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The store was poorly lit and Michael had to squint to see the titles on the graphic novels. He had walked past the aisles of men and women in capes, past the independent titles with questionable black and white art on the covers, and past the titles aimed at the really young kids littered with shiny ponies and round faced cartoon characters. He had made it to the bargain bins where you could get up to twenty comics for two dollars or fifty for five. The place where throw away stories went to die a quiet death but were afforded a last ditch opportunity to be discovered by someone who just needs one more issue to complete a collection. Michael wasn’t much of a fan of collectors. 

When he was a kid, comics were seen as disposable. You read it, then you tossed it out, tore it up to line the bottom of a bird cage or used to wrap a gift. No one thought these things would ever be worth a damn. Hell, most of the people reading them didn’t think they were that spectacular to begin with. But time makes some things more valuable and some things less so. Michael, looking at his wrinkled hands as he thumbed through the pages wondered which category he fell into. He decided it didn’t matter. 

There was one good thing about the bargain bins though. It meant that kids who had hardly any money could buy something to get themselves hooked on good stories. And Michael had to admit that there were plenty of good stories out there. It was unpredictable what would hook a kid into loving a story. Sometimes it was as simple as a character that had a certain look, sometimes it was the drama of what happened in the story, or the nefarious villain that seemed so undefeatable to a young mind.

Michael spent a few minutes going through the bins when he discovered something he hadn’t expected. Right in front of him, in his hands, was an issue with his name on it. But not as the creator as he had expected. Michael thought about all those years with ink stained hands, painstakingly working at creating a picture. The pictures never quite looked like what he had in his head. Then came the dialogue. If the pictures were easy for him, it’s the words that killed him. He would spend hours sometimes just trying to make the ridiculous sound plausible. And finally the cover. That was the best part, the most fun part. He could do whatever he wanted and half the time it didn’t even have to relate to the story inside. The cover is what sold the thing.  

This comic though, titled Michael Aarons: The Unsung Hero of Comics, had his own face on the cover. In it, he was standing next to a red brick wall. There was a street sign in the corner that marked the intersection of Cleveland St. and Grover Ave. It was where he spent most of his working life. He recognized it as a picture that was taken of him many years ago. The cover had a few things wrong though. The wall was in a washed out sepia tone and he had one foot up, knee bent, his heel resting against the wall in a James Dean-like pose. That wall was always a bright and cheerful red, and Michael had never stood that way in his life. The artist must have altered the pose to “give it more action” as Michael himself used to say. 

Michael took the comic out of the bin and pulled it out of the plastic in one quick movement. Collectors would have hated him if they had seen him do it. He opened the book, and licked his finger prior to flipping through the pages. Collectors would have hated that too.

Inside he found scenes from his own life. He saw his first wife and his second. The hair color on Gina was a deeper red than it should have been but it was close. He read how he was a pioneer in his field. Michael didn’t think that. They paid him to make funny books, that’s what they used to call them even when nothing was funny in them, and he did it. It didn’t amount to a lot of money but it was enough to buy a house with. It wasn’t enough to pay the alimony with though, which is why he had to resort to some of the more questionable pulp novels he had cranked out. Those he never put his real name on but there were people who suspected it was him. 

He didn’t see much difference between the novels and the comics really. Heroes sold and so did sex. If people wanted to buy it, all the better for Michael. He hadn’t ever thought of a biographical comic before though. That was a new one to him. And one about his own life.

They put in all the things he had done professionally, like using the panels like a camera, doing an entire story from a first person point of view visually for the first time ever. They showed how he had intertwined his comics with other stories he had written, making them have what they called a shared universe. He just did it as a way to keep himself from getting bored.

What they left in was interesting but what they left out surprised him. There was no mention of his alcoholism. He didn’t see the years of himself drinking, virtually throwing away his relationship with his own son. Missing were the moments in his life where he had told fans that he couldn’t stand them. Missing was the lawsuit he had brought against him by his own publishers for not delivering on time. MIssing was so much of his life but you could only fit so much in the pages of a comic. 

He stuffed the book back in its plastic, grabbed a stack of other books to buy without looking at them then went up to the counter. The clerk was a young woman with purple hair wearing one of those air pod things in her ear. Michael assumed she was listening to music which was just fine with him. She barely looked up as she ran the issues through the scanner. Michael laid out his ten bucks, gave her a nod and went outside. 

Just for an experiment, he leaned against the wall like the cover had him. It was awkward and uncomfortable and he hated it. There was a green trash can next to him. He tossed the comic of his life into it and walked away. He passed a young girl on the way, holding a crisp ten dollar bill in her hand. 

Michael had long since driven away when the girl recognized his picture on the cover of a comic book. She remembered seeing him stand just like that when she was walking in. Michael didn’t see her grab the comic, add it to her stack and read through it minutes later. 

He didn’t see her learn to make her own comics. He didn’t see her tell new stories that no one had ever seen and contribute her own voice to the world. He never knew that he was her inspiration, all because he had dumped a book of his own life in the trash.

July 03, 2020 20:41

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Great job on this story! I really liked the ending and how his story inspired a young girl to create her own comics.


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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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