United Cerebral Palsy recently spoke with a young man who is bursting with ideas to change the world for people with disabilities. Some of his ideas came together in the form of a comic book superhero named “Ammon” – a semi-autobiographical representation of its creator, Aaron D’Errico. Aaron is the son of pro soccer player David D’Errico and has cerebral palsy. When he was just 11 years old he won the OMSI “Science of Superheroes” drawing contest and has been working to bring Ammon to life as a narrated motion comic to encourage reading among young people. His project is getting a lot of attention from professionals and the media. Find out more about “Ammon” and Aaron below.
What inspired you to create “Ammon?”
Aaron D’Errico (AD): Ammon began with my mom Cynthia’s encouragement to “write my own story,” and a desire to follow in the pro soccer footsteps of my dad, David D’Errico. He was a USA Men’s National Soccer Team Captain, and first-round draft pick for an original NASL team, The Seattle Sounders.
A superhero needs an occupation with the freedom to take action at a moment’s notice. So playing pro soccer is a good fit, with the world travel and requirement of peak fitness. I was also thinking of Sean Connery’s James Bond who almost became a soccer player for Bonnyrigg Rose when I combined the soccer, superhero, and spy elements in the Ammon character.
Ammon’s abilities are dependent on making choices that build positive strength of character. He’s strongest when following his bliss, aka being in a “flow state” by turning challenges into triumphs. Ammon gains ever-evolving powers somewhat based on the abilities of a dragonfly. They’re useful in both soccer and spying – 360˚ vision and awareness, motion camouflage (appearing still when actually moving). Much like a dragonfly, Ammon molts his disabled body. He emerges with a perfect super-powered one. That perfect form is my homage to my dad as an archetype of athleticism, and my Mom, who was a professional model when she was younger.
Is Ammon somewhat semi-autobiographical?
AD: The human potential for change and improvement has fascinated me since childhood. It’s real and it’s powerful. I learned that myself in school, going from C’s and D’s to earning almost all A’s by my senior year. Ammon too loves human potential and secretly dreams of being a soccer champion like his dad. Ammon is also inspired by his mother’s occupation in the healing arts, becoming a med student, hoping to help others have better lives, something for which I also strive. Her consistent compassion made me want to be of service to others.
What other elements of your real life do you incorporate in Ammon?
AD: In 1996, I wrote Doctor Nora Davis at Seattle Children’s Hospital to inquire if virtual reality technology could be used to help people with cerebral palsy by re-wiring the brain to have the proper electrical signals fire. I later gave Ammon the job of a VR/augmented reality rehabilitation specialist, helping people living with CP, TBIs and spinal injuries. This is something I want to incorporate into a video game that promotes both empathy and ability.
Tell us more about your dad.
AD: My dad grew up in a large family in NJ where he honed his skills playing soccer. His accomplishment despite adversity is what I admire most about him. He also gave me a love for soccer. One of the reasons I have a passion for it is because it’s a democratic sport for people of all walks of life and ability levels.
Why did you decide to use “Ammon” to promote reading?
AD: Comics have pictures that give clues to the accompanying words. It’s a help in learning. My mom helped me overcome the challenges of a learning disability as she read to me using with the Peabody Rebus reading program. I want to turn Ammon into a semi-animated narrated motion comic, which will have the picture-text-audio connection, when the art panels include word balloons and captions, making it a new, engaging way to experience reading with comic books, making them as useful as they are entertaining.
Tell us more about narrated motion comics – how does that work?
AD: A motion comic is a digital comics story with the familiar elements of printed comics, such as artwork panels, word balloons, captions, etc., with the added features of narration, limited movement, filmmaking techniques like cuts and dissolves, a soundtrack and sound effects.
Who is narrating “Ammon’s” story?
AD: Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame DJ (and one-time NASL Seattle Sounders co-owner) Pat O’Day. Pat will narrate Ammon’s story and voice different characters. It’s an honor to have his support.
How is the project going so far?
AD: Family and friends have supported the project locally. Funding it has been a challenge. Now I’m reaching out to supporters online to realize the goal of making Ammon’s adventures into narrated motion comics by doing a fundraiser through the crowd funding site Crowdtilt.com. Also, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is currently doing a segment about funding inspiring projects called “Are You Trying to Get a Project Funded?” If anyone would like to write in to her show about my goal to make motion comics to promote reading, here’s the link.
I understand “Ammon” is getting a lot of attention. Where has the project been featured? How are people responding to your idea?
AD: The response is enthusiastic. One TV story by sports anchor Aaron Levine and photojournalist Walker Anderson actually won an Emmy. It was also shown in USA Today Sports For The W!n. Ammon has been featured on Paul Chadwick’s blog, and Talenthouse.com as part of a global invite to find an artist to draw the first story. It led me to a terrific illustrator, Addison Rankin. Other coverage includes Stan Lee’s website, The Bob Rivers Show, King 5 New Day NW, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Good News Network, the AMS Vans Blog, BJ Shea’s Geek Nation, and soon to be featured in soccer.com and The Seattle Sounders FC’s RAVE TV.
I understand you heard from Stan Lee, the great comic creator. Tell us what he thinks.
AD: I grew up idolizing Stan. I’ve tried to apply his insights on the empowering mythology of superheroes. In 2010, I had the honor of thanking Stan for sharing his wisdom. His enthusiastic reply became a personal mantra: “I expect great things from you!”
What’s next for you?
AD: After the first issue of Ammon is funded and made, I’ll flesh out more adventures to send to a publisher. From there my focus is using the proceeds from the narrated motion comics of Ammon to make virtual reality/augmented reality biofeedback video games. These games could take the idea of putting people in another’s shoes even further than a comic, by giving players a real-time sense of what it’s like to live with limitations when they play as Ammon with CP at the start of the game, before he gains his super powers. To progress in the game, players must make positive choices despite limitation/frustration, thus gaining positive experience points to increase their abilities in the game – abilities that evolve in proportion to their empathy and positive strength of character.
Other goals include being part of Duke University’s stem cell trials for adults with CP next year. I hope to combine that stem cell therapy with Duke’s brain rewiring technology from Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, in conjunction with my biofeedback VR soccer video game concept of Ammon. The goal is combining different healing methods to create something more effective, like what Bruce Lee did for martial arts, resulting in a game that makes healing and rehabilitation fun.
Where can we get more information about you and your project?