Thursday, January 25, 2018

Kindness Works, an Archie comic on autism

by Mike Rhode

Recently I saw an article about Nancy Silberkleit, Archie Comics' co-CEO, publishing a comic about with a new autistic character. Since I've written a little about what's now being called graphic medicine, I sent her an email asking how to get a copy of the Kindness Works comic.

Much to my surprise, she called me to talk about the comic. We chatted for a few minutes, and I took some notes which are combined here with some e-mail exchanges:

The new character Scarlet in the Archie Comic family is a lovely young teen at Riverdale High skilled in building anything. She cherishes friends, but has difficulty expressing friendship or showing how she desires inclusion. She reacts differently to situations such as sounds and light.  Scarlet is neurodiverse, she is a person with autism. (The term neurodiversity is now trending for people with autism). Physically she has a little pony tail that flows to the side over her long hair and she wears glasses.

The comic shows the Li'l Archie characters interacting with Scarlet when they were young, and then re-encountering her as she transfers into the Riverdale High School. Some people such as Principal Weatherbee, Archie and Betty welcome her, while Reggie is his usual thoughtless self. The story is by Ray Felix, with pencils by Fernando Ruiz, inks by Dheeraj Jimar Mishra and letters by Andrew Thomas.

When writing this, Silberkleit wanted to "touch one's gut, one's funny bone, and one's mind. Scarlet being called 'weird' hits you in the gut; Hot Dog pulling on Reggie onto a barely-frozen pond touches your funny bone (and is based on a thought I had while walking my dog), and the whole comic touches your mind. I want people to understand our differences and value them to make the world a better place.

The comic is currently only being distributed electronically from Silberkleit via Paypal. She says she wants to make sure it gets a wide distribution via personal contacts and not be sidelined by the short shelf-life of one of the digests.

I am taking a hands-on approach to distribution. Inclusion is a global issue and when I use the word inclusion, it means there are folks in global societies that have to deal with exclusion, the act of isolation. That is the worst injustice that can happen to a person. I like to spark hope within people and see if I can get folks to be on a path to understand people's differences. Kindness Works is dealing with a population that has difficulty in expressing their desire for kindness and inclusion.

I feel emotional about this topic and want to see how I can help one get through the day, and in turn, hope I have sparked that individual to do the same, to spread inclusion and kindness . We are all on this planet for 76 years give or take - to me it's a short time. There was a little boy who said do as much as you can in the time you have; our talented team at Archie comics is doing just that with this wonderful story created for us.

This short comic also resonated with me for personal reasons. When I was in middle school in New Jersey in the 1970s, one town over from where Silberkleit was working as a teacher in Paramus, we had a class of autistic students that didn't interact with the rest of the school. I distinctly remember one time when 'normal' students were picking on one of the autistic kids who responded by yelling and chasing them down the hallway. I didn't like that treatment of him then, and I don't like to see it now. I work with people who have autistic children at home, and try to listen and be sensitive to the different issues they face. Anything, including a comic story, that reinforces the lesson of treating others as you'd like to be treated is worth supporting and especially teaching to children.

To order your copy, go to PayPal and send #1.99 to 

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