Chapter C is complete. However, it’s the last chapter not fully resized. re-paneled and with consistent type sizes for dialogue — to match the format of the graphic novel’s other nine chapters. As of 9/23/21, the first 11 pages (C1-11) have been revised (matching in format the last four pages, which were revised in 2020). Note there’s already been a 2-page increase from the prior version: thus the “new” C-11 is then followed by the “old” C-10 (with minor overlap)!
Basic plot: A family of four humans brings in a cat from an elderly neighbor who has Autism; the cat has a mental health issue (antisocial personality disorder that makes his behavior dangerous to others, which Autism does not). The cat, Brilli, rids the house of mice, but does so in nasty ways. Aspie Mouse, fresh from his fine performance at the mouse “MIT,” moves in — liking that it has a cat and no other mice — and disregarding a neighbor mouse’s concerns about AM’s safety. Once in, Aspie Mouse decides to play with the cat, which is a greater challenge than any cat he’s ever met. Brilli, the cat, is also challenged more by AM than any other mouse she’s tried to catch and kill. After escaping many of the cat’s attempts to catch and kill Aspie Mouse (who still thinks the cat’s playing — even being helpful), AM almost gets caught by this ultimate “bully,” but another “Aspie” saves the day. Brilli makes one more attempt to catch AM, but fails, and she is then sent away to join a strange circus. Bobby (the human household boy) and Aspie Mouse figure out they can read each others’ minds — Brilli can read both AM’s & Bobby’s minds — and they’re getting better at reading hers.
THIS CHAPTER NEEDS READER INPUT MORE THAN MOST, because it’s the one chapter where an animal repeatedly kills other animals — in nasty, torturing ways .It’s also the only chapter where Aspie Mouse needs to be rescued — albeit by another character with Autism. The author is seeking input as to whether the cat character Brilli and her “love of killing mice” causes problems for parents, teachers, librarians, etc. with particularly sensitive kids (with or without Autism).
This revised version of pages C-6 through C-9 has toned things down a bit from the original version of these pages. True, it’s a cat — not a mouse — that is the bully doing the killing — and cats do kill a lot of small animals (a billion birds a year in the U.S.? Or is it several billion? Plus mice, moles, chipmunks, etc.). Besides being toned down, those pages which have been the most graphic — C-6 through C-9 — are easy to skip. How these pages have been softened: the mice being killed are more anonymous — they won’t speak, scream or otherwise be personalized; also, while mice will be “bashed,” but there will be no blood or gore (even if blood is mentioned) — in the spirit of comics and cartoons from the 1950’s and ’60’s.
A RELATED QUESTION: What do you think of how this chapter presents Brilli the cat as a character who’s a combination psychopath/ sociopath; she has a Type B Personality Disorder: Antisocial Personality Disorder)? So while she MAY have a couple or so autistic traits, she is so overwhelmingly psycho/ socio-pathic that at her core, any Autism she may have is incidental at most. The chapter-end notes and questions go to great lengths to make this difference clear. Yes, common wisdom says dogs are Neurotypical, while cats are Autistic. Not in their passion for killing they aren’t! Brilli goes even further “over the edge” by getting special pleasure over killing mice in outrageous ways. This difference — ASD vs. APD — matters!
The question is whether Brilli as presented appropriate for the bottom ages of the intended audience (late elementary school). What alterations/ toning down — if any — beyond what’s already been done — might be considered? Should the author move Brilli’s killings even more “off stage”? Should this chapter be toned down in other ways? Or should the Author keep it as is — with or without the warning currently there? The warning is designed to alert those easily bothered by this chapter’s toughest parts to skip over these pages — while being assured they’ll still be keeping up with the chapter’s action when it continues at the top of page 10 after the four somewhat graphic pages.
Notes for Chapter C, “There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived“
Chapter C is the fourth chapter of ten — counting Pre-A as a chapter. However, it’s the first chapter where human characters appear as primary actors more or less throughout. Humans are part of every chapter, with roles varying from central (Ch’s C, D, E & G), to secondary but important (Ch’s A, F & H) to trivial but teachers of life lessons (Ch. I).
