From Horror to Heroes

Gabriel Akol, one of Sudan's "lost boys," whose flight from civil war in Africa is captured in a new comic book
Mark Graham

In the field outside the village, where he and some of the other young boys from the tribe spent long, hot days tending to the cattle, there was a tree Michael Ngor liked to sleep under, sitting on the ground with his head and back resting against the trunk. That's where he was when he heard the first gunshots. He may have thought he was dreaming, but the nightmare didn't begin until he woke up.

Civil war erupted in southern Sudan in 1983, pitting the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) against the Arab government. Michael and his family had been spared from the conflict for the most part--until now, four years later. The Arab army was swooping in from the north, capturing village after village, killing every man and boy in its path. Now they were at Michael's village. Now they were in the field where he had been sleeping.

Now Michael was running for his life. Any doubt he had about that fact had been quickly, violently, removed. Before Michael had even left the shade of the tree, Arab soldiers shot and killed his older brother. If he looked back, if he stopped, he would be next.

"At that time, if Arab got a woman, he don't kill the woman," Ngor says. "But if you're a boy, even though you're a kid, right? Even though you're a boy, they kill you. So we ran away."

He didn't know where he was going or if his mother and sister would be there when he arrived. He just ran, as fast and as far away as he could. He ran for hours, hungry and tired, thirsty and alone. More than anything, he was scared. But he couldn't stop running.

The next day he reached the forest, the only destination he had considered when he left the village. He wouldn't exactly be safe there--not from the lions and hyenas and other animals--but at least they didn't have guns. When he arrived, he found other boys were in the forest, boys like him, forced from their villages while they were in fields tending cattle. They were boys without parents, without brothers and sisters. Lost boys.

They had heard there was food and water in Ethiopia, a safe place to sleep, so they set out, even though it was 450 miles away. They had no other choice.

"It was hard, really hard," Ngor says. "When we walked to Ethiopia, we just walked by foot. We spent, like, two months walking by foot. We don't have food, and your shoes, they tear, so your feet will be, whatever, they'll be cracked."

They walked mainly at night, subsisting on leaves and roots and dirty water. They were hungry, but going into one of the villages was too dangerous. More boys joined them as they walked to Itang, a refugee camp just across the border. There were dozens, hundreds of them. They continued on, always quiet, always scared.

Ngor doesn't know how old he was then. Maybe 6 years old, maybe 7. This detail, he can't remember. Everything else, he can't forget. None of the "lost boys" can. They remember crossing the Nile, even though some of them couldn't swim, how the fishermen betrayed them, leaving some of the boys stranded on an island in the middle of the great river. They remember leaving Itang when the Ethiopian government was overthrown and being forced to walk across Sudan to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. They remember the harsh life in Kakuma, the crime and stolen food, and also the good friends and brotherhood formed there. They remember the decade they spent there, never knowing what the future would bring, where home would be. They remember all those lost along the way, to bullets and empty stomachs.

They remember every step of the long, impossible trek that eventually led more than 3,800 lost boys and girls to the United States and brought Michael Ngor to Dallas, where he arrived in 2001. And it led Ngor and three of the boys he met in the forest--Gabriel Akol, Santino Athian and Matthew Mabek--into the pages of a comic book, Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Conceived by local publisher James Disco, the "non-fiction reality comic book," as he calls it, gives Michael, Gabriel, Santino and Matthew (as well as refugee artists Dut Benjamin and Gabe De Aganyni) the opportunity to be the voice for people who have suffered in silence for two decades. Echoes--the first issue of which was released a month or so ago--tells their harrowing stories so the world will understand what they went through to get here, to make readers aware of what people in southern Sudan and Darfur (the western region of Sudan) are still going through, the genocide and ethnic cleansing against animist, Christian and Muslim blacks. More than 2 million have died in Sudan since 1983. With the death toll in Darfur still mounting, it is the perfectly imperfect time for a book like Echoes.  

But raising awareness is only part of the purpose for Disco and the team behind the comic. They want to sell enough copies of Echoes to provide the boys in the book with some comfort that minimum-wage jobs do not provide, maybe earn enough money to make a difference for other lost boys and girls, resettled all over the country in unlikely locales such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Even if they do none of that, Disco and the others are happy with the smaller goal they've already achieved: helping the boys feel human again, after surviving inhuman conditions for more than half of their lives.

