Touted as the first Black superhero in the capital region, the forces of good in The Battle of Ottogatz, which hit bookshelves on June 19, are three young kids with the odds against them. The timing was perfect given that it features a crew of Black youth working together to combat a virus. It’s also the National Day of Sickle Cell Awareness.
Author Nahomie Acelin started the project back in 2019, before Covid was a household word, before the death of George Floyd relit the Black Lives Matter movement and called for positive representations of racialized people. At the time, her two young sons Micah and Joiakim were struggling with a particularly bad bout of effects from sickle cell anemia, a disease they have lived with since birth.
“Often they’re just like any other boys,” says Nahomie. But when they start feeling lethargic, she knows it’s time to check their hemoglobin and prepare for the possibility of a blood transfusion, a procedure they have to endure at least two times a year.
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disease that affects about 5000 people in Canada. It’s a genetic disease, which explains why two of her three children are affected, and it disproportionately impacts people from Africa and South America. Instead of typical round red blood cells, Micah and Joiakim have red blood cells shaped like sickles that get in the way of normal blood flow. The only cure is a one marrow transplant — expensive, invasive, only done in Calgary and Montreal, and only available to children who a very sick.
Nahomie believes awareness could improve things for her sons, and she needed something positive to pour her energy into. Plus, she knew the “heroes” and “villains” all too well. And so the Montreal native began taking the bedtime stories she told her kids and turned them into a graphic novel. She shared the idea with a colleague at Immigration Canada, Henry Bui, who agreed to be the illustrator. “He’s an excellent artist and it was easy to collaborate as we work together.”
In The Battle of Ottogatz (a play on Ottawa-Gatineau), the mayor is Mr. Spleenoc (both boys have undergone spleen removal surgery), the evil villain is a strong bacteria, and the superheroes’ power is called Hemoglow (hemoglobin). The heroes? Her sons, of course, who love DC and Marvel characters and were thrilled to play a starring role. Those who understand the disease will get the references—others will learn, and be entertained, and feel the infectious positivity of Nahomie, who is also a life coach.
“There are already countless educational books about sickle cell disease but it was important for us to read a story to a child in pain to distract them a bit using entertainment that they can relate instead of stats and graphs and complicated words.”
“The book can be a magical way to explain to children that you can be sick and fight with the superpower within you,” says Nahomie. “Bacteriolos in our book can represent Coronavirus, an evil we need to get rid off, and the more effective way we can fight him is together. Everybody has to play their part in this crisis but by educating the mass we can achieve a lot.”
The Battle of Ottogatz is available now on Amazon. French version will be available September 1