This April, for Autism Awareness Month, the Indian Valley YMCA showcased the artistic prowess of Kambel and Kantai Smith, two young men who have created a comic book series about autism.
The siblings have already published four books in their series, “The Adventures of Survivor,” which follows superhero Survivor, a ribbon who has come to life through a freak accident and been granted the power to cure any disease.
Kambel and Kantai do the illustration, design and behind-the-scenes work, while Lonnie Smith, their father, writes the stories.
“I’m the shadow,” Lonnie said of their comic book series. “I keep things together for the cause of the two young men; I do the writing of the books, but they do everything else.”
Diagnosed with autism in his adolescent years, Kambel spent much of his youth fighting with rage and depression. Learning to embrace his creative and artistic side changed that, Lonnie said.
“Kambel has about 15 to 20 different characters in the story. He is a very imaginative young man. He does the illustrations, and this is just the beginning,” Lonnie said in reference to the YMCA’s display, which showcased the prologue to the story. “In the four books, Survivor becomes a superhero who fights against an army of aliens.”
Kambel is currently enrolled in DeVry University, and Kantai, who is working on a video game for the series, is enrolled in the University of Phoenix studying web design and animation.
“The benefit of this series is awareness,” Smith said. “A lot of the parents I’ve spoken with are excited about the book — it gives them hope that autism can be looked at as a power instead of a disability. There are autistic children out there doing amazing things; that’s what this book celebrates.”
While on display at the YMCA, the oversized comic book pages ignited a small controversy, a fact which seemed to almost amuse Smith.
“There was a small political controversy behind one of the oversized pages. There’s one picture that shows [President Barack] Obama making a decision about the aliens coming to earth,” Smith said. “It was in jest, but a Republican member of the YMCA didn’t like it. He told a YMCA administrator to take it down or he would turn in his membership. Obviously, the YMCA administrator said no.”
Of course, Smith was quick to point out that the comic books are not intended to be political in nature — the purpose of the artwork is to celebrate the special power of autism.
“But it was interesting to see such an impact over a comic book display,” Smith added. “And they didn’t take it down, so [the YMCA member] turned in his membership. The YMCA actually lost business over it,” because the organization stood by its artists.
Kambel and Kantai do not exclusively work on the Survivor series, Smith said. Both have their own other pursuits, like Kambel’s oil paintings of characters from the famous television shows “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy.”
By finding their artistic talents, Smith said he hopes Kambel and Kantai will inspire other young people with autism to believe in what makes them unique, rather than considering it a handicap.
“The purpose of the comic book series is for families to find the inner power and strength autistic children have,” Smith said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of how to embrace the hidden power inside autism.”
Follow Erin Weaver on Twitter @ByErinWeaver.