Front Matter (5/17/22)

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 constantly being challenged & criticized as they too often 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 — unless Autism is his “superpower!” (see References after Questions & Notes) 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 — often by asking for help.

One way Aspie Mouse is “just being himself” is when he engages in his “special interest” of playing with cats. Yes, even though usually 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!

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 unique positive Autistic resources that get them out. The 27 traits are explained in detail on page A-8 in the revised preface (Chapter Pre-A, the 10th “chapter”), then referenced 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 (not yet published). The 27 traits are not mentioned directly within the nine action chapters (A – I), so unless the preface or chapter questions is assigned, there’s every reason to see these chapters as entertainment — as well as a mostly subtle way to see Autism positively. The less this work looks like a “textbook,” the more likely it’ll be picked up and read for “fun.”

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 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 — 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).

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 usually 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? 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 “Aspie” to another, and they’re more symptoms of Autism than causes (and as a graphic novel, these Adventures rarely address causes). #1 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 (done when other activities are called for), pattern seeking, 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.

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 complicated toward the end. Because Ch. A’s events are designed to occur later, its material is repeated “in context” in Ch. H (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.

(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 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 “latest.”

(4) Chapters A through I have “Notes” and “Questions for Discussion/ Reflection.” As noted above, they’re at the end of each chapter in the blog, but will be in back of the book or in a separate online spot when the work is officially published. At 80+ pages, these notes & questions (& references) may make the print version too long to include.

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.

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 (and coloring the 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 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.

June 30, 2022

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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

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 (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)

34 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. 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.

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, 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 wordy Aspie’s like me, as well as from 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 one or any of your suggestions, 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!” I 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 for the greatest benefit of my newly discovered/ adopted “tribe,” fellow “Aspie’s!”

June 30, 2022 Christopher R. Conty

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