An Autism “Cure”

In society, we can cure some diseases and offer substantial treatments for other ailments. When we discuss autism advocacy, our conversation magically shifts. A problem arises that few notice; autism is a neurological (brain) condition. Medicines have not effectively re-wired an autistic brain. Therapies treat other symptomologies without resolving autism itself. Too often, we treat autism as a socially-driven variable and ignore its biological roots.

In college, a friend was born blind. No pills would restore her sight. Therapy failed, too. Assisted technologies helped, though never really replaced fully-functioning vision. However, medical treatments and therapies helped in other ways. Since she found difficulties making friends or other social commitments, she battled constant depression. Prescription medications and therapists helped her understand her feelings, and subsequently overcome some fears. Her professional team addressed presenting symptoms, but not her blindness. Due diligence suggests how her team consulted  my friend’s medical history to rule-out possibilities of curing her blindness and optic nerve damage. In a visually-driven marketplace, I can sympathize with wanting a cure for blindness.

Finding a “cure” for autism can be seen as morally and scientifically derelict. We wouldn’t give a person a pill to cure their life-long deafness, or suggest they drink bleach. Likewise, we certainly not condone electro-convulsive shock treatments against prisoners of war – even prisoners with valuable military information. Society would riot if we advocate these practices because they are inhumane.

Mr. Yuck
                   Mr. Yuck

…for anything but autism. Drinking bleach is now advertised as a “cure” for autism, among many other ailments. Everything Mr. Yuck taught me suggest bleach is deadly if consumed, right? The Judge Rotenberg Center promotes the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – which is fine – AND skin shock aversive treatments. Oddly, peer-reviewed literature suggests a fault of ABA lies in its inability to motivate students over time. In other words, kids get bored with some rewards, and need new prompts to comply with rote questions and answers. Society wouldn’t ethically apply shock collars to a young puppy, but go ahead and slap an electrical shock device to a student with autism because…well…what I am I supposed to think? I guess my take-away is that practitioners and proponents of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) must value autistic students with less regard and more contempt than dogs. No, I’m sorry that I can’t accept any amount of voltage running through another human being as a way to “cure” them or help acclimate them to social expectations.

One of the largest non-profit autism advocacy businesses worldwide recently held ANOTHER conference at the Judge Rotenberg Center. At no time did they use their dollars or influence to stop human tragedies at the JRC. To me, this is not positive autism advocacy. Trying to “cure” autism is the exact opposite of acceptance. Some researchers believe Albert Einstein, Amadeus Mozart, and Thomas Jefferson displayed enough historical traits as to warrant an autism label. Where would our world be without different-thinking people, with or without autism.

Some people may absolutely hate this blog post. Instead of alternatives, a sweeping removal of autism from the planet is in order in too many people’s minds. I make this offer to people who want a cure:

  1. I’ll listen to your claims of an autism cure from authoritative scientists.
  2. You listen to music I like. When the thrashing European metal chords and guttural lyrics make you cringe, I’ll dub your intolerance of something I find quite normal – sometimes soothing – as YOUR faulty brain condition. To help you overcome your aversion to my music tastes, let’s agree to use bleach and electrocution until you do like it, while I remind you how damaged and wrong you are for liking any other music. Please know that I do this work in kindness and love – I just want YOU to be more like ME, and that includes having a life filled with music…regardless of what happens to your brain or personality in the process. I offer no guarantees about what doing what I say will actually help you appreciate diversity in music, or what may happen to the portion of your brain that translates music and auditory messages.

Is it a deal?

…or, we could treat autism symptoms, but distinguish between other factors. For example, a lot of people contract poison ivy rashes, and statistically-speaking, at least one of those people is also autistic. It seems unfair to take the person to the doctor and exclaim- “He’s autistic. Cure him of his autism and the rash won’t be a problem.” I remember a time when accommodations ruled. Instead of blaming autism for a child’s inability to wear a cotton t-shirt, perhaps consider buying them a NON-cotton t-shirt. Stop pretending that capitalism meet your demands for diversity but let markets dictate how valuable autism advocacy is. If people stopped buying cotton shirts, someone will take notice and the marketplace will fill the gap. Be poised to know who and what sparks these changes. For me, I have a threatening kidney disease- should I blame autism for it, too? If my autism were somehow magically “cured,” would my kidney disease be easier to manage? Also, my kidney disease is more likely to shorten my life experiences than autism. If you want to talk to me about finding a cure, please talk to my nephrologist before my autism therapist, okay?

Comic Books with a Sensory Experience? Opening Comic Books to the Autism and Blind Communities

We recently entered a contest sponsored by Wells Fargo. With great thanks to a team of dedicated writing volunteers, we entered this submission for professional business mentorship and a $25,000 award. How will we use these resources?


Image a fantastic story – a radioactive spider bites a likeable student. This student discovers new superhuman powers, like a spider. He fights criminals after dating and studying. Marvel Comics’ “Spider-man” already matches this basic description. Now, what if the same radioactive spider bite also gives the hero cancer? Why couldn’t writers use clinical and compassionate experiences to describe a young person’s journey with cancer treatment? How valuable could this resource be for a young generation – with or without cancer – to understand cancer?

