What Having Autism Means to Me

kelci crawford illustration art autism

Yes, I have autism.

It doesn’t happen often, but when I mention that I have autism to someone, there’s either one of two things that happen.

1) “But you don’t look autistic!”

(….really? Is there some kind of autistic dress code I missed out on?)

or

2) their attitudes change completely.

The second one has not happened very often, but I notice it.

I don’t talk about my autism very much, mostly because it never really comes up in conversation.

But lately, especially on Twitter, there’s been a lot of conversations happening in regards to autism, and especially the (nonexistent) connection to vaccines.

Because yes, there ARE parents who say they don’t want to vaccinate their kids because they believe “the toxins will make my child autistic!”

Well, first, the study that stated that there’s a connection between autism “outbreaks” and vaccinations, are bunk. No other scientists have been able to replicate Wakefield’s results, and you know why? Because he twisted the data and, often, just made stuff up. Eventually, his license to practice medicine got retracted because the medical community recognized that he was a liar. (For more info about how vaccines and autism are NOT connected, check out this master post of links to research studies.)

Second, what you’re REALLY saying, anti-vaxxer parents, is that you would rather have your child get measels, mumps, or whooping cough or god knows what else, because you don’t want your child to “get autism.”

I don’t blame you for that stance. Organizations like Autism Speaks do a wonderful job of scaring parents into believing autism is a plague, or that autism destroys the lives of the autistic person and everyone they love. They love to use rhetoric like, “Having autism is not really living. We suffer everyday.” Like autism is cancer or something.

That’s why, as an autistic person, I DO NOT support Autism Speaks.

Autism is not a monolithic disease that destroys everyone’s sanity.

And having autism is NOT the only characteristic of that person.

People like to think that people with mental disorders are defined ONLY by that mental disorder. This is kind of like how people thought (or sadly, sometimes still think) that if someone is gay, that’s their ONLY characteristic.

People are way more complex than that.

Like, I’m not just autistic: I’m a comics artist, an illustrator, a salesperson, an LGBT activist, a college graduate, a friend, and an all-around awesome person (I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I am pretty cool).

If you’re going to ignore all of that and focus on just my autism, then you’re not the kind of person I want to know.

Some people do look at me and say, “But you don’t act autistic!”

Yes, I do. I just don’t act like the “stereotypical autistic” you’re used to seeing on tv. You know: Not able to talk, hitting themselves, screaming inappropriately, never making eye contact.

Autism is a spectrum. Some have light symptoms, others don’t. And a lot of people with autism are in between.

In regards to my life with autism, I won’t be shy to admit I couldn’t talk until age 4. I still can’t really make eye contact, or if I do, I stare. I’m such a good starer I can win staring contests for twenty minutes or more at a time. That’s why my eyesight is terrible.

When someone says or does something that triggers me, I go off. I have few triggers anymore, because I’ve learned how to handle my reactions for the most part. But when I’m triggered, I am nasty.

I get sensory overload when I hear people screaming while they fight, or when I’ve had a long day at the fair, or when I touch a wig or some other synthetic fabric that makes my brain say, “THIS IS UNNATURAL RUN AWAY.” (This is why nearly all my clothes are cotton, and part of why I don’t do cosplay.)

But I am also an artist. Who makes comics. Making comics is still the best way I can communicate. Making comics is my outlet for all of my pent-up energy and emotions.

Writing, as good as I am at it now, is something that winds me up. If I write for a long time, there’s a part of my brain that relaxes because I’ve purged some thoughts from it. But there’s another part of me that says, “NOW DRAW ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN’T EXPRESS IN WORDS.”

I have a lot of worlds in my head. Comics helps me show those worlds in a way that just words cannot.

Autistic people need an outlet to express everything in their minds. Because when they don’t have an outlet, they get more and more withdrawn and into themselves.

But we can’t help autistic people if we’re caught up in the narrative that autistc people are “beyond help” or “doomed for life to live with this terrible disease.” Or that having measels, a disease that is known to make children deaf or even kill them, is preferable to any risk of a child “catching autism.”

