Front Matter of the Blog (5/12/2023)

The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE is a blog being developed into a Graphic Novel. Aspie Mouse is a character this author created when I was 12, appearing in a monthly hand-written 16-page comic book for a year and-a-half. I called him Stupid Mouse — which, given he was my alter ego, was self-demeaning. I explain why I created this character in Chapter Pre-A, the “Preface.” The renamed character, Aspie Mouse, came about decades later, when I learned — thanks to my son’s diagnosis — that I have high-functioning Autism. This graphic novel became a way to show others with Autism how “just being oneself” could get positive results (not just criticism) — by doing the unexpected.

I originally intended that the total length of this graphic novel should be around 250 pages — about average for graphic novels. Figuring on an average chapter length of 16 pages (the first three chapters I wrote were closer to 12 pages initially), I guessed I’d need 15 chapters. However, most chapters’ length kept creeping up as the initial chapters were revised and new ones were being written — growing to 25+ pages on average.

Around the same time, I decided each “action” chapter (all but the Ch. Pre-A Preface) should have chapter notes and questions for thought/ discussion. Accordingly, I reduced the number of originally projected chapters from 15 to 10. That required some re-numbering (re-lettering?), as one of the earliest chapters written was originally going to be Chapter J, but now there would be no need for a chapter letter beyond “I” — so J was renumbered (re-lettered?) as H.

But then, someone gave me good feedback: why not make Chapter H (ex-J) the FIRST chapter, even if that meant putting it out of order in the novel? I decided that sounded right, so I decided to do that. However, upon further consideration, I’d also repeat much of Ch. A’s material back where it belonged — while also adding a whole new sub-plot, doubling the the chapter’s length — as Chapter H! However, to avoid re-lettering the remaining chapters, I changed what had been Chapter A as the Preface to Chapter Pre-A, the Preface!

As I kept writing, eventually finishing a first full draft of all 10 chapters, I continued assuming these Adventures of Aspie Mouse would be a single volume of nine “action” chapters and that Pre-A “Preface.” However, as notes and questions got added, it became apparent that unless these notes & questions were moved to the blog only, the total length for a printed version would need to be more than 350 pages — maybe even 400!

So in the spring of 2023, this author decided — after four years working on these Adventures (given it’s taken way too long to get it officially published) as a print and online publication — as I kept finding new “twists” (features) to add — that breaking it up into separate volumes would allow the first set of chapters to be published quicker! But I didn’t like how chapters would be separated if I broke it after E (most logical from a page split perspective). I also recognized that new Autistic characters should be added in order to show a greater range of Autistic individuality and characteristics than what those introduced through Chapter I exhibit.

Therefore, the current intention is to produce three volumes: the first containing Ch. Pre-A and Ch’s. A-D; the second, with Ch’s E-H (with a new brief Pre-E); and the third, with currently completed (but not finalized) Ch. I, plus three likely additional chapters, J, K & L (and a likely brief Pre-I). The first volume (Pre-A & A-D) can then be published this year, 2023. Chapters A, B & C are virtually ready now. Once Chapter D gets its “final” treatment, then Ch. Pre-A will get one last makeover. At last, some of the Adventures of Aspie Mouse (at least) will be ready to publish. Once all three volumes are published separately — including those new Chapters J, K & L in Volume III — then they can be combined into a single hardback “trilogy.” It is really one continuing story, with each chapter building on those before it. The main regret I have with this decision — as necessary as I believe it is — is that it puts Chapter A and its “twin” Ch. H in separate volumes. That means a “mystery” question posed in Chapter A is probably not going to be “solved” until Chapter H (when the question is asked again). Oh well!

In the blog, the latest chapter posted or substantially revised is placed first, then Front Matter, then the other 11 chapters (or 13 with Pre-E & Pre-I) in sequence. Ignore blue “Posted” dates listed on the “Chapters” page of the blog — they’re manipulated to keep the Chapters in their intended order. Look to dates shown in the Chapter headings for what’s actually “latest.”

The goal of these “Adventures” is to help “kids” (including teens & young adults) on the Autism Spectrum see how their “unexpected” behaviors can be viewed as assets, instead of only being challenged & criticized (“Please stop doing that!”) as they too often are.

As noted elsewhere in this blog, once any given volume (I, II, III) of this graphic novel is published, completed chapters will be removed from this blog, except for Ch. Pre-A (or its abbreviated equivalent at the start of Volumes II & III) & the first page/ few pages of each of the “action” chapters in that volume. Once all 12+ “action” chapters are complete, any new chapters for a sequel will post 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 ( ASAP about submitting samples, potential compensation, etc.