Our small business believes kids need heroes like themselves. Our founder (and comic book script writer) saw a gap in the marketplace. He took his experiences as a doctoral student researching autism and empathy connections, his work as a clinical therapist, and his own personal experiences as an adult diagnosed with autism to create a comic book. Face Value Comics is the world’s first comic book to feature a hero with autism!

Well Fargo Contest LinkOur comic books use a lot of scientific theories vetted by peer-reviewed literature. Using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), we freeze multicultural and non-verbal emotional expressions on a static page. Readers build predictive empathy, and begin to see how or why a character may feel some emotions. This strategy helps erase a damaging myth about persons with autism: we DO have empathy, but may need more clarifications on how to respond. In the comic book, we have a lot of aliens and robots, but we also offer family-friendly role models. Each character has a fictional, yet robust,  psychological profile, including descriptions of autism, anxiety, depression, etc. When confronted by a challenge, characters respond predictably because we compassionately use their clinical diagnoses for added legitimacy. Kids need heroes like themselves. These successes, as well as great international press coverage of our comic books, helps meet a part of our mission statement: helping persons with autism feel safe, feel valued and wanted, and feel and successful.

Autism advocacy requires awareness and acceptance. Our comic books earned several international awards and nominations within the past year. We’ve been on the nation’s largest television news network, with over 10 million viewers. Without paid search-engine optimization, we still rank highly in social media because we held over fifty interviews last year. This fall, we present to the United States Congressional Autism Caucus about replicating our educational reform initiatives with the Dover Area School District. People are becoming aware of autism…without fear or prejudice.

Autism advocacy include social acceptance.
Autism advocacy include social acceptance.

Acceptance is a larger hurdle for advocacy. However, our comic book sit on the same shelves as Batman and Spider-man. Last year, we became a best-selling, independently-published comic book through Diamond Comic Distributors. Making our comics available to more people remains our largest business challenge, and this is because of purchase power. Our small business cannot easily afford to buy in bulk, thereby reducing paper and printing costs.

Wells Fargo’s award would reduce print costs. Additionally, we welcome professional mentorship about business practices; our team consists on less than ten individuals. Regardless of the financial award, we ask Wells Fargo to consider helping us with a new marketing strategy: imagine how having a three-dimensional printer could help us. By raising the same facial expressions our artists typically create, and adding Braille, we could open comic books to the low-or-no vision community and for persons with autism with an added sensory experience.

Will you help us do more with what we have, and add your investments of time and talent and even a portion of the announced $25,000 award? Kids need heroes like themselves. Thank you for your consideration!

MY SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – Paying (what you want) Forward

Recently, I discovered a new feature available from our digital publishers: Pay What You Want. This allows someone to download a copy for FREE, with an option to donate. Donations of any size will be used for future print and distribution costs.
Follow this link to the 1st digital comics site, here: Pay What You Want Digital Download, Issue #1
If you like our Family-Friendly Code of Ethics, please help promote something positive about autism, for kids’ sake. Buy a copy and write a review. Share this message with someone who might like it or find it helpful along their journey with autism. Kids need heroes like themselves.
Autism advocacy requires awareness and acceptance. We’ve already reached millions of international fans with our comics, thanks to media attention. Our comic book aired on national television news stations, and a local journalist won an Emmy for his work. We been nominated and won several (international) awards. We’ve helped influence progressive thinking about special education by using facial feature recognition, with a surplus incentive without taxpayer contributions. On Monday (June 29th), I travel with our team to speak with the co-founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus by invitation to discuss health care options Members of the Autism Community.
Autism at Face Value and I have already made history with our copyrighted comic book. Now, I want to pay it forward. Please follow this highlighted link, and register for your free account. Then, Pay What You Want to our non-profit autism advocacy business- Autism at Face Value. Donations of any size will be used for future print and distribution costs.
Here’s a free coloring page featuring the cast of characters from ZEPHYR-KITTY!
Further Adventures of Zephyr-Kitty, for young readers with clawtism.
Further Adventures of Zephyr-Kitty, for young readers with clawtism.
FREE COLORING PAGE FROM FACE VALUE COMICS
FREE COLORING PAGE from Face Value Comics
FINAL NOTE: Due to social media marketing algorithms, this message will not likely reach 50% of our audience, unless you share this post and its positive message.

Three Smooth Stones – An Autism Fable

Recently, two friends returned from a beautiful island vacation. They gave me a special and certainly unique gift. They hoped to cheer me up after battling a feverish kidney infection. Please let me tell you how three smooth stones completely changed me life…

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Pebbly Beach and Ocean Vacation

 

My friends knew two things about me that helped them find a perfect gift. First, I like rocks and waterfalls. They thought that ocean-washed stones seemed like a close substitute. Secondly, I like knowing planned routines and schedules. Even if I miss an opportunity, knowing the next sequence of events helps me recover and re-plan. My friends explained to me how special these stones are: they keep away tigers!

 

Although doubting the dramatic claims about tigers, I happily accepted these pretty stones. I researched information about these stones, the island, and tigers…but found no data to support fantastic claims. Interestingly, no islander has ever been attacked by a tiger, though. Absent-mindedly, I just slipped these stones into my pocket where they remained until laundry-day.

