Chapter 3 – All Those Yesterdays
The next morning, Hal sat in his underwear, staring at the TV for the first four and a half hours of the day. As the rain pounded against his apartment windows, he occasionally glanced at his drawing board full of notes, sketches, story ideas, pens and pencils. He thought about the social faux pas of drinking before noon as he finished off his third Guinness and looked at the clock.
“Oops. Pardon me, gov’na.” He thought in a British accent.
At one point somewhere in the middle of the day, he managed to get off the couch and walk over to his drawing table. There, he thought about all the storylines he’d been working on the past few months.
Just like every other comic book writer, Hal had a generic superhero in his back pocket, always ready to pull out and work on. His publisher had been on him to write “more normal stuff” the past ten or so years, and well, the superhero type character was definitely that. When he first thought of this character, he laid out a few basic rules.
1.) Definitely no cape, that’s just overdone in all genre of superhero. Hal could never justify or rationalize the use of capes in his stories. They seemed barbaric. He thought back in history to all the famous people who wore capes: counts, vampires, kings, popes. All of these people were either evil or things Hal despised. Plus, he could never justify drawing a cape always blowing in the wind. C’mon, that’s not even possible, except maybe with a large fan or wind tunnel perhaps. Suffice it to say, no capes.
2.) No ridiculously over the top evil villains. If Hal wrote a comic about a superhero, he would have to fight normal, everyday bad guys. No bombs with clocks on them attached to bridges, or Boris and Natasha conspiring to take over the world through some contrived, harebrained evil scheme. Hal’s bad guys (or girls) had to somehow be just as intelligent as the superheroes, but with one fatal flaw, or selfish motives. But overall, they had to be realistic. This rule, not being the most exciting or romantic of antagonistic ideas, probably put the biggest damper on his enthusiasm for writing his superhero character.
3.) No damsels in distress. Hal wasn’t exactly a full-fledged feminist, but he was living in the twenty-first century along with everyone else. He knew that not all women need a man to save them. That’s just barbaric. Throughout Hal’s life, he’d known many damsels who needed saving, but they were never the women he wanted to write about. They were unrealistic, over-make-upped and boring. The characters he wanted to write about were strong, bold people who made any plot around them seem interesting. This included the women in Hal’s stories, who always outsmarted and outfought the men. They could for the most part, save themselves.
4.) Finally, no weird, unrealistic superpowers. Superman was cool and all, but everyone knows Batman’s way better. A man that beats up bad guys with his fists using pure brute force and clever (yet expensive) gadgets who is driven to fight crime based on his need for vengeance on the man who murdered his parents right in front of him in cold blood. Not much better than that.
But before he fully realized all of these personal superhero addendums, he had already agreed to produce at least twelve comics with his much more highly sought after superhero. After weeks of ferocious writing, drawing, inking and well, being constantly frustrated with himself for ever making those superhero rules, he came up with it. It was the most capeless, realistic, non-savior of every woman in the world, anti-ridiculous evil villain, normal-powered superhero every thought of:
LawMan! The Crime Fighting, Courtroom Lawyer!
He couldn’t hop over skyscrapers in a single bound or even fly through the night like some sort of bat or spider, but he could fly coach throughout North America in commercial airliners, seeking out justice and equality for anyone who paid his moderately priced lawyer fees. What he lacked in—specifically what other comic book writers called “superpowers”—he made up in a thorough knowledge of New York State law. And even though his damsels in distress weren’t always helpless women stuck in evil lairs or bombs strapped to train tracks, he still managed to save dozens of people a year through hard work, dedication, a well-earned law degree and a few late nights.
Despite a large following of Jewish women, ages fifty-five and up, after getting the first few reviews from critics, his once-enthused publishers quickly dropped LawMan. So it was on to the darker side for Hal. Although he kept up his superhero rules for the most part, he still ventured into the super villain category with his overly anticipated comic, Wendy the Widow. Needless to say, his comic about a husbandless, evil and yet charming middle-aged woman whose plans to bring down Disneyland were continually thwarted by Walt’s surprisingly good-hearted zombie grandchildren.
Didn’t even reach comic bookshelves.
Fortunately though, shortly after Wendy, an independent publishing company picked up his next comic. While not as widely spread, or even distributed nationally, it was a safe comic that reflected more the culture of where comic books had been heading for years. It was a simple idea really, one that encompassed some easy to love characters using popular trends and modern dialogue with a straightforward storyline. Coincidentally, this also provided Hal with a steady income for over a year.
