Category Archives: Diversity

New Autism Advocacy Strategies…and yeah, comic books.

As Autism Awareness Month slides away, let’s reflect on new developments towards advocacy. Lately, I’ve read many blogs and memes which suggests autism as a singular experience. Instead of anti/pro-vaccination links, we find more stories about autism in the workplace. Side-stepping the person-first versus identity debate, we share our talents as authors, musicians, and painters.

As a community, I’ve seen a rising wave of SELF-Acceptance; autistic persons may want others’ approval and validation but won’t hold our breaths. Instead, we go about the business of embracing our uniqueness. More importantly, we share our successes despite our challenges.

As age and experience mount, I realize I want to be a part of this group. I believe we have more power being genuinely positive about autism than blaming others, boycotting groups we never patronize, or faulting professional helpers who forgot why they became doctors and teachers. I also realize how draining fighting social institutions becomes. For a long time – perhaps too long – I found satisfaction in polarizing “gotcha” victories. My professional network includes respected members of the Pennsylvania Congress, United States Congress, U.S. Department of Justice, and the United Nations. Sadly, I used this collective’s best practices about autism to shame or steamroll others less-informed than myself.

…but I’m learning, from you, better ways to deal with people. For example, I started #WeAut2Vote last year to encourage more voting participation within our community. Studying other social activist groups, I copied successful engaging strategies. However, this year was different. Instead of shaming a politician, I reminded our PA Congress of three distinct autism outreach programs that do good work. I reminded politicians about a growing segment of autistic individuals who now vote. I thanked each member of Congress for their work, regardless of political affiliation, in promoting equal opportunities for persons with autism.

The adage is true: you get more flies with honey than vinegar. (Question: why do we WANT to attract flies, anyway? #NoFliesInMyHouse)

To this end, I re-engage our fans with new perspectives and directions.

What will this look like? Here’re two examples:

  • Show you, not tell you. At my core, I’m a comic book junkie. I’ve met and learned from some giants in the comic book industry. This single piece of advice was repeated again and again and again and again and some more. Rather than TELL you how cool something about autism might be, I’m going to SHOW you. Gone are length or preachy caption boxes, or fumbled commentary spewed by pre-teens in our comics. Instead, our heroes overcome challenges with fewer words and more action. Violence isn’t always the best answer, either, even in a comic book. What does this mean? To tell you more would violate Principle #1; we’ll show you in upcoming issues.
  • Give back and nurture new ideas and talent. I envision starting a crowd-funding campaign to pay new artists and writers with autism, anxiety, depression, etc. Our team volunteers our experiences to overcome writers’ block or page layouts. This comic anthology is independent of Face Value Comics, so I hope your ideas are even cooler than ours. These comics will include new voices in the conversation about acceptance and tolerance. Instead of expecting DC or Marvel Comics to tell honest stories about us, WE WILL. I simply ask new talent and prospective submissions to be of a PG rating; no blood, no bombs, and no breasts as the focus of your stories. Do good work; you represent an oft-silenced minority in comic books, so have self-respect and restraint. We expect no financial compensation for this shared work because we’re paying forward some of the advice and help we got. Money raised by crowdfunding goes directly to contributors and incidental costs (i.e. printing and shipping), not us. Crowdfunding also means YOU have more responsibility to share this news with family, friends, teachers, and more.

Kids need heroes like themselves. I said that on Day One. Days Two until recently, I mistakenly believed *I* was that hero with a swelled head. Hopefully, I’ve corrected those oversights as I lay out new direction. Follow me. I want to hear your stories, and publish them. On our end, I want you to have a genuine comic book hero with autism, devoid of attention-seeking commentary or accolades. We deserve better than I’ve been, and I’m taking action on being a better man.

Kids need heroes like themselves, and new “voices” need a chance to be heard.

If you’ve read this far, you ought to see an image of some new characters in our comics. They help the Zephyr, our featured hero. Introducing, the Vultures…

Vultures 01

Do you like the Vultures? They don’t care! They will exist just fine without your approval. What other choice does this group of motorcyclist outcasts have after Dr. Moebius won the war? Also notice our hero unmasked, with a new scar. His childhood robotic aid, TESS, appears more human as time passes. What else lies in store for Face Value Comics? We’ll show ya…

BTW- did you know I like to play games? Check my other most recent blog posts!

For a chance to win a t-shirt featuring an image of the Vultures, comment with “I like the Vultures because…” and insert your reason. We will random determine a winner, and ship your t-shirt free of charge to anywhere in the United States in May 2017. G’luck!

DEAR SANTA CLAUS

Dear Santa Claus:

This year, I have tried to be a good boy. Our family made some great memories, and the children feverishly write and re-write their Wish Lists with wide eyes. Although I’ve endured some significant health threats, I find myself humbled by the experiences. In 2015, I want to ask you for some very special gifts – gifts for me and for the world.

Will you please bring me solid definitions? Many of our advocacy goals wilt against undefined or misinterpreted words. We fight wars with bullets and words, and inflict more harm with words, especially on social media. Without shared understandings, we risk continued fragmentation in any advocacy path we take.

