Chip Reece is a social worker in Wichita, Kansas. At the office, he focuses on aiding senior citizens reentering the workforce. In his spare time at home, he reads comic books. Several years ago, Chip’s pastime unexpectedly morphed into a second job. Why? Well, he recognized a gap in the comic industry. There weren’t any comics featuring superheroes with disabilities. Since he didn’t exactly have creative writing experience, he relied on his firsthand knowledge of a remarkable character.
Chip and his wife welcomed their son, Ollie, in June 2010. Parenthood is tricky for most but, in addition to typical newbie parent/baby adjustments, the Reece’s were also navigating the world of medicine for the first time. You see, Ollie bravely underwent three major heart surgeries and an array of other serious procedures, including a tracheotomy, gastrostomy tube and more. Ollie also has Down syndrome; and, while his ‘extra chromosome’ was discovered in utero, no one could have known the extra special and groundbreaking impact he would make.
As Ollie’s health improved over time, Chip was able to rediscover comics… a joy he hoped to share with his son. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any graphic novels inclusive of individuals with disabilities. “I just couldn’t believe that, out of all the comics in the world, there wasn’t anything that specifically represented my son. At the time, I thought ‘if Ollie came of age and had interest in comics, I wanted him to feel included,’” Chip explained. “With everything he had been through, I most identified him as being a superhero! He had been through more in his first year of life than many of us would in our lifetime.”
The problem: A major character gap in comics. The solution? Well, a social worker became a comic book writer!
Chip originally drafted a short 10-page tale, titled Metaphase, about a superhero with disabilities. He expected to share it with Ollie, family and friends. Then, following a casual social media chat with Peter Simeti, founder/publisher of Alterna Comics, Metaphase expanded into a full-length book with illustrations by Kelly Williams, a skilled comic artist. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, in 2015, Metaphase was published!
The plot: A boy with Down syndrome (named Ollie, of course) wants superpowers just like his dad. But, because of his congenital heart defects, his concerned father worries about him getting in harm’s way. And there’s a twist… The Meta-Makers company promises to give powers to anyone who wants them and Ollie just can’t resist. But will he become the hero he longs to be, or will his ambitions put his beloved father in danger?
Unlike other comics which are typically pure fiction for entertainment, this first-of-its-kind graphic novel is based on reality – the good, the bad and the ugly. Perhaps, in a way, it’s Chip’s method of processing his family’s struggles and triumphs. The message has certainly resonated with a wide audience – comic, disability literature and more. And Ollie, now a 7-year-old second-grader, is also a fan!
“Ollie is non-verbal and primarily uses sign to communicate. This last year was the first time he signaled that he understood the book was about him,” Chip shared. The book has helped Ollie connect with people. “I understand it can be hard for kids Ollie’s age to know how to interact with someone who is non-verbal, and this gives them an excuse to say hello,” says Chip. In fact, classmates are absolutely relating to Ollie with a newfound understanding of who he is – far beyond his disabilities – and sometimes refer to him as the “superhero kid.”
Metaphase can be ordered online via Amazon or Midtown Comics. And it looks like Chip isn’t ready to say farewell to his writing career. A sequel is underway! As for what’s ahead for Ollie’s comic plotline, Chip told AmeriDisability Services magazine, “I hope to focus more on school and his peers and will be exploring his powers more. You can bet he’ll be running into the villain from the first book again as well!” Another Kickstarter campaign is likely to launch to fund the project with a goal to publish in 2019. In the meantime, follow Chip at chipreece.tumblr.com.