On #NationalSuperHeroDay we revisit Face Value Comics
By Debra Muzikar
“We want our comic books to stand on their own merit,” Dave Kot says of Face Value Comics which boasts an Autistic superhero.
“I was shocked that Diamond Comic Distributors picked us up,” Dave continues. Diamond is the biggest distributor of comic books in the world.
Face Value Comics not only sold out of its first issue, it’s second issue to be released in October is on Diamond’s top 20 list for pre-orders for all comic books ever.
Dave, founder of Face Value Comics, a nonprofit, dedicated to autism awareness and acceptance, has had a life-long love affair with comic books.
“It started when I was in Kindergarten. My grandfather died and my grandmother took me to a store and said I could pick out any comic book I wanted. I picked out Issue #1 of Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. I still have it.”
“The comic book allowed me to escape into another world where the good guys always win. It gave me a way to bond with my grandmother after my grandfather died.”
Dave encourages parents and educators to sit down with students when reading his comic book.
The comic book, which I reviewed, looks and feels like a regular comic book, with good and bad guys, aliens, robots, and lots of action.
“We wanted it to have a bite,” Dave says. The series is illustrated by professional comic book illustrator, Sky Owens.
What’s different is that the characters are embedded with facial feature recognition and pro-social behaviors. It includes activity pages at the back which can be a launchpad for discussion.
The one I reviewed had an activity where you match the character’s expression to a speech bubble that contains words they would use to express their emotions. On the Face Value website is downloadable cutouts and many great articles about autism, bullying, and even depression.
“We found kids who read the comic book have a marked improvement in pro-social behavior,” Dave says.
The hero, Michael, is a middle school student who is mathematically oriented. He has a robotic aide, TESS (Therapeutic Emotive Sensory Sentinel), who helps him in school.
The series is well-thought out. The characters show consequences for behavior. For example, one of the characters, a skateboarder, who doesn’t wear safety gear crashes and hurts himself.
“We want to encourage readers to get out the dictionary or encyclopedia and look up names. All the names in the series have meanings. For example, Claudia, means lame in Latin.”
The series takes on bullying.
“After school rallies on bullying and bully awareness programs are band-aids on the problem,” Dave says. “We wanted to get to the root-cause of bullies. We wanted to look at emotional dysregulation and how it affects the surrounding peers. We wanted to identify what a bully looks like and have the peers and the bully get in touch with their own emotions.”
Emotional dysregulation includes mood swings and angry outbursts.
The comic book goes way beyond autism. “Each character has a diagnosis. I look at their diagnoses to determine what type of response they are likely to have in a given situation. Then the characters strategize to overcome their challenge. Will they always succeed? No, but they will make a heroic effort to try. They will work together to overcome their challenges.”
Dave, who is in the process of completing his Ph.D. in psychology, is familiar with bullying and not fitting in being on the autism spectrum himself.
“There is nothing I would change about myself,” he says. “Autism is a part of who I am. How I see things.” he says. Dave didn’t receive his diagnosis until he was an adult.
The second issue of his comic book features a non-verbal Autistic female character, Myra.
“I wanted to address issues related to girls with autism,” Dave says. “Girls are often diagnosed later or are often undiagnosed.”
“Myra wears black in public. Most of society doesn’t see her. At home she wears a bright rainbow-colored kimono.”
“Myra’s biggest strength is how rich of a mind she has,” Dave continues. “Thought bubbles allow us to see the inner workings of her mind.”
Myra uses an IPAD to communicate. She loves music and birds. She has a friend who she coaches.
Face Value Comics has other strong female characters.
Dave says other comic books have featured characters with ASD. “They’ve either shelved the characters or the characters were portrayed as criminals with dysfunctional behavior.”
In future series the plots will be about social issues such as curing disease, stopping hunger, and creating a society with economic parity. The lead character Michael will even time travel to the past to save the future.
In Issue #1, which I reviewed, Michael’s parents have taught him this – “Feel safe, feel wanted, and you’ll be successful.” We all want to feel safe and wanted.
Dave’s plans for the future are to make the Face Value Comics website more interactive and to create sensory-friendly toys out of some of the characters.