Dustin Hansen is an illustrator, storyteller, video game director and developer. He is the author of Game On! Video Game History: from Pong, Pac-Man, Mario, Minecraft, and More, and the illustrated children’s book series Microsaurs. His DC graphic novel, My Video Game Ate My Homework, raises awareness about dyslexia through the character Dewey Jenkins, age 13, a brilliant engineer who struggles with “the other stuff” (math, writing and reading) due to dyslexia.
Image courtesy Dustin Hansen
Interview of May 13, 2020
Alexandra Wang: What were some of the beliefs about dyslexia that you grew up with?
Dustin Hansen: I grew up in rural Utah during the 70s and 80s. I was not diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school. They did not know what to do other than put me in the slow class. There was a lot of confusion about what the issue was.
Image courtesy Dustin Hansen
Alexandra Wang: How is Dewey, the protagonist of your graphic novel, My Video Game Ate My Homework, modeled on you?
Dustin Hansen: Like Dewey, I excelled at storytelling, art, and building things, but not in school.
Alexandra Wang: How have beliefs and attitudes toward dyslexia changed since your elementary school years?
Dustin Hansen: Now, there is more information on dyslexia. Dyslexia is considered an invisible disability, because it is not apparent just by looking at the person. Nobody knows that I have dyslexia until I tell them. Dewey allowed me to express my thoughts on dyslexia. It is evident that dyslexia is one aspect of us, but it does not define us.
Dewey allowed me to express my thoughts on dyslexia.
Alexandra Wang: Which comics did you grow up with?
Dustin Hansen: I have always loved comics. There was an anti-comic movement when I was a child, so there were not so many of them. I grew up with Scooby Doo and Donald Duck. DC Comics were my favorite, such as Batman, Superman, and X-Men. Comics gave me a lot of confidence.
Alexandra Wang: How did comics give you confidence?
Dustin Hansen: Comics were helpful for me, because they provided images and visual cues for reading. I could understand the plot with these techniques. Like many readers, I am visual. The first thoughts that came to mind were: “I got through the story. I understood it. I enjoyed it.” It is a win-win situation, if I enjoyed it. I believe that comics can give others with dyslexia, or people who do not like to read, confidence too.
Comics were helpful for me, because they provided images and visual cues for reading.
Images courtesy Dustin Hansen
Alexandra Wang: Tell me about the title, My Video Game Ate My Homework?
Dustin Hansen: The title comes from the old saying: “The dog ate my homework.” An old idea was mixed with a new idea. The saying was changed to a video game. It was a concept that just came to me fast during a presentation for third graders. The students all laughed at the idea, so I went ahead and created the graphic novel.
Alexandra Wang: How did you learn to create your own comic?
Dustin Hansen: I became an illustrator because I love comics. I learned the techniques for comics through drawing. I told my story through implied imagery.
Alexandra Wang: What would you like readers to learn from your comics?
Dustin Hansen: It is okay to ask for help from others. Dewey gets help from his sister, father, and friends. In turn, he helps them with the magic spells in his book. Teamwork is important to get any work done. I consulted with my family for ideas when I was writing the comic.
It is okay to ask for help from others….Teamwork is important to get any work done.
Alexandra Wang: You are a video game developer, and wrote a book about video game history. Which games did you grow up with?
Dustin Hansen: I have been playing video games since they were invented in the 70s. As a child, I often played at the arcade. I played on the TIA-499 system which had a keyboard on it. Later, I became a video game developer, and wrote a book on video game history, called Game On! Video Game History: from Pong, Pac-Man, Mario, Minecraft, and More.
Image courtesy Dustin Hansen
Alexandra Wang: You and Dewey enjoy playing video games. Are video games helpful for people with dyslexia?
Dustin Hansen: Video games allow players to go on adventures. Very much like comics, players can gain confidence by getting through the story, understanding it, and enjoying it. Dyslexia is often described as a shift between letters and sounds. Some people think it has something to do with eyes, but it really has more to do with the brain. Video games are helpful for people with dyslexia, because they connect letters and sounds already.
Video games allow players to go on adventures. Very much like comics, players can gain confidence by getting through the story, understanding it, and enjoying it.
Alexandra Wang: How can teachers and school counselors help students with dyslexia?
Dustin Hansen: Identify it, and help the student to learn to love reading. Reading retention is crucial. This can be done with graphic novels or audiobooks. Share the stories that you love with your students.
Alexandra Wang: Are there any books on dyslexia that you recommend as resources?
Dustin Hansen: I would recommend the book, Overcoming Dyslexia . However, I am not a fan of the title, because you cannot overcome dyslexia. It is great for understanding dyslexia. I also recommend The Alphabet War as a resource on dyslexia.
Images courtesy Amazon
Alexandra Wang: What is your advice for people with dyslexia, who want to write their own books?
Dustin Hansen: There is a misconception that people with dyslexia do not read or write books. This is NOT true. I met several authors with dyslexia during the early stages of my comic writing, such as the DC writer Michael Northrop. Do not worry, if you are not a fast writer or editor. Just tell your story.
There is a misconception that people with dyslexia do not read or write books….
Just tell your story.
Image courtesy Dustin Hansen Image courtesy Northshore Council PTSA