 

My day progressed as expected, until I went to collect the mail. Is the short walk to the mailbox a window by which a tiger may pounce? Surely, taking these magical stones with me couldn’t hurt, right?

 

Thankfully, no tigers attacked me while getting the mail. No tigers appeared at the grocery store, either. I would make sure no tigers would be around my wife and I when we went to dinner with our vacation-returned friends.

 

We enjoyed lovely meals and talk. At one point, our friends shared news about their youngest son. He was recently diagnosed with autism. Surprisingly, both blamed a recent vaccination for the autism diagnosis! We did not discuss educational or therapeutic supports because the conversation hovered over vaccinations’ alleged links to autism. Before his vaccinations, the boy’s doctors and parents believed him to be developing typically. Nothing we could say could detract from their notion that vaccines caused autism.

 

Stuck on an uncomfortable topic, our friends suggested we talk about vacations and how well I liked their gift! I placed the three smooth stones on the table. “You don’t see any tigers, do you,” I asked with a knowing smile.

 

“You don’t really believe these stones have special powers, do you,” they questioned. I shared undeniable data with them- no tigers attacked me while I carried the stones. My friend is an accomplished attorney, and decided to use logic against my beliefs.

On a napkin, he penned this chart and asked me to complete it:

 

DATA COLLECTED SUPPORTS MY CLAIM? CHALLENGES MY CLAIM?
Are there any peer-reviewed journal articles about stones and tiger-prevention? One article made suggestive links, but was retracted due to procedural errors, lack of replication by other scientists, and ethical motivation behind the written article. No articles found refuting the link between these stones and tigers, but it’s a small sample size. More research is needed to find the link, instead of spent on tiger training and similar “coping” skills.
Were the island sellers motivated to make these claims about stones and tiger-prevention? Islanders affirm their claims, and no stone-islanders were ever attacked by tigers. Stone-islanders income from selling souvenirs accounts for 75% of their collected income.
Did I experience tiger attacks before I had the stones? No, but tiger attacks account for 85 human deaths each year; I won’t be one of them! Humans account for 1% tiger-related deaths, but little data exists about tiger attacks from impoverished tiger-filled places.
Do I feel my life been better since having the stones? Yes, I have less anxiety about tiger attacks, and have a resource that shows how my own faults won’t cause a tiger attack. If I am wrong, then I will always live in fear about what more I could do to prevent tiger attacks. I have too many other factors to consider about tiger attacks, so it’s just easier to believe something without needing more work beyond personal experiences.
How often do I think about tiger-related attacks? I don’t have to spend my time on this worrisome topic, since I have THE answer to stopping the problem. If my claim is overturned, I am left with more anxieties about tigers. Next, what else might ambush me? Will it be my fault, too?

My friends said that I seemed “obsessed” about their simple gift. They said greedy islanders tell grand stories just to make a sale of cheap souvenirs. They pointed to a lack of scientific research on the tiger-prevention topic; I countered by saying it’s a small sample size, and that I never encountered a tiger nor peer-reviewed literature against my claims. I also proposed my belief that somehow, in some way, our governments must be engaged in suppression campaigns about the truth. Of course- it’s cheaper to buy tiger-prevention stones than pay for medical bills related to maulings, so big business and medicine must plays parts, too.

 

My wife diplomatically interrupted. While she agreed that no scientific claims support my beliefs, she cannot deny my experiences. She added that if my friends ruined the “magic” of the smooth stones, I would be left with less hope. Was that the insidious purpose behind their gift?

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Three smooth stones prevent tiger attacks – Why isn’t this getting more news coverage?!?

 

My world needs predictability. These stones do more than prevent tiger attacks- they give me peace of mind. If a tiger inexplicably attacked me, at least it wouldn’t be my fault, because I carry these three smooth stones. Consequently, I don’t accept any personal responsibility for preventing tiger attacks. In some way, I have THE answer to preventing tiger attacks. Imagine if we mass-produced these stones- how many tiger-related deaths could we prevent each year?!? Nobody believes my ideas unless I provide research  showing a statistically-significant link that I already know exists. Don’t ask me how or why these three smooth stones work- they just do!

 

…and you have no right to challenge my claims!

 

You have no right to challenge my personal experiences or those of the tiger-free islanders. What does it matter if I lack empirical evidence- I’ve already suggested  government + big business + medical community conspiracies. My wife lends her observed experiences that match mine. Can you name any other links between the stones and a lack of tiger attacks? If you don’t have professionally-researched articles to  counterbalance my arguments, please just accept my own claims. Right now, you can offer me no greater solace than I have from believing three smooth stones prevent tiger attacks. How cruel must you be, to demand more scientific facts or challenge personal experiences? Isn’t living with the threat of tiger-attacks enough stress for me to carry?

 

Back at the dinner table, we found ourselves at another uncomfortable impasse. I asked my attorney-friend if they planned to sue the hospital or vaccine manufacturer for causing their son’s autism. America remains an actively litigious society – we aren’t too far removed from million-dollar lawsuits over spilled hot coffee. Anti-vaccination stances might support a class-action lawsuit against the purveyors of autism-inducing vaccines. Frequently, televised commercials offer to take legal action against other medical procedures gone awry, so why not autism?

