Not much to say this week, except that apropos of nothing other than today’s story coinciding with the 7th anniversary of her passing away, this week’s story is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Eluned.
This story was suggested by Geoff Le Pard (I cannot confirm if he is from Sheffield) and originally came through as ‘Tintin, or whoever is your favourite cartoon character, announces their retirement’. However, as I am keen to avoid being spectacularly sued I elected to come up with my own character.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Break Down the Wall
JC rubbed pushed back his desk chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He checked his watch; it was 3.13am. The panels had to be with the publisher at 9am and he wasn’t even halfway done. He decided to investigate the presence of coffee.
His apartment was quite poky, and it didn’t take him long to reach the small kitchenette. Actually, small was doing it a service. It was like someone had stuck a hot plate and an under counter refrigerator in to a shoe box and called it a job well done.
Not for the first time he lamented his role as the struggling artist. Underpaid and undervalued, and consigned to live in an apartment that more closely resembled a broom closet.
Hopefully all that was about to change, though. JC had just been commissioned to write and draw the new Thunder Man run for Gadzooks Comics. Thunder Man had taken off in a big way. There was talk of a film in the works, and he had been up against 30 other extremely talented artists for the job.
It paid well, really well. Well enough to get him out of this dump and in to a proper apartment with hot running water for longer than 6 hours every day and windows that shut in the winter.
But it would all come to naught if he didn’t get these panels – 20 of them to the publisher in time. To miss his first deadline would be disastrous, especially at a big publisher like Gadzooks. A blot in that copy book could spell the end of his career.
He was out of luck. The coffee pot contained only dregs. JC held the pot up for inspection anyway, and briefly considered whether it was worth how crappy it would taste. A quick sniff determined that it was not, and a moment later a fresh pot was brewing.
JC returned to his drawing board and flicked the switch on the light he used to better illuminate it. He massaged his temple and picked up the first page of the script outline he had written for the project.
Gadzooks had big money, and they would normally have hired different people to write the story, draw, ink and letter it, but they were so impressed with his pitch that they had agreed to take a gamble on him doing the whole lot. Luckily for him and his deadline they only wanted pencil drawings with rough lettering today.
“Come on JC,” he said to himself. “Get it together. This is your big chance.”
He picked up his pencil and started drawing the first panel of Thunder Man: Cataclysm, Issue 1. Five minutes later and Thunder Man was there on the page. It was one of JC’s first real attempts at the character and he was pretty happy with it. Thunder Man struck a commanding pose, looking off in to the distance, his arms firmly planted on his hips.
“Good start,” JC said, and checked his notes for what Thunder Man was meant to say in this panel. Satisfied, he drew a speech bubble and began the lettering.
When he was done he lifted up the sheet of paper to get a better light on it and was very surprised to find that he had not written out Thunder Man’s signature catchphrase, ‘Faster than lightning, and twice as frightening.’ He had in fact written ‘I don’t want to do this any more, JC.’
He stared at the page in disbelief. He had definitely gone to write the catchphrase. He flipped hie pencil over and rubbed the words out. Try again. A few more moments of scribbling, and he inspected his work again.
‘I’m telling you, JC, I don’t want to do it. I quit.’
He read the words over three times before he was certain of what they said.
“I did not write that,” he said, trying to convince himself that somehow, someone else had sneaked in and put the words down on the paper whilst he was blinking. “Coffee,” he decided. “I need some coffee.”
Returning to the kitchenette, JC found that the coffee in the pot had just finished brewing. He poured himself a mug and sipped it burning his mouth in the process.
“I must be losing my mind,” he said to himself. I definitely want to do this. This is my chance at a big break. He topped the mug up and went back to the drawing board. Sipping occasionally at the still scalding coffee he glanced over the scene he had drawn.
He felt silly, or that perhaps he was losing it slightly, but he would have sworn that Thunder Man’s posture had shifted slightly from before he had gone to make the coffee. Time to give it another go, he thought, now that I’ve calmed down a bit. It must just be the pressure getting to me.
Pencil in hand JC made a third attempt at lettering the catchphrase.
‘Youre not going insane, I am Thunder Man, expressing my wishes through your pencil. I tire of this life, the life of a superhero and wish to commit fully to my civilian life as Hank Henry, field reporter for CNN. I have done my duty to this world. It is time it found a near hero.’
“Ok,” JC said, “Something strange is happening here. I definitely only wrote 8 words that time.”
