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Feature, Not a Flaw

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“People often underestimate Blip. For some reason, no one ever expects much from a guy with walking braces. But Blip never lets it bother him. He knows his braces are like Clark Kent’s glasses. They keep people from realizing what he can do until it’s too late. Like the time Blip saved the entire ninth grade with a fritzy laser pen, an old map, a busted medicine ball, and the quiet, new kid from Ms. Halsey’s fifth-period English class.”

-Excerpt fromPart Time P.I. #1: Feature, Not a Flaw

 


 

Steve Rogers is never going to change the world. It’s a truth he accepted long ago while his classmates still dreamed of being astronauts and professional athletes. For Steve, those fantasies have always been out of reach. He’s scrawny and slight, easy to miss if you’re not looking for him (and few people are.) Neuroblastoma at six-months-old and the subsequent powerful drug regimen the doctors used to keep him alive saved his life but left him with a smorgasbord of side effects that disqualified him from any occupation with even the most lenient of health requirements. But as everybody liked to tell his ma, Steve’s lucky to be alive so he makes the most of the hand he’s been dealt.

“What are you up to now, you crazy kid?” Steve wonders aloud to himself, studying the incomplete storyboards he has spread across his drafting desk as he tries to figure out the next sequence of act two.

Puzzling things out loud, asking himself questions is a long-ingrained habit, but Steve figures he’s okay as long as he doesn’t start responding in the third person. It’s the silver lining of his childhood ailments. All the time he spent sick as a child forced him to develop interests he could pursue while bed-bound. It started with picture books then spread to comics. With nowhere to go and no one to talk to, Steve would read the stories over and over again, wearing the spines and covers thin, caught up in the amazing tales, awed by the accompanying illustrations. To keep his mind occupied as his body struggled through this infection and that treatment cycle, he began to studiously mimic the drawings, eager to continue the adventures of his favorite characters, sometimes even making changes he thought suited the story better. As his skills improved more and more, Steve pushed himself, hungry for more ways his imagination, his pencils, and his crayons let him go places and do things his sickly body never would.

When he was nine, Steve entered an art contest advertised in one of the art magazines his ma got him for his latest hospital stay. What does art mean to you?Steve labored over his piece for days. It was a twist on self-portrait, his hospital room through his eyes: in the foreground, the bed, the machines around him, and in his lap, his sketchpad with 2D-drawings of a kid Steve’s age appearing over and over, each incarnation outfitted for a different adventure. In the background, he’d drawn more realistic 3D-renderings of the same kid romping around the hospital room, enthusiastically tackling whatever scenario Steve had outfitted him for on the sketchpad. To his surprise, Steve’s piece actually won the grand prize, an all-fees paid week-long art day-camp. It’s one of Steve’s most cherished memories, one of the few times he got to be a regular kid pursuing his passion. Lessons with professional artist and illustrators had cinched it for Steve. Using the fantasies that bubbled over by the dozen every time he found himself stuck in bed for days and weeks at a time, he eventually created Angus ‘Blip’ Callahan, kid hero of Steve’s popular young adult graphic novel series.

He’s just figured out the next clue in Blip’s most recent mystery when he hears a shriek of glee in the hall outside his apartment door.

“Steve! Steve! It’s here!”

Natasha breezes in through his front door, a whirlwind of energy.

“That key’s for emergencies,” Steve murmurs without looking up.

“This might be the first day of the rest of your life. Life-changing events warrant immediate entry to the premises.”

Steve finally admits defeat and looks up, abandoning Blip who’s currently worming his way through the school’s HVAC vents to get to the janitor’s closet where they store the DustBane Mr. K uses whenever anybody pukes. His eyes land on the thick envelope Nat is waving around.

“Is that what I think it is?” he asks hoarsely.

“I think so. Do you want to do the honors or shall I?” she responds holding the envelope towards him, waving it enticingly.

“You do,” he says. “No! Wait me. No. You.”

Natasha sighs. “Steve…”

He huffs and takes the letter. “Fine. Me.”

With trembling finger, he rips the seal. He hasn’t been this nervous since the envelope from the New York Academy of Visual Arts showed up in his mail box seven years ago. He pulls out the papers.

Dear Mr. Rogers, we are very pleased to inform you that your proposal is one of five works that has been selected by our committee for funding…

“We got it…” Steve mumbles dumbly as the words sink into his brain.

“We got it?!” Natasha echoes, her voice pitching up sharply with excitement.

“We got it!” Steve confirms, a dumbfounded smile creeping across his face.

Natasha explodes into a happy Snoopy dance.

It had been a long shot but it came through. Steve’s graphic novels had a cult following. The kids at the at the hospital where Steve works part-time as an art therapist loved his stuff and begged him to draw more or give them spoilers for the next installation. One afternoon, after watching some of the more dexterous kids play videogames, Steve begin to wool gather about what it might be like to have games that all their kids could play. Sam, the physical therapist, thought it was an amazing idea and suggested Steve approach the All Together Foundation which supports efforts to promote disability and health inclusion in education and media. Never believing it would be picked for funding Steve submitted a grant proposal to turn his kid hero novel into an accessible game that would likely be the first video game representation many players would ever see.

“We got it…” Steve says again softly, his excitement melting into uncertainty and fear.

Where the hell did they even start?