Front Matter (1/25/22)

The Adventures of ASPIE MOUSE is a blog developing into a Graphic Novel of 10 Chapters (nine “action” chapters and a preface listed as a “chapter”) 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, instead of being challenged & criticized as they usually are.

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 either — unless Autism is his “superpower!” The author believes, based on his own experience, that anyone 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.

One way Aspie Mouse is “just being himself” is when he engages in his “special interest” of liking to play with cats, even though almost always the cats aren’t playing, but trying to kill him! So how does he survive having such a perilous “special interest?” He 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 instead of catching him, and knock each other out! Aspie Mouse then gets up, scratches his head and says, “Wow! Cats sure sleep all the time!” He’s also 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 him reading a lot. Despite these frequent “misunderstandings,” he more than survives — he thrives!

These are two examples of Aspie Mouse’s Autistic behaviors. 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, it’s often Autistic behaviors that gets Aspie Mouse and other Autistic characters into certain awkward or worse situations; but it’s also their Autistic resources that get them out of them as well. The 27 traits are explained in detail in a revised preface (Chapter Pre-A, the 10th “chapter”) and then repeated at the beginning of the questions section for each chapter. They are not mentioned directly within the nine action chapters (A – I), so unless the preface or chapter questions are assigned, they won’t distract from reading these chapters as entertainment and more subtle ways of seeing Autism positively.

Yes, Aspie Mouse displays a range of Autistic behaviors. However, Autism shows up so differently from person to person — and in this graphic novel, also 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 says a lot of words, much of the time we’re reading his thoughts more than vocalizations — even if it’s in a “talk” balloon rather than a “thought” balloon. But yes, AM is on the “talkative” side, as is the boy Bobby of Ch’s. C-G, also on the Autism Spectrum, and even more verbal. Another “Aspie” who speaks a lot is Hashtag (Toe) in Chapters B & G. An “Aspie” who is more soft-spoken is Mr. Fumio Nakamura in Ch. C. Another is Desiree (DeeDee) in Chapter E; also Catmancan’t (the Vietnamese River Cat) in Ch. I says little, but has active thoughts that Aspie Mouse can “read.”

One of Aspie Mouse’s telltale “Aspie” traits — which the boy Bobby also shares — is always looking up, not looking in the eye of whomever he’s with. Other characters in this work who have Autism, such as Hashtag, 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! For other characteristics, such as various forms of “sensory sensitivity,” see the Preface (Chapter Pre-A).

Where the preface may be most helpful is discussing four characteristics of Autism that have particularly plagued those with Autism, especially in social situations and how to overcome them. Others may have one or two, but those with Autism generally have some version of all four. They are: 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. Chapter Pre-A offers constructive ideas on minimizing the bad effects of each of these; the characters in this graphic novel demonstrate these traits, but also some ways to overcome them — often accidentally.

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 & H begin — 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 as noted above, thus not in “sequence.”

(3) In the blog, the latest chapter posted or substantially revised is placed first, then Front Matter, then the other nine 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 in the book itself IF the chapters are released separately or the book is broken up into Parts.

A good “sample” chapter illustrating how chapters have grown over time is Chapter D, “X is for Exterminator.” Starting off at 8 pages, it expanded to 24 by its fourth draft.

What’s current in society — especially events with direct impact on those with Autism — is covered within chapters. 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 other peer interactions in Ch. H.

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.

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,” as well as Chapter Pre-A.

January 25, 2022



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

28? pp.  Chapter Pre-A: Introducing Aspie Mouse (Preface – Rvsd 4/20, major overhaul 1/22)

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 ( ASAP about submitting samples, potential compensation, etc.

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).

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!”

January 25, 2022 Christopher R. Conty

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