"That's the best part of what's going on," Disco says. "Gabriel, now, is like, 'I'm a spokesperson for my people.' It's given him great pride. The guy on the back"--Disco holds up a copy of the book, pointing to the simple, poetic paintings on the back cover--"Gabe [De Aganyni], was unable to paint for five years. Missionaries had given him his oil paints and everything else, but he was unable to paint. He's just a pure natural talent, but this project awakened his skills, and he was able to use his artistic talents. Things like this hold more value than the monetary, because this has helped heal somebody."

If Michael, Gabriel, Matthew and Santino didn't expect to be in the superhero business, then neither did James Disco. Then again, he never really knew where his life would take him next. Until recently, Disco had been, admittedly, a dilettante, flittering from one project to another. He helped put together World Fest in Atlanta, an international music festival, and did some other business for the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. He worked in film and video, even modeled some back in the day.

It all started to come into sharper focus in 2001, thanks to his sister, Liz Disco-Shearer, at the time an administrator for Catholic Charities in Dallas. She was working to resettle Sudanese refugees in the Dallas area; of the 3,800 or so lost boys in the United States, about 200 live here. She found furniture for their apartments, clothes, job training, whatever she could provide. More than anything, she gave them a family, a home, a place to feel safe. "She's a real hustler for the refugees," says Dr. Susan Clark, director of the University of Dallas' English language programs and a volunteer in the refugee resettlement effort.

Safety was a real struggle that first year. After a decade at Kakuma, most of it spent under fire from hostile tribes, the lost boys finally escaped to the United States. Then 9-11 happened, and the boys thought they had caused it, that the Arabs were coming after them again. They still think that way.

Even without the fallout from 9-11, it was tough. They didn't have a support network like the other refugee communities Catholic Charities had helped settle in Dallas--the Vietnamese, for example. Some of them were still minors, and those who weren't might as well have been, since their maturity was postponed by the war and the poor health in the camps. They looked old enough, but they were just kids, really.

During the resettlement process, Disco-Shearer took a shine to two of the boys, Gabriel and Santino, who arrived here in April 2001. She grew especially close to Gabriel. He's 23, around the same age as her son.

"I'm like the foster mother that he doesn't have here," says Disco-Shearer, who now serves as executive director for St. Vincent de Paul, another faith-based organization. "We talk about everything. I have a 22-year-old, so it's the same way I talk to my son. I talk to him about, you know, things of the world. And they come over for holidays and they spend Christmas here, and he's actually lived with me for, like, a period of two months. I still have Gabriel's stuff stored in the attic here in my home."

Her brother began volunteering at Catholic Charities in 2001, helping Liz with refugee setups. He met some of the boys that way and, as Liz had hoped, bonded with Gabriel and Santino at those holiday dinners. Eventually, he wanted to do more than lugging mattresses and sofas up four flights of stairs. He didn't mind the hard work. It just seemed as though his talents could be put to better use elsewhere.

"So I was like, 'You know what? I've done stuff in the past with the arts,'" Disco remembers. "'I think I can do something that will make a little bit more of a difference.' I know if I could help put together a project for 100,000 people, if I could connect things, I could connect this."  

His first idea was to tell the story in documentary form, but filming a documentary would cost too much money and make very little of it. Only Michael Moore has had much success turning a profit by turning a cause into a film. Not that Disco is in this for the money, but if he was going to give something back, he had to get something to give.

Besides, he felt the story was too horrific to be told on film. "It's ghastly what they went through," he says. "To do it and make it realistic and from a historical standpoint, you know, it wouldn't be PG-13. It would almost be like The Exorcist or something."

Ultimately, he settled on a sort of hybrid format: non-fiction comic books, a mix of black-and-white comic-book art and photographs of the lead characters. Disco wanted people to see the faces of the boys before they saw them as an artist's rendering, to better drive home the point: This. Really. Happened. And also: They survived.

Armed with an idea, Disco started assembling a team that could make it happen. He knew that Clark was in the midst of a similar undertaking: writing the memoir of Abuk Makuac, a Sudanese woman who had raised her son--Dut Benjamin, one of the refugee artists involved in the Echoes project--in the camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, before coming to the United States in 1994. When he read Clark's unfinished manuscript, Disco knew she was absolutely the right person for the job.