 

My friends suggested how I mistakenly applied spurious relationships between the three smooth stones and a lack of tiger attacks. Spurious relationships are mathematical constructs to determine causality. Too many other variables could factor into my stones’ alleged power to rebuke tigers. Why fix something that’s not broken?

Next, I asked my friends to consider the same table when assigning blame to vaccines for causing autism. Quickly, I sketched my own chart by following similar example:

 

DATA COLLECTED SUPPORTS VACCINE LINK? CHALLENGES VACCINE LINK?
Are there any peer-reviewed journal articles about vaccines linked to causing autism?
Were any claimants motivated to make any links about autism and vaccine links? What does the rest of the professional community think about any claims AND claimants?
Did your son experience any autism traits before having the vaccine?
Is your life better by having a child…with autism?

(Person-first language encourages me to use emphasize the CHILD/person above the diagnosis.)

How often do I think autism and vaccines, or personal  responsibilities as a loving caregiver for a loved one …with autism?

They politely folded the napkin and placed it in a pocket. Next, we enjoyed a light dessert with our friends, and concluded the evening happily.

 

…without tigers and without blame.

 

If you must reply to this conversation, let’s agree to keep tiger-preventions or tiger-cures as the main topics. Autism diagnoses account for 1.4% of the population. Tiger attacks KILL 1% of its respected population. Autism doesn’t kill people, but tiger attacks do. Let’s focus more attention on finding a cure to tiger related attacks and deaths.

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Find some stones! You’ll need ’em to present any beliefs you have about autism and/or tiger-related attacks.

First, you’ll need to find yourself some big stones…

YOU Decide – I Won’t Say a Word

In our politically-correct world, certain adjectives cannot clearly identify some groups. For example, ‘African-American’ replaces ‘person of color.’ Likewise, ‘mental retardation’ stirs ire, so we use ‘intellectual or developmental delays.’ Gone too are words like ‘actress’ and ‘stewardess;’ use ‘actor’ and ‘flight attendant,’ respectively. By example, let’s discuss something we can change: public perceptions about autism. Professional clinicians once labeled ‘homosexality’ as a mental illness! If social change can re-correct misinformation at a medical opinion level, I have hopes that my simple suggestion may also bear weight.

 

As it stands, I fear the word “non-verbal” encapsulates too many negative stereotypes. Simply stating that a person with autism is non-verbal damages public opinions (read: neurotypical persons’ reactions). I see two things immediately incorrect by continuing to refer to persons with autism as NON-VERBAL.

 

Problem One:

Did you take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)? No, we’re not engaging in discussions about cultural dis/advantages about the SATs at this moment. Think back – maybe even waaay back – to your scores or scores of someone close to you. Usually, SAT results fell into two categories. Do you remember the Math section of the SATs? What was the other categorization? For me, I also got a VERBAL score. Nobody asked me to talk during the test. In fact, testers were forbidden to speak during the SATs. Nobody spoke with me while I took the test, aside from a procter’s instructions.

 

The problem with labeling someone as “non-verbal” is we completely dismisses any written proficiencies with communicable language. Famous self-advocate Helen Keller was not non-verbal, even though she was mute. She knew words and communicated their value to (sometimes limited) audiences. I cannot think of Helen Keller’s experiences and still consider her “non-verbal.”

I offer to use the word “vocal,” to replace “verbal,” and more correctly capture the social interactions with someone who does not often speak aloud.

 

Problem Two:

At what percentage do we equate anything with an adjective, “non?” If I’m a non-smoker, I won’t smoke tobacco. If a book is listed as “non-fiction,” we expect it to include some historical realism and facts. If a person is non-verbal vocal, we may (incorrectly) assume that this person does not talk at all – ever. I believe this assumption undermines abilities of some people with autism who have limited, but some, vocal skills.

 

At what percentage does “non” capture? If my glass contains 99% fat-free milk, is this non-fat milk? Would things change differently at 98% of non-something or other? How about 95%, or 90%? Does NON really mean zero-percent 100% of the time?!? If so, what hopes do we dash by referring to persons as “non-verbal” or “non-vocal?”

 

From ancient Greece, we have an interesting word: PARA. This prefix means beside; next to, near, from; and against or contrary to something. I like the words, “near,” “from” and “against or contrary to” to better explain vocalization skills for some persons with autism. Does “near-vocal” more accurately, more clinically, explain some behaviors of people with autism that you know, or does using “non-verbal” paint a better picture or empowerment? If you wanted to become an evil dictator, which word would you select to undermine a group’s potential?

 

To this end, I suggest we use words like “para-vocal” to better explain future social communication expectations.

 

Use “para-vocal” instead of “non-verbal.” Otherwise, we may be unintentionally limiting our collective expectations about persons with autism. Otherwise, we may grow to expect absolutely nothing from someone we list as “NON.” Let’s presume competence. Some people with autism may never willingly choose to talk. However, we owe it to everyone, including ourselves, to think of many wonderful abilities and skills autistics have, and focus less about what a select group does not have.