(You can’t catch autism. It’s a genetic disorder passed down from your parents. If your parents have the genes, you will have a higher chance of having autism. So stop saying you can “catch” it.)

If I had the choice (which I don’t, but let’s be hypthetical here)…If I had the choice between having autism and dying young from a preventable disease…

I would have autism.

Because autism is not life-ending. It doesn’t kill you. In fact, it’s quite managable, given time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some comics to make.

Thank you for reading, and I will see you tomorrow.

How to Draw When You Feel Uninspired

wahid comic clip

So you have your sketchbook open, your pencils ready, your watercolors waiting and eager to do your bidding.

There’s just one problem.

You don’t know what to draw.

This scenario happens to all artists no matter their place in their career path or their preference of artistic tools.

Every artist gets to a point where they just. Don’t. Know. What to draw.

But here’s a secret:

There’s billions of things you can draw.

If you don’t believe me, here are some suggestions for you.

1. Draw what’s close to you right now.

Where are you? Your room? The barber shop? The grocery store? Find a thing to observe, get out your paper and pencil, and draw what you see.

2. Draw something you’re not used to drawing.

Are you primarily a cartoonist who draws people? Try drawing some trees in the park. Try drawing some animals, like song birds, squirrels, dogs, deer, skunks, cats, parrots, ladybugs. Draw people dancing, sleeping, wrestling, shopping when they don’t want to shop, being indignant, smiling at an old acquaintance. Draw that pine tree you see out your back door. Draw that trash can that tipped over in the wind.

3. Have a theme on stand-by.

Sometimes it helps your drawing ability if you have a theme at the ready. That way you don’t have to spend too much energy trying to think of what topic to draw from.

For example, for me, January was the month I would draw Superhero Ladies in my sketchbook. When I opened my sketchbook and would say to myself, “Jeez, what can I draw?” I remember the theme and go, “Oh yeah! I’m going to draw a Superhero Lady. Let’s get started…”

The themes are up to you, but here are some fun ones to draw on (…puns!):

  • The Apocalypse
  • Frogs
  • Desert animals
  • People with mustaches
  • jewelry from around the world

4. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish when you sketch.

Are you sketching to improve your ability to draw the human nose? Or horses? Improving your use of colors? Want to build your memory bank so you don’t have to draw from reference? Do you want to draw better from reference?

Are you drawing just for fun? Or to get out an impulse? Did you have a bizarro dream?

You should have a reason to approach your sketchbook and draw. Otherwise…

5. Walk away and take a break.

This is perfectly ok. Sometimes you can make yourself draw, but if you have other things to do, do those things instead.

Sometimes the reason we’re stuck is because our mind is preoccupied with other things. Take care of those things so you can approach your sketchbook with a clear head.

There’s been times I could not draw because I was thinking, “I gotta’ do laundry. So I’ll throw in a load and then I’ll get back to this.”

99 percent of the time this works for me.

6. Is there something that ticks you off? Draw it.

Art is a good outlet for our emotions so that we don’t damage other people’s property. So next time you feel overwhelmingly angry, upset, frustrated, or depressed, get your sketchbook and just let it out.

7. Try a new tool.

Do you usually work in pencil? Try watercolors. Do you usually draw with pen and ink? Pick up some pastels.

Will you suck? Probably.

But experimenting with tools will help your mind break from its usual patterns and try something new and strange.

watercolor warrior sketch
My recent watercolor experiment.

I have found that routine, while helpful sometimes, gets you into a pattern that eventually runs dry in inspiration. The above tips will, I hope, help you break out of the routine and experiment with something new.

Because art is an experiment. It’s a way to test tools, ideas, and yourself.

So go for it!

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you on Monday.

Why the LGBT Community (Sometimes) Doesn’t Like Allies

When I first got involved in the LGBT community was in middle school, when my older sister came out as bisexual and started dating her then-girlfriend.