After recruiting Myk Friedman, a local animator, at the Dallas ComicCon in Plano, the team was assembled. The next step was getting the boys to tell their stories again, this time in front of a video camera. They got their chance on June 21, 2003. To put the boys at ease, Disco, his sister and Clark bought bagels and Cokes and invited Michael, Gabriel, Santino and Matthew to meet them at a neutral place, a comfortable room in the back of the Catholic Charities office. The boys were still unsure of what the trio wanted from them. Disco began with an explanation.

"Do you know comic books?"

Yes, yes, smiles all around.

"Do you know Spider-Man?"

Another yes, more smiles.

"Well, you guys are heroes, too," Disco said, "and we want to tell your stories to kids your age, and kids that are the age you were when you started your running. We want them to know, because there are a lot of kids in bad situations in the U.S. If they hear your situation, they'll find a way out. You tell us your story, and you'll be the heroes. You guys are going to be Spider-Man, the X-Men."

They liked that idea. What kid wouldn't? Don't misunderstand: These guys are still kids, though they're all in their early 20s. They lost their first childhood, with the bang of that first shot, that first hurried step away from the village. This is their second childhood. And now they were going to be superheroes, helping to rescue the people they had to leave behind.

The bagels and Cokes went untouched. They started talking, telling their stories about running away from villages, finding each other in the forest, walking to the camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, coming to America. Even though their interviewers had heard most of the stories before, they were still hard to take. But the boys stayed strong. There was no pain in their voices or their faces. No tears.

Which posed a problem for Clark and Friedman. Friedman's assignment was to turn the boys' stories into illustrations, and Clark would provide the text to go along with them, using their own words. It was their job to relay these stories, get it right, make readers know how the boys felt when this happened, when Michael's brother was shot in front of him or when Santino finally found his younger brother after being separated from him all day.

"You have to, like, put yourself back there," Clark says. "Get the facts and then try to figure out 'What did that feel like? What did that look like?' So Myk kind of traumatized himself by imagining all that. I traumatized myself trying to write all that."

There was another problem: trying to tell the story the way it happened, the way the boys remembered it, without terrifying the young readers they wanted to reach. People die throughout the first issue, almost all of them violently.  

"Yeah, we had a lot of trouble coming up with a tactful way to draw that in there and not be too openly graphic about it," Friedman says. "Well, graphic but not gory."

When they were finished with the first issue and they put it all together and showed the boys, Clark and Friedman had gotten it right. The words, the pictures--it was all too real for the boys. The old wounds ached yet again.

"They did a good job, but, you know, I don't feel good, because I just see my story there, and it take my memory back to the first situation that I'm in," Gabriel Akol says. "I don't feel good, but, you know, I offer myself, sacrifice myself, to tell my story for the hope that the world, that they can be able to do something for the people of southern Sudan. It's hard to tell, you know? But if you hope something good will happen from it, you commit yourself to do that. But it's, it's OK. If you sacrifice yourself to do something for your people, you have to sacrifice yourself to do it when it is difficult or not difficult."

James Disco has two full-time jobs now. The one that pays the bills is at Bison Corp., a commercial printing press that handles brochures and promotional items--coffee cups, keychains, ball point pens. Working on Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan doesn't pay at all, but that's what he spends most of his time doing these days.

Today, it might be a reporter from Newsweek calling. Tomorrow, a producer from BBC radio. The next, maybe he's hopping on a plane for Phoenix, where the first Lost Boys of Sudan National Reunion Conference is being held. That describes just one of the weeks he's had since the book hit shelves.

Between all of that, Disco is on the phone with book distributors, school districts, film studios, whomever he has to call to get the word out about Echoes. He hands out copies of the book to people he's just met; he's the good kind of pusher, hoping people will get a taste and want to come back and buy more. Whatever it takes.

This is the kind of life you lead when you commit your time and money, heart and soul, to helping thousands of people. Disco's vision never stopped at the four boys in the book, though he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them.

"This had become kind of like a movement," Disco says. "I always liked the '60s, and all of a sudden, I'm thrown back in it. I'm part of this movement."

That movement found people before the first issue even went to press. There was Gabe De Aganyni, for example, a lost boy in Sioux Falls. Disco came in contact with Gabe through Tami Trussell, a volunteer and tutor in Sioux Falls. Trussell is active in the burgeoning Sudanese community there, where about 130 lost boys live. She's trying to add Echoes to the school district's curriculum.

