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!
Every ride on Metro North from Randolph to Penn makes Chad Mailer miss the city even more. Granted, his status hasn’t changed much in almost four decades, but there were those few brief years when he was able to say he lived “in the city,” instead of telling everybody that he lived “right outside New York.” Outsiders and tourists still tended to be impressed, but for anyone who lived within the Five Boroughs, they knew immediately and exactly what he meant: New Jersey.
New. Fucking. Jersey.
Somehow, this minor semantic distinction means a world of difference to people in the industry. “Oh yeah, you’re in New York too, yeah? What part? Jersey. Cool. Well. Yeah. I gotta…there’s a thing…” As if living in New Jersey has any impact on the quality of his writing. Yet here he is, 38-years-old and still commuting into the city from his dad’s house for a comic book convention, still holding out for hope this year might be his big break.
Chad checks his smartphone as the train pulls past the next station. He’s hoping to find some last minute message, that desperate Hail Mary plea from an editor for someone to fill in a spot on a panel, where Chad might have a chance to shine and show his stuff in front of a room full of fans. But he has no new texts, and there’s nothing on Twitter, and with every refreshed screen he watches his battery indicator shrink as another hundred tweets come in, celebrating setup on the floor of New York Comic-Con.
That’s the funny thing about any Con: when you’re not there, you’re inundated with hundreds of exciting new updates every minute and you can’t help but feel like you’re missing out on the most important moments in pop culture history. Then when you’re there, you’re tired and bored and your feet hurt like hell and you just want a drink but you want to be on you want to be sure that you present as your best self in case you wind in a bathroom with some big Editor-in-Chief who just-so-happens to be looking for someone to take over writing duties on Uncanny X-Men while he’s taking a leak.
He, or she, Chad reminds himself. He’s trying to get better about that. Although, to be fair, 99% percent of the comics pros you run into are going to be dudes; that’s just the way it is.
Still, Chad respects the zeitgeist. He understands the arguments, the push for more diversity, for work that shows a range of life that’s not just — well, that’s not just Chad. And he’s certainly done his fair share to advance the agenda, like with his Wolverine one-shot, and with his Oni hit Night Shift, which had all kinds of weirdness going for it. Chad’s an ally, and he’s damn proud of that.
Two girls board the train at Harrison and take sit down in the duct-taped orange seats across the aisle right across from Chad. They look like teenagers, but he figures they must at least be college-aged, or else they’d be in school. That’s the nice part about the Thursday Preview Day at Comic-Con: less people. He can tell that’s where they’re headed based on the fact that they’re both dressed like characters from Sailor Moon. At least, he’s pretty sure it’s Sailor Moon. Chad’s never been much into anime; as far as he’s concerned, most of the characters look the same.
Also Chad feels less weird about checking them out if he can just assume they’re college-aged.
Chad gets a thrill every time he sees a cosplayer on the way to Comic-Con. And the Sailor Moon girls certainly aren’t the only ones on the train, either. There’s a guy at the far end of the car dressed as the Soul Caliber demon-looking guy with the huge SoulSword, two separate incarnations of Doctor Who — the Fifth and Eleventh, respectively — giving the stinkeye to one another, and a Hawaiian Steampunk Deadpool, which doesn’t actually make any sense but is par for the course when it comes to Deadpool cosplay. Chad hopes that the pineapples and ham that Hawaiian Steampunk Deadpool is using as his “pouches” aren’t actually made of real food; the smell at Cons is bad enough with all the un-showered nerds around.
Chad doesn’t mean to look down on them, of course. After all, he’s a nerd himself — how else does one become a comic book writer anyway? Well, besides making your name as a Hollywood big-shot or a rockstar first. That’s the best way to break into comics: get famous for something else. But that’s also why Chad feels such a kinship with the rest of the weirdos on the train. He shares their passion, their grassroots fervor for things that aren’t so cool, even as the big corporations buy up every property and make it all mainstream.
Of course, Chad wouldn’t mind a little bit more of that Hollywood licensing money for himself. Maybe then he could finally move out of his dad’s house.
Chad looks over at the Sailor Tweens beside him. He smiles and nods his head in a show of camaraderie, of kinship. They respond tentatively, with nervous, toothless smiles that look incongruous when coupled with their hesitant glances. The brunette on the outside turns her back to him, and the two of them commune for a moment before standing in a graceful unity and moving towards the back of the train car, hiding their faces with their hands as they walk past.
In his own way, Chad is cosplaying, too, whether he likes it or not. Sure, to a random passerby on the street, or even the old Hispanic lady sitting beside him, he might not look like someone on his way to a comic book convention, whereas all the rest of the costumed crazies stick out like sore thumbs when they’re traipsing all about Midtown.
Still, Chad spent hours picking out his costumes for the weekend. He had to find the right balance between casual and professional, between hipster cool and geeky chic. For him, the weekend is all about networking. When you end up at the bar chatting up some hotshot Marvel editor, you want to make sure he likes you (he or her). But you also don’t want to seem desperate. Graphic t-shirts are cool, but you have to be careful that you’re not wearing the same graphic t-shirt as some random fanboy. Because you’re not a random fanboy. You’re a god damn professional. You’re Chad fucking Mailer! You wrote that Wolverine one-shot that sold out five different printings! Hell, you wrote that one issue of Detective Comics that one time! You even got an Eisner nod for Night Shift back in 2008! None of these other nerds on the train have an Eisner nomination!
So where’s that big break that’s been coming down the pipeline for the last five year? And why can’t you get any work?