Gender and racial identity seems as fluid as a rushing river. Too many people cling to words like “man” or “woman” or “marriage” or “race” or “special needs” without an acknowledged definition, or dangerously presuppose their definition reigns supreme. Perception becomes reality. A lot of our words used to describe a human condition take root in medical definitions. Laws try to reinterpret these definitions with little success. Worse, some words pre-date codified laws yet have semi-religious or spiritual connotations which not everyone shares. We lack cohesive, shared goals on topics that divide us because of unclear definitions. Will you please help us acknowledge language barriers within a shared spoken tongue? While we may still disagree about action or outcomes, we may do more good works if we can first recognize glaring deficiencies in our vocabulary.

Will you please bring me more compassion, too? We seem to be running low, as a society. Some groups seek racial or spiritual equality by tearing down non-members. Sometimes they recruit young people into their campaigns of prejudice despite new laws or better understandings of scientific fact. For example, a lot of information exists to discredit a long-standing argument about vaccinations’ link to autism. However, a parent of a newly-diagnosed child with autism needs compassion and support, not scientific pie charts and lectures. Despite any amount of overwhelming evidence, I cannot flaunt data to a parent whose child talked and walked prior to a vaccination; they deserve and need answers to solving their own bereavement of a childhood that may not be as typical as planned. They need solutions to new challenges in communication, in education, in self-care, and maybe many more areas. We need definitions, Santa, but also the compassion to wield those definitions. Children need more compassionate adults who stop behaving like entitled children themselves.

Without sounding greedy, may we also have more leadership who better understands these first two requests? It would be great if such a leader were also autistic, because we lack representation. Our Founding Fathers fought a great war because of such gaps in government; we cannot expect neurotypical leaders to fully understand the economic and social variables influenced by an autistic life. Maybe having equal representation could mean the same moneys get shared. A recent study now suggests that autism impacts 1 in 45 people. Knowing that only 1-in-10 autistic adults is currently gainfully employed should draw more eyes into long term planning.

Instead, we go to Twitter to decry how #BlackLivesMatter using 140 characters or less. Again, because of definitions, even this social movement finds itself mired in confusion and political trappings. Too many people misread the slogan as: “ONLYBlackLivesMatter.” Conversely, nobody would hashtag a phrase like: TooManyBlackLivesHaveBeenLostToNonBlackPoliceBrutalitySoWillSomeonePleasePayAttentionToQuestionableGovernemntalSponsoredGenocideBecauseBlackLivesMatterToo. Although cumbersome, this statement more accurately describes the Black Nationalist movement rooted within #BlackLivesMatter. When an unarmed 6 year old boy with autism was murdered in his car by police, I hoped that #BlackLivesMatter could be an ally. Since the boy was non-Black, I can expect no help from Black Nationalists, according to their own website. Add to the fact that the alleged murderer IS Black, I cannot expect help from #BlackLivesMatter, regardless of their mission against armed and reckless police with personal agendas. When #BlackLivesMatter hashtags claimed recent Parisian terrorism was a white-on-white crime, I recalled Malcolm X’s response to President Kennedy’s assassination. I also remembered a great poem about segregated victimization and abdicated defenses during World War II. When will they come for people with autism, and who will be left to stand with us? Honestly, we should rally as human beings when any threats seems to come for any one of us, regardless of height, weight, pigmentation, or self-realized identity. Somehow, by misappropriating now-ambiguous words like “white” or “woman,” we dehumanize the situation where HUMAN rights are concerned.

Black. White. Autistic. Person with Autism. Boy. Murder. By itself, each word may solicit a call to action. Blend these same words together in any combination, and some people will deny help they could give. Some people will be confused by what we need when we ask for help. Again, Santa, we lack shared definitions and enough compassion to supersede or suspend our mortal-made definitions. This Christmas, will you please bring me better operative definitions and shared compassion? I promise to share!

When a fan visits us at a comic book convention and identify themselves as “high-functioning,” what am I supposed to do with this abusive identity? Should I hold up a picture of Albert Einstein and correct their interpretation of “high-functioning?” Should I point out how, despite my own autism diagnosis, I’ve sold more published books and received more international awards than 90% of the people coming to see me? While harshly accurate, this approach does nothing to build our community, yet perpetually bragging how people should automatically presume more competence than our peers is equally damaging. Again, definitions and lack of compassion to use those words is harming our people, our country, and our shared world. We find ourselves grasping at any words to individualize us, and neglect our own self improvements. We expect words to clearly define who, what, when, where, why, and how we are…but not everyone uses these same definitions. Santa, my health and time spent understanding more about advocacy has sorely impacted our own production of comic books and toys. I need better understanding of socially-divisive words, and more compassion and humility to use words that forge real progress. I apologize in advance if I mis-spoke (mis-typed?) words that elicit anger, contempt, disgust, or fear. I am just a man, and am trying to describe what I want for the holidays- a better world, but forgive my fumbles with ambiguous words.

Thanks, Santa Claus. Please be safe when travelling this year! We’ll set out some cookies and milk for you, as always.

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!

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.