There’s a new gang coming to town: Team Supreme. While this cartoon series is still being developed by artist Joshua Leonard, its potential star power is clear. The show focuses on a group of kids who are superheroes with disabilities. And they’re not just a bunch of quiet, little Tiny Tims.
These super kids have pizzazz, and can serve as role models for children with disabilities as another way to have a positive view of bodily difference. For the members of Team Supreme, impairments don’t have to be hidden; they’re part of each character’s personality and super power.
Holy Role Model, Batman!
Living with a disability, such as autism or cerebral palsy, can be difficult. Especially when you’re a kid, you may not have many friends who can identify with the challenges you may face in day-to-day life, and what it’s like to be in your body.
Leonard created Team Supreme because he saw a need for a cartoon that would speak to kids with disabilities. What’s a kid to do when they see so many cartoon characters on TV, but no one who seems like them? Leonard set out to fill that gap, and he’s doing it with style.
On his website Leonard writes, “I wanted to create characters with an amazing, compelling story that was also cool enough to where the kids could not only relate to these characters, but also like and appreciate them.”
The cast includes a boy named Zeek who heads up the super crew. Zeek is autistic, and his super power allows him to make time go along at a crawl. This ability reflects how some people with autism have a near-photographic memory and gift for recalling information.
Other members of Team Supreme include Mech who is paralyzed due to polio, Li who has been blind since birth but has fantastic hearing, Shock who is an amputee with a prosthetic arm that changes into various tools, and Thumper who is hearing impaired.
A Show For Every Body
Leonard emphasizes that he spent a lot of time with kids and adults with disabilities while he was developing the characters for his cartoon. In talking with people from various disability communities, he was able to learn more about their lived experience. Leonard took extensive notes during these visits, since he wanted to make sure his characters would reflect the lives of disabled people. Importantly, the cartoon also reflects the spectrum of disabilities, which is clear in the wide range of bodies and abilities exhibited by his characters.
While Leonard is still developing ideas for Team Supreme, he plans to begin a Kickstarter campaign at the end of May to raise money for the first episode. He would like to present the series to Netflix for consideration.
(Super) Powering into Mainstream Media
Leonard’s cartoon follows the current trend of positive and realistic representations of people with disabilities in movies and television. For example, the comedy show Speechless, which had its first season on ABC, focuses on a family in which the oldest son has cerebral palsy, a condition caused by birth injury.
This character is played by actor Micah Fowler, who also has CP. At its heart, Speechless is a family comedy that happens to involve a person with a disability. The show also aims to present J.J., the teenage kid with CP, as having the same problem, desires, and getting into the same kinds of trouble, as any other teen.
Integrating disabled characters as regular cast members and not “special guest stars” is important to increasing the awareness of disability in our culture, and decreasing stigma. Speechless and Joshua Leonard’s Team Supreme give disabled kids a way to connect with characters who share their struggles and triumphs, but also want to be treated like any other kid.
These shows also provide an important message that benefits not just disabled kids, but all children, in learning to celebrate uniqueness among their peers. Kids who understand and appreciate differences in all kinds of abilities pass that message onto their friends, creating more accepting playgrounds, schools, and communities.
So watch these shows. Love these shows. Tweet and blog and pitch in to help Kickstart these shows. Through supporting programs that show how disability is just another way of being, we can see their potential to lead to larger social change for our kids and their kids.