The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

18 August 2010

Aspie’s Comic Book Life

By: Tiffany Tan, ASP Board Secretary

Mr. Gabriel “Gabby” D.J. Atienza, born in Manila and is the 9th of 11 siblings. He was 5 years old when he started to draw cartoons. To pursue the love for drawing, he enrolled in the University of the East and eventually transferred to Philippine Women’s University as a Fine Arts Major. He also attended a Summer Arts Workshop in the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines.


Gabby Atienza at one of the ASP Activities at Skydome


Gabby was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at 2002. The road to acceptance was long and hard. He was often bullied in class for his awkwardness. So he drowned himself in doodling or drawing cartoons. In college, after studying Fine Arts, he worked as a sales man in a computer shop for 14 years. But after losing his job, he had a major depression. His family later consulted medical experts. After a series of interviews and tests he was told to have Asperger Syndrome. Click here to know more about Asperger Syndrome.


Gabby is now 50 years young. He now works as an in-house artist in Center for Autism and Related Disorder (CARD) and was an art teacher in Shine Special Education Center. He is a familiar face in ASP activities. He continues to give art lessons to children. He is also the writer and artist of “Adventures of Deputy Dodgers”.


How Gabby Works

“I’m glad that the circumstances that came conceded with the revelation…” he pauses to think, “that instead of putting myself in distress, it helped me focused better.”


I followed Gabby during one of ASP’s events. He was swarmed at by mall goers, who watched him do caricature portraits. Tools of his trade: a simple pencil case with pencils, stabile highlighters, pens, brushes, a template of water colors and bond paper.


He worked relentlessly like a pro, only stopping occasionally for CR (toilet) breaks, lunch and coffee. People crowded, gawked and stared at him in disbelief. They watched him as he ate during his break and stood in line for him to finish so they could also have their portraits done. But he never complained and he smiled proudly as he presented his master pieces to his patrons.


Need for a Hero

Deputy Dodgers, the hero of the comic book is Gabby’s alter ego. Dodgers is an expert in martial arts with police training. He also has a side-kick who dresses like a cowboy, and a good friend, whom Gabby describes as “If Deputy Dodgers is the Archie, his good friend is like the Reggie in my comic book,” referring to the characters from Archie Comics.


Gabby imparts that his comic book drawings were inspired by a medley of anime Japanese cartoons and Popeye. “When Voltes-V was pulled out from TV during the Marcos Era, that left me hanging. I made my own fantasy instead.”


The comic book is full of heroes, with giant spaceships and aliens. And like other fantasy stories, there is also a princess whom the heroes need to rescue from the evil clutches of a villain.


Gabby injects his sense of humor through the mentor-character of Deputy Dodgers on one of the pages. The mentor’s dentures fell to the ground while shouting in surprise by the antics of the hero. Aspies have known to be lacking in this department, but Gabby has proven otherwise.


Technical and Emotional Stuff

“I marry my art with digi-tech. I get advice from my publisher. But I do all the layout and the script,” he said with his eyes beaming. He also uses Photoshop to edit movements and facial expressions of his characters. “Some of the background drawings are digital.”


“It took me lifelong to work without reservation,” he says proudly while flipping through the pages of his portfolio. “I created these characters. They can do the things I can’t do. Only dreams can I do them.”


And Gabby reveals his secret: “We should be masters of our imagination. My comic book is a reward for my patience and perseverance.”


Being an Advocate

According to Gabby, finally knowing that he is an Aspie gave him a sense of relief. “I am at peace with myself.”


When asked if he had a PWD card and if he used it to get discounts for his transportation and other benefits, he answered “Even though I have that card, I don’t go telling people ‘hey, look I’m am a person with disability, please give me the discount’ I just pay for my ticket, and move on like any other people who are taking the MRT.”


Seeing Gabby grow from the first time I met him at a restaurant from a socially awkward person, to his powerful speech during the 2002 ASP National Conference, to drawing caricatures for others, to him digging the Tai Chi during 2007 Angels Walk, and then again during the launching of his autobiography entitled “My Life as a Comic Book” in 2009.


His sketch for me, I still keep. Along with the others he made for my kids. Gabby continues to be an inspiration, to others who are struggling. “There’s no point turning back the clock, only in the present can we make a difference,” which he dedicated in one of his portraits. Gabby has finally found his niche. His life, as colourful as a comic book.


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ASP continues to give you stories of inspiration. Autism is not a Tragedy. Ignorance is. So be informed and share this story with others. Be an Angel for Autism. Donate generously to ASP programs and services. Log on to ASP Community Website or call 9266941 / 9298447 or email us at autismphils@gmail.com

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