic! So, I set up a call with him back in January. Four months later, here we are!
BD: What can you share with us about your creative collaboration, as well as your work with Eisner-nominated artist Kevin Colden?
David Gallaher: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kevin for over a decade. We’ve had the opportunity to work together as colleagues on a range of projects from movie adaptations to manga. During last year’s New York Comic Con, we displayed the previous comic we developed with CTF called Moxie and Sparx Explain NF1. That’s when Kevin mentioned his personal connection to NF, and later I brought that to Vanessa’s attention and we brought him on board.
VS: This is the first time I’ve worked with Kevin, and when David showed me his previous artwork, I was blown away! Plus, with his family connection to NF, it really added to all of our feelings about the importance of this story, and getting the word out about struggles like neurofibromatosis.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Understanding NF2’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
VS: There are so many people in the world who live with a rare disease. For instance, NF2 affects just 1 in 25,000 people, however 1 in 10 people live with a rare disease of some kind. So, *having* a rare disease is actually very common! Stories like this one can resonate with people who feel like nobody understands what they are going through, or that their entire life has been derailed by some kind of diagnosis. So while I’m eager for people to read this and learn about NF2, I’m also eager for readers to identify with Billy’s struggle, and be able to say to themselves, “Yes I have been through something that difficult, that nobody understands, and I can get through this too.”
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Understanding NF2, and your other work with The Children’s Tumor Foundation and Bottled Lightning?
DG: Readers can download Understanding NF2 directly from the CTF website at www.ctf.org/billy. A full range of resources, including previous comics produced in cooperation with Bottled Lightning can also be found at CTF.org/kids.