His story behind the art

“Blue Ribbon,” a Webtoon comic series, chronicles a harrowing journey of acceptance in a futuristic world that discriminates against those with autism. But underneath layers of storyboarding and scripts lies the heart of it all: senior Ian Morales, both the author and protagonist of his own story.

Prologue: Blue

Growing up, Morales had difficulty making friends and verbally communicating with his classmates. At age four, he was diagnosed with autism, a developmental spectrum disorder affecting social interaction and communication. After receiving his diagnosis, Morales began noticing differences between him and his classmates, as he struggled to control his movements.

“Before I discovered I had autism, I had no control over my body or my brain. I couldn’t control how I talked, how I moved and looking back at those moments all I see is a messy blur,” Morales said. “It cost a lot in my life, and I felt lonely and afraid that no one would take the time to understand and accept me for who I am.”

Morales has learned to cope with his autism by emulating others’ movements, such as sitting and walking, to control his body while naturally controlling his mind. At Walnut, he meets with Speech-Language Pathologist Kari Pierce and Speech-Language Pathology Assistant Charlene Pena weekly to improve pronunciation and reduce stuttering through conversation cards.

In his junior year, Morales planned out the story of “Blue Ribbon” — the title referring to the two most common symbols of autism — by basing the story and characters on how his autism has interfered with his relationships. Morales writes out the scripts and sends it to his sketch assistant and brother, freshman Erin Morales, to complete rough sketches of episodes. There, Ian finalizes the shading and lighting.

“I wanted to give my own perspective on autism and have an outlet for all the years I’ve spent being alone in my own condition,” Ian said. “Writing a story that’s very personal to me would be a good release.” 

Me, Myself, Makai 

“Blue Ribbon” follows the protagonist Makai, who represents Ian the most, in his struggle to find love and acceptance in himself and from his peers. Makai’s likeness and story arc were heavily inspired by Ian’s own personality and social experiences with autism. 

“We both struggle with fitting in, we both have troubled pasts, we both love music production, and, most of all, we both just want to be accepted and understood,” Ian said.

In his search for acceptance, Makai encounters his love interest, Malou, whose story arc centers around self-love, self-image and finding lasting friendships. Their eventual romance represents Ian learning to accept his autism.

“They’re the characters I based the most of my personality and struggles out of, but in a way, they’re also representing what I want the most: to be understood and accepted for my condition and to be truly happy,” Ian said.

In the summer, Ian plans to improve the art style, finish writing the first season and re-release the first episode. Meanwhile, he will intermittently work on bonus episodes for “Blue Ribbon.”

“I hope that anyone who also feels lonely and out of place can read my story and feel less alone. I also hope that my audience can understand that people on the spectrum shouldn’t be treated differently because of their condition,” Ian said. “Everyone deserves to be understood and happy, and that’s one of the main messages I want to include in my story.”

By Sherman Wu, Print editor-in-chief
Photo courtesy of Ian Morales

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