The humans in this chapter are comprised of a family of four and an elderly man moving to assisted living. One notable point: two of the five humans have some form of Autism — the elderly man (Fumio Nakamura) and the family boy (Bobby Coppola). Their Autism — especially Bobby’s — plays a central role in the ongoing development of this graphic novel, as he and his Autism are significant aspects of five chapters (C-G). Mr. Nakamura does not appear in person after the initial pages of this chapter, but his influence continues later in this chapter and Ch. G.
With the introduction of human characters in this graphic novel comes the issue of naming them. The author has thought long and hard about naming each human character. On the one hand, the author rejects the usual practice of using “safe” Anglo-Saxon names, as has often been done in television, movies and books — in favor of reflecting the diversity he experiences in today’s America, and from having grown up in an ethnically diverse Bronx Public Housing Project, where the only people with “WASP” names were Black. On the other hand, using ethnic names invites stereotyping, and — as the author himself experienced — ridicule: being called “Christopher Columbus” in early grades; it got uglier later, when kids “mispronounced” the O in Conty — made worse when he didn’t know what they meant until senior year of high school!
Therefore, the author know he’s treading a fine line here, as he also resists “reverse stereotyping,” despite knowing an Asian violinist named Ian Swensen, and a woman whose brother was Brian Michael Flannery at his Bar Mitzvah. So here’s some background on the names chosen for Chapter C’s humans. Fumio Nakamura: first name honors a 5th grade classmate; last name was inspired by a newspaper deliverer. The Coppola family is more generic, given the author has many friends of Italian origin, including his own 1/4 Italian heritage — the “I” in Conti was changed to a “Y” by my Irish grandmother to disguise its origin. That said, anyone who’s offended by my use of a name, please let me know. I don’t mean offense, and will consider changing names in subsequent editions/ versions.
As noted above, Chapter C is the most violent/ possibly disturbing chapter, though toned down from its first draft. Comments on whether or not and/ or how to further tone down the scenes of mice being slaughtered by the diabolical cat “Brilli” are of course welcomed. An important point to stress is that yes, Brilli (the cat) has a “differently wired brain,” but UNLIKE those with Social Pragmatic Differences or Disorders such as AD(H)D, OCD, Bi-polar and Autism, Brilli has what is referred to as a Type B Personality Disorder, specifically antisocial personality disorder — which includes both psychopaths & sociopaths.
Other Type B PD’s are borderline p.d., histrionic p.d. and narcissistic p.d. (dictatorially-inclined politicians and strong-men are usually pointed to as having “extreme narcissism, which can make for an interesting class discussion given recent world and national leaderships)! What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? Psychopaths pretend to care how others feel but don’t; display cold-hearted behavior; don’t notice others’ distress; have fake, shallow relationships; maintain normal life as cover for criminal activity; fail to form genuine emotional attachments; they may love others — in their own way . Sociopaths make it clear they don’t care what others feel; hot-headed, impulsive with fits of rage; know what they do is wrong but rationalize it; can’t maintain regular work & family life; can form emotional attachments, but it’s difficult. Brilli is probably neither fully psychopath nor fully sociopath, but a combination. (Source of above: “How sociopaths are different from psychopaths” by Marcia Purse; verywellmind.com, updated 6.15.2020)
It’s very important, from my (the author’s) perspective to make it clear over and over to readers that Brilli does NOT have Autism! He has an Antisocial Personality Disorder. Period! She may have a few of the traits, as do many (most?) Neurotypicals; after all, it IS a spectrum! — some traits found in some Aspies, such as being overly emotional and overly dramatic, and especially finding it difficult to take another’s perspective — at least in terms of relating to how another feels — are also characteristic of sociopaths per above. However, there’s a key difference: sociopaths use these behavior traits in a calculated way to get what they want — and what they want is usually control — in a very bad way for whomever they want to control — whereas for those with Autism, these things just happen; there’s no antisocial intent.
Is it possible to have Autism AND be a Sociopath? Possibly, but it’d be rare. And be a Psychopath? Virtually impossible, as psychopaths are very adept at “blending in” with society, whereas those with Autism struggle their whole lives to “fit in.” There is no ill intent when those with Autism have dramatic outbursts derived from frustration, even if they break things (as some do). Nor do Aspies usually want to hurt those whose point of view they have trouble seeing. Many — maybe even most — Aspies, are empathetic to the hurt of others. Yes, those with Autism often have antisocial thoughts, even violent ones. But they rarely act on those thoughts: partly it’s because their violent thoughts are usually directed at anonymous others or famous people they don’t know; partly they know better than to act on — or often even disclose — these weirder fantasies; and partly because they are already anxious enough, and don’t need any more trouble, and anxiety shuts down an Autistic person’s Executive Function, so they’re more likely to freeze than act out these fantasies.