Since then, I’ve met a lot of different people in the LGBT community, even more so since I started working on Validation, a webcomic about a trans girl.

And I can say, without a doubt, that the LGBT community’s feelings on Allies are…mixed.

Some say it’s good that there are advocates for their cause that are not, themselves, part of the LGBT alphabet. There are others that say Allies are unnecessary. And a violent subset think all Allies need to fuck off and their heads should be mounted on pikes.

Why?

From what I’ve listened to and heard from the community, there’s a few reasons why people have mixed feelings about Allies.

1. The Atheists are doing it just to piss off the religious right.

This actually happens a lot. Atheists will claim to fly the banner of Ally of the LGBT community, only to turn around and use derogatory language when talking about the people they reportedly support. The only reason they claim to be Allies is to piss off their religious cohorts who are against the community, without actually supporting them.

2. Some Allies try to police your identity.

This can range from “ah, asexuality is just a phase” to “dude, you’re not really gay unless you puke rainbows” or “you’re not a real lesbian unless you scissor.”

First off, no.

You as a human being are not allowed to tell someone what to do with their bodies and identities.

Second off, people, especially Allies, do not have permission to say what constitutes a “real” lesbian/gay/transgender/etc person.

They may be labels, but the people who choose those labels decide what those labels mean for themselves.

3. Some Allies are biased.

Let’s say there’s someone who claims to be an Ally and supports gay and lesbian rights, but they completely misgender trans people. (Misgendering means you use the wrong pronouns, like calling a trans man a woman just because of the body he has.)

There may be a few reasons for this. Either they are rigid in their definitions of gender/identities and cannot be helped, or they just haven’t been (gently) educated and taught the error of their ways.

The first group cannot be helped, and should not be called Allies.

The second group just needs a little more exposure in the world. Given time they can come around. They’re not too much of a problem.

4. Allies talk over the community.

Rather than letting a lesbian talk about their experience, this type of Ally will tell the lesbian what their experience is supposed to be like. “No no, REAL lesbians…”

This is roughly equivalent to mansplaining. Mansplaining is when a man says “No no, the REAL issues women face are…”

You see how much of a dick move that is?

Mansplaining and gaysplaining (as I shall call it) is just another way to tell that person that their identity/sexuality is wrong because it doesn’t fit rigid preconceptions.

Again, people define their identities for themselves. You, as an Ally, are supposed to LISTEN to them, not try to change their narrative so it makes more sense to you.

5. Allies are abusive.

Some Allies fly the Ally banner to get closer to a specific person or type of person and use them for something (sex, money, getting them in your amateur porn film, etc). They see members of the LGBT community as props, or tools, and not people.

6. Allies do it for the resume building, not because it’s sincere.

There’s a difference between aiding the LGBT community for yourself, to look like a spiffy, worldly employee and get a raise because of how cool you are, and aiding the LGBT community because the community needs help.

Being an Ally requires a lot of introspection and listening. Introspection, in knowing why you want to get involved in the LGBT community, whether for yourself or for others. Listening, in not talking over others or trying to police how they should and should not live.

If I missed something (I’m sure I missed a lot), please leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Featured Artist Friday: Jeff Laclede

This is the revival of a segment that used to be called “Favorite Artist Friday,” but it’s now called Featured Artist Friday.

Once a week, on a (surprise!) Friday, I’ll be writing about another artist. It doesn’t matter what medium or subject matter they choose. Any artist may be featured.

This week, I would like to talk about one of the coolest artists I know, Jeff Laclede.

Jeff is a digital painter, comic artist, and character designer. He is also, I dare say, masterful with his use of colors.

Every time I see one of his pieces, I am impressed with how well he lights his work, and how that light affects his subjects. Lighting is NOT easy, but Jeff makes it look easy, which is the mark of an excellent artist.

Not only does he illustrate very well, he is also an excellent writer.

