In how many cartoons or comic books do we see a dog chase its life-long nemesis- the house cat? An adult dog and adult cat don’t make easy friendships. However, a puppy and kitten raised together from birth can grow-up together and behave as playful siblings. Biological and prejudicial instincts can be overturned by early intervention. I propose we have a chance to advocate for a better future for our children, and make a world where differences can be celebrated, not hidden or ridiculed.
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Kids need heroes like themselves, and to see a world in which other human beings have mutual respect over differences. Today, please meet some imaginative and passionate creators who believe we can change world-views about differences through comic books. With a relatively low price-entry point, fascinating artwork, and wonderful abilities, comic book heroes capture childhood imaginations. We want to live in a world where we feel safe, valued, and can be successful. Standing in the gap, these four independent creators offer such a world in fantasy, if not yet reality, for a new hopeful generation of comic book fans.
…the creator, writer, and co-artist of Aumākua: Guardians of Hawaii with Mana Comics. When asked why he invented a culturally-rich Hawaiian comic book team, Chris wondered: “What if Hawaii had heroes with powers?” As a child raised in Hawaii, Chris learned about various cultural legends and myths which sparked his curiosity. “Aumākua: Guardians of Hawaii” builds on these stories, with contemporary reinventions and appeal.
Chris translates his cultural pride into something magical. History and geography take shape on the page, allowing readers to pretend they visit Hawaii. His comics’ title uses a native word, Aumākua, which means “protectors, ancestral spirits, family or personal gods.”
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Chris recognizes and ignores popular misconceptions about the commercialization of Hawaii, its history, and people. “Hawaii is a melting pot and such a special place to live. When I created the story I try to depict the many cultures on the islands: our customs, our languages, our interests, the areas we frequent, and how we communicate and get along with one another.” On their team roster, Aumākua: Guardians of Hawaii includes people of Hawaiian, Portuguese, Korean, Samoan, Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese backgrounds. This includes great heroes like, Sistah Shark, a Wahine Shark Demigod whose bite is worse than her bark; Portuguese Man O War, an armored genius with a shocking arsenal; and Seoul Hot, a fan-favorite roller-skating foul-mouthed fire starter. Seoul Hot has inspired great costumes by comic book convention fans, too!
Meet the Guardians of Hawaii, a richly diverse group of action heroes!
Fans can expect Chris to explore Hawaiian history for inspiration. In addition to creating a fun, action-packed adventure, Chris believes his books offer more than traditional stories. “I also want to show-case heroes of different ethnicities (so) that children of similar races can be proud of who they are and where they live. The challenge for me is to not limit this comic series to only people who live here, but communicate [cultural and ethnic diversity] to the world to show the true Hawaii and why it’s so special to many people.”
“Through my main character, I want to show what it is like to have a mental disorder.” Adam wants to dispel damaging myths about people with mental illness and other health challenges. “(We) want to be treated like everyone else,” he says.
Raitaro, the son of a Japanese Thunder God, joins forces with a shapeshifting she-badger named Kokoa. As a young man, Raitaro understands more about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and tries to manage his behaviors and feelings while defending Japan against evil. Adam admits how much easier heroics could be if people didn’t fear Raitaro for being different.
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Adam understands painful stereotypes about mental and physical illnesses. “Bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and multiple health issues are my personal nemeses. All that means is I have to find creative ways to get around them. The development of my comic has been hampered by my challenges. Though there are times I feel like quitting, I am determined to reach my dreams.”
Isn’t this the true spirit of self-advocates? What else makes a real hero, if not personal triumph in spite of individual trials? Fans of Japanese manga comics and culture will find a welcoming home in Adam’s project.
…a loving and talented father who advocates for more awareness and acceptance about Down Syndrome. His graphic novel, “Metaphase,” is the world’s first to feature a hero with an extra copy of the 21 Chromosome – Down Syndrome. Ollie, the main hero, is born with heart problems and inherits social misperceptions about persons with Down Syndrome. With his father, also imbued with phenomenal superhuman powers, fight prejudice as often as any arch-villains.
