JULIE AVERBACH is not princess of the Amazons, nor has she ever wielded a sword or shield, but she just may be related to Wonder Woman. That’s because Julie truly believes in the power of comic book therapy and the way comics can empower real-life superheroes.
As part of a project to earn her Gold Award for Girl Scouts, Julie wrote her own comic book – entitled Adventures From My World – to reach out to people who may feel lost or overlooked. With over 8,000 copies in print and being distributed internationally, Julie’s adventures are just beginning. She is a 2017 recipient of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards for her thoughtful, generous work.
We caught up with her just before she started studying at Yale University, where she hopes to collaborate with the Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Talking with Julie Averbach:
What was it like growing up in Short Hills?
I am grateful for the excellent quality of instruction I received at Millburn schools and the friendships I developed. While our school system excels in traditional academics, I wish it embraced a culture of greater emotional intelligence, social aptitude, and mental health. Values like self-awareness, compassion, and empathy are just as critical for high school students as English and U.S. History, and are even more predictive of future happiness and success.
What’s your favorite food?
Mac and cheese!
Your favorite song?
Am I Pretty? by The Maine
Your favorite book?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Who would you say has had the greatest positive influence on your life?
My ultimate role model is Frida Kahlo. Her ability to transform destructive trauma into constructive art is an absolute inspiration. I also admire her unwavering self-confidence and empowering rejection of conventional beauty standards.
How did you first get involved the special needs community?
I have been volunteering for about 6 years now with The Friendship Circle, a Jewish organization which fosters friendships between people of all abilities. From this experience, I gained insight into some of the physical and cognitive challenges others face. I believe this exposure instilled me with gratitude, compassion, maturity, and love for all types of people. This involvement also led me to realize that, in many cases, parents must dedicate so many resources to their children with special needs that the emotional needs of other siblings are often overlooked. These siblings may feel compelled to suppress their emotions and to suffer in silence. One of my principal reasons for producing this comic book was to offer them reassurance that they are not alone. I also wanted to make a useful tool for siblings to express their emotions more openly.
What was the Girl Scout assignment that inspired your first draft of the comic book?
Adventures From My World is just one example of a Gold Award project! The Gold Award is the highest honor that a Girl Scout can earn, similar to an Eagle Scout award for Boy Scouts. It involves a minimum of 80 hours spent planning, developing, and executing a creative service project that will generate a measurable and sustainable impact.
What were some of the first reactions you received from your book?
The reactions to AFMW surpassed even my wildest expectations. The comic was first piloted by the Rutgers University Social Skills Program and incorporated into the group’s official curriculum. It was then embraced by special needs sibling support groups, hospitals, libraries, schools, and private psychology practices in 19 U.S. states and 4 countries outside the U.S. I am now in the process of printing Spanish and Portuguese translations of the first comic book story. Almost two years after printing AFMW, I am still humbled and overwhelmed by how warmly it was – and continues to be – received.
Did you conceive of the drawings and the language or was it collaborative?
I wrote all of the stories in AFMW and created the initial sketches. I then collaborated with three art students from The Kubert School (Petterson Oliveira, Vanessa Solis, and Dov Smiley), who re-illustrated the material to offer the comic more professional appeal. In refining the content, I worked, too, with Dr. Jed Baker, an expert child psychologist.
How do you print and distribute copies of Adventures From My World?
I printed the 8,000 copies of AFMW overseas and then began seeking out distribution channels on an ever-increasing scale. I distribute AFMW mainly through special needs organizations, Girl Scout troops, health centers, schools, and my website.
What’s your favorite memory of handing out AFMW?
Whenever possible, I try to deliver AFMW to groups in person and to facilitate an interactive discussion about the stories. I am always amazed when siblings, comic book lovers, and Girl Scouts are inspired enough by AFMW to open up about their own struggles and real-life experiences. Knowing that my words can comfort these individuals and encourage them to express their emotions always motivates me to do more and to aim higher!
If you could sit down and chat with anyone alive or dead about AFMW, who would it be and why?
I would love to share AFMW with William Moulton Marston, the original creator of Wonder Woman, and to discuss character development! He managed to masterfully weave feminist history, patriotic values, and ideals of social justice into his stories. In a similar way, I strove to incorporate symbolism and deeper messaging into my comic book. Given that we both believe comic books are vessels for activism and social awareness, I believe he would join me in exploring applications of comic book therapy.
Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share about getting this great award from the Diller Foundation?
Through this award, the Helen Diller Family Foundation has provided me with inspiration and material resources to fuel my academic and service-oriented future. Its generous scholarship will allow me to focus more on aiding my community and less on the financial expenses associated with my college education. It will also enable me to print Spanish and Portuguese translations of my first comic book story, thereby expanding my project’s audience and potential impact. Most importantly, this honor connects me to a community of young, Jewish superheroes, all eager to serve justice and to heal the world.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org.