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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s natural for kids to imitate their parents. But 12-year-old Shelbi Webb and her father Jason probably have no idea how similar they are.
“We have the meats,” said Shelbi Webb while sitting at a table in Salt Lake City Saturday afternoon. “We have the meats,” said her father while sitting next to her.
“We have the comics,” said Shelbi with a laugh. “We have the comics,” said her father with a smile.
It’s safe to say they were best friends the day she was born.
“My wife, when she was pregnant with Shelbi, she told me something I live with to this day, and that was if you want her to be your princess, you be her king. And I said challenge accepted,” said Jason.
There was no way for his wife to know that was going to mean comic books and super heroes.
“You should see my room. I can’t even put up any pictures because there’s so many pictures there,” said Shelbi. “It’s fun being a nerd. You get to learn all about these different worlds that people come up with in their own heads.”
But for all the worlds she escaped to in their Vernal home, it seemed nothing could stop what she was facing in real life.
“I was bullied. Very severely. And I hated it. I really hated life at that point because it was so hard for me,” said Shelbi. “And the girl was relentless.”
The only thing that seemed to help was when Shelbi would go into her room and make her own comics.
“I was dealing with it in a way that’s fun to me, which is writing and reading and creating stories. My imagination is crazy.”
It’s that imagination that brought Sugar Glider to life.
“Sugar Glider is an adrenaline junkie. She’ll go jumping off a cliff and fly down through things,” said Shelbi.
In her comic book, Sugar Glider, whose real name is Jordyn McKenzie, got her powers after hiking up into a mountain when a meteor shower hit.
“The meteor shower crashes into the mountains. She goes to inspect it and the ground crumbles beneath her and she falls in and gets cut. The particles in it infused with her blood,” said Shelbi. “She gets super speed, she gets high metabolism, she gets super healing, and she also gets an enlarged empathy.”
It’s that enlarged empathy that helps Sugar Glider deal with bullies.
“Even though they’re bad guys, she wants to help them anyway. She doesn’t want to fight them, though sometimes she has to. She doesn’t want to put them in jail or lock them up or hurt them in any way. She takes them to therapists to help them, which is a way to say therapists aren’t a bad thing.”
Imagine… the bullies getting help.
“My marketing degree kicked in and I found the artists and I found the people who printed the comic for us and all that stuff to actually make it into a reality for us,” said Jason Webb.
Ever since, the comic has taken off.
Saturday in downtown Salt Lake City, the family held a launch party where Shelbi signed autographs kind of like a mini comic-con.
There were booths for fans of role-playing games, art work, and books.
Lots of people came dressed up as characters, such as the Joker, Arrow, and Flash.
“Thank you for coming,” said Shelbi as she signed autographs.
For all the attention Shelbi is now getting, though, her favorite part is knowing she’s helping someone to go through the exact same thing she went through. One fan she met is Ivorie Tanner, who says she is being bullied in school. Ivorie is only five years old.
“It’s really hard to sit down with your child and know that they’re feeling like people at school don’t like them and their classmates don’t want to play with them,” said Sylvee Tanner, who is Ivorie’s mother. “I was amazed it was happening. It affected her academically. She wouldn’t go to class and was hiding in the counselor’s office. As a parent, that was frustrating.”
It’s also why she wanted to bring her daughter to meet Shelbi.
“You just need to love yourself, okay? Be yourself,” said Shelbi to Ivorie. “I know it’s hard, but bullies, they won’t mean anything. I was bullied, too, and look at me now. You can do great things.”
Sugar Glider may only be a comic book, but more than that, it’s a message of hope at a time when, too often, kids think it’s easier to give up.
“You’re not alone, that’s mainly what it is. You’re not alone through all of this,” said Shelbi. “There are many people going through the same thing you are.”
Knowing things will get better, that’s the real super power.