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, even post-publication! It’s so easy for me as an author — 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 other wordy Aspie’s like me, as well as from those who get overwhelmed by too many words; and 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 one or any of your suggestions, don’t think you were ignored; nor did I reject you as a person! When I was a textbook acquisitions editor, I observed that when my most successful academic authors were given “peer reviews,” they were superior at separating wheat from chaff vs. my less-successful authors. 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!” I also observed that 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 I do so for the greatest benefit of my newly discovered/ adopted “tribe,” fellow “Aspies!”

For more explanation of the author’s intent in writing The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE, read past the Table of Contents below to the “Foreword”; also Chapter Pre-A (the Preface), and the notes after the early chapters (A-C especially), and in the section of the blog entitled “About Aspie Mouse Blog.

May 12, 2023


TABLE OF CONTENTS of the Chapters in each of three Volumes of the Adventures of Aspie Mouse

i-iv         Front Matter: Title Page; Dedication & Copyright Page; Table of Contents & Overview

Volume I (Chapters Pre-A through D)

34 pp.  Chapter Pre-A: Introducing Aspie Mouse (Preface – Rvsd 4/20, major overhaul 4/22)

12 pp. Chapter A: A New House, a New Cat (Final revision posted 7/31/2022)

26 pp.   Chapter B: Leaving the Nest for “MIT” (Final revision posted 8/31/2022)

30 pp.   Chapter C: There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived (Orig. 10/19; Final revision 4/9/23)

24 pp.    Chapter D: X is for Exterminator (Posted fully revised 10.7.20; final final est. 7/1/23)

Volume II (Chapters E-H with a likely new short Pre-E)

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)

Volume III (Chapters I-L with a likely new short Pre-I)

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

24 est. Chapter J: Two Special Mice: Excel and Profound – Proposed

24 est. Chapter K: Climate Change Disruption and Separation – Proposed

24 est. Chapter L: Mice are Blamed for a Ratastrophic Invasion — Proposed

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

Foreword by the Author (5/12/2023)

The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE starting as a blog, has developed into a Graphic Novel. Aspie Mouse is a character this author created when he was 12, appearing in a monthly hand-written 16-page comic book for a year and-a-half. I named him Stupid Mouse — which, given he was my alter ego, was self-demeaning. I explain more about why I created this character in the next paragraph. The renamed character, Aspie Mouse, came about decades later, when I learned — thanks to my son’s diagnosis — that I too have high-functioning Autism, and this character was and is my alter ego. This graphic novel is my way to give back, by showing others with Autism how relaxing into “being oneself” can get positive results (thriving vs. surviving — by doing the “unexpected) — not just criticism.

I started drawing comic books when I was five, after seeing a “Looney Tunes” comic book at a barber shop. I used the same format, but with my own characters and plots. I used to get very upset, however, that Tweety always bested Sylvester! I subconsciously recognized that Sylvester — like me — was socially clueless, So eventually, I created an object of prey, a mouse who was also clueless socially — his favorite activity was “playing with cats,” a mouse’s #1 predator! But he’d always escape — not by being especially clever — but by zigging when a cat zagged. Not being a particularly good artist, and ignorant about Autism, I put drawing comics aside in high school for more “serious” pursuits. In retrospect, that was a mistake! But I didn’t know who I was. Nor would I know until decades later!

Then, after my son got diagnosed with Asperger’s — just before the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders — ugh that last word!) came out and said there’s no such thing, it’s part of an Autism “spectrum” — I realized I too had “high functioning Autism” — not recognizing the symptoms earlier because mine are in many ways the opposite of how those with Autism are usually portrayed (read Ch. Pre-A). So I decided to bring back my youth’s character, rename him Aspie Mouse, and make him proud to be Autistic. It was my way to show that the most negative parts of Autism — anxiety, social cluelessness, trouble identifying feelings, black and white thinking, and meltdowns — can be reduced with help and an adjustment of attitude. Also, one trait usually seen as negative — doing the “unexpected” — is at least as positive, because it leads to true “out-of-the-box” solutions to problems.

Once I started writing, the ideas just flowed — no writer’s block! I realized I was engaging in two related passions I’d buried: a great child-like imagination to express things in words appropriate to a comic book — I never really “grew up” — and an ability to translate between the Neurotypical and Neuro-diverse worlds. As I looked over my earlier Stupid Mouse comic books, I soon realized that while the character was just as relevant today as he was decades ago, the plots of most of the earlier comic books were too short (no more than five pages) and a bit too outlandish (flying to the South Pole, etc.). I found one really good plot from the original series worth keeping (current Ch. D). Otherwise, I wrote new situations very much in the style of the earlier comic, but without “superhero” things, such as the lead character having a hard head that steel would bounce off of, or being impervious to poisons.

