I adore this story. I love the way it crosses my path every couple months. What that mom did is creative and remarkable. What those artists did is generous and smart. The friends passing it on are loving and thoughtful. At the same time, I think this warm and fuzzy tale highlights a serious problem within superhero comics -- that the requirement for a good superhero story must involve physical perfection. This has been a part of comic books since Superman got his start in 1938, and it's hard for contemporary auteurs to move past it. Think about this for a moment. We now know about Blue Ear's existence. Can you name any other hard of hearing heroes at Marvel? I can think of two. One is Hawkeye, who lost some hearing in an explosion in the 1980's; however, I don't know how often this loss is referenced, if ever. I haven't seen it in Matt Fraction's uber-popular new series, and it sure wasn't mentioned in 2012's blockbuster "The Avengers." The one Deaf hero I know of is Echo. And she's dead. If not for Blue Ear, Marvel might not have any hard of hearing characters. (Of course, they have the blind Daredevil, but don't even get me started on how he's not blind, thank you very much, radar sense!)
What I'm getting at is this: when we don't see ourselves represented in the larger culture, we often find ways to put ourselves front and center. This mother was able to do that for her son. And the reason this story gets forwarded to me is because I've taken it upon myself to put my disability front and center within my work. In particular, there's Hearing Aid Girl.
For those who don't know, she was a part of my thesis, The Magnificent Masked Hearing Aid, at Ohio University; she was a cartoon drawn by a character as an extension of her hard of hearing identity. But my relationship with that cartoon goes back much farther than the one project. I created Hearing Aid Girl (or H.A.G., as I unfortunately acronymed her) after I was first diagnosed with hearing loss, at age eight. My parents were concerned about my response to wearing a hearing aid, as most kids hate them. They encouraged me to look at the device as an imaginary friend. Why an imaginary friend? Well, I loved the Value Book series growing up. These books were short, cartooned biographies about visionaries such as Ben Franklin, Margaret Mead, and Helen Keller. Each story involved the future famous person adopting an imaginary friend, often an object, that served as their conscience throughout their lives. For Helen Keller, it was a doll come to life. For Charles Dickens, it was a creature called the Bookworm. My favorite story involved ace hockey player Maurice Richard and his hockey stick, Slapper. But I digress. My parents knew I had a vivid imagination, so they wanted me to look at my hearing aid as a separate entity, as a pal.
Of course, I loved superheroes just as much as I loved the Value Books. And I was obsessed with "Batman: The Animated Series" in third grade. So I took my folks' advice and turned it ever so slightly, creating a superhero whose powers emanated from the hearing aid she wore. Of course, being a kid, I wasn't subtle about the whole thing. I cribbed Superman's origin story for my own drawings. I gave her a scientist turned werewolf for a sidekick. I named her alter ego SARAH BOWDEN, for crying out loud, and made her main enemies my own brothers (not that they ever did anything to deserve that). My parents wanted me to look at my hearing aid as something distinctive and useful, as opposed to limiting and bothersome. Their suggestion that I turn my experience into narrative was a wise one. And despite the fact that Hearing Aid Girl's adventures had so very little to do with hearing impairment (mostly, she sparred with giant evil snowmen and dragon-people), I learned from her. I figured out how to mount obstacles by thinking through stories; I trained myself to see the loss as simply a part of my life; I engaged with others about my hearing aid through the use of comics panels. Hearing Aid Girl had a huge impact on me. So it only seemed right I give her a second life in my thesis.
What's funny is, that second life has a mind of its own. Threading her through The Magnificent Masked Hearing Aid allowed me to open up about my personal superhero and share her with the world. So I get a respondent at a theatre festival telling me she wants way more Hearing Aid Girl stories. So I get this article sent to me as a result of transparency. As a good friend noted in one Facebook post, "FYI: Marvel owes you royalty fees." And every time I read this article, or a new Internet incarnation of the story, I am inclined to mentally bleat, "YEAH, THEY DO! I HAD THIS IDEA FIRST!" Of course, that's silly. All great ideas appear in a variety of forms. But I have begun to feel like Hearing Aid Girl could serve a purpose beyond silliness. And I wonder if she'd be good for people to see, ridiculousness and all. She helped me. Maybe she could be good for others? But what form could she take?
I've been thinking about maybe a web-comic? But I have no idea how to get started on that. So I wanted to throw an open question out to the web and the world. HOW DOES ONE BEGIN TO MAKE A WEB COMIC? WITH WHAT TOOLS? WITH WHAT RESOURCES? WHERE CAN I GO FOR MORE INFORMATION? Any and all information or directions are appreciated. I'd love to see what I could do with my own Blue Ear.