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'Dreamer' comic project 'flips the hero switch'

Staff reports

Three area artists have combined talents to create a comic book story that illustrates how to turn one‘s “disability into an ability.” 

“Dreamer” begins when a 14-year-old boy suffers life-threatening injuries while saving children with disabilities from a hospital fire, forcing the doctors to put him in an induced coma to save his life. 

With damage to his brain and nervous system, the young boy may be disabled for the rest of his life, if he survives. In his coma, he awakens in a dreamstate world and discovers that, because he was willing to sacrifice his life to save these children, he can travel into their dreams to help them overcome their fears in their daily struggles by motivating them to tap into their inner strengths. 

Through his encouragement and devotion to help make their lives more meaningful, the Dreamer helps each of them to discover the “true hero” within themselves. He races against time in the series to help as many children as he can while doctors debate whether to end his coma and, possibly, his life. 

Greece artists Joe Janowicz, Liz Pritchard and Ken Wheaton collaborate on “Dreamer,” a comic book series focused on turning one’s “disability into an ability.”

Each issue will explore the lives of different children and their individual “disability.” Storylines will include blindness, autism, immunity disorder, speech and hearing impairment, shyness and suicide. The main character in the comic book, the Dreamer, will help each person “Flip the Hero Switch” in themselves, particularly when they are facing bigger-than-life challenges. 

The comic book is the product of three Greece artists. It is drawn by Ken Wheaton, illustrator of “Popeye” and “The Simpsons” comic books. The story was created and written by comic book writer and novelist Joe Janowicz. Liz Pritchard, a nationally known artist who has autism, also contributed to the comic book.

Ken Wheaton, left, Liz Pritchard and Joe Janowicz sign copies of “Dreamer” at Rhino’s Comics & Collectibles in Greece.

Janowicz wrote “Dreamer” based on his lifelong friendship with Frank Johnson, a Rochester resident who was trapped in a fire over 40 years ago. Johnson incurred a traumatic brain injury that impaired his speech and some hand movements. It changed his life and altered his dreams.

Johnson became an inspirational speaker and friend to not just others like himself, but to anyone who has a disability. He is the author of “From Flawed to Fantastic: How I Turned My Disability into an A$$et” and was written about in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.” 

“This story is dedicated to Frank, a comic book fan who is a ‘real dreamer,’ not only discovering the inner strengths in his own life but influencing and helping the dreams of others,” Janowicz said. 

“Dreamer” will be marketed online, as well as through hospitals, schools and comic book shops. Part of the proceeds from sales of the comic book will go to Golisano Children’s Hospital. 

As a freelance illustrator, Wheaton has worked on local and national projects, contributing artwork and designs for a series of TV ads for clients Toyota, McDonald’s and Wegmans. He teaches comic book production workshops each summer, which yield anthologies of student work and prepare young students for entering the field. He also worked with the Strong National Museum of Play as a teaching artist. 

Janowicz has written several novels and is working with Greece screenplay writer Rob Jones to adapt the comic series into a potential TV series. He created “Dreamer” so his grandchildren, Alexis and Ella Schwab, also Greece residents, could read something geared toward them and other young readers. 

Pritchard is an autism advocate and disability rights advocate, as well as an author, videographer and comic book illustrator. 

“Dreamer” features a story by Joe Janowicz with illustrations by Ken Wheaton.

Janowicz, Pritchard and Wheaton recently attended an in-person signing of the comic at Rhino’s Comics & Collectibles, 3805 Dewey Ave., Greece. Visit dreamercomicbook.com for information.