Trussell was in Dallas for a meeting about helping some of the boys return to Sudan. She met Disco, and he told her about the book he was working on.

"I said, 'Well, I have a young man up in Sioux Falls who's an artist who I'd love to get going again, and maybe this would be a way to do it,'" Trussell says. "Because Gabe had quit his art because, oh, I guess it caused emotional memories and stuff like that. He had just decided it was time to move on. So I came back and pled with him for a while, and finally he said yes."

"Before I came to America I loved painting pictures, especially from my memory, and therefore I used to paint pictures of what things looked like when I was back home in Sudan," Gabe says, in a message printed on the inside of the back cover, laid on top of one of those paintings of his former home, a stark, graceful image of little boys around a fire. His paintings don't depict specific scenes from the book. They're there to give readers a sense of the tribal life Gabe and the other boys left behind. "It has been good for me to paint again and especially for you who will learn more about why I am here in America."

Some of Dut Benjamin's detailed pen-and-ink drawings appear in Echoes as well, acting as a preview for the next issue, which will follow the boys on their way to Ethiopia. He's another boy they found along the way, but he was there the entire time, just under their nose; Clark is friends with Dut's mother, Abuk Makuac, as well as her biographer. Like Gabriel, Michael, Matthew and Santino, he is a Sudanese refugee, but Dut's drawings don't tell his story about leaving Sudan or his recollections about life before the war. He has no memory of these things. He was only 2 years old when his mother took him to live in the camps.  

"Oh, it was so hard," Abuk says. She was just out of high school, preparing to study journalism. They lived in the city, not in one of the villages. "He's supposed to be one of the 'lost boys,' but thank God he's found." She laughs. "He was with Mama. But we went through a lot of terrible problems and seeing a lot of death and hunger. It was really so bad. It was a very, very hard moment, and I was young at that time, to have a small child. The only thing I can say, it was God's help, because I didn't know how to take care, really, how to take good care of the child. But it was a work of God."

Clark gives Abuk more credit than she gives herself.

"I really believe in high school education now," Clark says, "because she knew science, and she knew enough to keep him alive, to boil water and do things. People from the countryside died, and she kept him alive."

Both versions of Dut's survival ring true. He was dying of asthma. He probably should have died. People in the camps said "he had the blood of a dead man." But Abuk's education and, she believes, help from a higher power carried him through. They lived almost 10 years in camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before their application to the United Nations for refugee resettlement was approved, and they arrived in the United States on August 31, 1994.

Abuk's strong faith flows through her son now. He grew up loving biblical stories. Now he's studying to become a pastor. Dut says he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ when he was a teenager, and he's known the road he would follow ever since. Contributing his artwork to Echoes is just part of that calling.

"We're all coming at it from different angles," Dut says. After a decade in America, there remains only a trace of an accent. "Some are bringing their experience to the table. Some are putting it together intellectually. And I'm also completing it spiritually. That gives it a full package. So when the people do receive it, they receive the full thing. Yes, sir. So I believe that I have a big role that I'm playing, too."

Daniel Deng is playing a big role in the project, too, now that he's involved. He's the latest Sudanese refugee to be swept up in the project. He met Disco in August at the Lost Boys of Sudan National Reunion Conference in Phoenix, striking up a conversation while they rode the elevator together. Disco promised to get Deng a copy of the book. He gave him a job instead.

Two days after Deng returned home to Denver, he was the new technical adviser for Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as well as Disco's liaison to the national organization for the lost boys that was formed at the conference. Deng should serve well in both posts. He is an extremely well-spoken and passionate advocate for his people. And though he doesn't know his own age--which is not rare among these boys--he is encyclopedic in his knowledge of Sudan's civil war and the people it forced out of their homes.

But he is not like the others. He became a lost boy not when the war broke out but when he arrived in the United States on November 15, 2000. Until then, he had been living and traveling with his entire family--his parents, brother, two sisters, his brother-in-law and his nephew. He was with his family in Bor when the war began near there on May 16, 1983. They left for Ethiopia in 1989, the third and last group to make the trip to Itang.

Deng's family may have been among the last to leave Sudan, but they were among the first in Kenya. When the Kakuma refugee camp was established in July 1992, they were there. They were still together, and they stayed together until Deng was allowed to leave with the lost boys.

