Andi Miranti’s eyes light up when he starts talking about music – not just any genre, but heavy metal. He rattles off a list of bands he is currently listening to. When he sees the blank look on my face, he reaches for my mobile phone and brings up a search of first, the metal genre and then, of bands he likes.
“I am currently listening to modern heavy metal which is also called the new wave of heavy metal. Trivium is one of the bands I currently like,” says the 19-year-old teen.
His taste in music is influenced by his older brother, Adam, who is just 17 months older than Andi. It was also Adam who inspired Andi to draw, a hobby that has now taken on a life of its own. Ned Dickens, a comic character Andi created “for fun” when he was 14, is now the protagonist in a series of eponymous comic books that were first published in 2014.
A published author at 15, Andi isn’t like most teens his age. Diagnosed with autism when he was two, Andi only started to write and draw when he was eight, when his muscle tone began to improve.
Children on the autistic spectrum often have difficulties with posture, coordination and motor planning. Andi’s low muscle tone impacted how fast he could write, among other things.
“My creative drawing journey began when my muscle tone improved and I was inspired by my brother’s old drawings. A few early stories I drew before Ned Dickens were Pip, the World’s Tiniest Man, a small comic series about a really tiny guy named Pip and his friends, and Tetra’s Packed, inspired by one of those family newspaper comic strips,” he shares.
Ned Dickens, he explains, is a play on his name.
“Adam inspired the idea when he and I realised my name sounds like the initials ND, and that’s how I came up with the name, Ned Dickens. I first started drawing Ned Dickens in a newspaper comic strip style, with stick-figure character.
“Then, when I began working on my first Ned Dickens graphic novel, my drawing style evolved from stick figures to human characters,” explains Andi, adding that some of his favourite comics are Big Nate, a comic strip illustrated by Lincoln Peirce and Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, and its spin-off, Dog Man.
When Andi’s parents, Intan and Anthony Miranti, saw how passionate their son was about his comics, they decided to self-publish his work. They also signed up for a booth at the Arts for Grabs festival in 2014, which was when Andi launched The Adventures Blue-Smashin’ of Ned Dickens (Part 1).
“I didn’t really expect to have my first book published when I was 15. Back then, I was only drawing as a hobby and wasn’t thinking of having my work published, but I feel happy and grateful.
“Ned Dickens represents me without being too much like me.
“I have a lot of fun when I create new Ned Dickens stories because it helps me write out ideas from my mind for readers to enjoy.
“What I like best about Ned is that even when annoying and irritating things get in his way, he can still try to go around them, kind of like me,” says Andi who had had to cope with challenges such as tuning out excessive sensory input in public spaces and changes to routine.
Ned Dickens is a young teenager who always seems to get in trouble with his Dad, whom he sees as very irrational. Ned has a brother but his biggest worry is Bill E., a boy who torments him.
Throughout the stories, Ned spends a great deal of time getting in and out of trouble.
Andi shares that he too had experienced bullying because of his autism, which affected his self confidence. The teenager stutters but he is able to articulate his thoughts well.
“I had to leave the situation because I wasn’t getting enough confidence or support from the people in that environment I was in.
“Autism is a disorder characterised by some behaviour that may be different from other people’s. I believe autism is something that should be respected and not taken advantage of,” he says with conviction.
Andi will publish the second part of Book Two this October and a full version next year. He has plans for a third book, an activity book and a spin-off involving some of the characters from his original book. So far, he has sold over 1,000 copies of his books and donated a portion of his sales profits to charity.
“After that, I might decide to continue writing books or start another exciting career or both. My other dream career is to be a keyboradist or a keytarist in a metal band,” says the self-professed “metalhead”.
A keytar, he explains (once again seeing the blank look on my face), is an instrument that combines a keyboard and guitar.
“It exists already and is used by bands like Sonata Arctica and Alestorm,” he says, once again bringing up an online search to show proof of the instrument’s existence.
Andi will be conducting a talk at the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival at the KL Performing Arts Centre (KLpac) this weekend where he will talk about Ned Dickens and his journey as a comic artist.
“There will even be a sneak peek of my upcoming books and a trivia contest with lots of great prizes for people who ace the quiz.
“I will also be giving out prizes to the winners of the (ongoing) month-long Ned Dickens storytelling competition. I am really looking forward to the festival,” says Andi.
To meet Andi (12.15-12.45pm on Saturday and Sunday) or for more information on the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival, go to ysdarts festival.com.my/guide/