Stalking Stan Dixon - chapter 2Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, May, 2014.
Unca Lar pulled the van up to the loading dock in the back of the Ramada Hotel, the site of this year's comics convention, now called "Phantom Planet". Several vehicles were already there, as dealers were busily unloading boxes of books and other paraphernalia to sell at the show. He backed the van into one of the bays and got out as Rich climbed out from the passenger side. They met in front and scanned the area.
"Where are those chuckleheads?" Unca Lar asked, looking in the direction of the parking garage. "They left a half-hour ahead of us."
Rich shrugged. "Maybe they got caught in traffic. You wait here for 'em and I'll go check us in." He walked around and towards the back of the van, where a heavyset woman with thick glasses and a clipboard was standing. She wore several laminated cards on a lanyard around her neck.
Unca Lar was waving a greeting to one of the other dealers who was unloading a station wagon when he heard his name called from behind him. He turned to see Mike, Bob, and Tony approaching from the direction opposite of the path to the parking garage. Mike had a messenger bag slung over one shoulder, and Bob had a paper grocery bag that looked to be full. They appeared winded.
"Where have you guys been?" Unca Lar asked. "And where did you park?"
Mike jabbed a thumb towards Tony. "This guy didn't want to pay for parking, so we wound up six blocks away, behind a funeral home."
Unca Lar turned to Tony. "Funeral home?"
Tony grinned. "Sure. Since I'm a minister, I get to use the clergy parking."
"Just 'cause you got a mail-order certificate from the Universal Life Church doesn't mean you're a real minister," grumbled Mike.
"Sure does. Got the card on the dashboard that says so. Anywhere there's a church, funeral home, or hospital, I get to park for free!"
"And we get to walk," Bob said with a groan, putting down the grocery bag he carried.
"What's in the bag, 'Bargain Box' Bob?" Unca Lar asked, bending over and carefully using his finger to push open the top of the sack.
"Oh, just a couple things for Mr. Dixon to sign," Bob replied.
Mike laughed. "I think he's got one of everything that Stan Dixon ever did in there."
"No, I don't," Bob snapped. "I still need to get that new issue of The Dark. I'm hoping he'll have copies to sell."
"Ghaa, I don't know how you read that stuff," Tony said, wrinkling his nose. "Gimme his early stuff any day. Black Arachno and Doc Curious were great. Even some of his later stuff like The Demand or Canary and Kestrel was pretty good. He lost me when he started with that philosophical crap."
"That's just 'cause you don't understand it ..."
Unca Lar interrupted them. "Boys, boys. We've got all day to debate this. Right now we need to get the stuff out of the 'battle van' and into the hall."
Bob scowled at Tony, then picked up his bag of comics. They all followed Unca Lar to the back of the van, where Rich was standing with a handful of papers in one hand and a half-dozen badges in the other. They each grabbed a badge as Rich gave the paperwork to Unca Lar. "We're in booth #382," Rich said. "Right in the middle of the floor."
"That's great," Unca Lar said, rubbing his hands together. "I can't wait 'til those Detroit creeps get a load of our set-up."
"Yeah," Rich said with more than a hint of skepticism in his voice. He unlocked the back of the van and stepped out of the way. Bob put his bag of comics on the ugly floral print couch and helped Tony carry it out of the van and into building. Mike followed, carrying a rolled-up carpet. Rich went in the van and came out with a couple of folding chairs and a floor lamp.
The woman with the glasses and the clipboard walked up behind Unca Lar. "It looks like you're moving someone's living room," she said. "When is your merchandise going to be here?"
"Oh, it's here," Unca Lar said with a mischievous wink. He stepped into the battle van and walked out with a small box with a big "Hey, Kids! Comics!" sign on the side. He kicked the van door shut with his heel and smiled at the woman as he walked into the event hall, whistling "Pennies from Heaven."