Aspie Mouse is seen by others as a “hero” given the many times he “saves the day.” He doesn’t see himself that way, however. He is just being himself. Thus he’s NOT a superhero — unless Autism is his “superpower!” (see References after Questions & Notes) I know most Autistic kids are into superheroes! But I felt Aspie Mouse NOT having super-powers, yet succeeding, would have more of a positive impact: “If he can do THAT, maybe I can do …!” The author believes, based on his own experience, that everyone with Autism can live a successful life on their own terms if they learn how to harness their special talents and work on minimizing the negative impact their deficits often create — especially by asking for and then accepting help.

One way Aspie Mouse is “just being himself” is when he engages in his “special interest” of playing with cats. Of course the cats aren’t playing — with one exception — but trying to kill him! So how does he survive having such a perilous “special interest?” Just as “Stupid Mouse” did decades ago, Aspie Mouse zags when the cats expect him to zig! So he’ll unexpectedly stoop down to get a crumb off the floor while two cats are chasing him; the cats crash into each other and knock each other out! Aspie Mouse then gets up, scratches his head and says, “Wow! Cats sure sleep all the time!” Yes, he’s smart, clever and innovative, but takes everything at face value (literally). Even when others tell Aspie Mouse he’s being too literal, he thinks they’re talking about him reading a lot! Also, he has no “filter.” He says whatever pops into his head. Maybe that’s ADHD behavior, but since 3/4 of those with Autism ALSO have ADHD, trying to separate out which is which is likely an unnecessary exercise. Despite these frequent “misunderstandings,” Aspie Mouse more than survives — he thrives! However, his dilemmas are often of his own making.

Throughout this graphic novel, 27 characteristics of Autism (admittedly an arbitrary number) are demonstrated by Aspie Mouse and other Autistic characters, with the emphasis placed on the positive side of each. Yes, Aspie Mouse and other Autistic characters get into certain awkward (or worse) situations due to their Autistic limitations; and their poor executive function and low processing speed robs them of access to their learned resources– often at the worst times! On the other hand, their unique positive Autistic traits get them out of trouble, at least once they learn how to keep their anxiety at an “excitement” level, vs. a “paralyzing” or “freeze” level (explained in more detail in the notes for Chapter C).

The 27 traits are itemized in a chart on page A-8; explained briefly in the panels of the revised preface (Chapter Pre-A), and often covered in more detail in chapter notes following whichever chapter seems most relevant. The chart also appears at the beginning of each chapter’s question set in this blog, and at the beginning of the separate notes/ questions section in the print version when it’s published. The 27 traits are not mentioned directly within the panels of the 11 action chapters (A – L), so unless the preface or chapter questions are assigned, these chapters can be read as entertainment — with a mostly subtle way to view Autism positively. The less this work looks like a “textbook,” the more likely it’ll be picked up and read for “fun.” That’s why in the published version — both printed and online — the notes and questions will not appear between chapters: the panels of all chapters will run consecutively (each purposely has an even number of pages, and starts on an “odd” page).

Yes, 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. Remember that Autism is a condition of opposites. So while one ASD individual 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 says a lot of words, much of the time we’re reading his thoughts more than vocalizations — if no others are around, it may be via a “talk” balloon rather than a “thought” balloon. Still, Aspie Mouse is on the “talkative” side of those with Autism, as is the boy Bobby in Ch’s. C-G. Another outspoken “Aspie” with a good deal of self-confidence (except about her/ their gender identity/ orientation) is Hashtag (Toe) in Ch’s. B & G. “Aspies” who speak less and/or more quietly include Fumio Nakamura in Ch. C, Desiree (DeeDee) in Chapter E, and Catmancan’t (the Vietnamese River Cat) in Ch. I (who says almost nothing, but has active thoughts which Aspie Mouse can “read” and then respond in kind). A mouse character with Profound Autism — who doesn’t speak at all — will be introduced in Chapter J, and turns out to be excellent in solving important problems.

Four core characteristics related to problems those with Autism experience when trying to interact with the majority (Neurotypicals) in social situations are traits (characteristics) 5-8: high anxiety (leading to responses of fight, flight or freeze); all or none/ black or white thinking; difficulty identifying and expressing feelings “appropriately”; lack of social understanding. Non-autistic “others” may well have one or two of these traits — anxiety in particular is found quite widely in many personality types. Those with Autism most often have some variation of all four! Characters in this graphic novel exhibit these traits, while showing ways to overcome them — often by accident.

