Front Matter (10/21/21)

The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE is a blog developing into a Graphic Novel using “comic book” panels. Its goal is to help “kids” (including teens & young adults) 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 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!

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 and person to person). 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 seems to say a lot of words, most of the time, readers are reading his thoughts more than what he says — even if it’s in a “talk” balloon rather than a “thought” balloon. AM is on the “talkative” side, as is the boy Bobby (introduced in this chapter, also on the Autism Spectrum) who’s even more verbal. An “Aspie” who is more soft-spoken is Mr. Fumio Nakamura in Ch. C. Another is Catmancan’t (the Vietnamese River Cat) in Ch. I who says little but has active thoughts, which Aspie Mouse can “read.” Another “Aspie” who speaks more than AM is Hashtag (Toe) in Chapters B & G.

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 Bobby in chapters C-G. However, other characters in this work who have Autism, such as Hashtag (Toe – Ch’s B & G) & KK (Ch’s F & G), do look others in the eye — except perhaps when really anxious. Another Aspie trait AM and Bobby share: they tell the truth, even blurting things out when it would be wiser to stay quiet!

Different Autistic characters also show different versions of “sensory sensitivity,” such as: not liking being touched physically in some ways, but almost obsessing over being physically touched in other ways; the need to be in motion to relieve anxiety — often referred to as “flapping,” which can also show up as “swaying,” fidgeting with the hands or with a fidget, and throwing one’s head back or banging one’s head on a pillow (both these are head motions the author of this work has done — the banging really upset his Scoutmaster on Boy Scout overnights!). Both AM and Bobby “flap” at different times!

Other “sensory” issues: troubled by loud noises (true for Aspie Mouse in Ch’s. A, B, G & H); being bothered by light, smells, tastes, etc., resulting in “odd” food preferences (also true for AM). “Fight” meltdowns (noted in Chapter C) that involve a lot of physical behavior can also be partially classified as “sensory” in nature.

Among so-called odd traits in social situations (purposely not referenced as “anti-social” traits here, reserving that latter term for those out to harm others, such as psychopaths and sociopaths): wanting to live or be alone vs. preferring to live with others (Aspie Mouse & Hashtag – Toe); ignoring common courtesies and table manners, and not knowing how to engage in idle chit-chat and other behaviors (how close to another to stand, when to enter a conversation, etc.) to put others at ease; and ignoring social norms in gender/ age 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 to 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, though it gets a bit more nuanced toward the end. Because Ch. A’s events are designed to occur later, its material is repeated “in context” in Ch. H. That latter Ch. H, gets a major new subplot starting mid-page Three. It doubles H’s length vs. A, and makes it worth re-reading the material repeated from Ch. A now in context. How Aspie Mouse gets to where Ch. A begins — why he needs to find that new home — is explained at the end of Chapter G.

(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. So Ch. Pre-A is “not in sequence” at all, or even designed to be read, except by caregivers.

(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 blue “Posted” dates listed on the “Chapters” page — they’re manipulated to keep the Chapters in their intended order. Look to dates shown in the Chapter headings for what’s “latest.”

(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 separately available in the blog for instructor/ parent use. Why separate? First, to not interrupt the flow from chapter to chapter (and not seem like a textbook). Second, because at 80+ pages, these notes & questions would likely make the graphic novel run too long. They’re only likely to be included within chapters IF the chapters are released separately or the book is released as separate Parts I & II (& maybe III).

As of August 27, 2021, all chapters were complete — in some form. The most complete and revised “sample” chapter (with a full set of Questions) is still probably Chapter D, “X is for Exterminator.” Starting off at 8 pages, it expanded to 24 by its fourth draft. With Ch. B now revised and expanded to match the format of the other chapters, only the last few pages of Chapter C (and probably all of Pre-A) remain needing true revision prior to publication. B & C were originally written pre-10/19, when pages were differently sized, panels weren’t separated by a ribbon of space, and words in balloons weren’t as uniformly sized.

Getting a new artist and inking all words and drawings are still under consideration, but neither is deemed essential, at least for a first edition. Pencil smears, but it’s also easier to erase and change. Drawing in pencil also allows “shades of gray” (the technical term is screens) vs. just black lines of uniform darkness on white paper. By the end of October, 2021, a publishable draft should be ready to send to agents and publishers — or maybe self-publish first.

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.”

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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 – Revised 4/2020, updated, revision due)

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)

26 pp.   Chapter B: Leaving the Nest for “MIT” (Posted 4/19; 1st 4 pp. revised 8/20; fully revised 8/27/21)

30 pp.   Chapter C: There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived (Orig. 10/19; revising 10/21)

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)

33 pp. Chapter I: At the Zoo During a Pandemic (1st 6 pp 5.18.20; finished, posted as 33 pp., 6.6.21)

Appendix: Chapter Notes & Questions for Thought/ Discussion – Complete for most chapters, included in with Chapters in blog).

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 (chris@aspiemouse.com) ASAP about submitting samples, potential compensation, etc.

A tracking of the changes made post-10/2019: Ch. Pre-A was 4 pages, it’s now 12 — and it will be revised again; Ch. D grew from 8 to 24 pp. in 4 stages. Ch’s. B just grew from 10, then 12, to 26 now; Ch. C is is almost finished with its revision/ reformatting; it will also be a bit longer (going from 24 to 30 pp.), but not to the same extreme as Ch’s B & D grew in revision. Chapters E, F, G & I were all written after 10/2019, mostly in 2020 during the early months of the pandemic: their length is unlikely to change much.

As most chapters’ length kept creeping up as they were written and revised — the average growing to 24+ 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: about 256 pages (plus notes, questions — which in the print version will either all go in the back of the book, so as not to interrupt the flow of the graphic novel nor make it too textbook-like — or just be available online).

The new Chapters E, F, G & I, written after the chapter number reduction, collectively average 25+ pages. Chapter G is now the longest, at 36 pages; Ch. I next at 33 (likely 34); 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 that 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 also to 24 pages, same as Ch. D. Before Ch’s. B & C were revised, half the chapters (five of ten) were at 24 pages. But Ch. B’s recent revision ended up at 26 pages, and C is going up from 24 to 30 pages (third longest), leaving three 24-page chapters (D, F, H).

As the chapters developed, they’ve more reflected 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, Aspie Mouse 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 him 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 also gets into depression and its relationship to 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 many suggestions made so far that have been implemented to some extent. 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 –“let go” of what’s best not to keep holding onto, such as negative judgments — vs. getting “stuck.”

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,” these great authors 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!”

October 21, 2021 Christopher R. Conty

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