A loving father created his own comic to give his son with disabilities a superhero he could see as himself.
After his son, Ollie, was born with Down syndrome in June 2010, comic book enthusiast Chip Reece naturally sought out a superhero his son could look up to when he grew older. But his search was over almost as soon as it began: Reece quickly found a shortage of comic heroes who have disabilties—and virtually none who had Down syndrome like Ollie.
“When we found out about my son, I was looking for comics that had prominent characters with Down syndrome, and at the time there was zero, I couldn’t find anything at all” Reece, 36, of Wichita, Kansas, tells PEOPLE. “I wanted him to see a character with Down syndrome that didn’t let that restrict him, that he could still be whatever he wanted to be despite what other people might think were his limitations.”
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder brought on by a person having an extra copy of chromosome 21, which causes cognitive disabilities and developmental delays. The condition affects one baby in 700 births, making it the most common chromosomal condition, according to Mayo Clinic. Typical physical deficiencies for those with Down syndrome include heart defects, poor muscle tone, vision problems, hearing loss and being prone to infections.
Ollie, 7, underwent multiple surgeries to correct congenital heart defects during the first year of his life. The outlook was dire since he only weighed a bit more than six pounds after his birth, and didn’t have much strength.
“There were times we weren’t sure he was going to make it,” Reece remembers. “We were told not to have any real high hopes of him surviving.”
After watching his son’s battle and realizing he wouldn’t have a superhero he could relate to, Reece decided to make the leap from comic reader to comic writer to give his son a superhero he could connect with, and Metaphase was born.
“Everything that Ollie had been through, it harkened back to some of the Marvel superheroes that go through adversity and through that adversity they get powers,” he says. “The odds were against Ollie from the start, especially with the medical stuff, and he beat those odds. To me, he was a superhero.”
The comic—illustrated by Kelly Williams—stars a young boy, fittingly named Ollie, who has Down syndrome and yearns to have powers just like his Superman-like father. Since Ollie has heart defects, his father strives to keep him from danger, but Ollie is faced with a predicament when a seedy organization approaches him and promises to bestow him the superpowers he so desires.
The story incorporates many themes that families with a member who has Down syndrome might experience. Ollie’s father worries about his safety, while Ollie hopes to be treated like everyone else.
Reece originally penned the 10-page comic for close friends and family but was soon contacted by Alterna Comics for a more fleshed out tale. Metaphase was published in summer 2015 after a Kickstarter campaign raised thousands of dollars to help it get off the ground.
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Though Ollie is a big fan of books, he has difficulty understanding the meaning behind the stories, Reece says. Ollie is also non-verbal, and though Metaphase has been out for two years, he didn’t start reacting to the story until recently.
“I brought the book out again a re-read this year, and it was the first time he’d point to the character and then point to himself,” Reece says. “It really felt like he was finally getting it, that he was understanding the story was about him. That’s what I wanted the whole time, a book he could see himself in.”
Kids at Ollie’s school have even begun to call him “superhero kid” after Metaphase was added to his school’s library. Reece plans to write a sequel to the comic (which is available on Amazon) sometime next year.
“The book can also be used as a way into Ollie’s world, it’s a way for kids to identify with my son,” he says. “There is more to him than having Down syndrome, he is his own person and has his own personality, and with everything he has been through, he really is a superhero.”