The following is an interview with Vanessa Shealy Younger (Director of Communications – Children’s Tumor Foundation) regarding the recent release of the comic book short story, “Sounds Like Music,” in collaboration with Archie Comics for Archie Jumbo Comics Digest #329. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Shealy Younger about the inspiration behind sharing a story which features a character with neurofibromatosis (NF), her partnership in working with Archie Comics to bring the story to life, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of the comic book short story, “Sounds Like Music!” For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of this comic, and what inspired you to tell this story which features a character with neurofibromatosis (NF)?
Vanessa Shealy Younger: It has been a thrill to bring Archie Comics into the NF awareness efforts of the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF) through the introduction of Grace, the first of Archie’s iconic cast of characters to experience hearing loss. Grace Alondra marks the first time a character living with neurofibromatosis (NF) has appeared in the pages of a comic book from a major publisher.
Grace will debut in an eight-page short called “Sounds Like Music,” which appears in ARCHIE JUMBO COMICS DIGEST #329 in comic shops as of April 20, 2022. The comic is also available to read on the Children’s Tumor Foundation website at ctf.org/comics.
In “Sounds like Music,” Archie and the gang meet Grace, a young Latina woman who loves music and especially her favorite band, The Archies. Spunky and smart, Grace isn’t letting her journey toward hearing loss define her. Instead, she is eager to hear all the great music she can while she can.
Archie worked with the Children’s Tumor Foundation to create this character to shine a light on the many individuals living with NF2, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves in the body, and which often leads to hearing loss. The disease affects 1 in 25,000 births of all populations equally. The comic is part of the Foundation’s global awareness campaign that launches at the end of April and continues throughout May, NF Awareness Month.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in working with the Archie Comics team to bring this story to life?
VSY: As the Director of Communications at Children’s Tumor Foundation, it has been a pleasure collaborating with the team at Archie to develop this story. Over numerous calls and meetings, we worked together to find a story idea that made the most of Archie’s recognizable characters and also left room for the voice of a new character who lives with an under-recognized disorder. We went through a few different character designs until we finally landed on Grace – smart, sassy, talented, and taking her life into her own hands.
The inclusion of Grace continues Archie’s commitment to introducing diverse and differently-abled characters in its various ongoing comics series. Archie Comics Editor-in-Chief Mike Pellerito is enthusiastic about bringing this character into the classic Archie Universe. “Grace is a talented and whip-smart teenager,” he said. “The fact that she’s experiencing hearing loss is only one part of her story. To me, this is the stuff that really matters, and we’re proud to be working with the Children’s Tumor Foundation on an important story like this.”
“In addition to the health challenges NF patients face in their day-to-day lives, they also find that many people simply have never heard of NF. This partnership with Archie will go a long way to changing that and will help give voice to all NF patients,” said Simon Vukelj, Chief Marketing Officer of the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
“Sounds like Music” was written by veteran comic book writer Alex Simmons whose Archie Comics work has been hailed as both entertaining and educational. Art is by Bill Galvan, Ben Galvan, Glenn Whitmore, and Jack Morelli.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that “Sounds Like Music” will connect with and impact readers?
VSY: Grace’s journey is all too familiar to individuals with this diagnosis, which is most often discovered in the teen to young adult years. The story was inspired by too many real-life NF2 patients, one of which was Matt Hay. Matt was a long-time music fan who first learned that he would lose his hearing in college. “So I set out to listen to all the music I could so I could keep it deep in my memory,” said Matt. Diagnosed in his early college years, Matt eventually lost all hearing due to NF2.
BD: If readers would like to learn more about neurofibromatosis, are there any resources that you would recommend which could provide more information and ways to lend support?
VSY: The Children’s Tumor Foundation is the world’s leading nonprofit dedicated to funding and driving innovative research that will result in effective treatments for the millions of people worldwide living with NF, a group of genetic disorders that cause tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body. One in every 3,000 people is born with some type of neurofibromatosis or schwannomatosis, which may lead to blindness, deafness, bone abnormalities, disfigurement, learning disabilities, disabling pain, or cancer. NF affects all populations equally, and while there is no cure yet, the Children’s Tumor Foundation mission of driving research, expanding knowledge, and advancing care for the NF community fosters its vision of one day ending NF. For more information, including numerous patient stories and educational brochures, please visit ctf.org.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects you are currently working on that you would like to share with our readers?
VSY: The Children’s Tumor Foundation has independently developed and released three previous comics stories, with three more currently in progress. Comics are an ideal medium to create awareness, education, and representation for people facing all kinds of challenges, including neurofibromatosis and other rare disorders. Including a character living with NF2 in this Archie story is the next step in this initiative, and we are actively working on more.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about “Sounds Like Music” and your other work?
VSY: The Foundation’s “NF Comics” titles include “Understanding NF2,” “Moxie and Sparx Explain NF1,” “Moxie and Sparx Introduce the Accelerator,” as well as Archie’s “Sounds Like Music;” they are available to download or read on the CTF website at ctf.org/comics.