 

If you like this idea, please share it and use it yourself. I’m not copyrighting this word. I will use it to explain our comics character, Myra. I will use “para-vocal” to explain this aspect of autism which I describe today. Do you like it? Will you use “para-vocal,” please?

 

Change and acceptance begins with us. To my friends at ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), this idea falls in line with “nothing about us without us.” Can ASAN stand behind this idea of compassionate and clinically-accurate autism descriptions? Will ASAN use para-vocal instead of non-verbal in the future?

 

…or, we can go back to using “non-verbal” in literature. I would be wholly within clinical accuracy to refer to my African-American best friend (Sky Owens, our comics artist) as “non-white.” How far would that very factual adjective get us as a society? How would my friend respond? Look, I’m quite certain that some autistic people who don’t easily or willingly talk won’t say anything, right? Society questions the “verbal” skills of some autistics, I find more glaring verb and adjective omissions from neurotypical so-called experts.

Marvel Comics Sued over Characters (again)

This week, many fans worldwide celebrated a newly-diverse character in the Marvel Universe. Undoubtedly, Marvel Comics underestimated fans’ mixed reactions to Bobby Drake (Iceman) being gay. Having read the comic book (New Avengers #40), I admit it’s a good story. While I personally want to see more diversity in comic books, I realize this advocacy is a process we have to start with someone somewhere. This week, it’s Bobby Drake.

Some fans questioned my claims how Marvel Comics doesn’t prioritize diversity as highly as it does money. Sure, they’re a big business. They’re in this business to sell us great stories. Pffft- what about Marvel Comics has ever ever ever indicated they understand diversity, or are subject-matter experts about diversity? This isn’t their specialty- making money from selling us stories IS their business. We should expect Marvel Comics (and DC, and Image and Dark Horse, etc.) to write compelling stories. When they don’t show their work behind a new character, we should question their commitments to new characters. Is it a gimmick to have a gay comic book hero? No, it’s not a gimmick- it’s a first step towards compassionate understanding.

However, if Marvel Comics does nothing with Iceman’s character’s identity, he becomes less real. He becomes a poster-child for non-existent advocacy if writers abandon his character’s identity. I do not know who among Iceman’s creative team knows enough about gay experiences to lend legitimacy to his character. Dogs can’t write cat stories, through no fault of their own. Even in our comic book, I need help to capture a teenage girl’s experiences, since I’m a 40 year old male. We sincerely hope Marvel Comics continues to write compelling, engaging stories about our heroes. Iceman’s been around 50 years and appeared in six different movies, so it’s time he’s known for something more than his ability to make free snow cones.

Yesterday, two independent comic book creators (with former ties to Marvel Comics) sued Marvel Comics and Disney (among other named defendants). Why? Their claims are better articulated in this news coverage by Robot 6, here:

http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2015/04/artists-sue-marvel-disney-over-iron-man-armor-design/

The last time Marvel Comics were sued by artists, we got new renditions of their characters. Specifically, we had exact opposite depictions of the characters Captain America and Thor. Why were these changes made? Does Marvel Comics want to embrace diversity, or do they just want to avoid (more) lawsuits? If we see a new Iron Man from Marvel Comics in the near future, we have reasonable cause to question WHY we have a new Iron Man. Answer: Money, while dodging lawsuits. Making a new Iron Man would be okay- he DOES have a lot of suits. However, if Iron Man is suddenly a member of any particular minority group, let’s not pretend that Marvel Comics suddenly grew a heart. If we agree they are big business, then any moves made are from a business standpoint. What business strategy would be gained by making Iron Man a member of any minority group? It’s insulting to think they could cover up their mistakes by simply hiding behind a minority-based character. We know and remember WHY the character was changed- they got sued. Adding to the diversity discussion is profitable secondary gain. More importantly, I want to ask Marvel Comics to continue what they do best- write stories. Sure, they have a target on their backs as billion-dollar business, and lawsuits could be predictably common. However, making a new character requires more than a new costume and demographic label. Show us heart. Show us bravery. Show us failures and successes with compassion for the attempt. Yes, we want demand intelligently-created superheroes, even if the heroes aren’t genius-caliber. We want to see internal struggles and victories with the associated personal experiences with which you, Marvel Comics, have given them. You didn’t HAVE to make so-and-so a member of this-or-that group, but since you did, please follow-through.

Throw darts. Spin a wheel. Pick labels out of hat. Whatever changes we see in a new Iron Man won’t be prompted by understanding diversity- it’ll be because of a lawsuit. We’ve seen this happen with Jack Kirby’s lawsuit, so why should we expect anything different? I want to like Iceman as a legitimate character. I can’t help but feel like he may be a strategically-placed pawn in a much larger chess board. Will Marvel Comics sacrifice Iceman’s character to grab more dollars? Let’s hope they keep him safe and strong, and continue along this journey of respecting diversity in comic books.

We’ll be watching…

INVULNERABILITY – a new social superpower

On social media, and by some good friends, I’ve been asked to simplify my angered comments about Marvel Comics’ newest diverse character, a gay Iceman.

 

Marvel Comics is in a large business to sell stories.

 

Name one thing that Iceman has done in fifty years. He’s also been a part of SIX movies. Go ahead- name one thing that distinguishes Iceman as a hero.

