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Cartoonists Tell Us: What Do Comics Mean To You?

Tillie Walden

The first comic book I ever read was an obscure DC title that I begged my parents to buy for me from a rotating rack at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop. World's Finest Comics #306, "The Senses-Shattering Saga of Swordfish and Barracuda!" Not the highest of high art, maybe — even the cover described S&B as "THE GREATEST SUPER-HERO TEAM SINCE — WHAT'S-THEIR-NAMES?" But still — that was the first inkling I had that comics could be portals to other worlds, purveyors of strange wonders, and certainly a hell of a lot more entertaining than the blue "sport cloth" backseat of our 1981 Corolla.

In honor of this year's big reader poll of favorite comics and graphic novels, we've asked some very cool comics creators to tell us what comics meant to them, whether as children or adults.

Simon Hanselmann

/ Simon Hanselmann
Simon Hanselmann

I grew up in Launceston, Tasmania, a small town at the bottom of the Earth, pre-internet. Weirdo alternative comics were everything to me as a young, oddball cross dresser. I've been self publishing comics since I was eight years old and I love that nothing's really changed since then, it's just me and a sheet of paper.

New York Times bestselling cartoonist Simon Hanselmann was born in Tasmania, Australia and currently resides in Seattle, WA. He spends his days meticulously watercoloring each page of hand-drawn comics. Simon has achieved international success with his stoner witch comics, which have been translated into over a dozen languages. When not making comics, Simon can be found smoking cigarettes and hanging out with his pet rabbit, Woody.

Carla Speed McNeil

/ Carla McNeil
Carla McNeil

Alan Moore's work was the first comic that ever made all my hair stand up. It took me years to know what had happened and why, but I already knew that what he did in his work, I wanted to do. It's intensely complicated and I will be chasing that rabbit for the rest of my life. I hope.

Finder creator Carla Speed McNeil didn't know what the word "frisson" meant for years after she began experiencing it while reading Alan Moore's comics: a story that takes the reader somewhere entirely unexpected, yet perfect. Striving to create this is her highest aspiration as a cartoonist, whether she succeeds or not. Raised in Lousiana, she now lives in Maryland with three cats, two kids, and one husband.

Kel McDonald

/ Kel McDonald

There wasn't a comic shop in my home town. So while I read some Sonic the Hedgehog comics from the CVS checkout line, I didn't really keep up with them until I started reading webcomics – and until manga started to show up in regular bookstores. But I didn't get fully absorbed and passionate about comics until I started making them a few years later.

Kel McDonald has been working in comics for over a decade — most of that time has been spent on her webcomic Sorcery 101. More recently, she has organized the Cautionary Fables and Fairytales anthology series, while contributing to other anthologies like Dark Horse Presents, Smut Peddler, and Sleep of Reason. She is currently working on the series Misfits of Avalon for Dark Horse Comics and her self-published series The City Between.

Noah Van Sciver

/ Noah Van Sciver
Noah Van Sciver

The realization that comics could be about anything, no matter how personal, was a life-changing epiphany to me. It's been the inspiration that has carried me along in my own work ever since.

Noah Van Sciver is an Ignatz award-winning cartoonist who first came to comic readers' attention with his critically acclaimed comic book series Blammo. His work has appeared in Spongebob comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Best American Comics, as well as countless graphic anthologies.

Katie Skelly

/ Katie Skelly
Katie Skelly

Comics have always meant an escape from my everyday life. If I wasn't allowed to act a certain way, I would read about characters who could. When I started drawing comics, it was to make my own reality. But now as an adult, I draw them to better understand why everyday life is extraordinary.

Katie Skelly is a New York City-based cartoonist whose comics include Nurse Nurse, Operation Margarine and the Agent webcomic series. She has written and lectured about comics for outlets such as The Comics Journal, The Center for Cartoon Studies, Fordham University, and The New School, and co-hosts the podcast Trash Twins with fellow cartoonist Sarah Horrocks.

Tillie Walden

The first comic that I really connected to was Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. I found a busted copy of it at a used book store when I was 10. And after finding it I could hardly put it down; I found the drawings so entrancing. It was the first time I remember thinking that the drawn world could be even more beautiful than the real one.

Tillie Walden is a cartoonist and illustrator from Austin, Texas. She makes a webcomic called On a Sunbeam. Her graphic novel Spinning will be out this fall.

Nidhi Chanani

/ Nidhi Chanani
Nidhi Chanani

Comics combine two crafts that I am passionate about — writing and art. It is a rich medium that brings me joy as a reader and creator.

Nidhi Chanani is an artist and author living in the San Francisco Bay Area, her debut graphic novel Pashimina will be out this fall.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Petra Mayer died on November 13, 2021. She has been remembered by friends and colleagues, including all of us at NPR. The Petra Mayer Memorial Fund for Internships has been created in her honor.