Writer: Yvon Roy
Artist: Yvon Roy
Letterer: Yvon Roy
Publisher: Titan Comics
Available (in English): May 25, 2021
Out next month from Titan is the English language adaptation of Little Victories, Yvon Roy’s autobiographical tale of his experience parenting his autistic son. Already a multiple award-winning graphic novel in its native French (Best Biography Award from the Disability Fund and Society, the INSPIREO High School Students Award for the most inspiring youth book, and the Literary Award for Citizenship from the Maine Teachers’ League)—Roy is French Canadian, from Montreal—Little Victories is a treatise on the power of love and devotion in overcoming the most harrowing of life’s challenges.
Young Mark (Roy’s fictional counterpart) is a man like many of us: he envisions marrying his best friend, working the career of his dreams (for him, a comic artist) and raising a child, a mini-me with whom he can bond and teach and guide, craft into a greater version of himself.
Well, sometimes the universe has other ideas.
In his case, Mark got the marriage and the career. And the child? Well, this one came with a bonus. An extra adjective that tends to fill even the most hopeful would-be Mom or Dad of the Year with dread: autism. At two, already markedly different from his same-aged peers in terms of social response, adaptive skill and rigidity of behavior, Oliver is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
And immediately, the system takes over. Speech therapy these days; occupational therapy the others. Home aides, psychologists and psychiatrists. Medications. All for the betterment of Oliver, all with love and compassion and research-supported protocols for maximizing little Ollie’s life and development. Keeping him stable. Making him…well, not well per se, but as well as can be.
And initially, Mark marches right along with it, playing the good soldier. He’s in over his head, and knows he is. However off things seem (and, if you’ve ever experienced behavioral training for autistic children, or autistic children themselves, relative to their normative counterparts, it does seem off), he tries to follow the orders. Except they don’t help. He feels unable to connect with his son, and his marriage quickly devolves—a casualty of the tension and stress of two young parents coping with challenges above and beyond anything they ever envisioned, the grief of dreams lost liberally dosed along with it.
Then, Mark makes a change. Working from home as an artist and having the time to devote to his own, custom-designed approach to bonding with and training Oliver, he works tirelessly to overcome the worst of Ollie’s deficits. He is neither aggressive, nor militant: he listens to the professionals and experts, nods his head where appropriate, offers the correct response…and immediately does his own thing, in his own home.
And does it again. And again, and again. Using metaphor and story, with a child whose existence is literal and direct. Installing change of plan and pace, to a child to whom routine is life. Forcing flexibility and choice upon a child whose rigidity of thought is as determined as stone. And he does it with love, and humor, and grace. And a Herculean amount of determination.
And meets a lot of resistance. Defiance.
But also, flashes of success. And growth. And ultimately, Mark establishes with his son a bond not predicted possible in the accepted literature on autism, other than in the highest-functioning of cases (of which Ollie is not one).
Don’t get me wrong—Roy’s story is not all sunshine and roses, and he offers no pretense as to the struggles experienced in his/Mark’s journey. He will never go the art museum with Ollie, and spend the day chatting casually about the French Impressionists and their influence on Mark’s career as an artist. Marital strife and in his case divorce, life-altering changes in social relationships and time to himself, the fundamental restructuring of his dreams about what raising his son means. The thousands and thousands of little rejections. The pain of knowing he’ll never be able to just give his boy a hug, without activating him and triggering a tantrum. And all of this for a man who, working largely from home, had the time and resources to focus on his relationship with his son almost exclusively. And, during periods when Ollie was with his mother for placement, brief episodes of respite.
No one said it was going to be easy, but the best things in life never are. Pretty sure I read that somewhere.
Roy’s writing in Little Victores flows like…well, like a memoir, graced with a palpable filial love. Kinda figures, since that’s exactly what it is. There are no subplots or side-sketches, no vignettes of the supporting cast. Just the tale of one man’s quest to bond with his son. And it’s gorgeous: truly a thing of grace and beauty.
So’s the art, by the way. Roy employs a very simple, mildly cartoony style, entirely in black and white and grey tones. Facial expressions are important, and well-attended throughout. Beyond that, no flash, no explosions, no heroic derring-do (well, there are a couple fantasy sequences, but they’re fairly tame, in a Dr. Seussian fashion). The art isn’t there to be the selling point—it’s there to illustrate Roy’s story, and tell it it does. Now, let me be clear: just because the art appears simple, doesn’t mean it actually is. The undercurrent of grief and pain Mark expresses as his son looks upon him with complete indifference is heart-wrenching—just as is the joy Mark experiences but is cautious not to express when he and Ollie finally (and proudly) share a hotdog.
Having worked with high-functioning autistic clientele in my own clinical work, I have to present Roy’s graphic novel with a significant caveat. While the results experienced by Roy and his family are very real, they are not common, and likely not even possible in every case. The research-driven protocols touted by Ollie’s specialists in Little Victories are touted for a reason…actually a number of them. Working with autistic children is rewarding, but also challenging, grueling and at times soul-wrenching, especially for the parents who are, at the very same time as they are confronting the multitudinous challenges that autism presents, also coping with grief over the loss of the life they’d anticipated. Time, devotion and love are paramount…as are adequate support resources and knowledgeable professionals.
If you choose to read it (and I hope you do), do not read Little Victories as a how-to manual on raising autistic children. Read it instead as a treatise on the power of love, devotion and unyielding determination in confronting life’s challenges. And enjoy the hell out of it, like I did.
Little Victories will be available in bookstores and your handy LCS as well as Amazon on May 21, with a cover price of $19.99.
Review by Andy Patch