Reiss Johnson, 27, discusses his professional change and how his autism diagnosis influenced his decision.
Name: Reiss Johnson
Age: 27 years old
Earnings: £10,000-£15,000 per annum
Work: Coventry-based comic book artist and publisher
An ex-partner was the one who pushed me into IPass payday lending. I’d worked in a chain-store stockroom for two years after graduating from high school on minimum wage. Her parents worked for a lender that advertised itself as a “payday loan firm.” The firm believed that by visiting consumers in their homes, it could form bonds with them. I’d have to solicit business by leafleting homes in low-income areas.
How I made money as a payday lender
When someone asked for a loan, I would go to their house with cash in an envelope and collect the repayments by knocking on doors. I’d be paid on commission, so the more money I extorted from them, the more money I’d make.
The turning point
I witnessed families being torn apart and people dying. I was as if I were a fly on a body. That incident has influenced how I think about money and what it can do to individuals. I was making £800 a week when I realized capitalism was not worth the harm it does. It also confirmed a long-held belief that I was the odd man out. It finally broke me. I called the workplace on New Year’s Day and informed them I was done.
I sold my antique video game and console collection for £1,000 to fund the self-publication of a comic book on my mental health. I find that art helps me process problems, and I’ve been drawn to superheroes as a way to escape.
The proceeds from the sales went toward printing more comics, which culminated in a book about my experiences with the loan firm. This earned me £1,672, which gave me the confidence to approach big firms with samples and secure commissions to illustrate official movie artifacts for Hollywood film studios. Because comics don’t pay much, I took a £12,000-a-year work at a shop to help me acquire a mortgage on an £80,000 flat, and I did my drawing in the evenings.
However, I was admitted to the hospital in 2017 after attempting suicide. Everything seemed to be failing at the same time. I was in a leg brace due to a vehicle accident. Due to bullying, I left my job and lost my partner and friends, who couldn’t handle my self-harming, tantrums, and panic attacks. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until after that. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Since I was deemed able to work, I was housebound and supported by family and small employment and support allowance payments while waiting for a referral.
I noticed that there were no books that could assist me that weren’t scholarly or geared at parents or children, so I chose to remake myself through comic books. I approached a publisher with the result, Reaffirmation: Coming to Terms with an Autism Diagnosis, but the process was taking too long, so I withdrew and crowdfunded it. After celebrity support on social media, it raised £4,758, so I spent an extra £242 to print it in hardcover.
How have comic books helped me?
Comic books have given me a platform. They began as a form of escapism. I wanted something to give me a purpose since I was a rebel without one. My autism has taught me how to contribute to making the world a better place. From a con artist to an autism advocate, I’ve come a long way. I still have a lot of fears when it comes to leaving the house. I don’t go on vacations or dine out, and I find it difficult to prepare for myself. My parents take me to Aldi late at night when the store is less crowded, and I spend roughly £30 each week on microwaveable meals. But I’m itching to get out and socialize.
I’ve always wanted to be financially stable by the age of 30, and I believe I’m on my way there, scraping by on savings but with the capacity to achieve great things. I work as a consultant for a proposed new autism training hub for councils, and I make enough money from Amazon royalties and my film work to cover my £345 monthly mortgage. If I wasn’t afraid of the future, I’d be concerned. Things that have happened in my life have been bigger than me, and the minute I start to take my work for granted, I should start questioning if I’m doing it correctly. I want to make sure that no one else falls between the cracks like I did. It shouldn’t take someone being discovered half-dead on the floor for people to notice.