At Salt Lake City’s FanX, comic book artists promote their new creation: A superhero with autism

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Yvonne Wan, creator of the comic book Focus, talks to an attendee at Fan X in Salt Lake City on April 19, 2019. The comic book tells the story of a super hero with autism.

Focus is a superhero, a muscular teen who can focus his mind to analyze data and predict the future.

Focus also has autism.

“His main power is autism,” said Douglas Hebert, one of the chief artists for the independent comic book “Focus,” which is being promoted at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention this weekend at the Salt Palace Convention Center. It’s one of the many comic titles on display at the convention, vying for attention with artists, authors, celebrities, fan panels and a sea of cosplayers.

The comic book is the brainchild of Yvonne Wan, an Arizona anthropologist and film ethnographer who wanted to raise awareness about autism.

Someone close to Wan has autism, she said, and they “had a hard time being accepted by society. I want to change things, not just for those who are close to me, but for everybody with autism.”

Thus came the idea for Focus, a teen superhero whose strength — the ability to focus intensely on something — came as a result of his autism.

“Once they find a focus, they can dedicate to it 100 percent,” said actor Tony Todd, who signed on as an ambassador for the comic and appears as a character in it.

Wan, Todd and Hebert spent Friday at a booth on the Salt Palace vendor floor talking about and selling copies of the comic. Children could color their versions of the character, while Todd — best known as a horror icon in the “Candyman” and “Final Destination” films — talked to fans who lined up for autographs, selfies and a minute or two of conversation.

The three — along with Tabidi Elkhalil, an autistic artist who is an intern with the book project — will take part in a panel about “Focus” on Saturday at 2 p.m., in room 151D of the Salt Palace.

Wan said she aims to take the first issue of “Focus” to all 50 states. The issue has 16 variant covers, all designed by young artists with autism, like Elkhalil.

Hebert signed on to the project as soon as Wan described it to him. As an art teacher in Arizona, he has had many students with autism, and has seen parents struggle as they sought the best educational options for their children.

In discussing autism, Hebert said, a comic book “is a great vehicle. You can educate through this, and people will listen. Parents will listen. Kids will listen.”

Wan compares “Focus” to Marvel’s “Daredevil,” who fights crime in Hell’s Kitchen while blind. She said the comic format speaks “in a language kids can understand.”

Todd agreed. “It gives them something they can idolize, so they can say it’s OK [to have autism],” he said.

FanX weekend

The spring 2019 edition of FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention continues.

Where • Salt Palace Convention Center.

When • Friday and Saturday, April 19-20.

Hours • Last panels begin at 8 p.m. both nights. Vendor floor closes Friday at 8 p.m., open to general admission Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Details • For schedules, celebrity lists and tickets, go to fanxsaltlake.com.