The comic was about a group of teenager girl vampires who were dealing with all the angst and hormones of normal adolescents, as well as trying to get away with every so often sucking the blood of a local high school football/basketball/trombone player. While it was at times clever and at best interesting, Ho Negative only produced eighteen issues. Given its local craze and appropriate social timing, it was also a considerable collectable for a few months after its eventual cancellation.
Every once in awhile, someone from his publishing company would call up and ask about doing a possible sequel, Ho Negative 2: The Suck-it List. In his weaker, poorer days, he thought about it, but for the most part he just couldn’t lower himself to continue writing the “worthless drivel a deranged baby could write in it’s sleep while the pointless characters sucked it’s blood,”—he wrote once in a reply to Dope House Publishing.
But even after almost twenty years of work on all these stories and characters, he still felt like it wasn’t good enough. He’d gotten paid for a few of them sure, and he even continued to receive a steady income from both his weekly comic, Wacky Wally the Wiley Walrus—an endless three panel strip with occasionally clever one-liners—as well as from his residual checks from his short-term miniseries, Free Masons: Lords of the Overworld—a twelve comic run which was surprisingly well received among critics and remained a favorite amidst collectors. Both of them however, while not exactly inspiring or something Hal was passionate about or even too proud of, let him able to keep his apartment in the city, as well as continue writing comics full time.
Though his passion was comics, they weren’t exactly bestsellers. But throughout it all, he still loved writing and drawing and creating new worlds in which anything could happen at any time. Years ago he had understood simple story structure and once he had, he was free to simply create and control entire worlds within stories. They were his, and only his. No matter what else happened in his life, he always had his characters, his stories. They were at times, his closest friends and at other times his most mortal enemies. He would create life and destroy it, punishing evildoers and blessing those who did good.
In the end, however, the aspect he cherished more than any other, was being able to spin the truths of life into the world he had created. His truths were all that mattered in his stories. If Hal had a bad day, he would simply write great things happening to his characters. If he had a good day, then he would insert conflict into the stories, livening them up and making them a bit more realistic. It was only when Hal was able to have complete creative control over his art that he felt truly at peace and truly in love with his work. It was during these times that he knew he was doing what he put on this earth to do.
It had been a long time however, since Hal had been working on something he truly loved. He missed the times when he would stay up days at a time, obsessing about the smallest idiosyncrasies of each of his characters. One week in college, Hal stayed up Thursday through Sunday writing the novella Julio & Harriet, the story of star-crossed lovers in who overcome their rivaling families’ desires only to died at each other’s side do to a poisoned beverage. It wasn’t until Hal had submitted it to his fourth short story competition that his roommate pointed it out it was almost the same exact story as a certain famous playwright’s opus. Shortly thereafter, Hal discontinued all revisions of The Blaming of the Jews—a satirical comic strip loosely based on the historical events that transpired in Europe throughout the mid-20th century, pointing out the offenses and atrocities committed within a fascist regime. He had a hunch that his sardonic lampooning of the holocaust might be seen as slightly distasteful by some, and quickly called it quits on the project.
But today was different. Today was a new day. It was a day of rain clouds and pointless comics in which Hal could not even get himself off of the couch in order to continue the rote storylines and bad characters he’d been paid his entire adult life to write. It was time for a change.
Two hours after his revelation, Hal was still wrestling with the idea of doing something. He thought about what Sam used to say, “You’ll never get anywhere in this world without pants.” It seemed much more inspiring at the time to Hal. This was perhaps because at the time of the quote she was trying to get Hal to drive her home from a party in which he had been drinking for hours and had lost his pants somewhere amidst all the fun. He eventually did go somewhere in this world that night, thanks to Sam’s speech.
Nonetheless, Hal was motivated enough to put on some pants and walk out the door. He was in need of a muse, something simple, yet moving. As he walked out of the building he saw Isaac a few feet to the left of the stairs. Hal immediately turned right. Now was not the time for discussions of inner happiness or even to hear stories of Isaac’s make-believe motorcycle gang days. He was on a mission. It was an emergency. He needed something to get his mind off of the pointless idiocy he’d been writing and to remind himself that his opus was still out there, needing to be written. He needed to feel like he was on top of the world, the type of fleeting admiration and worship that only a comic book shop could bring.
As he walked into the shop, he was greeted by the friendly face of Tim Scott, purveyor and Dragon Master of the Green Dragon’s Comic Shop. Tim was not only Hal’s biggest fan, but also had a vast knowledge of all things geek. Whether it was Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, or wizardry, Tim was an expert. He knew the color of Luke Skywalker’s socks in scene #23 of Empire as well as how much Uncanny X-Men #4 was worth in 1982, and as owner, manager, and primary employee of the Green Dragon, he also wasn’t ashamed to share these tidbits of wisdom with anyone and everyone who might walk into his shop.