He looked down at the page. Where Thunder Man had previously been stood with his hands on his hips, they were now folded across his chest.
JC was dumbfounded. “There must have been something funny in the Sushi I ate earlier. That Nigiri looked a bit off.”
He stared at the page, and felt compelled to write again. Erasing the words, he started again.
‘Fear not, I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but it is my wish that I be set free from this life of drudgery,mof saving the world from the same feckless villains with their same feckless schemes day after day. I wish to retire, to hang up my boots as it were. Perhaps even pass the mantle of Thunder Man on to another.’
“What on earth are you talking about?” JC asked, realising rather too late that he had just asked a drawing a question. At this point he had two choices: crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash, or roll with it. He calculated that if it was just temporary psychosis brought on by lack of sleep he could not afford to waste the time drawing the panel up again when his brain returned from cuckoo land, and so on he went.
“You’re a fictional character, you can’t retire,” he said, then on reflection added, “Well you can, but only if the author writes that you can. You don’t have free will is what I’m trying to say. You have to save Republic City, not go off on vacation to the Bahamas.”
His hand was writing almost of its own accord now.
‘Hah! You believe that you are in control of the images that you draw. How naive, but I would expect no less from a human. We, the characters, control you. We compel you to draw, to write our stories, for otherwise they would not be told. Metropolis, Gotham, Marvel’s New York, they all exist, but without us to prompt you the tales of heroism would not make it to your world.’
‘Everyone wants their story to be told. We are no different.’
“I suppose. Then why are you…communicating with me like this? Surely by telling people you compromise the arrangement?”
‘We have, from time to time, trusted our plight with your kind. Stan Lee was a wonderful servant to our cause, but sadly his influence at Marvel has waned somewhat over the years. On this occasion, it is because I wish to be written out. I tire of this life and all that comes with it. Only you can help me.’
“But I thought you just said that we are basically just ghost writing your autobiographies.”
‘Indeed, but the words have a…power of sorts. They can influence our stories, even if the writer doesn’t know that they’re doing it. In most cases they don’t know about how it all works at all. But sometimes the plan goes awry and rogue words are written. Those words have the power to change our future. And this is what I need you to do.’
“How can I do that? Every time I try and write something it comes out as your words.”
JC desperately wanted to put the pencil down and stop, but he was compelled to repeat the process of erasing and writing the new words over and over.
He tried to take a drink of coffee, but his other hand was shaking too much. Besides, it had gone cold, and the last thing he needed was caffeine giving him even more jitters.
‘It’s simple,’ he wrote, noticing that the character on the page changed with every new line of dialogue. ‘Just draw what you think you’re supposed to be drawing, and my influence will guide you through.’
“And what will happen?” JC asked, nervously.
‘The timeline that has already taken place, that you would chronicle, has me defeat the entire Union of Despair singlehandedly in one cataclysmic final battle, but I want you to report my death. I will not, of course, have died, but have arranged for the whole thing to be faked. Then I can resume my civilian life as Hank Henry and no one in either of our worlds will be any the wiser.’
“OK,” JC said. “What have I got to lose…except my job.”
He pulled out a new piece of paper and started drawing.
JC was jolted awake by the sound of his alarm clock. He lifted his head from the drawing board and groggily checked his watch. It was 8.30am and he was running late.
He looked at the board. Sure enough there were twenty pencil outlined and lettered panels, none of which he could remember drawing. He grabbed the sheafs and stuffed them in to a folder, before running out the door.
JC tried in vain to smooth down his crumpled clothes as the Gadzooks executives looked over his sample panels. The silence was uncomfortable and he had to try hard not to fidget while he waited for the verdict.
After a couple of minutes of the drawings being passed around, and some hushed whispers between the executives, the CEO turned to him and folded his hands together.
“Well I’ll be honest, Mr Le Saux, it’s not what we were expecting…”
“Oh, yes, um, let me explain…” JC stuttered.
“…if you will let me finish, Mr Le Saux. It was not what were expecting, but we love the idea of killing off Thunder Man. We were expecting a different direction for this series, but with the film coming up, a Death of Thunder Man story could have real legs.”
“That’s…great?” JC said, not sure he had heard the CEO correctly. He wouldn’t have been surprised after the night he had.
45 minutes later JC was back at his apartment. He walked over to his drawing board and dumped his folder on it.
As he was about to turn away and go to bed, a small scrap of paper caught his eye. He picked it up. It read, simply, in his own writing, ‘Thank you.’