By Dave Kot, Founder, Face Value Comics
Kids want and need heroes like themselves. We may not have superpowers, yet comic books allow us to daydream. Readers can imagine themselves as someone special without limits on their potential. Sadly, most comic books not only ignore autism, but marginalize or inaccurately portray this sensory processing challenge. Examples by current industry leaders depict autism as a mental illness weakness (1), as something to be cured (2), or openly admit how their script writers couldn’t write an autistic character (3). At least I can respect the last comment, because the creative team recognizes their own shortcomings and won’t risk embarrassment.
Face Value Comics stands in this gap. We created the world’s first featured comic book hero with autism! Our founder and script writer is autistic, a PhD student (psychology), and former clinician working with many young people on the autism spectrum.
This sounds like a good start. Comic books can be powerful tools, though. Prominent research shows how children may lack reading proficiency, but kids still love comics (4). Regardless of diverse backgrounds and experiences, people want to believe in heroes.
Studying facial expressions, we literally freeze a character’s emotional state on a static page. Readers can see scientific taxonomies of “happiness,” anger,” and other universally-recognized expressions (5). Speech bubbles give language to the feelings. Following the story, readers build empathy because they grow to predict behavioral patterns.
Comic books allow us to connect with each other in non-threatening ways. Relatively speaking, ~$5 (6) for casual entertainment can fit some budgets. Inside a story, readers may see similarities between a school bully they know and an arch-villain’s behavior. Our character grows to understand how he and others express their feelings, and builds stronger social connections.
Our family-friendly, steam-powered, Victorian-era world has aliens and robots, and test anxieties, and pre-teen romance, and a surprise for readers: Michael, the young man with autism, grows up to become THE ZEPHYR! Finally, comic book fans can have a hero of whom they can be proud, whether or not they have autism.
(5) http://www.paulekman.com/universal-facial-expressions/ (PS- I am a certified Expert in the highest level of Facial Action Coding System (FACS) through Dr. Ekman. Our main character’s last name is “Eckman” as a veiled nod of gratitude for his advancement of the science).