When I was growing up, my family was poor. Not just poor as in we couldn’t get Cap’n Crunch and had to get a bag of “puffed rice” instead – we were really, actually poor. Poor as in roaches thrived in almost every apartment we lived in (when we were able to live in an apartment and not a hotel room, car, or barn). We had head lice, we often went hungry, we even ate at homeless shelters a few times.

As a kid in this environment, I didn’t really know that it wasn’t exactly “normal”. Not until later, anyway. No, at that age I sort of accepted everything that happened to me at face value. Other kids at school had lots of G.I. Joe action figures. I had hand-me-down books. Other kids at school had Micro Machines cars and I had hand-me-down comics. These books and comics were an escape for me, a place for my young mind to go wandering. I may not have had action figures, but I made my own – in my head.

Using the artwork contained within these comic books, I carefully cut around Captain America or Spider-Man or Wonder Woman with a pair of scissors until I had a flat, two-dimensional representation of that character in my hand. Smiling, I would sit there for hours and cut out heroes, supporting characters, vehicles, animals, you name it. These piles of cut-out artwork became my very own home made action figures and I began to carry them around with me in a bag. Using my imagination, I would pit these cut-outs against each other like other kids did with their articulated toys. I could have Spider-Man join the Avengers! I could have Superman and the Incredible Hulk team up against the mighty Galactus! The man I am now, the collector of comics, cringes at the butchery those (now) potentially valuable comics had to endure at my young hands…but it was worth it in the end, for both younger me back then and the semi-adjusted person I am today.

It was my own way of being normal, being a part of the world around me. Maybe I wasn’t playing with toys in the conventional sense, but I was playing – just like the other kids I knew. Even though I was poor, it didn’t stop me from being a kid sometimes. Though I used my own mind to create battles with those well-drawn superheroes, I really have to thank the comic book artists who brought those characters enough to life for me to even think of doing that in my young age in the first place. When I was a little bit older, I did acquire some actual action figures, and when I did I appreciated them even more because I knew I had made due with the home made kind. And when I really think about it, I don’t think I’d have it any other way because it grounded me and taught me to appreciate the little things and also to rely on my imagination – which led me to being the writer and artist I am today.