"Everybody assume that now that you are part of the lost boys, they would assume that, you know, you have no parents," Deng explains. "But as far as Kakuma lost boys, one in every 100 lost boy or lost girl had parent, either one or both. So I happened to be one of those. When I actually talked to the State Department, I reported to them that, you know what, unlike many other boys here, I have parents, and they're with me. Can I take them with me? And they're like, 'No, Daniel, you go ahead, and then give us the name of your parents, and we will handle this as a separate case.'"  

His parents and his brothers and sisters weren't allowed to leave. Their refugee resettlement interview was conducted in Arabic, a language they do not speak. Then they failed their INS interview. The file on them was closed. There was nothing Deng could do. His trip to America had turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy: He was a lost boy.

He was in Denver, depressed, for three years. Then he approached the U.N.'s Association for Conflict Resolution, pleading his case one last time. It worked. His family was taken to Nairobi, and their case was presented again, this time to the Canadian High Commission. His sisters, as well as his brother-in-law and nephew, moved to Canada last year. After a delay because of his father's health, his parents and brother arrived there on September 14. Deng won't be able to see them until sometime next year, but at least he knows they are safe, and not far away.

He has something to keep him busy until he reunites with his parents north of the border: helping to tell the story of the lost boys to as many people as he can, because he's one of them now. And since he is somewhat of a Sudanese scholar, he knows this is the best way to tell it.

"Many books have been written about the lost boys, but you see, not everybody is reading them," Deng says. "I have not even read them, because it is too much. But when it has pictures, a little bit of pictures, a little bit of words, it tells the perfect story. Easy for everybody--kids or adults. This book is like seeing it still alive, like watching it on a big-screen TV. With these pictures, the kids and young adults would always connect with it, just like a cartoon, you know? And they will always understand the story and will always put themselves into it."

It's not easy being an American. Not if you've spent most of your life in a refugee camp, and the rest of it watching cattle in a field outside your village. The lost boys' journey to Dallas wasn't like moving from, say, France to the United States. More like stepping out of a Bible story into the 21st century. What we see as convenience, the newly arrived lost boys only saw as confusing.

"Can you imagine going from no television to cable TV and people with cell phones and computers?" Disco-Shearer asks. "And understanding the bureaucracy here, that you can't jaywalk across the street here? Several of them got jaywalking tickets. Or you can't drive a car without a drivers license? We went through that. And then certain cultural nuances, like they like to put their arms around each other when they walk, and guys would make bad comments to them."

"We brought them on a picnic; we had some hot dogs, and they kind of looked at them kind of funny because they thought they were literal dogs that we had cooked somehow," says Virginia Campbell, who has worked closely with many of the boys through an outreach program she set up at St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

They've adjusted now. They are Americans, and proud of it. Above the television in the living room of the North Dallas apartment Akol shares with four others, including Santino, a large American flag hangs on the wall, dominating the room.

Sitting across from Akol in his apartment, he looks like the college student he is. Akol works at the University of Dallas as a custodian now. Next semester, he'll be a student there. He's already taken almost enough courses at community college for his associate's degree in criminal justice. At the University of Dallas, he plans to study theology. His faith is also evident in the apartment. Tacked to the corner of the American flag is a calendar featuring the Virgin Mary. A similar picture adorns the button-up shirt Akol is wearing.

Still, there are constant reminders of where he's been, what he's seen. On the coffee table between us is a copy of the September 10 edition of The New York Times, folded open to a story detailing Colin Powell's declaration the previous day that the United States views the rapes and killings that began in the Darfur region of western Sudan in January 2004 as genocide.  

"Maybe the whole nation now is coming to see what's going on in Sudan," Akol says, pointing to the newspaper. "It makes me feel better now. If the whole world hear what happened, that people transgress human rights, people will be able to see what is going on. That is the same situation going on [in Darfur]. That's the same situation still that started in 1983. People died like that. People were being bombed. It pain me a lot, because that's the same situation I experience before, and that's the same situation that's still going on for long years. People are dying every day."

Akol has become the spokesman for Echoes' lost boys, the one who has been quoted the most in news pieces, the one providing the sound bites on NPR and BBC radio. It's not because he wants the attention--far from it, actually--and it's not because his story is all that different from the other boys' tales.

