Imagine Earth in 2072: Aliens have invaded the planet and deemed humans dangerously emotional, causing a war between the flat-faced villain Dr. Mobius and Michael, a middle-school-age boy.
Michael must battle through social pressures, misunderstanding and bullying on his way to understanding the emotions of other people and himself. Using science and a little help from his robotic therapeutic support staff, T.E.S.S., he will come closer to emotional discovery.
As the main hero in the steampunk-noir comic book series, Face Value Comics, he's a bit different from most: Michael is autistic. And that is unheard of in the world of comics, said founder Dave Kot of Dover Township.
"We're the first and only comic book to feature an autistic hero," he said. "Our main hero has autism, and it's OK."
The concept: Kot founded Face Value two years ago, and it aims to provide both entertainment and education about emotional understanding in social situations to young readers and their families, he said.
"Everyone can learn more
about emotions," Kot, 38, said. He added that the social lessons weaved into the story are designed for everyone -- not just people with autism or comic book enthusiasts.
Using comic books as a teaching tool, the concept implements a newer science, psychologist Paul Ekman's Facial Action Coding System, to explain the nuances of communication in a simple way, he said. Kot has a close family member with autism and is a therapist certified in FACS who has worked with many autistic clients, he said.
The system categorizes human emotions based on facial muscle pulls and says there are seven basic emotions.
The comic book series, which is still in production, will consist of four 16-to-22-page issues exploring happiness, sadness, anger and fear.
The happiness issue will address how to make genuine friendships, and the sadness issue will cover issues like grief and rejection, Kot said. The anger issue will tackle bullying and peer pressure, and the fear issue will help kids plan for tests and sudden changes. A fifth basic emotion, surprise, will be peppered throughout those issues.
That leaves two emotions: contempt and disgust, which will be combined into a special edition that explores villain Dr. Mobius' backstory. He is named after a syndrome that prevents one from displaying emotion.
Who it's for: Although the comic books will specifically address autism and understanding emotion, they're not confined to one specific audience, said Face Value business manager Jeremy Flickinger, 25, of Warrington Township.
"In my opinion, anyone with any level of autism can learn and utilize this," he said.
The series will be aimed toward those of middle-school age and be as close to G- or PG-rated as possible, with a minimal level of violence, Kot said. The team is also considering the possibilities of adult-themed material in the future, he said.
The two are passionate about their mission and have pushed the thought of money aside, he said.
"The people on our team are willing to go without financial compensation to see our dream come alive," Kot said.
So far, word is spreading: The company's fanbase on Facebook hit 250 likes in just under a month, he said.
"It's growing, and it's exciting," he said.
"Why not teach the world this?" he said.
Local support: As the Face Value team prepares to publish its first issue, it has connected with local comic book stores about its cause, Kot said.
Comix Connection in West Manchester Township plans to put the comics on its shelves once production is finished, said manager Jared Wolf.
"I think it's a really nice, original idea," he said.
The unprecedented concept could stretch across readership demographics, Wolf said.
"Since there hasn't been a superhero with autism before, it will open people's minds about autism and let them know about it in a fun way," he said. "I think families (affected by) autism might also have interest in the book."
Comic Store West in Springettsbury Township also supports the endeavor, both because the series is about autism and because the creators are local, said manager Scott Koehler.
"We are going to have it here for sale once it's finished," he said. "It's very interesting."
Kot, Flickinger and their small team of artists have worked long hours on the series and hope to raise the money to produce the issues as soon as possible, they said.
"I am deeply moved and cry almost daily at the responses others freely give me about this project," Kot said. "So I feel exceptionally responsible for providing a quality product in the shortest amount of time."
-- Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
Face Value Comics is seeking support as it begins production of its four-part comic book series.
To donate to the cause, visit www.facebook.com/FaceValueComics. For volunteer opportunities, contact Dave Kot at email@example.com or Jeremy Flickinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.