Super-Abled Comics Packs Empowering Punch
Friday, April 12, 2019
Photo by Andi Dukleth
Travis Rivas loves comic books.
“It’s probably disgusting how much X-men material I have,” Rivas said as he browses through books at Southern California Comics in Kearny Mesa.
He jokes that in middle school he wanted to audition for the role of young Anakin Skywalker for Star Wars. That’s when the realization hit him.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh I can’t do that. Actors and people in movies don’t look like me.’”
Rivas, writer and creator of Super-Abled Comics, was born with TAR syndrome, or thrombocytopenia with absent radius. Individuals with the disorder not only have reduced growth in their arms but also experience blood platelet problems.
He said he grew up a target.
“People would call me names like T-Rex or put their arms in their shirt and pretend to be like me. They would point and they would laugh.”
Last year, Rivas came across the Lucky Fin Project, a nonprofit organization that brings awareness about limb differences.
“I got to finally meet individuals with limb differences and disabilities like me. I noticed that there were a lot of talented people. One had written their own comic book and one was a children’s book author.”
Rivas decided to create the Super-Abled Comic Anthology, a collection of stories written by people with disabilities who want to redefine what it means to live with a disability.
The name was inspired in part by bilateral amputee and Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy.
“I was listening to an interview with her… She said ‘I’m not disabled. I’m superabled.’ And that term just clicked with me,” Rivas said.
Rivas prefers the term limb different.
“I think it’s the most applicable to me. I don’t think my limb difference has affected my ability or adaptability at all.”
Other individuals, however, want to reclaim the word disability as a way to empower themselves and rework how they are talked about.
“In a lot of ways, people outside the community, whether it’s social or political… that’s the word that’s being used to describe us. So they’ve been trying to take that word and redefine it to be much more empowering.”
But empowerment goes beyond reclaiming words. Rivas said that movies often engage in disability erasure, where a disabled character either has prosthetics that act as flesh and blood or have their condition “healed” through supernatural powers.
“I was speaking out against it on Twitter… one of the responses said that a superhero with a disability would be like if Superman’s hand was made out of kryptonite. My response to them is that my hands are not kryptonite. They are very much a source of strength.”
That’s one of the stigmas, he said, they are trying to combat.
“One of the things I want to do with Super-Abled Comics is to show people that people with disabilities are here. We are normal people in the sense that we have normal struggles. We are not a burden and we’re not weak.”
Going forward, Rivas wants to see more disabled characters accurately represented in movies and shows. That way, future generations of children with disabilities can watch their favorite heroes and feel just as empowered to be anything.
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