 

We wouldn’t accept a politician whose only platform was their sexual identity. Without a proven track record, we would see through this politician for what they really were- table scraps given to pacify voters and secure a demographic.

 

Marvel Comics lists Iceman as being an “Omega” level mutant. This label makes him one of the most powerful members of the X-Men team, if not one of the most powerful heroes  on the planet! Of course, all of us can recall times where Iceman used his phenomenal powers to fix climate change/global warming, stop nuclear wars, and make a snow cone, right?

 

Iceman wasn’t first Marvel Comics character to showcase diversity. We’ve seen changes to other popular characters in the past few months. In fact, these changes were so radical that the new incarnations were exact opposites from their counterparts. Without needing to cite which demographics match these characters, focus more about the lawsuit brought against Marvel Comics by the original creator.

 

Do you remember a television show called KNIGHT RIDER, with David Hasselhoff? Do you remember his talking car, KITT? Let’s pretend that their production studios were sued by a writer. To avoid the lawsuit, they re-painted KITT the opposite color for which he was popularly known. Is that racist? No, but we’re talking about cars and not people. If we change the color or gender of a character for no reason other than to avoid a lawsuit, what kind of story telling do we have? Sure, the background for the new Captain America might be compelling. I cannot overcome my knowledge that a lawsuit prompted the change, not benevolence or good-intentions. If I am wrong, than Marvel Comics will keep their new Thor and Captain America characters for longer than one year. If they abandon these characters, then we affirm the changes was not prompted by good storytelling or benevolence, but to avoiding a lawsuit, under the guise of diversity.

 

When DC revisited their Batgirl title last year, they set a high benchmark. A lot of publicity aired about their new female-friendly writing team. We got to see their entire Batgirl creative team enjoy the new mission ahead through social media. This preparation lent legitimacy about their claims of wanting a new, socially-responsible character. Since DC (and Marvel) are in the business to sell us stories, they wrapped-up Batgirl with a nice bow. Batgirl wasn’t in the middle of a lawsuit by her original creator. Her change seemed legitimate. We saw their efforts, and bought-in.

 

Go ahead- name one thing that individually distinguishes Iceman as a hero in the last fifty years, aside from his bravery to admit sexual identity confusions. This is lazy storytelling. Their creators put more effort into obfuscation and politically-correct strawmen than making a believable hero. However, if I question their efforts and want more, I unwillingly place a target on my chest as being discriminatory. See- I told you Marvel Comics would want other people to defend their token gay character for them!

 

Iceman could be a role model to a lot of readers. Now he only really has a label. I am saddened by this reality. Tell a better story, Marvel Comics – please! You are in the business of selling us stories. Why did you only make Iceman relevant for his sexual identity? I find this gesture like one of pity- why can’t Iceman be a real superhero with awesome abilities and good deeds to make him worthy to roster among the X-Men (if you don’t kill off more characters to spite 20th Century Fox)? You slap a label on him, but this trick won’t be enough for fans to accept him as a title-worthy hero. We’re searching for diversity. You write stories. Write us a story about real diversity, one in which we can believe. You’ve got a good start, so please don’t let it fall away like you’ve done in the past, Marvel Comics.
I submit a new superpower for Bobby Drake: invulnerability to public criticism about how well his character is written and portrayed.

INAP Award Nominee, 2015

With equal parts humility and giddiness, I accept a nomination for the International Naturally Autistic Person Awards.

From the text of the letter, by Charlie Collura (Co-Founder, ANCA World Autism Festival):

INAPAwardNominationLetterDavidKot2015  <— Link to the .pdf file letter (Text from Letter, below…)


INAP Awards Nominee David Kot

Dear David

This letter confirms your nomination for the 2015 International Naturally Autistic People Awards.

The INAP Awards celebrate the talents and abilities of autistic people and the great work done by individuals and organizations supporting our autistic community.

Thank you for sharing your passions and interests and we encourage you to continue to pursue your goals and dreams. As a representative for your country, you demonstrate the great diversity and abilities of autistic people across the world.

We look forward to meeting you in Vancouver BC Canada for our 6th annual ANCA World Autism Festival October 1­-6.”


What are the socially-appropriate reactions to a letter like this one?

My primary emotion is gratitude. Without our fans’ support, we wouldn’t be as influential or popular. Kids want and need heroes like themselves.

Thank you. This is OUR recognition and victory in the marketplace of ideas. We share this nomination.

A MARVELous Dirty Secret

EDIT 23 April 2015: Fans have asked me to explain my thoughts about Marvel Comics’ diversity. My reply is found here: https://facevaluecomics.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/invulnerability-a-new-social-superpower/

We congratulate Marvel Comics for embracing diversity! Today (22 April 2015), Issue #40 of “All New X-Men” hits comic store shelves. In it, long-time hero Bobby Drake comes out as gay, or at least bi-sexual. We may see Iceman wrestle with his sexual identity after talking with fellow mutant, Jean Grey. If shown with compassion, Iceman’s real-life sexual identity questions could establish him as a contemporary role-model for readers.

