Dan White is the author of the brilliant Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower.
In this blog Dan tells us how his daughter Emily was disappointed to find that she there weren’t any superheros that looked like her – so he decided to make his own!
“Born to be different. Born to save the world”
My name is Dan and I am an artist with a beautiful, talented daughter called Emily, who I adore. We are both proud to be part of an incredible community of people.
Emily was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. This is a condition where the spine does not develop properly, leaving gaps in the spinal cord. When she was younger she was a very impressive bum-shuffler! But around five years ago, we bought Emily her first wheelchair. She loves exploring the world around her, and in her new wheelchair she could introduce herself to all sorts of new exciting things.
Like so many other incredible kids, Emily is blessed with endless amount of curiosity. She is a complete book-worm and absolutely loves learning through books, comics, films and music.
“Something had to change”
Unfortunately, this wonderful curiosity often gave way to frustration, annoyance and bewilderment. Emily always wanted to find characters, icons and images that she could relate to. However, very few made her feel accepted and included. Speaking to other kids, it became clear that they often felt the same.
Soon it became obvious to me that something had to change. I started gnawing on my pencil and, very soon, the ideas started flowing.
Just like Emily I love comics, and I have always enjoyed drawing. Before long I had sharpened my pencil and started developing a new comic that all children would enjoy. I soon realised that it had be about what all children aspire to be: Superheroes!
It is easy to underestimate children. But they are so much more imaginative, accepting and inclusive than adults. This is why I designed my comic for all kids. Because they will be responsible for a future in which people are not discriminated against or side-lined.
Meet the superheroes
With Emily’s help I created a whole world of diverse, unique and accessible heroes. All our heroes are dynamic team-players who use their impairment as their greatest superpower. After a lot of deliberation, we decided to call the comic The Department of Ability.
Among the first people to see the images were the charities on Facebook. Strongbones, a relatively young charity, was the first to respond with real enthusiasm, and gave me the support and backing I needed. They are still very involved with the growth and global adventures of the Department of Ability.
Taking over the world
As soon as we started we had big hopes in the comic/cartoon world. It wasn’t long before our superheroes were taking social media by storm, with just a quick click and a paste on my PC.
Soon after designing the characters I gave up my day-job to become a full-time artist so that the Department of Ability could keep growing. The characters became more and more popular, from Australia, through India, to America. It is clear that Emily’s vision and insight have struck a chord with people all over the world.
It’s a Marvel!
At this point we knew everyone loved the characters, but we still had to design and produce the comic. I knew this would be a 24-hour job, but with the help of a literary agent (a real life wonder woman), it started taking shape.
She even showed the drawings to Stan Lee of Marvel, one of the most influential, brilliant and creative figures in the whole industry. He loved the idea, and now we are looking to work with him. I couldn’t believe it. It is one of my childhood fantasies realized.
The disabled community is a hub of amazing talent, from artists to dancers, to film makers to musicians. It is time they were all able to share and showcase their brilliance.
To infinity and beyond
Right now it couldn’t be a more exciting time for the comic. Strongbones threw an enormous party for us at Hamleys in June and The Guardian broke the news of Stan’s possible involvement. Since then Emily and I have appeared on The Saturday Show, CBBC Newsround, ITV Lunchtime News, and BBC Radio. There has even been some film interest from overseas and discussions with Merlin entertainment. I might even be working with one of the world’s leading comic book writers to finish the first adventure.
I could never have imagined our idea and vision would appeal to so many people. But it seems attitudes and prejudices are finally changing. Inclusion is coming!
Or, in the words of the Department of Ability: Born to be different, born to save the world.
Want to see more characters disabled children can identify with? We would love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below to share your ideas.