TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 6 — There and Back Again

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!

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The after-hours bar scene is where conventions truly come to life, after a long day of shuffling responsibilities — juggling panel schedules, signings, press sessions, portfolio reviews, all the general niceties and small talks that come along with the job.

And, for Ted Thompson, Senior Editor at DC Comics, there’s the added stress of flying your new ladyfriend out to the city so you can meet her in person for the very first time.

It’s a busy time, sure, and some might say it’s not an optimal romantic setting (Kathy would definitely say that). But it’s important to Ted that Chloe get to see him in his element, in the kingdom where he reigns. Like here at the Pig N’Whistle where he holds court in his trademark flatcap, by which even the uninitiated comics fans can recognize him. The bar itself has been made over as the Shire from The Lord of the Rings, replete with pointy ears for the cleavage-baring waitresses and hairy hobbit feet or burly dwarf beards for the rest of the staff. Ted finds it both tacky and endearing all at once — a little corny, sure, and a bit too on-the-nose, but also the perfect place for the Comic-Con crowd to convene, conveniently located just a few blocks from the convention center.

For the first part of the evening, everything is a blur of surface-level networking, with pros and fans alike flying past to offer compliments and small-talk and maybe, just maybe, get a little bit of genuine face time, in hopes that Ted might remember them at future conventions. There’s the 22-year-old blogger in the Power Girl cosplay whose boob window ruins all hope of intelligible conversation, and the awkward aspiring artist in the nondescript blue Lycra suit (what did he say his superhero name was?). The letterers and colorists all clump together clutching cans of crappy beer, and it doesn’t help that they all wear the same obligatory graphic designer outfit of glasses, beards, and button-down flannel. Ted does his best to tell them apart when he’s talking to them, although he’s not particularly worried about offending any of them — after all, he’s the one who signs their paychecks. A dapper British holdovers from the 80s boom that brought his fellows Brits to the mainstream saunters around the room in his sleek grey suit with a martini glass in hand like a real-life James Bond, simultaneously overwhelmed by the youthful crowd and hopeful that someone still might recognize his genius, after being overshadowed by the Gaimans, Moores, and Morrisons. It’s hardly 8pm and he’s three-sheets to the wind, although Ted’s aware that it is 1am back in Southend-on-Sea and he could just be living on British time.

And then there’s Box, whose standard day-to-day attire is eerily befitting of the medieval fantasy-themed decor of the bar. Box is a lumbering, lanky figure in his green wool cloak, the hood of which rests gently on the crown of his smooth brown scalp. Ted still has no idea what ethnicity the guy is, and even his name doesn’t offer any help. As awkward as it is for anyone to tail you around the bar like he’s done for the last hour, Box does a particularly poor job of blending into this surroundings.

Unfortunately for Ted, he doesn’t have much choice but to let Box do his thing — he’s one of the best-selling new writers DC’s ever hired, and the company just signed him to an exclusive contract that they plan to announce at the convention this weekend.

Ted reminds himself that all the best creative minds have their eccentricities. Still, it’d be nice if there was literally anything about Box that wasn’t eccentric.

Ted feels a buzz in his left pocket and pulls out his phone to find a message from Chloe. “Thinking of u ;-)” she says, accompanied by a picture of her torso with just a flash of nipple peeking out from the low-cut v-neck line of her oversized shirt. It’s enough to make him smile and forget the room, the work, the noise that surround him. He doesn’t even care that he’s abandoned Box to Sunil from Finance, or abandoned Sunil from Finance to Box; he’s too focused on the photo before him, and trying not to get too excited about it.

Which makes it all the more frustrating when the moment is interrupted by the sound of a familiar voice: “Ted, hey! There you are! Listen, I wanted to talk to you about — “

Ted shoves the phone back into his left pocket just as Chad Mailer grabs his right hand and pulls him in for a firm handshake. He pats Ted on the shoulder with his other hand, in some awkward semblance of a half-hug between old friends.

Ted is almost relieved that Chad’s greeting is enough to stop the flow of his excitement.

Almost.

“Chad, my man, how are you?” says Ted, forcing a toothy grin across his face to mask his agitation. He needs another moment to ground himself and get his head back in the game, so he uses the only tools at his disposal. “Hey, have you met Box?”

For all his skill as a storyteller, Box is distinctly lacking as a social wingman. Instead of taking the chance to collect himself, Ted watches with amazement as Chad offers his hand to Box, who bows his head solemnly, hands folded at his waist. Ted starts to wonder if he’s ever actually seen Box touch another person; he can hardly remember how he greeted Box himself that night.

As far as Ted can tell, Chad either doesn’t notice this awkward interaction, or doesn’t seem to mind, because he immediately breaks into business mode: “So I was thinking, Ted, I know we’ve got this New Horizons forum tomorrow and — “

“Box here’s on the forum too,” says Ted, before Chad can finish whatever self-centered tirade he’s about to launch into. “He’s been doing some writing for us lately. I don’t know if you saw that Larfleeze one-shot that came out? I’m telling you: this guy? Huge imagination. Just off the charts. Hey, you need a drink? What are you having?”

“Yeah, IPA’s good. So anyway, I had this idea — “

But Ted slips away without waiting for the rest of it. It’s not that Ted doesn’t like Chad. He was Chad’s editor on Night Shift, which was a big hit, even if Chad does take more credit than he should for its success. The two of them got on well enough that Ted’s handed Chad a few other writing gigs here and there, despite his better judgement — mostly anthology work and fill-in stories for big-name creators. In the trinity of work-for-hire, Ted looks for writers and artists who exhibit two out of three important qualities: timeliness, kindness, and talent. Chad’s got the talent part down for sure, but he doesn’t always meet his deadlines. And while he is a fantastic drinking buddy (which is probably why Kathy never liked him), Chad can also be a bit of a brat about his work.

Therein lies the problem: there’s Drinking Buddy Chad, and there’s Tortured Artist Chad, and Ted’s known him long enough that he can spot the difference in a heartbeat. Conventions are great for making connections and trading business cards for future followup, but not so much for story pitches or serious business chats, especially not at a loud, dark bar. In all the years they’ve known each other, Chad’s never been able to make that distinction. Ted has enough going on this weekend as it is, without having to coddle Chad the whole time, too.

<< Go Back to Chapter 5 | Read on for Chapter 7 >>

Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.

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