His current comics project is a webcomic called El-Indon. And it grabs you by the first page.

el indon webcomic page 1 by jeff laclede
El Indon, page 1.

And it gets better from there! His characters, aside from being well-designed and memorable, are hilarious.

el indon webcomic page 9 by jeff laclede
More El-Indon

He also a great world-builder. As you read his comics you can get sucked into the world he’s creating and the intrigue within it. And a lot of that is thanks to his attention to character, great page layout design, and thematic lighting and tones.

He even succeeds in all of this in his illustrative work!

jeff laclede digital art

jeff laclede digital art

If you haven’t read El-Indon yet, you should. While you’re at, go follow Jeff on Tumblr and Twitter. He’s loads of fun to follow.

Thank you for reading, and I will see you on Monday.

10,000 Mistakes and Why You Should Make Them

teapot set at focus exhibition bowling green state university
A pot from the FOCUS Exhibition at Bowling Green State University in 2008…or 2009.

As I’m writing this blog post I can’t help but think of all the posts I have written that have been scrapped. I have written and scrapped well over 20 blog post since I started updating consistently. I also made a video blog today, and scrapped that.

And it makes me feel like a failure because I’ve made these things and none of them work.

But there are little ideas within those failures that I feel like I want to revisit and build upon.

Today I want to talk about failure.

Failure is something that not a lot of people like to talk about. Some people actively encourage failure but they don’t talk about how that feels, and I’m going to say yes, it does suck.

It makes you feel like everything that you make is terrible, and if this thing you made is terrible then maybe everything else that you have made is awful too. It’s a quick path to beating yourself up and thinking you’re not good enough.

But you gotta take that energy (or what little you have left of it) and keep moving forward.

I’m actually (this will sound banana pants crazy) grateful that I failed today. Because even though I did fail in writing blog posts, I got an idea out of it, out of the things that I failed to make, and hopefully that will lead to a successful blog post or video blog.

It reminds me of the adage that was coined in my time as a caricature artist at Cedar Point. It was based off of the 10,000 hour rule.

There is a rule coined in the book Outliers that said if you practice something for 10,000 hours then you’ll become a master of it.

The caricature department took this and said when you start drawing caricatures you will draw 10,000 terrible faces before you draw a good one.

So get those 10,000 faces out now as quickly and as creatively as you can. Learn from them. Keep making terrible faces. And after 10,000 times you’ll start to get good.

I’m still making comics. I’m still making blog post. I haven’t quite reached the 10,000 benchmark yet for either of them but I have noticed that the more often that I do something, the better I get at it.

So the more blog post that I write the better I get at writing them. The more comics that I make the better I get at making comics.

Not every comic or blog post has to work, but you have to get it out of your system. Because once you get the bad work out of the way you move on to the next thing. And maybe the next thing will be good.

This conundrum of failure, and making 10,000 of something before you can get good, reminds me of a scenario from the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The scenario took two sets of pottery students. The professor told the first set of students they had a whole semester to make one very good pot. Then they told the second set of students they had to make as many pots as possible. This was done to see who would make the better pots – the students who focus on one pot the whole semester or the students who made as many pots as they could.

teapot from FOCUS exhibition bowling green state university
From the FOCUS exhibition at Bowling Green State University in 2008…or 2009.

They found that when students focused on making the perfect pot, the pots actually turned out worse. Because the students spent all of their time agonizing over how to make the pot perfect, artistically and aesthetically, and didn’t actually make it until the very end.

However, when students were encouraged to make as many pots as possible, they found that the more pots students made, the more great pots they had at the end. Not every pot was a masterpiece, but they had more great pieces than the students who made only one pot after agonizing over how to make it perfect.

And if you take anything away from this, I hope it’s that: that torturing yourself over making something perfect is not worth it.

Because there’s another masterpiece waiting for you, within you, already.

So make as much work as you can. Make as many mistakes as you can. And keep creating.

Because with every mistake you make, you’ll also make something brilliant.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow.