By day, Alex Babb is a typical 14-year-old who sometimes stays holed up in his LEGO-cluttered bedroom for hours at a time.
But by night, on the pages of graphic novels he writes and illustrates, Alex is transformed into “Super Alex,” a superhero who saves the world from evil villains such as “Brainiac Maniac” and “Evil Teacher.”
“Super Alex is about me as a superhero in the year 2035,” said Alex, who has a mild form of autism that doesn’t impede his ability to speak, read, write or handle basic life skills like eating and getting dressed.
The rising freshman at West Wilkes High School and others with so-called “high-functioning autism” often have difficulties with social interaction and communication. Alex, though, has no trouble proclaiming his love of art and writing.
Autism hasn’t stopped Babb from completing 57 full-length graphic novels. He has completed 10 volumes of his “Super Alex” series and is working on the second installment of his “Velociraptor Man” books. It takes him an average of two months to complete each 120-page work.
“Super Alex came here to save planet Earth from the evil technology of a mad scientist named Brainiac Maniac, who wants to take over the entire world,” explained Alex, who draws completely free-hand, without the aid of computer software.
Lindsey Dimmette taught Alex in the self-contained classroom for exceptional children at West Wilkes Middle School. He challenged Alex to create a diabolical character based on him, and Alex rose to the task by fashioning the Evil Teacher character after Dimmette.
Alex’s family had a copy of the graphic novel presented to Dimmette for his most recent birthday. “He thought it was pretty amazing,” recalled Alex.
“Velociraptor Man” is about a dinosaur superhero from the year 2040 who, like Super Alex, is tasked with saving the world from a mad supervillain.
Alex is also a big Godzilla fan, and his first series of graphic novels was called “NightFuryZilla,” which melds elements of the “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Lilo & Stitch” and Godzilla canons.
“NightFuryZilla is actually an alien because it has four arms and two antennae like Stitch,” explained Alex.
Besides the superhero novels, Alex said he likes writing about giant monsters and science fiction for kids, teens and adults. He meticulously plans out the writing of his books in an “Imagination Journal,” which he updates every day.
Alex is so passionate about being a graphic novelist that he wants to pursue it as a profession after high school. “I’ll figure it out once I get older,” he says of his future in graphic art.
Babb started creating graphic novels in 2016. Three years later, his large collection has filled a tall chest of drawers nearly to capacity in his bedroom.
Alex was inspired by the “Captain Underpants” series of illustrated children’s novels by Dav Pilkey. Another of his favorites is Pilkey’s “Dog Man” series. “I find those series funny and hilarious, and I try to put that sense of humor in my books too,” said Alex.
He was mentored by West Wilkes Middle School art teacher Becky Cole. Another teacher at the school, Thelma Kastl, helped Alex open up about subjects he wanted to illustrate. Carla York and Elaine Vimont also taught Alex in self-contained classes at West Middle.
Chasidi Osborne Wellborn, a teacher assistant in grades three through five at Millers Creek Elementary, helped Alex develop a love of school and reading.
Alex said he is excited about starting high school in the fall.
His mother, Laura Babb, is a fourth-grade teacher at Millers Creek Elementary, and his father, Bob Babb, teaches history at West Wilkes High.
An early talent
Laura said that drawing has always been a way for Alex to express himself. “When he started pre-K, when he was 3, he really wasn’t talking a whole lot in complete sentences,” she said. “But he could draw a train and show perspective. His teacher said she had never seen that in a pre-K kid. So, we knew he had some special drawing ability.”
Alex’s autism helped him look at things from a different perspective, said his mother. “He pays more attention to details and he’ll notice things that I don’t notice. When he was in the seventh grade he said that (autism) is kind of like his super power because he could see things a little bit easier than a typical seventh-grader.”
Alex grins and nods his head affirmatively when asked if art is his super power.
When Alex started sixth grade, he didn’t enjoy reading fiction. But he saw his friends reading it and soon picked up the books, which led to his discovery of graphic novels.
Bob likened Alex’s autism to a different way of looking at the world. He recalled an autistic student at West High saying a couple of years ago, “Maybe autism is just the next step up in human evolution.”
He added, “There are a lot of things we haven’t had to deal with (concerning Alex) that some other parents do. So, there have been some real positives. It becomes your life just like anything else. But it’s been kind of great.”
Alex and his sister, Jessie, have a special bond. “We get along great,” she said. “We never fight. He scares me with his ventriloquist dummy every other day, but that’s about it.”
Jessie is very nurturing toward Alex and has taught him many social skills, said Laura. “They’ve always had a real special relationship.”
Bob said Alex is very self-driven. “You hear about these authors that lock themselves away and just write and write and write. Sometimes I think that’s him, because he wants to. It’s not like we have a deadbolt on the door.”
Jessie said Alex wrote one entire book in only a week. “I only saw him when he came out to eat,” she laughed. “I would open his door and ask, ‘You good?’”
Alex writes his graphic novels for all ages, being careful not to include content that might frighten smaller children. He has a goal of seeing his books adapted into movies, and those movies later adapted into video games.
Culture of inclusion
Bob said he has noticed a trend of inclusion at West Wilkes High that has made him proud to be on staff there.
“One of the things about West High that I love is how inclusive we are with kids like Alex,” he said.
“As a society, I believe we’ve become more aware of kids that have special needs. Our kids (at West) are great—they go out of their way to make sure kids like Alex are included, and that’s a positive thing. It’s amazing to watch. They make sure those kids who might struggle are appreciated, and that builds confidence.”
He added, “I’m very confident that Alex will fit right in at West. It’s an exciting time for us as a society to include everybody. And I believe it’s a positive trend nationwide that will continue.”