The reason is very simple: Akol speaks the best English. He is soft-spoken, and his voice still carries his tribal Dinka accent. But his language is clear and precise.

It's hard on him, though. He may be the most fragile of the foursome, the most prone to waking up in the middle of the night, screaming. The nightmares have gotten better over time, but they still come back. He sees the soldiers in their uniforms, their guns pointed at him and his friends. He sees people dying all around him. He sees his village one last time. His parents aren't in those visions, because he didn't have a chance to say goodbye. The other boys went through the same thing, but Akol has had a more difficult time shaking it.

Those memories help him, though. They don't make the story any easier to tell time and time again, but when he tells it, those horrific details help people understand. And when they understand, Akol and the boys feel better. Because someone out there cares. They are no longer just invisible immigrants.

Clark saw all of this when she and James and Liz invited the boys to a high school journalism conference. They were nervous at first, sitting in front of microphones in a room full of unfamiliar faces. But they soon warmed to the task, feeding off each other just as they had in that room in the back of Catholic Charities. By the end, the students were crying.

"There is this old Swedish saying: 'Sorrow shared is half the sorrow. Joy shared is twice the joy,'" Clark says. "And I could see that sorrow in them reduced to half right there, with that connection."

The boys were feeling so good by the end of the conference that they decided to sing a song. Two of them, actually. The second one, with lyrics in Dinka and English, showed their resolve, their commitment to their new mission and their new country: "No turning back/No turning back."

"I've seen a real transformation in Gabriel," Clark says. "I'm not as close to the other guys. I don't see them as much. He was just kind of recovering from his own trauma. Just barely keeping a job. He went to school and then quit. He just couldn't keep it together. Now, he's real strong. He's confident, he's got purpose, he's calling me, telling me when he's got interviews."

In the end, this isn't about relief funds or raising awareness. It's not even really about comic books. As far as Liz Disco-Shearer is concerned, Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan would have to be considered a success, even if that first issue hadn't hit stores, even if the second one never does.

"Now remember, these were young children seeing people shredded in front of them, killed," she begins. "I mean, the way they were treated was like animals, right? Even in the camps, even when they got to Ethiopia and to Kenya. I think that they need to work through the pain. A lot of them had repressed the pain, and that would come back over and over and over again in maybe inappropriate ways. So I think this is a very good process, to talk about it."

The conversation is just beginning. The first issue of Echoes was a setup issue, introducing the boys and their world. The next three installments will take Gabriel, Matthew, Michael and Santino through the jungle into Ethiopia and Kenya, then finally to the United States. Gabe De Aganyni and Dut Benjamin will provide more pictures. Daniel Deng will make sure all the details are correct. Before it's over, maybe more lost boys will join the team.  

One thing is certain: More people will get a chance to read the book. When the first issue was released, only one store, Titan Comics on Northwest Highway, carried it.

"I've sold quite a few of them, and I've sold quite a few of them to walk-ins, just people walking in and saying, 'Hey, this sounds great, let me buy it,'" Titan owner Jeremy Shorr says. "They had no prior knowledge of it. I've had lots of telephone inquiries from around the country saying, 'OK, you're the only one who's got this, great, sell me some.'"

That interest led to Borders Books and Music on Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane picking up the book as well. (You can also special-order Echoes through all Borders stores.) Disco is working to secure a distributor that will put the book on shelves all across the country. A deal should be in place before the second issue is finished. People like Tami Trussell in Sioux Falls are doing their best to get Echoes into junior high and high school libraries, if not in the actual classrooms. Churches, universities, charities--they're all attracted to the story.

The book's media exposure--slight but significant--has started a snowball rolling down the hill. Before long, no one will be able to avoid it. Once they see it, they'll want to see more, do more. That's what Disco hopes, anyway.

"There was this girl, and she was reluctant to take a copy," Disco says. "And then she started reading it, and then all of a sudden, she's bringing me articles about Sudan. This thing does have wheels. It touches people. Someone's going to pick up the licensing on this, after NPR and Newsweek and BBC. We can't be ignored forever. Someone's going to take this thing and run with it, and we can do a lot of good."

But then, Disco and the Echoes team already have. If for no other reason, their mission was accomplished the first day those comic books arrived at Titan. Because then, Michael, Matthew, Gabriel and Santino were right where they belonged, next to Superman and Spider-Man.

"They really are superheroes," Disco says.

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