 

This example gives us at least the third suddenly-diverse character from Marvel Comics. Last year, a female picked up Mjolnir as Thor! An African-American donned the classic shield and mantle of Captain America. Iceman was created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, so it’s been a long time for him to finally discuss his sexual identity.

 

Ardent comic book fans may want small changes their new characters’ super-powers or heroic battle-cry. Change begets change. Despite any perceived flaws in a costume design, for example, fans will grow to accept their heroes. Maybe, fans will even grow to love the newest incarnations of their beloved heroes.

 

Certainly, we can’t DISLIKE ‘em. This edict applies to comics reviews, too. Why?

 

If we don’t like a new African-American as Captain America, we’re racist.

 

If we don’t like a new female incarnation of Thor, we’re sexist.

 

If we don’t like a new gay Iceman, we’re homophobic or heterosexist.

 

We congratulate Marvel Comics for a brilliant, polarizing marketing strategy!

 

Some of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters – Wolverine and Deadpool – have recently died in their respective titles. Keeping a running count, now we have at least FIVE distinct changes within the Marvel Comics Universe in less than a year. May we ask WHY we suddenly have such an outpouring of new characters?

 

I contend this change has nothing to do with diversity and everything to do about money.

 

Knowing how much money popular comic books have hauled at theaters, Marvel Comics’ so-called benevolence is actually tied to a HISTORY of money choices.

 

Artist Jack Kirby created Captain America and Thor. When an average fan recollects an image of either two heroes, they likely think of the characters as drawn by Kirby. Since so many fans already connect these two characters with Jack Kirby’s art, his family sued Marvel Comics. They wanted rightful compensation for the characters that Kirby helped make famous.

 

Marvel Comics countered by showing the world their news images of these two heroes. Alongside a blonde hair, blue eye, Caucasian Captain America, we saw the NEW  African-American Captain America. There’s no comparison! Similarly, we saw a female Thor who looks nothing like her bulging biceps male name-sake. Again, there is no comparison!

 

Thankfully, people saw through the charade. These new characters created by Marvel Comics pre-dated the lawsuit by months. They played a shell game with very high stakes. If Marvel Comics wins, they retain all rights to box-office giants’ sales. Lose, and they have to pay an artist handsomely. Eventually, Marvel Comics paid Jack Kirby’s estate a settlement.

 

Did you remember how Iceman was co-created by Jack Kirby, too? Sony Pictures Entertainment once owned exclusive cinematic rights the the Spider-man franchise. This explains why movie-goers saw a completely different-looking Electro character from the one created by…guess who- Jack Kirby!

 

Gregor Mendel is rolling over in his grave- Marvel Comics owns the copyright to the word “mutant!” This suggests how Kirby’s creations – Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch – are NOT going to be mutants in the new Avenger’s movie this summer. They will have NO ties to the X-Men as we grew to know from the comic books. What?!?

 

20th Century Fox bought movie rights to some characters from Marvel Comics. Primarily, these characters include the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. All SIX of the popular X-Men movies were created by 20th Century Fox, not Disney or Marvel Comics. Therefore, the profits from these movies go into pockets at 20th Century Fox.

 

Like a spoiled child at the playground, Marvel Comics decided to take their ball and go home. They made a dramatic strategic plan: destroy their comics characters tied to 20th Century Fox. Make certain characters unusable. Marvel Comics indicated how they want to end the print run on the Fantastic Four. In the new Fantastic Four movie re-launch, the Human Torch inexplicably transforms from Caucasian to African-American. Next, Marvel Comics killed Wolverine. Deadpool is, ironically, dead, too. More importantly, fans should recognize how these two characters’ deaths happened within the world of the X-Men franchise.

 

…which is the same sinking ship where Bobby Drake just professed his sexual identity.

 

Take a mature step away from the world of comic books. Look at these transactions like a business. Marvel Comics just drew a line in the sand- they killed two main characters in the X-Men line-up. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) won’t draw audiences to any new X-Men movies. Would YOU want to see an X-Men movie without Wolverine? Professor X died in the last movie, too. Who leads the team? How about Iceman? If 20th Century Fox does NOT use Iceman as a gay character in future movies, guess what happens:

 

20th Century Fox – NOT MARVEL COMICS – gets any heat for how well they use a character’s undefined homosexual/bi-sexual identity.

 

I really want to like the diversity we now see in comic books. Regardless of the genesis, I really want to like the new Captain America, Thor, and Iceman identities. I think they can be good examples of how people value heroism in different ways.

 

Hopefully, we’ve learned a lot about new comic books. More importantly, we may have learned a crucial business lesson taught by Marvel Comics. To this end, I challenge:

 

If Marvel Comics easily dismisses an African American Captain America – THEY ARE RACIST.

 

If Marvel Comics easily dismisses a female incarnation of Thor – THEY ARE SEXIST.

 

If Marvel Comics easily dismisses a gay Iceman, THEY ARE HOMOPHOBIC and/or HETEROSEXIST.

#tableflipped

School is still in session. Let me show Marvel Comics how they can embrace diversity and influence real social change.

 

Give Peter Parker, the Amazing and Spectacular Spider-man, CANCER.

