Toronto author Jewel Kats, inspiration for Archie Comics character, dies
'She really had star quality'
Jewel Kats wrote frankly on her website of what she would like to see in her obituary: remember her work for people with disabilities.
"During my lifetime, I've dedicated a lot of time towards disability awareness through the power of my pen. I hope to be acknowledged for my contribution in helping to create an inclusive society," she wrote.
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The Toronto children's author died on Jan. 7 with her family by her side, according to an obituary, which as she had hoped describes her as an advocate for people with disabilities.
"I could just imagine her pulling up in all her sparkly pink princess diva fashion and some little child, little girl, who may have a disability, seeing her and thinking of all the possibilities that are out there," said Claudia Lenart, a Chicago-based fibre artist and illustrator who worked with Kats.
"She really empowered people with disabilities, especially kids," she told CBC News.
At the age of nine, Kats was involved in a car accident, leaving her with limited use of her legs. She would use a wheelchair with hot pink hubcaps and a hot pink walker with a cheetah-print pouch — both complemented her colourful style.
Kats wrote 11 books and created Fairy Ability Tales, which reimagined fairy tales to star a protagonist with a disability or chronic illness.
"Even reading the manuscripts could bring tears to my eyes — the sheer pluck of the hero or heroine and nobility of spirit, starting from a situation where most of us would just give up," said Victor Volkman, Kats's publisher.
"One of Jewel's core beliefs is that all girls can be a princess. Why not? It doesn't matter what shape you are, what you can or can't do, what colour your skin is or how well you speak. Every girl was a princess in her eyes," he said.
Kats inspires Archie character
She is also the inspiration for Harper Lodge, a recent addition to Archie Comics and the first character with a disability.
Kats approached Archie Comics writer and artist Dan Parent at Fan Expo Canada.
"I wheeled up to him, looked at him square in the eye and I said 'Why isn't there a character with a disability in Riverdale? How is that possible? He didn't have an answer right away. But he gave me his contact information," she told CBC News in 2014.
Parent and Kats corresponded to develop Harper, who looks and acts much like Kats.
"After talking to Jewel, I was like 'Gee, there's the character right there.' Jewel is a character," Parent told CBC News.
"Like Jewel, the character of Harper doesn't let her disability get her down. It's part of her but she doesn't let it affect her."
Parent said he was saddened to hear of Kats's death.
"I just found her so inspiring. She's had so much hardship yet she's turned it into a positive."
RIP Jewel Kats. You've inspired so many ! You won't be forgotten! <a href="https://twitter.com/ArchieComics">@ArchieComics</a> <a href="https://t.co/SbMubNcTm5">pic.twitter.com/SbMubNcTm5</a>—@parentdaniel
"We are saddened to hear of Jewel's passing," Archie Comics Publisher and CEO Jon Goldwater said in a statement to CBC News. "She was an energetic, smart and vocal supporter of Archie."
"The character Harper Lodge, introduced in the pages of our flagship title, is a testament to the diversity of the Archie world. A world Jewel was a special part of. Our condolences go out to her friends, family and many fans."
'Beautiful inside and out'
Lenart said Kats was very encouraging and supportive of her artwork.
"I don't know if I would have ever illustrated a book if Jewel hadn't found me. I'm eternally grateful to her for opening that door."
Kats was a talented writer, who made children "feel included and special," she said.
"I loved her writing. It made me cry. She has a way of really touching on your emotions."
"I'm going to remember how beautiful she was both inside and out. She really had star quality. It was not just her beautiful appearance, it was her beautiful soul."