Most comic books follow a classic formula. There’s the superheroes, the villians, and of course, the epic battles of good versus evil. But Face Value comics deviates from that a little bit by featuring Michael, the series’ fearless leader who has autism.
These original comics were created by Pennsylvania-based mental health professional Dave Kot, who is autistic himself. His aim for the series? To not only help shift public perception about the disorder, but also to provide kids on the spectrum with a hero they can relate to. In the story, Michael struggles with being accepted in school, as well as other challenges that superheroes face—you know, like intergalactic invasions. In fact, in a video published on TruthAtlas, Kot explains that his favorite scene in the series is where Michael gets ready to walk into his first day of school. The page is printed upside down—but it’s not a mistake. “It might appear that Michael is upside down. He kind of is. But it was done intentionally,” Kot says. “Readers have to literally change their perspective to look at a person with autism differently than they may have expected. And that’s the point of what we’re doing with the comic book.”
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The comic’s illustrations are unique in that they focus closely on the characters’ facial expressions as a way to help readers better understand how autistic individuals respond to certain situations. “Freeze-framing a facial feature allows a reader to understand what the facial feature looks like, and that’s one level of what we’re doing with the comic book,” Kot says. “The second level uses speech bubbles to give language to what that feeling is. So you actually begin to understand, when a character says, “I’m angry,” and then you can begin to match up that language to the facial expression. The entire story helps place the situation in context, on what maybe made them angry, and what that looks like… That helps build empathy.”
Right now, Face Value comics are sold in a few independent comic books stores in central Pennsylvania. The first issue can also be digitally downloaded or ordered online. So far, the reception has been extremely positive, with Kot saying that the first run of 100 comics sold out in just a few days, right around Christmas. In-stores sales are also strong, and Kot says he’s received fan mail from people around the world. “We’re just one voice,” Kot says. “But it’s one voice that isn’t being heard in the comic book market, and it’s one voice not being heard in a lot of social advocacy. And this sets up a dialogue to be able to talk about what autism is, and what it isn’t.”
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