The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE is a blog developing into a Graphic Novel using “comic book” panels. Its goal is to help “kids” on the Autism Spectrum see how their “unexpected” behaviors can be rewarded, as well as challenged & criticized as they usually seem to be.
Aspie Mouse, while seen by others as a “hero” (purposely NOT a superhero), he doesn’t see himself that way. He is just being himself: that means he likes to play with cats, yet the cats aren’t playing, but are trying to kill him. So how does he survive? He zags when the cats expect him to zig! So two cats will crash into each other and knock each other out, and Aspie Mouse scratches his head and says, “Wow! Cats sure sleep all the time.” He’s very clever, but takes everything at face value (literally). Even when others tell Aspie Mouse he’s being too literal, he thinks they’re talking about reading a lot! Yet more than surviving, he thrives!
So Aspie Mouse displays a range of Autistic behaviors. However, Autism shows up so differently from person to person (and in this graphic novel, animal to animal). Also, it’s a condition of opposites, so while one Aspie says very little and speaks in a monotone, another talks a lot, asks a lot of questions and speaks as if on stage all the time. Aspie Mouse can’t really be both. So while he tends to use a lot of words, most of the time, readers are more often reading his thoughts than what he says — even if it’s in a “talk” balloon rather than a “thought” balloon. Another “Aspie” who is more soft-spoken is Mr. Nakamura in Ch. C.
One of Aspie Mouse’s telltale “Aspie” traits is that he’s always looking up, not looking in the eye of whoever he’s with. This is also a trait of the boy in chapters C-G, Bobby, who is also on the Spectrum. However, other characters in this work who have Autism, such as Hashtag (Ch’s B & G) & KK, do look others in the eye — except perhaps when really anxious. Yet another “Aspie” trait of both AM and Bobby: they tell the truth, even blurting things out when it would be wiser to stay quiet!
Another trait shown in different Autistic characters is “sensory sensitivity,” such as: not liking being touched physically in some ways, but almost obsessing over being physically touched in other ways; having trouble with loud noises; being bothered by light, smells, tastes, etc., resulting in “odd” food preferences. Also raised: wanting to live alone vs. preferring to live with others; not paying attention to social norms in gender attraction and/ or gender identity — though there is no “sex” in this work, and the naked animals are not anatomically correct.
While the target age for this graphic novel is 10-15 — as for similar graphic novels — older teens and young adults have responded well to the blog. Not surprising, as the emotional age of those on the Autism Spectrum is generally 2/3 or 3/4 of their chronological age.
The ten chapters (Pre-A through I) are designed to be read in alphabetical order and are sequential (each builds on the prior chapter) — EXCEPT:
(1) Chapter A is meant to be read first as a relatively simple warm-up featuring a cat-mouse chase. How Aspie Mouse “got there” (why he needs a new home), will be explained at the end of Chapter G. To put this material “in context,” Chapter H repeats nearly all of Ch. A. However, Ch. H adds a major new subplot starting mid-page three, doubling H’s length vs. A — making the repeated material worth re-reading.
(2) Chapter Pre-A is really a preface disguised as a chapter. It gives the philosophy and origins of this work. Primarily for parents and teachers, “kids” who like graphic novels — on and off the Autism Spectrum — may learn more about Autism by reading it.
(3) In the blog, the latest chapter posted or substantially revised is placed first, then Front Matter, then Pre-A (preface), and then the other eight chapters in sequence. Ignore “Posted” dates — they’re manipulated to keep the Chapters in their intended order.
(4) Chapters A through I have “Notes” and “Questions for Discussion/ Reflection.” While they appear at the end of each chapter in the blog, when the book is officially “published,” notes and questions will either be in the back of the book, or (more likely) separately available in the blog for instructor/ parent use. Why separate? First, not interrupt the flow from chapter to chapter (to not seem like a textbook). Second, because at 80 pages, these notes & questions would likely make the graphic novel run too long.
As of May 28, 2021, all chapters have been completed in some form except Ch. I (20 pages done of a likely 32). The most complete and revised “sample” chapter (with a full set of Questions) remains Chapter D, “X is for Exterminator.” Starting off at 8 pages, it expanded to 24 by its fourth draft. After finishing Ch. I, the author will upgrade and expand Ch’s. B & C to match the format of the other chapters — they were originally written pre-10/19 when pages were sized differently, panels weren’t separated by a ribbon of space, and words in balloons weren’t more uniformly sized.
Getting a new artist and inking all words and drawings are both under consideration, but we may not do either. Pencil smears, but it’s also easier to erase (and then re-do). Drawing in pencil also allows “shades of gray” (the technical term is screens) vs. just black lines of uniform darkness on white paper. The plan is to have all chapters complete at least in a first draft to send to agents and publishers by Mid-May, 2021.
For a more in-depth explanation of the author’s intent in writing The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE, read past the Table of Contents below; the notes after Chapter A; and in the section of the blog entitled “About Aspie Mouse Blog.”
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THE “CHAPTERS” IN THE ASPIE MOUSE BLOG ( & Graphic Novel)
i-iv Front Matter: Title Page; Dedication & Copyright Page; Table of Contents & Overview
12 pp. Chapter Pre-A: Introducing Aspie Mouse (Preface – Major Revision 4/2020, update Oct.)