Now, if you’ve never been in a comic book shop before, there are a few dynamics in which you must made aware. Comic book shop customers, while a very exclusive crowd, come in four very distinct, very different stereotypes.
First of all, there are the comic geeks. They range anywhere from the after school, preteen crowd that’s just getting into comics by reading the latest craze in pop comics or starting with the old school gateway comics: Batman, Superman, X-Men, etc. There’re the collectors, who are usually older gentlemen trying either buy, sell, or trade comics they’ve had sitting around their basements/garages for over forty years. No one likes them. Then there are the diehards. These come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities and are the most diverse crowd at these shops. Comic book shop owners have a love-love relationship with these people, as they are their primary form of staying in business and they are the only people on the planet who they can carry on conversations with.
Secondly, there are the D&D, Magic, Wizardry crowd. They often meet up at comic book shops to peruse through the latest strategy guides, purchase decorative figurines as well as to hold tournaments of every size (literally, from two to two hundred players). They’re also quite the exclusive group, however if you know your stuff, you’ll find an open chair at any of their tournament tables.
Third is the anime group. They were an elite group of Whites and Asians who read comics from back to front. Literally. Their love of reading consisted mainly of one or both of the following: young girls in skirts or topless men with fireballs. Yes, this is a stereotypical vilification of an entire subgroup of people, but it is without a doubt 100% true.
And finally, the smallest group of comic book shop patrons: the gifters. Most of us have been there. While they never quite seem like regular shoppers, they never seem to go away. They come into shops looking for a comic book for their nephew, grandchild, husband/wife, etc, and after looking around for far too long with a horrified look of disgust on their face, they always end up asking someone what they should buy. Besides just being an awkward conversation in general about someone neither of them know well enough to suggest reading material to, the gifter always end up buying something they personally would like, instead of something the recipient would actually enjoy.
Usually when Hal would drop by the Green Dragon, there would be some diehards talking to Tim at the register, some D&D-ers playing on a fold-out table along the back wall, and a few other people from the above groups scattered about the shop reading, looking and frowning.
“Henry!” Tim yelled from across the shop. “Henry fucking Thompson, get your ass over here!” Then he turned to the diehards and said, “This is the guy from that stuff I was telling you about.”
Hal looked around as most of the lackluster spectators around the shop remained uninterested or oblivious to his existence. He walked to the register.
“Hey Tim, how’s business?” he said, faking cheer.
“Always bad, horrible, disgusting. These hooligans never buy shit!” Tim said loudly, while throwing a few free comics at the diehards and preteens standing nearby. There were always free comics near the register, and nobody, not even Tim wanted to read them.
Laughing, “Fair enough, how’s my box looking?” Hal said with a smile.
Each diehard, and some preteen buyers had what comic book shops referred to as a “box.” Regular customers would subscribe to different comics and each week Tim would put them into the different boxes behind the register. Saying like, “I think I’ll go to the Green Dragon and empty my box today after school,” and “I wonder if Tim’s got anything good in my box,” could be heard from comic patrons on their way to the shop—often without even the slightest chuckle or even hint of double entendre.
Tim looked in a cardboard box behind the counter.
“Looks like you got a full load in here,” Tim said (without even smiling), pulling up a dozen new issues and placing them in front of Hal on the counter.
“Ah, Timmy. Knew I could count on you,” Hal said, turning the comics around on the counter putting them into his backpack. “What’s the damage?”
“You sure you wanna know this time?” Tim said with a slight smile.
“Eh, good call,” Hal said, putting his full backpack back on. “Put it on my tab. I’ll get you next time.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Tim said as the few nearby customers returned laughter.
“No, for real. I’ll be back in a week or so. Gotta go now though.” Hal turned and began to walk away.
Tim, still smiling yelled, “Hey Hal, there comes a time in every boy’s life when he’s gotta pay off his Green Dragon tab!”
Hal turned and waved goodbye.
“Even if he is some big comic book writer man!” Tim continued.
Hal walked out the door.
Tim turned to the nearby diehards. “No way that guy ever pays me back.”
There was a long pause before a younger kid spoke up.
“So, what’d that guy write again?” he asked Tim.
Tim turned around, grabbed his favorite issue of Free Masons, handed it to the die hard and said, “Kid, educate thyself.”