I’m Chris Conty, author of Aspie Mouse. I saw my first comic book (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, etc.) at age five, and created my own 32-page plus cover comics, using my own characters: 3-Man (three arms), Double Man (two bodies), Stair Ways (tiered body), etc. Initially I put squiggles in the balloons (hadn’t learned to write). For eight years I churned out comics for my friends — creating and giving out more than I got back from six friends combined.
My last & best creations were 17 straight monthly 16-page “Stupid Mouse” comic books. No superhero, Stupid Mouse was “special” however: he survived by behaving, well, “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, two months before I turned 14, I just stopped cold writing comics. Thought I needed to “grow up” to be a lawyer, teacher or something (my dad kept saying, “Get a profession first, then be like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and do something else). 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.
Still, 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 how 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 I was 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 intuitive 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 really listening to 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 dearly later (get fired, lower grade). Ask professionals who work with those with Autism, and they’ll say there may be as many who are verbose like me as there are like that stereotype I had.
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?” On the other hand, I have to be much more careful than most people as to how my social “blindness” can get me in trouble. 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). My “executive function” shuts down, & social awareness ceases. If I don’t get that feedback, any short-term anxiety relief I get by being impulsive will turn to shame, as I’m told I’ve eroded others’ trust in me, respect for my wisdom, & done long-term damage. So 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) and let my strengths from the same “unexpected” thinking shine.
Finally – after decades of ignoring my gift for creating comics with original plots – 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 that isolate us, get us mocked, etc.
Since learning about my own Autism, I realized that “unexpected” thoughts and behaviors that sound strange to most people aren’t all or even mostly “unacceptable.” Unacceptable is hitting, biting, humiliating. On the other hand, “unexpected” behaviors and spoken thoughts aren’t illegal or grossly insulting (at least not intentionally), even if the negative ones can lead to serious social sanctions; on the other hand, good “unexpected” behaviors and writings led to Mozart’s music and Einstein’s theories.
I’m no Mozart or Einstein, but once I learned about my Autism, I realized that if I recast Stupid Mouse as Aspie Mouse, I could in my own modest way use the advantages of my “unexpected” thoughts and behaviors from this part of myself that I now had a name for, to do good for my newly discovered tribe. Now why I created Stupid Mouse originally — and now resurrecting as Aspie Mouse — makes so much sense! So time for me to share my “gold” with others!
What would you like to see improved? Use black ink? Go full color? Get a different artist? Cut down on dialogue? What jokes/ plot lines work well and which fall flat? May I unintentionally trigger some kids on the Spectrum with something I should take out? Don’t worry about offending me: thanks to 30 years of men’s work, I “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. Or as Aspie Mouse would say, “… thrive by doing the ‘unexpected'” (being oneself). I need your feedback to do that successfully!
For those who seek help in understanding and dealing with Autism, especially high functioning autism (my preferred, though controversial “label”), here are two great resources (more will be in the appendix):
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 Aspies’ self-reported issues in order of percentage who mentioned it: 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)
Christopher R. Conty October, 2020 Updated firstname.lastname@example.org