At it’s core, (Metaphase) is about the fact that everyone has dreams and the right to chase after them.
Despite being the world’s most powerful comic book hero, Ollie’s father fears for his son’s safety. Together, they have some circumstantial adventures with traditional fight-scenes, evil plots, and something special. Chip adds real-life science to help explain Down Syndrome outside of a textbook or clinical office. Chip says that Ollie doesn’t see having something “extra” as being a limitation, but believes this condition makes him “unique”. He adds, “‘Metaphase’ isn’t just supplanting a typical superhero tale with a person who has Down Syndrome. It tackles issues of acceptance, and challenges people to look beyond their assumptions about the limits that someone with an intellectual/developmental disability has. It also makes the statement that all people can dream to be and do something great.”
Meet Ollie, a loving hero with Downs Syndrome!
Chip sent me a review copy of his graphic novel (GN). While I’m writing a complete review to share in the future, I will add that Metaphase is one of the most interesting science-fiction comic book stories I’ve read. While sometimes dark in tone, this GN clearly helps establish some negativity or social pressures about Downs Syndrome, helping to identify villains. Except for Chip’s work, does anyone else believe a person with Downs Syndrome can be a hero?
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Finally, I was Inspired by academic and clinical discoveries, and founded an autism advocacy business – Autism at Face Value. With a comic book, our team helps other readers learn more about autism and emotions. Like my peers, I recognized a gap in the marketplace for kids to learn more about autism without having a PhD.
Diagnosed as an adult with autism after some particularly trying circumstances in my life, I offer some legitimacy in our script that other popular comic books cannot have. We unapologetically feature a hero with autism instead of relegating him to a side-kick role. Many of our characters have fictional, yet clinically-accurate descriptions of anxiety, autism, and depression, for example, based on my doctoral research.
Example of facial expressions frozen on a static page from Face Value Comics.
With a simple comic book, we’ve opened unprecedented doors for autism advocacy. The science of facial feature recognition, used in our books, was glowingly reviewed in the medical Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders earlier this year. Our local school district school board voted unanimously to adopt this science in their special needs classrooms to build predictive empathy…for a net surplus without taxpayer contributions. Later this fall, we speak to the United States Congressional Autism Caucus by invitation to discuss best-practices for autism in therapies.
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Some comic book fans may miss these non-traditional titles, or believe they fill a niche market. More correctly, these comic books help represent children and adults from any demographic or group. Many of us agree about the burdens of self-publishing, of printing, and of distribution to the best markets. Each of these creators could write a novel or textbook about their experiences, yet would immediately compete for unceremonious shelf space at any store. Instead, we opted to get culturally-rich, clinically-accurate, and compassionate portrayals of our lives directly to the next generation. Despite any of our personal challenges, we overcame these as heroes ourselves, in spite of ourselves at times, too. Our shared beliefs include a love of the comics genre, and overcoming adversity as adults for the sake of telling children THEY can be heroes, too. Kids need heroes like themselves, and these advocates encourage this ideal with a small investment in fun adventures. If readers are not careful, they might just learn something about themselves and their world, in positive and uplifting ways despite any so-called villainy.
As independent creators, our work needs fans’ support. As noted, costs to produce this work for any of us can be expensive, especially with print and shipping. To see more of this kind of advocacy in action, fans can simply buy the comic books. Larger comic book companies won’t miss five-dollars, but independent creators do. Without fans’ support – financially or motivationally – we cannot be as successful.
*Dave Kot is just a man…but made international news with an autistic comic book hero! Face Value Comics freezes multicultural expressions on an illustrated comic book page. Kot uses science and popular culture to educate more people about autism and empathy. Kids need heroes like themselves!
**Images courtesy of Christopher Caravalho, Adam Hasty, Chip Reese, and Dave Kot.