Fil-Am’s graphic novel ‘Whiz Kids from DARPA’ reflects social themes
Ramon Gil’s latest middle-grade graphic novel features characters with diverse ethnicities, gender identities and neurological conditions.
Since 2014, Gil’s comic stories have featured people of color — often Asian — as lead characters. As an immigrant himself, he has a soft spot for the newcomer or the outsider.
“I’ve always been part of the minority. I moved to this country from the Philippines when I was 14 and felt really left out of a lot of stuff. This is probably why I’ve constantly done things that promote inclusion,” professed the comic creator.
“It’s why I organize events like Diversity Comic Con for minorities and the Comic Arts Workshop for comic book nerds. Both marginalized groups, in my view. And that’s what my characters do — champion others who have been excluded.”
The characters he’s talking about are “The Whiz Kids from DARPA.” Gil has written and drawn a collection of comic stories about a group of adolescents who are brilliant government scientists. They go on missions and adventures using their knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to save the world.
Gil had just finished a middle-grade comic book called “Everybody Has a Hero” from Benchmark Education.
“It features a diverse cast of kids that genuinely drew inspiration from their backgrounds and were more than just generic characters with different skin tones,” shared Benchmark editor Michael Bagnulo.
“The result has been a favorite with teachers and students.” The book’s protagonists are a Filipino American boy, a girl of Mexican descent, and an immigrant lad from Nigeria.
But Gil takes it a few steps further in “The Whiz Kids from DARPA.” Not only does it promote ethnic diversity, but it also includes characters, such as Isaac, a leader who is on the autism spectrum; a transgender computer hacker named Cody, and Wade, a behavioral scientist who is also a talking bear.
This isn’t the first time that Gil has dealt with social themes. In his public service comic strip “Truer Than Trousdale” for the University of Southern California, he showed the struggles of a closeted character dealing with university life, and a much older student who felt out of place in the college environment.
“Ramon is a great creative partner, and helped us visualize a story that really spoke to our audience,” said Minne Ho, executive director of Communication, USC Student Health. The strip’s purpose was to help prevent students from dropping out.
During the Black Lives Matter movement, Gil and his friends published “Black Stories Matter,” which was part of the 2019 Diversity Comic Con. Ramon described it as “an anthology about discrimination and the struggle against it.”
Gil draws inspiration from his own life. His daughter identifies as gender fluid and his younger son has been diagnosed with autism. Before he even had kids, he illustrated a story book for kids with autism for Different Roads Publishing. The book “Party Train” had “vivid, inventive almost 3D imagery that appeals to autistic readers,” said Different Roads President Julie Azuma.
“The Whiz Kids from DARPA” is a 100-page, full-color book that actually started out as a graduate school project. It was Gil’s visual thesis while getting his master’s in Fine Arts in Illustration.
He now teaches Digital Drawing at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Visual Storytelling at Yeshiva University. Comic book creation remains his first love and passion.
“This is a great graphic novel for kids who love STEM!” offered Gil. All the characters are scientists with different specialties, the Whiz Kids go on missions and investigations and use their brains to overcome any challenge.
They work for the U.S. government’s real life and not-so-top-secret Department of Advance Research Projects Agency also known as DARPA.
First founded in 1958, DARPA develops scientific advancements, tools and technology for the intelligence community and the military. Some DARPA inventions that have made their way to public life include the Internet, GPS and SIRI.
In June, Gil will be promoting the book at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago and at various comic cons throughout the Northeast.- TheFilam.net
To order copies of the graphic novel, he can be reached at [email protected].