Mel Sealy created the first issue of Read All Over for her senior thesis at CCAD in 2016 and then set it aside for nearly six years, thinking the project had run its course.
“And then I got sick in 2021, and I had pneumonia and went to the hospital,” said the Columbus native, reached by phone in her current home of Detroit. “And I found out I had lupus, and I was in a coma, and I almost died. But when I got back out of [the coma], I was like, ‘What am I doing with my life? I haven’t done anything, really.’”
And so, returned to screenplays for future installments of Read All Over that she had previously drafted in college and started to illustrate them, polishing off two new issues, the most recent of which .
The comics center on a zine-producing zebra, Zoey, who spends her evenings checking out punk bands at a local ice cream bar (the comic is intended for all-ages), interviewing musicians and writing about her misadventures. The fantastical setting is shot through with real-life concerns, such as the viability of the print medium and the fragile financial reality of carving out a life in the arts. In one scene, Zoey frets that she’ll be forced to move back in with her parents unless she can sell every copy of her new zine in a single evening.
“I consider myself a zebra, but not in the furry way,” Sealy said, and laughed. “I’ve been writing from the heart, to be honest, because financially I’ve been at job after job just working. I’m working at a grocery store now, but I’ve had all of these random odd jobs, and I’ve been working in and out of art. But, at the end of the day, if I just have enough money where I can keep making comics and putting them out there, I’m happy.”
Sealy discovered a passion for comics early on in life, immersing herself in her father’s extensive collection, which included everything from classic Marvel titles to a handful of Barbie comics. Even as a youngster, Sealy recalled how important representation was to her within the form, which at the time was driven by creators who were overwhelmingly white and male. “I remember there was a Spider-Girl comic that came out, and that was so exciting,” said the artist, who started to create her own comics as a child, drawing fantastical worlds in which her life and views were better reflected.
As Sealy grew older, she discovered underground comics and graphic novels, which were often rooted in the everyday rather than the imaginary realm of superheroes, and at CCAD she majored in illustration with a minor in creative writing with the aim of creating comics of her own upon graduation.
“I had bad grades [in high school] and I made it to CCAD by just the minimum GPA,” said Sealy, who recently hatched plans to move back to Columbus from Detroit, a city to which she moved in January 2020, just months before the pandemic took root. “I wouldn’t pay attention, and I had ADHD and a lot of other mental disorders, but I was always in school doodling and making comics. I had some early characters that I don’t really use anymore, but they got me through school. It was rough being a teenager, and it was definitely my escape to make comics.”
Sealy first hit on the concept for Read All Over while enrolled in a class at CCAD that included weekly trips to the zoo to draw the animals, imagining a club scene influenced by Afro-punk and inhabited by zebras, cheetahs and even an okapi ( ). A handful of the animals in the comic have character traits adopted from the things Sealy observed at the zoo (such as the sleepy-eyed giraffe and the troublemaking warthogs), while others are more greatly informed by the artist’s friends and family members.
Increasingly, Sealy said, comics serve as a way for her to process her experiences. This was particularly true of In Love and Body, a more true-to-life comic in which the artist explored issues of sexuality and gender. “I was learning about being nonbinary, and so I created a nonbinary character, which helped me learn more of myself,” she said. “I feel like I’m writing a lot about my self-identity. It helps me explore myself, and I think it’s helped other people. It makes me super happy to meet people who read something I made and just enjoyed it, or who gave it to others like, ‘Hey, this will help you.’ … When I was growing up, comics were pretty white and male, but that’s changing now, and it’s changing quickly."