“Never let anyone define who you should be,” said Nancy Silberkleit, Co-CEO of Archie Comics as she addressed comic book fans at “Cripping” the Comic Con, at Schine Student Center.

Held for the sixth time, the bi-annual event by Syracuse University’s Disability Cultural Center (DCC) and Burton Blatt Institute, saw unicorns, superheroes, popular fiction characters, and of course Joker, attend the day-long symposium of workshops, sessions and exhibits in collaboration with Archie Comics. 

“This seems to be a great venue to highlight the need for us to up our awareness on inclusion and kindness, to get to know individuals and not assume anything based on their actions or behavior,” Silberkleit said.

Comics are a wonderful tool to achieve this motive, Silberkleit believes, and goes on to elaborate the significance of “graphic literacy” in any individual’s life.

“I feel comics have always got a bad rap,” said Silberkleit who developed the love for reading at age 54 with her first Archie comic. “Reading comics – graphic literacy – is a very high literary experience where critical thinking is developed in a creative and colorful manner.”  

Silberkleit had just introduced a new character into the Archie comic-verse who is bi-racial and autistic, and skilled at building objects. Scarlet Saltee wants to make friends but her social cues do not easily allow her to and this is what Silberkleit wanted to share at ‘Crip’Con.

Prof. Diane Wiener, lead organizer of the event and founding director of the DCC, was very happy to have learned of Scarlet and reached out to Silberkleit through her colleague Jason Harris – who worked on the creation of the character.

“We have a team of superheroes with disabilities called the Access Avengers with an autistic character, too,” said Wiener while drawing the connection between Archie Comics and DCC.

“We make sure when we talk of disability we talk across perspectives – emotional, physical, psychological, cognitive,” Weiner said.

Weiner described how Silberkleit’s former experience as a school teacher who worked with graphic literacy led to the workshop on the pedagogy of comics in the classroom at the event. 

Lydia Facteau, professor of disability studies with a focus on comics and graphic novels at Stockton University, was one of the workshop attendees, along with her faithful companion, Phoenix the zombie dog.  

“Graphic literacy helps people visualize what it is to live in somebody else’s shoes,” said Facteau, a regular at ‘Crip’Con since its inception.

“You do not have to read any of the speech bubbles, just look at the graphics and you won’t miss anything. You will get a sense of the story,” Facteau said while emphasizing on the impact of graphics and the role of the artist in the creation of a comic book. 

“I never saw my reflection in popular culture until I picked up this issue of X-Men and saw Charles Xavier,” said Facteau who’s been disabled all her life.

That was Facteau’s foray into comics and she wishes to recommend that Archie introduce a disabled character soon, perhaps one with a speech impediment who finds it hard to fit in. 

Silberkleit would go on to tour the world with Scarlet and Rise Above Social Issues Foundation Inc. – the non-profit founded by her, dedicated to the cause of anti-bullying, to spread the message of kindness and compassion towards those who express themselves differently.

Sajida Ayyup, comic geek and student volunteer coordinator for ‘Crip’Con worked on a video for the campaign which will travel to film festivals that Kleibart is scheduled to attend.

“This was the most enriching experience. Diane has created something that caters to a much larger community and Nancy’s ultimate idea to spread the message of anti-bullying through film was amazing,” Ayyup said.

This event was held in 2019, the article for the same was written by me shortly after and published here first. The film is by Sajida Ayyup.