There was a buzz of activity all through the hall, as the vendors hurried to get their booths set up before the doors opened. Some booths contained nothing but boxes and boxes of comics. Some had pegboards of toys and action figures, still on the card. A few dealers were setting up in front of big displays of their best items, comics with prices well into the thousands of dollars.
In the middle of all the commerce stood the booth for the Adventure Comics Comics Emporium. The other vendors gave the location a puzzled look as they hurried by with their own merchandise. The backdrop was the sign that Unca Lar had made up years before, a canvas with the ACCE logo painted on it. Underneath was added a smaller canvas sign containing the words "1988 Comics Salon."
They had rolled out the carpet they brought and set up the couch, chairs, and lamp in somewhat of a circle. The sole box of comics was tucked into the corner, presumably there for show only, at least after Bob riffed through the contents. Unca Lar was sitting on the couch, sipping a cup of coffee and reading the program guide for the convention.
A tall man with a mustache stopped in front of the booth, standing up the stack of boxes he was moving with a two-wheeled dolly. "Hey, Lar," the man said. "What's with the salon? You doin' hair?" He chuckled as Unca Lar scowled.
"No, I'm not doin' hair, you goof. But if you want to stop by later and discuss the state of the comics industry, I'd appreciate your input."
"Yeah, yeah," the man said with a wave of his hand. He tilted the stack of boxes back on the dolly and headed off towards his own booth, shaking his head.
Rich sat down on one of the chairs. "You sure about this?" he asked. "I can still run back to the store and bring back more comics to sell."
"What?" exclaimed Unca Lar, straightening up. "'Rampaging' Rich, do you have doubts about our mission? We're doing this for the good of the industry. Our industry. Somebody's gotta take a stand."
Rich shrugged. "Okay, I just thought I'd ask."
Just then, a man and a woman walked into the booth. Each was wearing a Phantom Planet t-shirt and was carrying a clipboard full of papers. "Excuse me," the woman said.
Unca Lar jumped off the couch. "Hi, welcome to the Comics Salon," he said, smiling broadly and shaking the man's hand. "I'm Unca Lar."
The man seemed stunned by the exuberant reception. "Um, yes, hello," he managed to say. "I'm Len Atterberry and this is Tamara Patterson. We just wanted to introduce ourselves and check if you have everything you need."
"Yep, we're fine," Unca Lar said. "C'mon, have a seat." He waved to two of the chairs.
"No, that's okay," said Tamara. "As Len said, we've been assigned to this area and are just making the rounds to make sure everyone will be set up on time. Do you need any help bringing your stock in?" She looked around the booth. Mike smiled at her.
"No, we're all set up. Thanks, anyway." Unca Lar gestured to the small box in the corner.
"Um, that's it?" Len asked.
"It is. We've decided to use our booth this year to focus on the problems of the industry at large."
"Problems?" Len asked, flipping through the pages on his clipboard. "We have you down as a dealer. If you're hosting a panel, you should be up on the third floor."
"No, this is not a panel. It's a salon. We want to get the dialogue started between the readers and the professionals. You know, the writers and artists? We figured this is the best way to get the conversation going."
"But you can't do this," Tamara said. "This space is designated as a dealer booth."
"And so we are. Isn't that a box of comics for sale in the corner?"
Len looked over at the box. "I suppose..."
Unca Lar spread his hands. "There you go."
The Phantom Planet people looked at each other. "Okay, well, we'll have to check on this," said Len.
"Check away," Unca Lar said. "And drop by later for some scintillating conversation!" Len and Tamara left the booth, talking softly to each other and flipping through the sheets on the clipboard.
"So far, so good," Rich said. "You know, it wouldn't look good for the store if they kicked us out over this."
Unca Lar flopped down on the couch. "Nothing they can do. I had my lawyer look over the contract and he said that we were perfectly within our rights to do this." He laughed. "Did you see their faces? They didn't know what to make of us."
"They're not the only ones," mumbled Rich. © Matthew Bieniek, 2014.
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