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Stalking Stan Dixon - chapter 1

Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, April, 2014.

It was a typical summer Thursday morning at the Adventure Comics Comics Emporium. "Unca Lar", proprietor of the establishment, was sitting on the ugly floral print couch behind the counter, drinking coffee and reading the latest issue of the Comics Buyers Guide, the weekly trade newspaper for the comics industry.

"Rampaging" Rich was getting the counter ready for the day's business. As Thursday was new comics day, he and Unca Lar had just returned from the distributor's warehouse, where they picked up the new issues for the week. "Just" Dave was in the process of putting out the new titles and changing the signs directing the customers to the recent arrivals when the front door burst open.

A short, slightly-built man with slicked-back hair ran in, waving a copy of the CBG, the same issue that Unca Lar was reading. "Did you see the news?" he asked excitedly, slamming the paper down on the counter.

Unca Lar looked up from his paper. "'Mythical' Mike, what's all the ruckus?" he asked with a grin. As a fan of 60s-era Marvel comics, Unca Lar liked to give nicknames to his employees and customers, just as Stan Lee did in the pages of those four-color classics.

"Did you see the big news about the Con?" asked Mike. "It's all over the front page." The annual Windy City Comic Convention was coming up, but everyone simply referred to it as "the Con." It was the second largest comics convention in the world, behind only the annual San Diego show in number of attendees and dealers.

"Didn't pay attention," Unca Lar said. "They're dead to me." He folded his copy of the paper and tossed it on the counter. "I'm not even planning to go."

"Even with the special guest they got?"

"Who'd they dig up this year?" asked Rich, who hadn't seen the store copy yet.

"CBG says special guest is Stan Dixon," exclaimed Mike. Dixon was a comics artist who had a hand in creating many classic comic characters going back to the early '60s. While he'd been working steadily since the late '50s, he had never appeared at any conventions. In fact, he hadn't been seen in public in years. "Stan Dixon! Can you believe it? Bob's head is going to explode." 'Bargain Box' Bob, as Unca Lar christened him, was another customer and, as everyone knew, was by far the biggest Dixon fan of all the regulars of the shop.

"I don't believe it," Rich said, picking up the copy that Unca Lar had tossed aside and opening it up to the front page. "I'll be darned," he said, "you're right."

Mike turned to Unca Lar. "Wait, what do you mean you're not going to go? How are we going to get in?" In past years, many of the regular customers helped Unca Lar set up his booth, bypassing the long lines and, more importantly, the entry fees.

"Just what I said, I'm not going. You guys will have to make other plans." Unca Lar glared at him. "You might even have to pay to get in."

Mike gasped. "We've never done that before. And we'd have to wait in line?"

"Nothing I can do," Unca Lar said, waving his hand. "I'm out." He walked into the back room and closed the door.

"What's with him?" Mike asked Rich, as Rich was skimming the article in the paper.

"Ah, he's ticked because there's new people running the Con, and they're trying to soak the dealers."

"How so?"

"You know that group from Detroit? The ones who are buying their way into running the Cons across the country? They're running the show now and are changing everything, starting with the fees they're charging the dealers. They lowered the table rate to attract more dealers, but on top of that they want a percentage of everything you sell."

"How can they do that? What'd Salerno have to say about that?" Joe Salerno was one of the more respected comics store owners in the city, and a co-founder of the Con. He'd always been known for being a fair guy to deal with.

"Apparently, he's being pushed out. Seems that his stake in the Con was cut in half when his wife divorced him, and she sold her half to the Detroit goons, as did some of the other founders."

"That sucks," Mike said.

"You got that right," said Unca Lar, coming out of the back room with a fresh cup of coffee. "Women and comics don't mix. Take my word for it."

"Yeah, whatever," mumbled Mike. "So that's why you're not going to have a booth at the Con? Money?"

"It's more than just the money," Unca Lar said. "It's the principle of the thing."

"Principles," smirked Rich, turning the page of the paper he was reading.

"Yeah, principles," snapped Unca Lar. "These new guys don't care about you guys," he waved his hands towards the empty store, "the dedicated comics readers. "They want to cater to the investor types. The guys who buy comics and salt them away without ever reading them. The big spenders."

"And speaking of big spenders," Rich said, pointing to the door. 'Bargain Box' Bob was just coming in. He was waving his own copy of the Comics Buyers Guide.

"Did you see? Did you see?" Bob asked excitedly, once he reached the counter. "Stan Dixon's coming to the Con!"

"Yeah, but we can't go," said Mike. "Unca Lar's not booking a booth."

"Hey," snapped Unca Lar, "just because I'm not going doesn't mean that you guys can't go. There's plenty of tickets still available."

"Tickets?" Bob asked, blinking as if in shock.

"Yeah, tickets," said Unca Lar. "No free rides this year."

Bob gulped. "But Stan Dixon..."

By this time, Dave had finished stocking the shelves and was back behind the counter. He stepped up with a pile of new comics. He put one book in front of Bob and the rest of the stack in front of Mike. "Here you go, guys. This week's pulls."

Mike started to flip through the weeks' new books in front of him, but Bob continued to stare at Unca Lar. "But Stan Dixon..."

"Sorry," said Unca Lar, shaking his head. "I won't be a part of it. I don't suppose you noticed they changed the name, did you? No more Windy City Comic Convention! They're calling it 'Phantom Planet' like the did everywhere else. What a lousy name."

"That's your reason for not going?" Bob asked.

"There's also principles," Mike added.

"Investors are gonna bring down the industry," continued Unca Lar. "That Detroit mob is only in it for the quick buck. Mark my words, when the bottom drops out and the investors leave, guys like them're gonna be gone, and they'll take a lot of the small publishers with them."

"All the more reason for you to go," said Mike, looking up from his comics. "You need to keep a presence at these things, so that people will know you're still in the game. You've gotta be the sane voice in the crowd."

"But I'm not going to sponsor this madness. A portion of my sales would go to them."

Dave, sitting on the couch, looked up from the comic he was reading and said, "Who says you have to sell anything?" Everyone looked over at him. "You got the invite to have a booth there, right? A dealer booth?"

"That's right," Unca Lar said, one eyebrow raised.

"Well, they dropped the price of the booth because they thought they'd make it up with the percentage. What if you don't sell anything? Take this couch. Grab some chairs out of the back. Set up an area for people to sit and talk about the state of the industry."

Unca Lar raised both eyebrows. "You know..."

"Wait a minute," Rich interrupted. "It's a vendor booth. I don't think they'll let you stand around and not sell anything."

"Check the contract," Dave said with a shrug. "If they require you to sell something, take a small box of quarter books and stick it in the corner."

"Genius!" Unca Lar exclaimed. "It'll be a day-long salon."

Bob blinked. "You're gonna do hair?"

"No, you ninny. A salon like they had in the 18th century. A place for like-minded individuals to get together to share ideas and discuss important matters of the day."

Bob just stared. "Yeah, that sounds good. You'll need someone to move the furniture in, won't you?"

Unca Lar sighed. "Yeah, I suppose I could use the help."

Bob and Mike breathed a collective sigh of relief.

© Matthew Bieniek, 2014.

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