By the way, this may be a good place to discuss the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. A tantrum may be calculated to get a desired result; whereas a meltdown just happens as a result of elevated anxiety and a shutdown of executive function. A meltdown can come in at least three varieties, in response to fear or anxiety: fight, flight or freeze! (Source: Been There, Done That … by Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014)
A sociopath may have a tantrum, but it’s rarely a true meltdown — their emotional reactions — often in anger — are more likely calculated to get a response!
Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch. C, “There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived”
C 1: At the beginning of this chapter, Mrs. Coppola seems very upset with her son Bobby’s behavior, whereas the elderly neighbor who’s moving out seems to be far more understanding.
- What does Mr. Nakamura (the neighbor) say is the reason he’s more understanding of Bobby’s “rude” behavior? If you’ve had problems with parents or teachers calling your behavior “rude” or “unacceptable,” have you also had someone in your life like Mr. Nakamura who is more understanding? Discuss!
- Have you had a key parent, other relative, teacher, etc. who was (or maybe still is) denying your Autism (that you have it, or maybe accepts it a little, but ignores how it really affects your life) as Mrs. Coppola seems to be doing with Bobby’s? If so, what trouble has that caused you? If such person/ people at some point finally “got it,” how has that changed your relationship, and (if it has) how you feel about yourself? If not, how do you believe their understanding would affect you?
- Did you ignore your own Autism (if you have it) or that of a relative or friend (if you don’t yourself)? If yes, how did that affect you until you realized you or they have it?
- What Autistic traits does Mr. Nakamura show by his behavior, if any? What Autistic traits does Mr. Nakamura admit to having (now and/ or earlier in life) in what he says that you don’t see him doing?
- Mr. Nakamura talks about the “Nisei” (Japanese Americans): what happened to them (and him) in World War II. What do you know about the way Japanese Americans were treated during WWII? Why do you believe German-Americans weren’t treated the same, even though the U.S. concentrated on fighting Nazi Germany first, with much more commitment in terms of troops, armaments, etc.?
- What experience do you have with people who have Autism being treated differently because of their race, country of origin, immigrant status, religion or other visible difference? How have you treated such people differently (if you have)? If you have Autism or another related difference, do you have more or less sympathy/ empathy for others of different races, religions, etc. because of your own difference?
- Mr. Coppola has a different point of view about Bobby than does Mrs. Coppola. While his point of view will become clearer in following chapters, what are the differences in THIS chapter? Have you seen this difference in your own parents, or parents of someone you know with Autism?
C 2: As we first meet the Coppola family as Mr. Nakamura gives them his cat Brilli, the brother Bobby & sister Claire seem to bother/ tease/ fight with each other a lot. (Similar questions are also found at the end of Ch. A — for Aspie Mouse — and Ch. D for these same two children).
- If you live or lived with one or more other children growing up, how do/ did you and they get along? Do you believe it was different from other siblings if one of you has Autism or a related condition and the other does not?
- Same situation (grew up with other kids, Autistic or not): Was there jealousy — complaints about fairness — about parents’ treatment about achievement, abilities, success, attention, and how rules were applied to you vs. them? Do/ did such complaints go both ways, or did you or another child complain a lot more, at least in your memory? Would the other child(ren) likely agree on who complained more?
- If you’re an only child, did you wish you had a brother or sister or both? How might life have been different?
- If you grew up with other kids at home, did you often wish you were an only child? How might life have been different?
C 3: Brilli the cat also has a “differently wired brain.” But unlike those with “Socially Pragmatic Differences” such as ADHD, OCD, Bi-polar and Autism, Brilli’s cold-hearted desire not to just kill but torture, mice indicates a Cluster B personality disorder — antisocial personality disorder, combining psychopath & sociopath traits. While there can be an occasional overlap in a few traits (as there can be for Neurotypicals with those with Autism), Brilli is NOT Autistic. She has no feelings for those she tortures/ kills. Those with Autism may not easily take another’s perspective, but most do have empathy and have good intentions for the greater good. Also, when Aspie’s have meltdowns, they just happen, they’re not calculated; not so for sociopaths in particular. For more information on Cluster B personality disorders, see chapter notes above.
