True Believers is a full-length novel by Thom Dunn, based on his play of the same name. It’s a satirical tale of star-crossed lovers, aspiring comic book creators, crazed fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans, women in refrigerators, real-life superheroes, and girls who dress like Slave Leia as their lives intertwine over a whirlwind weekend at a comic book convention in the early 2010s.
The book will be serialized on Medium throughout the month of April 2020. Here is the first chapter. Check back every day for more chapters!
“Ted-Buddy! Hey, I made it!” Chad says, hoping to keep the positive energy up. Last night’s encounter wasn’t quite as successful as he’d hoped, but it still put a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel that is Chad’s career. And judging by the beads of sweat puddling on Ted’s anxious brow, now seems like as good at time as ever to ingratiate himself. “Penn was just a mess today, and NJ Transit was all fucked up. I was gonna text you but I guess I lost your number so I sent you a DM on Twitter, but then I wasn’t sure if you were getting reception or — “
“Oh look at that we’re right on time.” Ted turns his back to Chad without even checking the time on his phone and stomps up the scaffold metal staircase to the stage.
Chad waits a moment before following; working his way into Ted’s good favor also means giving him the space he needs.
“Have you seen Katie Watts? Or heard from her at all?” Ted adds when he reaches the top, without so much as glancing back at Chad.
This dismissive attitude comes as something of a relief, considering the utter confusion it inspires in Chad. “Who?”
“Seriously?” Ted gawks at Chad, the look on his screwed-up face a mixture of confusion and disgust. All Chad can do is shrug, unsure if his friend is joking or genuinely pissed. “Forget it,” Ted says with a groan as he takes his position behind the wooden podium on the right side of the stage.
Unfortunately, the positioning of the podium puts Ted right between Chad and his seat at the panelists’ table — where Box is currently sitting at the far end. Chad tries to be polite and excuse himself as he squeezes past his friend.
Then he looks up to see Box nodding in a solemn acknowledgement of their shared presence.
Once Chad has squirmed his way past Ted, he picks his name placard off the table and swaps it with the one for Kt Watts, leaving the buffer space of an empty seat between he and his wizarding rival — and consequently making her absence that much more obvious. He smiles at Box, playing it off casually, but the mysterious mage doesn’t seem to mind.
Chad scoots his folding chair toward the table, and when he’s settled, he reaches over and grabs Ted’s shoulder. “You ready for this?” he asks.
But when his eyes finally focus on the assembled audience sitting before them — all two hundred or so eager and enthusiastic convention-goers in their clever t-shirts and multicolored costumes like a punk rock circus bazaar in the Mall of America, flanked by carpeted grey folding walls underneath fluorescent lights and all sitting and waiting patiently for the people on stage to enlighten them with whatever words of wisdom they might share — Chad realizes that he himself might not be ready for this either.
It’s the moment he’s been waiting for, sure: a captive audience yearning for his burning, brilliant commentary. And yet, that’s precisely the thing that makes it so terrifying. They came here for him. Or Box, maybe, or because they’re squatting to save seats for the next panel that takes place in the room. But still.
What will they hear when he opens his mouth? Will they hear his best intentions, his clever subtleties and charming quips that have gone unappreciated for so long? Or will they just see the same disappointment that Chad finds in the mirror every morning?
Chad shakes his head, trying not to think about the crowd before him (and resisting the temptation to try that ridiculous “imagine them in their underwear” scenario). He turns his attention to Ted, whose eyes are shut tight in some internal concentration. Chad realizes then that his arm has been awkwardly clamped on Ted’s shoulder this entire time. As soon as he retracts his affectionate contact, Ted’s eyes open wide once more and he jumps right into his ritual opening speech with all the pomp and presence of a professional sports announcer.
“Hello everyone, and welcome to this year’s New Horizons forum for rising talent in comics industry! I’m Ted Thompson. Most of you probably know me from DC Comics, but I also used to work for Oni Press as well as Malibu Comics — you can feel free to laugh at that one. I’ve done a lot of work on the talent end, searching out hot new talents and bringing them to work with us. So today we have with us some of the best new up and comic comics creator on the scene, and they’re here to talk to you guys about, well, whatever it is you want to talk to them about. Whether it’s breaking into comics, or a question about a project they’ve already worked on, or upcoming projects. Whatever you want to know, at least within reason. I’m just going to do some quick introductions and then I’ll get out of the way and we’ll turn the floor over to you guys. Please — don’t get up yet — you can line up at the microphone after we’ve introduced our speakers…”
After a brief altercation with the security guards about her choice in transportation — “I swear Officer, it’s just part of my cosplay. Where is there a rule about footwear?” — Kt Watts glides her way across the linoleum of the main convention floor, straight into the elevator and out onto the concrete lower level toward her first panel of the day. The fact that she’s wearing a cardboard mini-fridge box with arms cut out for her arms and heads only makes it easier for her to make her way through the crowd. As oblivious as the Comic-Con crowd can be, it’s early enough in the day that the convention isn’t too too packed, and most people are still in that excitable phase of the weekend where they’re fully aware of their surroundings.
And, well, it’s kind of hard to miss a refrigerator box on roller skates with a woman sticking out of it. It gives a whole new meaning to her derby name of SnatchBox20.
Still, she’s careful to shout “Excuse me! Coming through!” as she pivots and spins and dodges her way past vendors and ushers and oblivious teens, just to be sure. There are probably some people snapping pictures of her, which would normally be annoying — she’s a firm believer in the mantra of “cosplay is not consent,” but (a) this is hardly cosplay, and (b) it’s definitely not sexy, so © it’d be a stretch to call out any amateur photographers as creepers, even if (d) she does acknowledge the irony that, in this particular instance, she is kind of asking for it.
A few of the volunteer ushers also try to intercept her, but none of them are paid enough to overcome their fears when she challenges them to a game of chicken.
Roller Skating Woman in a Refrigerator Box: 1, Curmudgeonly Con Staff: 0.
Then she sees it, right up ahead: Room 1B03, where the “Women in Refrigerators” panel — the annual women-in-comics femme brigade rally of badassery — is just about to start.
Get it? “Women in Refrigerators?” And she’s wearing a refrigerator box? Like when Alex DeWitt got killed and stuffed into a fridge in that Green Lantern comic, for no other reason than to motivate her boytoy into having Angsty Manfeels? Ugh forget it.
Her thighs pump harder, faster, building momentum as she squats, compressing her center of gravity to increase her speed and turning her into an unstoppable wrecking ball (except, ya know, with a cardboard box). She makes herself as small as her costume will allow and brings her feet in tight as she glides through the open door, heel brakes wailing as they streak the floor with arches of pulverized rubber that screech to a halt inside the room and —
A cluster of twenty or so full-grown furry bipeds of every color, shape, and size all spin around and stare at her, most of them holding their tails in their hands as if to protect their artificial appendages from the pain of being trampled by Kt’s roller skates. If not for the giant plastic eyes on their masks, they would probably be blinking — or maybe they are, and Kt just can’t tell.
Kt spins around on her skates and peeks at the paper schedule hanging by the door: “Friday, 10:45am — Anthropomorphic Action, Anonymous.” And then below it: “2:45pm — Women in Refrigerators.”