July 14, 2010 / 5:50 PM / 7 years ago

Spanish illustrator tackles daughter's autism with humor

<p>Maria, the daughter of Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo is seen in this video grab from a documentary film made available on July 13, 2010.Bausan Films and Pelis Chulas/Handout</p>

MADRID (Reuters) - Award-winning Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo has overcome the limitations imposed by his daughter's autism by doing what he does best -- drawing.

Gallardo's sketches over 12 years led to a beautifully etched comic book, "Maria and I" (Maria y Yo), explaining everyday life with his daughter and its challenges.

That book has now become a documentary film of the same name, which opens in Spain this week.

"You could say I had a debt to pay (to my past) or something like that. The drawings came from a diary I started when Maria was born ... but really it took me 13 years to find the right voice to tell a difficult story," he told Reuters.

Directed by Felix Fernandez de Castro, the film tracks the relationship between Maria, Miguel and his ex-wife May, and how they have learned to cope with Maria's disability.

The drawings are blended seamlessly into the film providing it with ironic winks and with no hint of sentimentality. Maria, a 14-year old with an infectious grin and a love of food, is a charming and surprising protagonist.

Before the book, Gallardo was more famous in Spain as creator of a punk comic book madhouse escapee called Makoki.

<p>Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo (L) is seen with his daughter Maria in this video grab from a documentary film made available on July 13, 2010.Bausan Films and Pelis Chulas/Handout</p>

But the project has helped lay to rest some of his darker feelings -- anger, guilt and frustration -- by airing them.

"Maria didn't just change my life and my scale of values, but the way I draw," he says, "It's simpler now."

<p>Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo (L) is seen with his daughter Maria in this video grab from a documentary film made available on July 13, 2010.Bausan Films and Pelis Chulas/Handout</p>

The documentary shows his sketchbook when Maria was born, with dimpled baby drawings abruptly becoming blank pages when her developmental progress started to show problems.

But after she was diagnosed, his sketches became a key tool in communicating with her and there are many scenes in the film in which he draws comic versions of people she has met in notebooks which she keeps.

The pictures now form a map of her world, he says.

The project has been a way of transforming years of pitying stares and the indignation it provoked in him into laughter.

"It's like saying, look at this and compare. This is a normal and everyday life and it is possible," he said.

Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary, Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Paul Casciato

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