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New York Cartoonist Fights Stigma of HIV


Many children, teens and even adults across America turn to comics for entertainment. The super-heroes that fill comic book pages tell stories of tragedy and triumph. Now one comic book author is using his art to help people understand HIV/AIDS. Paige Kollock, in New York has this report in our series on those people around the world who are Making a Difference.

Robert Walker is a cartoon artist. Like most superheroes, Walker's characters have special powers.

"This is like a first page of 'Eros,' and another character 'Slumber,'" Walker explains.

One can see in the dark, one can lift over 300 tons and another can come back from the dead. And also like most superheroes, they suffer from misfortune. Their misfortune is that they are all HIV positive.

"The reason why I became so much of an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness is because I experienced it as a little kid, watching family members, like some family members, die," Walker said.

So Walker used his drawing talent to create O+Men. It features nine HIV positive characters: men and women, homosexual, heterosexual and trans-sexual, representing different races and socio-economic backgrounds. They have all contracted the disease in a different way.

Walker says he wants to fight the stigma of HIV. "It's not a black disease, it's not a white disease, it's not a gay disease," he said. "It's a disease of humanity that lacks awareness."

At Midtown Comics in Manhattan, Co-owner Gerry Gladston says many comics
come with political, social and educational messages. "Comics tend to reflect the times, and starting with the early superman comics, where he fought in World War Two, and a year or two after that, Captain America is seen, sort of, slugging Hitler in the face on the cover of a comic book," Gladston said.

It was not an easy start for Walker, who came to New York City from the Southern U.S. State of Florida with $15 in his pocket and a dream of being a comic artist. He visited the comic giant Marvel every day, hoping for a break. Finally, he got one.

"I said, the next person that gets off the elevator, I'm just going to drop my artwork in front of them," Walker said. "So, the elevator opened and I was like, 'oops.' And he said, 'Oh let me help you,' And he said, 'Your stuff is nice.' And I said, 'Thanks.' And he said, 'Why don't you come in and let me see your stuff.' And that's how I got in."

Walker spoke to many HIV/AIDS organizations in researching the book. He says he wanted to make the scenarios realistic, as well as factually accurate.

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