 

C’mon- a RADIOACTIVE spider bit the guy! It gave Spider-man his unique super-powers. Why not add ‘cancer’ to the list? Partner with writers who understand the cancer experience. Solicit advice from well-respected cancer treatment experts. Welcome new fans who need a hero like themselves.

 

Imagine a world where Spider-man had too many decisions. Rescue the damsel in distress? Stop the villain bent on city-wide destruction? Study for tomorrow’s big chemistry test? When does he fit-in needed chemotherapy treatment? How well does he feel following a visit with his physician? This strategy taps into creative writing minds and see an opponent more deadly than any foe Spider-man ever fought. Will villains know about Spider-man’s diagnosis, and will they use his physical weakness against him? How will his allies help Spider-man combat crime? Will Mr. Fantastic or Dr. Strange suddenly “cure” cancer within five days of this story line, though?

 

Hopefully, our fans know how serious we take autism advocacy in comic books. We took our own advice! We’ve partnered with great professionals who help advise us about certain aspects of autism. Diagnosed as an adult with autism, I write the script for the world’s first featured autistic comic book hero. We weave real-life personal and professional experiences, and clinically-accurate diagnostic criteria, into our stories. Facial feature recognition helps many of our readers understand character’s emotions, and their own. This science has been well-researched for 25 years, and formed the basis for educational reform in our home school district. Yes- Face Value Comics helped influence tax-free educational reform for students with special needs.

 

Why would we expect a multi-billion dollar business to give the common man legitimate diversity in its heroes? I cannot respect Marvel Comics’ attempts, knowing the source of change was only money. Don’t feed me table scraps , call it ‘diversity,’ and expect me to feel satisfied.

 

Yes, I WILL buy the new comic book today. I wonder when Iceman may tenderly hold another man’s hand. I wonder when he may kiss another man in love. I wonder when Iceman will get married to another man. All of these things have heterosexual counterparts in the Marvel Comics Universe, so why not see these common life events happen to a gay hero? It’s a fictional world, so Marvel Comics’ writers aren’t bound by repressive same-sex marriage laws. If I can believe in green-skinned monsters and flying robot-men, I can imagine a (fictional) place where equality can finally reign. Can’t you?

 

Today, Marvel Comics’ biggest secret isn’t that Iceman is gay. Their push for diversity is driven by competing rights to their popular characters in a battle of attrition. Knowing our politically-correct society, Marvel Comics embraces new, gullible fans. Meanwhile, they use their free hands to gesture obscenely towards 20th Century Fox and Jack Kirby’s influences.

Don’t Feed the the “Animals”

Over the Easter vacation, my family attended an aquarium in New Jersey. I wanted to do some hands-on research about seahorses and poison dart frogs (remember- I also write comic book scripts). This experience became a moment for autism (self) advocacy.

We spent about two hours going through exhibits. However, near the end, I felt overwhelmed. As more guests trafficked, I became a pinball and bounced off of people. Then, I found myself under a speaker, which further disoriented me. I asked for a break, and my family agreed to meet me in a few minutes while they completed the tour.

Again, I became disoriented as I made my way through a sea of people to where I thought I was supposed to be. I rested for a while (10 minutes?). Sadly, I did not become aware of some facial tics or finger/hand stimming until people began giving me odd looks. To curb this expression and embarrassment, I walked around the lobby near where my family would reconvene.

However, I made a poor choice in hindsight. My anxiety swelled and I felt like vomiting. I began breathing heavier, and tears trickled down my cheeks. I asked for help to find my bench I left just a few minutes prior. I know that some people can be cruel by making fun of kids. People made fun of me- a 40 year old, 6’5″ man with a cane.

Not one single guest offered any compassion but worse- not one employee or designee offered help. Perhaps my stuttering, exaggerated by anxiety, made me seem less approachable. Maybe professionals are unfamiliar with some common symptoms of anxiety and/or autism. I plan to write the aquarium and ask about staff training about these two and more challenges for future guests. I do not want anyone else to have any experiences at this aquarium like I did. After what seems like hours to me, my wife and family reconnected and we decided to simply leave immediately.

When fans read our comics, my hope is we can lend legitimacy to the autism experience. In my mind, this is why none of the largest comic book creators have an autistic superhero. How could a non-autistic writer capture subtle nuances of sensory overload if they’ve never experienced it, or only experienced it second-hand? How closely will the fictional behaviors match real-life diagnostic criteria or experiences common among many person with autism? This is why we made Face Value Comics. This isn’t “just” a comic book. This is the world’s FIRST autistic comic book hero – reaching the first generation of autistic students who graduate schools largely unprepared to help them face a world that stares back with equal confusion about what to do. This post is likely an unprofessional mix of emotions and advocacy. However, one cannot remove human experiences from a…well…human experience. This post took me about an hour to write. Near its end, I finally regained powers of speech without stuttering, and I wear a band-aid where I repeatedly, absent-mindedly rubbed my skin raw from during my experience at the aquarium.

In conclusion, my heart is still pointed towards kids- kids who need heroes like themselves – like OURselves – because the real world has enough villainry and too few champions. If you’ve read this far- thank you. You are unlike the many people who walked away from an autistic adult having a sensory overload in a New Jersey aquarium.

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