When Millburn High School student Julie Averbach wrote her first comic, “Special,” she had no clue how much it would ultimately grow. Today, “Special”– which was at first written as an English project– is a now part of something much bigger.
Julie’s completed comic book, “Adventures from my World”, is made up of 5 short stories, each of different everyday scenarios involving special needs children and their siblings. Each story explores different situations which forces the reader think about both the positive and negative aspects of having a sibling with special needs. Julie, who was inspired by her work with the friendship circle, explores situations ranging from school struggles to sports teams to birthday parties.
Each story tackles a different emotion that a sibling of a special needs child could be feeling. By focusing on a perspective that often goes unnoticed, Julie hopes that her comic book can serve as a therapeutic outlet for special needs siblings.
I had the opportunity to sit with Julie to talk about what it was like to be the author of this comic.
Where did you get the idea for writing “Adventures from my World?”
“We read ‘Persepolis’ in ninth grade. I was inspired by the way that the author used the images to enhance the story and the way that images can express things that words can’t. I thought it was a really interesting medium. It got me thinking of comic books as a therapeutic tool. I didn’t read comics before this whole thing started, but now I’m very interested in them.”
How long did it take you to write? What was the process of writing it?
“I started writing the stories around June and got the artists to join my team around July. From there I received my first drafts in September but there were several months of revisions. It was a long process – there were typos and things that I wanted to change. Once I had the final draft I had to put it into a format that could be published. I had to research different publishers. A month and a half ago I got them printed. I ordered them from China – 8,000 copies – so there are a lot of boxes in my living room. For me, printing them was phase 1 and now distribution and publicity is stage 2.”
How did you get illustrators for “Adventures from my world”?
“I was planning to draw this entire thing myself. I’m an artist but this isn’t my kind of art. I met somebody an event who told me about the Kubert School. It’s basically the Harvard of graphic design. I reached out to the principal, who was skeptical about the project. But he ended up emailing 30 students and within a day I had 8 responses. I ultimately chose 3 artists – Petterson Oliveira, Vanessa Solis and Dov Smiley. One of the artists is a special needs sibling, so that’s really great. I didn’t know them at all and I paid them very little so this is really out of the graciousness of their hearts that they did this. I’m so thankful for all of their hard work and couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out.”
Are any of the characters based off of real people or personal experience?
“I volunteer a lot with the friendship circle. It’s not really based off of specific people that I know – I was mainly trying to represent the entire community of special need siblings. If I end up doing a second volume I would want to interview siblings of special needs children and incorporate that or interview individuals who have special needs to capture their stories.”
I love how you focus on kids with special needs’ relationship with their siblings. Was this always a theme you planned to focus on?
“Through my involvement with the Friendship Circle i’ve found that there is a lack of resources for siblings. It’s a perspective that gets overlooked most of the time. What does exist is psychologists saying ‘oh, you should try to feel better’ or ‘don’t feel sorry for yourself’ but I wanted to represent the real sibling experience, which is the mix of negative and positive [….] I want to help people express their emotions more openly and to bring up some issues that are hard to talk about.”
Do you have a favorite story within “Adventures of my World” that is your favorite?
“I like ‘Special’. It was the first one that I wrote which inspired me to write the rest of them. I just feel really connected to it. Also siblings have been able to relate to ‘Special’ the most. I was really hesitant to put it in since people had told me it was too negative – my goal wasn’t to make people depressed. I just wanted to tackle some honest and difficult issues. But now that I released the comic siblings have told me that ‘Special’ makes them feel like someone gets them. So that’s been really rewarding. I also like ‘Letter to my Brother’. I feel like special needs siblings gain a lot of maturity and compassion through their experiences. Although they face some adversity, there are benefits to it as well. Anyone can develop a strong connection with their sibling, so I wanted to capture that side as well.
Have you published anything prior to “Adventures of my World?” Do you plan on writing more in the future?
“I had no experience with publishing. This is self-published. I had no idea quite how long and difficult the process would be. I think it would be easier doing it a second time, since now I know which companies I would use. Right now I’m focusing on getting “Adventures from my World” out there, but I’m definitely open to hearing people’s stories for volume 2 (if that happens.)
Is “Adventures from my World” being distributed in any way?
“I’ve been so overwhelmed with the amount of people that have been willing to help me if I just ask. Both the special needs community and the comic book community has been very supportive. It’s been amazing – I cannot put the comics into envelopes and send them out fast enough. The demand is crazy. “Adventures from my World” was piloted as part of the Rutgers Social Skills program which is a part of a sibling support group. They actually started implementing the comic as part of their curriculum. Once a week they read one of the stories and discuss it.”
Who is your intended audience?
“My initial intended audience was special needs siblings. But now I’m realizing that it can be read by families. Really anyone can gain insight into special needs siblings’ perspectives. I don’t have a specific audience anymore – it can be read by anyone.”
What type of response have you gotten about the comic book?
“Not all of the responses have been positive. I reached out to a bookstore before I printed the comic – I only had proofs so it didn’t look as professional. I was hoping to hold a launch at the bookstore, but the owner told me it would probably stay a more local project and it wouldn’t gain the popularity that I was hoping for. But other than that I’ve been so happy with the response it has gotten. I’ve been getting feedback from different academies and schools- it’s been crazy.”
For more information about “Adventures from my World” check out the book’s website http://www.adventuresfrommyworld.com/home.html