Why are these four key Autism traits #5-8, not #1-4 of 27 Autism Characteristics? It’s because #1-4 are so visibly obvious, associated in many folks’ minds as key Autistic traits, even though their degree varies widely from one Autistic individual to another; and they’re more symptoms of Autism than causes (as a graphic novel, these Adventures rarely address causes). #1 (lack of eye contact) is the most visible of Aspie Mouse’s telltale “Aspie” traits — which the boy Bobby also shares — looking up (or away), rather than looking in anyone’s eyes. Hashtag, in Chapters B & G, does look others in the eye — except when really anxious. “Sensory sensitivity” and “self-regulation” differences (including unusual speech, stimming, spinning, etc.), traits #2-4, are similarly obvious behaviors associated with Autism.

#9 to 16 are positive traits associated with Autism which can have negative sides also, such as honesty (telling the truth, even blurting things out when it would be wiser to stay quiet), special interests (a problem when done at the expense of other important things to do), pattern seeking (bad when it leads to discrimination against people), problem-solving, etc. #17 to 27 are usually seen as negative Autistic traits that can have positive aspects: unaware of one’s impact, ignoring emotions, low self-esteem, lack of trust, over-sensitivity/ over-reacting, disconnected from body, unfiltered extreme thoughts, can’t recall names. How can they be positive? Read Chapter Pre-A — and the notes that accompany chapters where positive aspects of these so-called negative Autistic traits play out. In brief, by focusing on solving problems instead of spending time trying to figure out social dynamics, those with Autism can get a lot more high-end problems solved.

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 11 chapters (A through K) are designed to be read in alphabetical order. They are also sequential, in that each builds on the prior chapter or an earlier chapter. However …

(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. Ch. A’s events occur later, yet because it makes a good introduction, it’s here despite being “out of order.” To remedy that, Ch. A’s material is repeated “in context” in Ch. H (in Volume II) — with a major new subplot starting mid-p. 3 that doubles H’s length vs. A. How Aspie Mouse gets to where Ch. A & H begin — why he needs to find that new home — is explained at the end of Chapter G (also in Volume II!)

(2) Chapter Pre-A is really a preface disguised as a chapter as noted above, thus is not part of any “sequence.” Same will be true for Ch’s. Pre-E and Pre-I, which presumably will be added to Volumes II & III, serving as brief “bridges” to the earlier volumes.

(3) If you’re reading these Adventures in the Aspie Mouse blog (vs. the printed or online published version), the latest chapter posted or substantially revised is placed first, then Front Matter, then the other 12 chapters (or 14 with Pre-E & Pre-I) in sequence. Ignore blue “Posted” dates listed on the “Chapters” page of the blog — they’re manipulated to keep the Chapters in their intended order. Look to dates shown in the Chapter headings for what’s actually “latest.” In the print/ online published version, chapter panels will run together, while notes, questions & references will be listed separately after the “chapters” in that volume.

(4) Chapters A through L have “Notes” and “Questions for Discussion/ Reflection.” These Notes & Questions will likely be more than 100 pages long for all three volumes combined, so including them in a combined trilogy edition (vs. having to access online) is still not certain.

A good “sample” chapter illustrating how these chapters grew as they were written is Chapter D, “X is for Exterminator.” Starting off at 8 pages, it expanded to 24 by its fourth draft. More information about the evolution of these Adventures from what it seemed like initially to what it’s become can be found in the blog.

What’s current in society — especially events with direct impact on those with Autism — is covered within chapters, though not defined by a particular time period (except for Chapter I, which occurs early in the pandemic). 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 (and likely those which follow). 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.” While Ch. I is set during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus is 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) — in that respect, building on the recent peer interactions in Ch. H. As new Ch’s J, K & L are developed, this paragraph will likely change to accommodate their additional issues.

For more 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,” as well as Chapter Pre-A.

I hope I’m able to do what the target audience needs. I’m not writing this graphic novel for fame or money. And I still ask anyone reading this graphic novel, “What’s the impact of my behavior or words on YOU?” Asking that question has been such a gift for me in my marriage and elsewhere in my life. Here I do so to gain the greatest benefit for my newly discovered/ adopted “tribe,” fellow “Aspies!”*

May 12, 2023 Christopher R. Conty

*Aspie/ Asperger’s are controversial words. See Chapter Pre-A for some limits and rationales for their use.

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