By Amy Di Leo, MS
Humor is important to me. Humor breaks down barriers and sensitivities people might have concerning disability. —Jimmy Jeffreys
For Jimmy Jeffreys, humor comes in the form of a cartoon character named Ted, the main character in his new comic strip, Adventures with Ted (www.adventureswithted.com). Jeffreys confesses that Ted is his alter ego and his vehicle for infusing fun into his everyday life situations, which as a double amputee can be challenging, somewhat interesting, and sometimes downright odd.
Both Jeffreys and Ted are double amputees who use wheelchairs for mobility. Jeffreys’ experiences in the real world have become Ted’s adventures in the cartoon world. Through Ted, Jeffreys has a voice and a place to be heard.
“I always wanted to create a character that was important to me and one who I could relate to,” explains Jeffreys. “I noticed that within the comic world there were no main characters with a physical disability. That is why I created Adventures with Ted.
“Ted represented all my quirky sensibilities,” continues Jeffreys. “He represents my sense of humor. He also represents my outlook on disability and how I see the world. Adventures with Ted is my specific venue that allows me to speak on specific issues concerning disability [through Ted]. Ted’s sense of humor allows the reader to have a better understanding of what it might be like to live with a disability.”
Jeffreys was born with a rare condition called phocomelia, which he explains was commonly referred to as “flipper limbs” because the malformation of the limbs appeared to look like dolphin flippers. Though he was born without legs from his hips, he says he never felt disabled growing up.
“My dad was a professional cabinetmaker who was also disabled and in a wheelchair. He equipped our family home with everything we needed—from wider doorways to lowered cabinets to an accessible swimming pool,” says Jeffreys. “This was the 1970s, and it was revolutionary for the time. It was decades before the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act].
“Because of my father’s influence,” adds Jeffreys, “I never grew up thinking that I was different.”
Born in Seoul, South Korea, to a Korean mother and Caucasian father, he became a celebrity of sorts in his home country when local media profiled his adoption by an American couple.
“My original Korean name was Byung Chul Kim,” explains Jeffreys. “The family that adopted me was the Jeffreys family, and I was renamed after my American father, James R. Jeffreys.”
Jeffreys moved to Lincoln Park, New Jersey, where he grew up with a brother and sister who were the Jeffreys’ biological children and another older sister who was also adopted from South Korea.
“Over the next several years, my parents adopted six more children—in all, we were six boys and three girls,” shares Jeffreys. “All the boys, including my dad, had a physical disability, ranging from polio to spina bifida.”
Jeffreys says his mom and dad encouraged him in every way, especially to do well in school and realize his dreams.
“My parents encouraged my artistic endeavors. When I was 10 years old, a camp counselor gave me my first comic book. I remember drawing and copying different superheroes from it. I was forever changed, and I realized at an early age that I was gifted with drawing skills.”
With an apparent gift for art, Jeffreys was an art teacher for eight years and is a professional photographer as well. He specialized in art in high school and attained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in visual arts. But he was also well rounded in his studies and extracurricular activities.
“I was given the opportunity to wrestle in high school, which was revolutionary back then,” he says. “To participate as a disabled athlete in a mainstream sport in high school during the 1980s was unheard of. Aside from my wrestling career, I also did wheelchair racing and played wheelchair basketball. The highlight of my basketball career was when I had the opportunity to play professionally in Australia for a season in 2002.”
Jeffreys credits his participation in adaptive sports with allowing him to see the world. Yet during his travels, as he was collecting experiences and memories, he was also collecting fodder for his comic strip.
Examples of Jeffreys’ work include a comic strip that shows Ted in his wheelchair on a basketball court questioning why he can’t get a sneaker deal; one that shows Ted in an appliance store asking “Why are they trying to sell me a walk-in tub?”; and another that shows him sitting in his wheelchair at the bottom of a very steep ramp labeled “handicapped-accessible.”
The comic strips relate directly to Jeffreys’ experiences, whether as an athlete or in his everyday life. They highlight the obvious issues of having a disability and the challenges he has personally faced.
“There have been many occasions where I had to go through a back entrance of a building because of inadequate accessibility, especially here in New Jersey and New York City where the buildings are old,” says Jeffreys. “It makes me very upset that accessibility is still an issue in 2018.”
That is but one of the challenges Jeffreys highlights in his drawings.
“Even though my comic is humorous, it also underscores serious issues. I am confident that Ted can open a new viewpoint and better understanding about disability,” he says. “Life can be hopeful and full of adventure.”