When Marc Bernardin set out to write Adora and the Distance, he wanted to tell a story that showed the world as his daughter, who has autism, saw it.
So Bernardin, a TV writer who has worked on Star Trek: Picard, Carnival Row, Castle Rock and other shows, went off to tell a tale. The story is about a brave girl named Adora who goes on a voyage across a world full of ghosts, pirates and an impending menace known as “The Distance.” Along the way we meet selfless heroes, we experience discovery, fear and sacrifice on an epic scale thanks to various symbolism and a clever balance of light and dark, beautifully rendered by the vivid artwork by Bernardin’s co-creator, artist Ariela Kristantina and colorist Bryan Valenza, who along with letterer Bernardo Brice and editor Will Dennis, helped fully form Adora.
“Adora and the Distance” is a comiXology Originals graphic novel available exclusively in digital format (a print edition is planned for Spring 2022). It’s the latest project from the increasingly busy Bernardin, who is working overtime to undermine his Twitter bio claim of being “lightweight famous.” His recent Kickstarter campaign for his short film Splinter — his directorial debut — earned a stunning $220,000 in just 30 days. Which means Bernardin has to fulfill the last stretch goal – a special episode of the Fatman Beyond podcast he co-hosts with Kevin Smith that will be all about the things he liked about Zack Snyder’s Justice League (that should be a fun listen). The reaction to Splinter, which he hopes to begin shooting in October, stunned him and provided validation of the fan base he’s built via his TV work, his comics writing, his journalism and his commentary on social media.
Adora and the Distance: Graphic Novel Preview
“The part that was the most educational for me was that, I always, possibly incorrectly, assumed that much of the [podcast] audience was for Kevin and they got me by accident. And they just put up with me because I’m wedded to the podcast,” he says. “But [the Kickstarter] seemed to prove there are people who believe in me and are willing to express that belief with hard-earned money, at a time when money remains elusive for many. And that is remarkable.”
Bernardin hopes that fanbase gives Adora a chance, because he devised the story to be the type of crowd-pleasing epic adventure he has always gravitated to. “I’m the nerd who loved Lord of the Rings, the Princess Bride and The Dark Tower. So it was kind of always going to be that,” he says. “The tension was whether I could find a way to thread in what the book is about, which is autism.”
As he said in an EW interview nearly two years ago when the book was first announced, Adora aims to provide the answer to an unanswerable question: “What’s going on inside the mind of a loved one who has never been able to tell us?”
The writer wanted the story to be one that people who have no experience dealing with autism could enjoy on its own, while still offering familiar echoes for those readers for whom it is a constant in their lives. There are mentions of Adora’s regimented daily life – “Every day is the same, more or less,” says the narrator at one point. There are allusions to matching therapies, which are used in autism treatments, as well as other signals about common traits in people on the spectrum.
“Once you get to the end and the Twilight Zone-y moment that says, ‘Here’s what it was about,’” Bernardin says. “That can help you then re-read the book and spot things and see what those things mean and see that those faces Adora saw in her dreams were her parents. And the idea that it is the real world that’s calling to her.”
It took Bernardin years to make any meaningful progress on getting Adora made. As he pitched the project, he couldn’t get people to buy in. They didn’t believe in it like he needed them to believe in it. “I had been talking here and there to publishers for more than a decade about Adora,” he recalls. “And while the response was always strong, there was always a thing that somebody wanted to change about it, or a thing that someone didn’t quite get about it.”
Part of it had to do with the fact it was an original graphic novel, and a dozen years ago, few publishers were interested in releasing creator-owned, standalone GNs. But as Bernardin explains, some publishers simply didn’t understand what he was trying to accomplish.
“They would ask, ‘Why isn’t it always about autism? Like, that’s your hook. Why isn’t it about that more?’ And my resistance was always because I don’t want it to be about that. That’s not what’s interesting about this story. I didn’t want to do a book about an autistic kid, as much as I wanted to do a book about a kid who’s on a journey and that journey happens to be through autism and what it feels like from the inside of that journey, as opposed to how we might see it from the outside. And that’s a conceptual hurdle that some people just couldn’t quite grasp because the clear marketing hook is, we’ve got this comic book about autism. It required a certain leap of faith that some publishers weren’t willing to take on board unless they started bending the story into shapes that didn’t feel quite right to me.”
And then he got a call from comiXology’s Chip Mosher.
“I got this weird email asking, ‘Hey man, I know you’re busy doing TV stuff and that pays way better than comic books do, but is there a project that you have that is the dream book for you? The thing that you have held tight to your heart, that you haven’t been able to find the right publisher for, that you’ve just been keeping it on the back burner, waiting for the right time?’ And I was like, well, actually there is.”
When Bernardin pitched him on his idea for Adora, Mosher said “Yes” on the spot. By this point, Bernardin not only knew what he wanted the book to be about, but also what he didn’t want it to be.
“I didn’t want to do a book about a parent dealing with autism. What do I have to say about raising a child with autism that is applicable to anybody aside from me? Because every kid with autism is a different kid. And I wanted to have some fun with it. I wanted it to be a ripping yarn that you could pull back the layers of and discover that there was something else going on.”
While the story is universal in how it shows how our differences and understanding of the world around us make us unique beings, it is also intensely personal. One example in the book comes when Adora’s uncle, who raised her, explains how the Distance seeks her out. It seems as if Marc is speaking directly to his daughter about her situation, and addressing his own helplessness in helping her navigate her personal quest.
“You are but a child, and you are right to fear such things. I would fight to the last to spare you this fate if I thought it would help. But I fear that nothing will stay the distance. You will, in the end, face it. All you can choose is how.”
When asked about the significance of Adora being released around Father’s Day, Bernardin says, “It would be lovely, if [my daughter] could read it and understand it, and if it meant anything to her, the way it means to me, that would be the dream of all dreams.”
“But the idea that it’s also a book for the people who have autistic people in their lives,” he continues. “That offers a potential interpretation of what’s going on inside those minds who often cannot articulate it for themselves, well it’s really nice to be able to offer a mitzvah to the world.”
Adora and the Distance is now available via Comixology.