- Why do you think Brilli is quiet and says nothing — trying not even to think anything — at the beginning of the chapter, when she’s being transferred from Mr. Nakamura to the Coppola’s?
- Why do you think Brilli is afraid of Bobby, but not any of the other Coppola’s, even at the beginning of the chapter (assume he can’t foresee” the future)?
- Have you met anyone like Brilli, in that they may try to be nice, but seem to have evil intentions?
- What makes Brilli the cat afraid of what she does or think in the presence of Mr. Nakamura?
- Humans and animals like cats and dogs kill other animals for food — and sometimes even for recreation (cats & dogs in homes that don’t eat their kill; human hunters) — but what makes Brilli’s statement that she “… can’t stop. Just feels good to see others suffer” very different?
- How clear are you that Brilli is NOT mostly Autistic — even if she may have a couple of Autistic traits? What’are the key differences?
- What would you do if you heard someone you knew say they liked seeing others suffer? What would you do if you heard someone you knew say they purposely did something to make one or more others suffer? What would you say if someone said they were planning to make someone suffer? How clear are you that someone who likes seeing or hearing about someone suffering is DIFFERENT from someone who acts upon that by causing suffering?
- How clear are you that thinking about, watching or hearing about causing death, mayhem, suffering, etc. are “free speech,” as long as that person does not act on such a fantasy, no matter how horrible it sounds to someone else?
C 4: After Brilli’s arrival, the Coppola family’s dynamics shift after she captures all the mice. We also finally meet Mr. Tom Coppola, the dad. And we see that parents are not perfect, as even parents who seem to understand a child’s Autism may have “blind spots.”
- Where does each parent show disrespect for Bobby’s Autism with their words, starting on Page 10?
- Where does each parent show understanding — even respect — for Bobby’s Autism with their words (again, starting on page 10)?
- Which parent is primarily convinced Bobby is the one who tortured the mice? What are the justifications offered for that point of view?
- Which parent is primarily convinced Bobby is NOT guilty of torturing the mice? What are the justifications offered for that point of view?
- Do you relate to Bobby? In what ways? Do you relate to Claire? In what ways? Do you identify with either parent? In what ways?
- When have you been accused of doing something you didn’t do? How did you respond? What ended up happening? If the parent or teacher found out you really didn’t do it, how did they “make amends”?
- When have your fantasies led to a negative behavior affecting yourself? Affecting others? What happened as a result of one affecting others? How do you handle disturbing fantasies — or don’t you have any?
- What are the biggest “blind spots” you see in one or more parents, teachers, counselors, etc. concerning whatever “differences” you may have? How have you tried to get others to see their blind spots? Did it work? What blind spots might you have concerning your own or others’ Autism and/ or other “differences”?
C ?: Per Question A 7: a list of common Autism traits, followed by two questions related to them:
- No eye contact
- Sensory sensitivity: noise, certain lights, smells & touch
- Voice Volume, Repetition & Variability
- Stimming (repetitive body or hand movements)
- Anxiety (fear) of social situations: responses of fight, flight or freeze
- Over-sensitivity: over-reaction or no visible reaction (mistaken as not caring)
- Pattern-seeking/ solving problems in unique ways
- Special Interest(s)
- Love routine/ dislike change
- Lack of Social Understanding
- Can’t remember names or faces, read body language etc.
- Not Showing or Over-showing Feelings
- Don’t Understand Jokes
- Difficulty getting & keeping friends, relationships & jobs
- Difficulty feeling safe, really trusting others
- Sharing one’s diagnosis — should I or not? When & where?
a. Which of these characteristics can you identify that Aspie Mouse or another Autistic rodent or human character exhibits in this chapter — either negative or positive? How about a non-autistic character? Feel free to skip any characteristic already answered in chapter-specific questions above.
b. Do you find examples in this chapter of cats or other non-rodent animals acting Autistic? If yes, how?