12 pp. Chapter A: A New House, a New Cat (Old J 1/19; rvsd 10.25.20; Ch. H repeats w/ new mat’l)
12+ pp. Chapter B: Leaving the Nest for “MIT” (Posted 4/2019; First 4 pages revised 8/20, will add)
24+ pp. Chapter C: There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived (Posted fully 10/2019, to re-do)
24 pp. Chapter D: X is for Exterminator (Posted 4th & final version – pre-pub – 10.7.20)
16 pp. Chapter E: Therapy Dog Needs Therapy (1st 3 pp. posted 7.20.20 … last 4 pp. 12.31.20)
24 pp. Chapter F: Klumsy Kat, But Only When Anxious (pp 1,2 8.20.20; done 1.28.21)
36 pp. Chapter G: Parade of Visitors: Feline, Canine, Rodentine & Humine (fully posted 4.15.21)
24 pp. Chapter H: New House, New Cat, New “Nay”bors (Posted 1/19 (J), Rvsd as H, 10.27.20; see A)
32 est. Chapter I: At the Zoo During a Pandemic (1st 6 pp 5.18.20; 1st 27 pp & last pg posted 6.6.21)
Appendix: Chapter Notes & Questions for Thought/ Discussion – Ch.’s A-I (partially done for most chapters, included in with Chapters in blog), Ch. D complete; Ch’s A, E, F & H are pretty complete.
All ten (ex-9) chapters of “The Adventures of Aspie Mouse” have been posted in some form. As noted elsewhere in this blog, once the graphic novel is published, completed chapters will be removed from this blog, except for Ch. Pre-A & the first page/ few pages of each of the other nine chapters. Comments remain welcome even post-formal publication! Once all ten chapters are complete, new chapters for a projected sequel will be posted to the blog as they are developed, until they too get published.
Any artist (especially one on the Autism Spectrum) who thinks s/he can improve upon the artwork in this blog is invited to contact the author (firstname.lastname@example.org) ASAP about submitting samples, potential compensation, etc.
As a result of the changes post- 10/19: Ch. Pre-A was 4 pages, it’s now 12; Ch. D grew from 8 to 24 pp. in 4 stages. Ch’s. B & C are also expected to grow (B from 12 to 16; C from 24 to 28), though not by as much, as they already started expanding as they were written. New Ch’s E, F, G & I (E & F are complete) should collectively average 25+ pages. Chapter G is anticipated to be the longest, at 36 pages, with Ch. I next at about 32 pages; Ch’s Pre-A & A are tied at 12 pages each for shortest; Ch. E is next shortest (16 pages). Ch. H is 24 pages (double Ch. A or its Ch. J forebear), thanks to a major new sub-plot around social class & bullying. While Ch. F was originally expected to be as short as Chapter E, a new sub-plot involving rats invading the house next door increased it to 24 pages.
As most chapters’ length kept creeping up as they were written and revised — the average growing to 23 pages from 12 — the author reduced the number of projected chapters from 15 to 10. So along with front matter, the final work projects to be at a typical length for a print graphic novel: 224-256 pages. It would need 80 pages more if Notes/ Questions are in the book (in back, not at the end of chapters), which is why they’re more likely at this point to be online only as an “instructor’s guide.”
As the chapters have developed, they more reflect what’s current in society, especially events with direct impact on those with Autism. Thus Chapter E (Therapy Dog …) touches on Black Lives Matter concerns, albeit modestly, along with loneliness and the use of therapy animals. Race, social class and “difference” issues come up again in Ch’s. G, H & I. in Ch. H, AM has uncomfortable interactions with four mouse brothers who initially don’t trust him; Ch. H also confronts bullying. Ch. F (Klumsy Kat) features a character with “multiple disabilities (challenges),” along with issues around separation/ being “sent away.” Ch. I is set during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a focus on Aspie Mouse’s interaction with zoo animals — especially the often awkward social interactions those with Autism often have with peers (which for AM is other rodents), building on the peer interaction issues in Ch. H. Anxiety (the most commonly self-reported issue among those with Autism) is covered frequently, as is difficulty understanding non-Aspie’s and vice-versa. Chapter I gets into depression, comparing it with anxiety.
Thanks for all the feedback I’ve received! Art upgrades; moving Chapter H (ex-J) material up to create a new Chapter A; paring down dialog, are among the many suggestions made so far that have been implemented. I encourage you to keep them coming! It’s so easy for me — when I get excited by an idea — to lose perspective as to how it might “land” on others. So I’ve learned I need feedback (from wordy Aspie’s like me, along with those who get overwhelmed by too many words; also from Neurotypicals trying to learn more about Autism). Having learned not to take criticism personally, I WELCOME ALL FEEDBACK — especially as to my IMPACT on others! I’m also learning to become a witness and not a judge of my own behavior and the behavior/ words of others (a Jungian concept that I’d heard for years before I “got” it). It reduces my feelings of anxiety, anger and shame, allowing me to learn from what I’ve done and move on, vs. getting “stuck” and not letting go of past negativity.
If I don’t implement your suggestion, don’t think you were ignored; nor did I reject you as a person! Goes back to when I was a textbook acquisitions editor: I observed that when I got my successful academic authors “peer reviews,” they were good at separating wheat from chaff. They knew what fit — or even improved upon — their vision, while passing on other well-intended reviewer suggestions that didn’t. As 12-step programs suggest, “Take what you like and leave the rest!” My less successful authors often (a) ignored reviewer suggestions, (b) were unable to implement them, or (c) tried to appease reviewers by doing everything they suggested, leading to an unwieldy mess.
My intention is to do what my successful authors did: take to heart what fits — and leave the rest! I hope I’m able to do what the target audience needs. I’m not writing this graphic novel or asking others, “What’s the impact of my behavior or words on YOU?”for fame or money (though asking that question has been such a gift for me in my marriage and elsewhere in my life, but for the greatest benefit of my newly discovered/ adopted “tribe” — fellow “Aspie’s!”
June 6, 2021 Christopher R. Conty