I’m Chris Conty, author of Aspie Mouse. I saw my first comic book (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, etc.) at age 5, and created my own 32-page plus cover comics, using my own characters: 3-Man (3 arms), Double Man (two bodies), Stair Ways (tiered body), etc. Initially I put squiggles in the balloons (hadn’t learned to write). For 8 years I churned out comics for my friends — creating and giving out more than I got back from six friends combined.
My last & best were 17 straight monthly 16-page “Stupid Mouse” comics. No super hero, Stupid Mouse was “special” however: he survived by behaving “unexpectedly.” He’d want to play with cats instead of running away, but the cats would knock each other out, leaving Stupid Mouse to wonder why cats seemed to sleep all the time! Half-way through 8th Grade, 2 months before I turned 14, I just stopped cold writing comics. Thought I needed to “grow up” to be a lawyer, teacher or something; I “knew” I wasn’t really an artist; besides, most comic books were of super-heroes like Superman – OK watching on TV, but not cartoon-y enough for me. I stayed loyal to the so-called “funny” comics.
As I matured over the next 50 years, I kept asking, “What’s wrong with me?” Despite being smart – getting into Yale from a Bronx public housing project — I kept: blurting out thoughts that upset others; hearing I was “weird;” driving people crazy asking too many questions; losing jobs, & had no clue either about finding a career or how to do the boy-girl thing. I could no more imagine getting married while in college than I could imagine how I’d fly to the moon with a running start!
I did end up in publishing, but not on the creative side: I sold, acquired & developed college textbooks, and was quite successful initially – getting along great with the professors, though less so with the publishers (guess I was too honest!). Found I had a knack for selling to fellow Aspie’s (many college professors are on the Autism Spectrum) & later helping professor-turned-authors write successful textbooks, thanks in part to my understanding of how books were put together (in 16 & 32-page signatures) based on the comics I once drew.
After a lot of personal growth work — most useful being the ManKind Project (mkp.org); I can’t thank these men enough for teaching me integrity, mindfulness, and especially how to forgive & love myself, trust others & witness – vs. judge – my own & others’ actions — I finally learned to trust enough (the universe, myself, men and women) to open myself up to being mentored, changing my political views and finally to hearing the impact I had on others. That allowed me to surrender to a great patient woman (vs. pushing her away) and finally marry at age 55!
Eight years ago, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s. After the shock wore off (“But he doesn’t have a flat affect!”) & I read more to learn what I could do to help him, I realized I too had many “Aspie” traits: sensitivity to sounds & touch, socially near-sighted (not clueless), & instead of flat affect or computer savvy, I’m just the opposite (ASD is about opposites!): overly dramatic, say what I shouldn’t, ask many questions & correct every spelling & grammar error I see — oblivious to the feelings of the teacher or boss I’m correcting, or how I’ll pay for it later.
When the DSM V came out & said “there’s no more Asperger’s” — it’s all one “Autism Spectrum,” and my son & I (along with my mother, father, father’s father, father-in-law, a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, etc.) are or were all somewhere on it (I judge) — I then realized most of my life-long friends also had either some or many “Aspie” (and/ or ADD/ ADHD, my “companion difference”) traits, though most won’t admit it to avoid having a “label.”
So what was “wrong” with me? Nothing! I’m just different, with a Betamax brain in a VHS world. My intuition, logistics, verbal ability (spoken more than written — as actor, graduation speaker, etc.) & creativity are strong. My wife will ask, “How’d you DO that?” & I need to stop & get feedback before I take impulsive action that my mind believes will lessen my chronic anxiety (universal issue for those with ASD), as my “executive function” shuts down, & social awareness ceases. Otherwise, any short-term anxiety relief will be replaced by shame as I’m told I’ve eroded others’ trust in me, respect for my wisdom, & done long-term damage. I’m learning how to stop myself before I act impulsively (often anyway), get present, & even act with “grace,” vs. freezing or fawning (2 other common ASD “meltdown” responses to anxiety).
Finally – after 55 years of ignoring my gift of creating comics – I “got it”: my original Stupid Mouse character had been created by a kid who threw a tantrum when Tweety (always) got the best of Sylvester – identifying with Sylvester, not as bigger & stronger than Tweety (though he is), but as clueless about “social dynamics & consequences.” As a kid with unidentified “High Functioning Autism,” I wanted me & my socially blind & socially near-sighted tribe-mates to succeed in spite of (or because of) doing “unexpected” behaviors (different from behaviors that are “unacceptable,” like hitting, biting) that isolate us, get us mocked, etc. Thus I recast Stupid Mouse as Aspie Mouse. Now it all made/ makes sense!
Should I change from pencil to dark marker? Should the stories be in color? I know I need to hire a “real” artist! First comment I got was “Make Aspie Mouse interactive!” – which, to me, is another “running start to fly to the moon” thing – I have no clue! Should Aspie Mouse LOOK more “special” (as my mother-in-law suggests)?
Also: what jokes/ plot lines work well and which fall flat? Are there too many words? May I unintentionally make things worse for some kids on the Spectrum – if so, how? Don’t worry about offending me: thanks to my men’s work, I’ll “take what I like and leave the rest” (as they say in 12-step recovery programs). I don’t take things personally as I did earlier in life. My goal is to help others in my “Aspie tribe” see themselves in a good light & succeed in life by seeing how their positive traits can well serve both themselves and society.
For those who seek help in understanding and dealing with Autism, especially high functioning autism (my preferred “label”), here are two great resources:
1. Been There; Done That; Try This: An Aspie’s Guide to Life on Earth, Tony Attwood, et al, 2014, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (17 chapters of Aspie’s self-reported issues in order of percentage mentioned; Ch. 1, Anxiety; Ch. 2, Low Self-Esteem; Ch. 3, Difficulty Accepting Change; Meltdowns, Depression, Disclosure, Relationships, Friendships, Educational Settings, Getting & Keeping Jobs, etc.)
2. AANE (Asperger’s & Autism NEtwork), aane.org (New England-based resource center for adults and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, based in Watertown, Massachusetts)
April – November, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org