Black Country Memoir: Comic Book Men by Mike Aston

We arrived at the convention centre at around eight. We’d stopped off for breakfast on our way up the M6, and were raring to go as we unloaded the boxes from my Ford Focus estate, and set out our table. A look around confirmed what Shaun had feared; we were surrounded by professional artists.

‘How are we going to compete with this lot?’

‘We’re not competing with them,’ I replied. ‘They’re here to sell their thing, and we’re here to sell ours.’

‘That’s the very definition of competing.’

After two years of preparation, late nights and hard work, we were about to meet our adoring public. At nine, the doors opened and thousands of potential readers spilled into the hall.

‘What time is it now?’

‘Just after one.’

‘Huh.’ I rubbed my chin. ‘I thought we’d have sold at least one comic by now.’

Shaun put down the pencil he’d been sketching with. ‘I knew it’d go like this. I don’t know how I let you talk me into it.’

‘Oh come on, we’ve had a lot of people browse. There’s been interest, we’re bound to sell soon.’

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‘We’re selling something new and original. Most of these people don’t understand the concept, in fact I bet they’ve never had an original thought in their lives.’

‘That’s hardly fair,’ I said.

‘Isn’t it? Look at these clowns, I’ve seen fifteen Deadpools today already. They’re just sheep. Have you seen the stall next to ours? He’s been shitting out posters all morning.’

‘He’s good, though. I was looking through his stuff earlier; he has some great Deadpool prints.’ I didn’t mention that I’d bought one myself.

‘Yeah, well, if he was trying to push his own stuff, like us, he’d be sitting here with an empty cash box too.’

‘I think you’re starting to get cabin fever. Why don’t you take a walk around the hall? I’ll watch the table.’ I ushered him into the crowd. ‘Enjoy yourself. We used to love these things.’

‘I used to enjoy playing with blocks in the sandpit and smearing my own shit on the bathroom wall…’ Shaun muttered to himself before being bumped by a Deadpool, posing for a photograph.

‘Whoa. Sorry, brah,’ said the Deadpool.

‘Hey, great costume. Haven’t seen that one before.’

‘Dude, I’m Deadpool. Haven’t you heard of him? You been under a rock for the last ten years?’

‘Not ten years, no, but apparently just long enough to lose touch with the rest of humanity. Tell you what, as you’re all a bunch of lemmings anyway, what do you think about gathering up all your fellow Deadpools, and throwing yourselves off a cliff?’

‘No need to be a dick, yo.’

‘Yo? You’re not even American!’ Shaun called after him.

I was grinning like a maniac a while later, when Shaun returned to our table.

‘I’ve had an idea,’ I beamed.

‘Oh really?’ Shaun sat down. ‘Is it going to be better than ‘We should get our comics printed, and sell them at conventions?’ Because that worked out brilliantly, didn’t it?’

‘Commissions,’ I said. ‘The pirate bloke on the table opposite has sold a bunch of pencil sketches today. He charges like a tenner for them.’

‘Can’t hurt to try, I guess. I’ll start sketching something.’ Shaun didn’t say, but I knew he thought it was a good idea, might even make some quick, easy money. He hadn’t been sketching long, when a man approached the table. Shaun looked up from his drawing of a mass of Deadpools jumping off a cliff, and forced a smile.

‘Hello. How are you enjoying the convention?’

‘Fine, fine,’ said the man. ‘It says here that you do commissions. Will you draw whatever I ask?’

‘Within reason,’ Shaun said, hesitantly.

The man pulled a My Little Pony magazine from his rucksack, and handed it over.

‘You know Pinkie Pie?’ asked the man.

‘Can’t say I’m familiar, but I’d guess the pink one?’

‘Yes. That’s her. That’s my love. I want you to draw her offering her hind quarters.’

Shaun sat for a moment. ‘I’m sorry. You want me to what?’

‘Please,’ pleaded the man. ‘I’ll pay fifty for it.’

‘I am not drawing that. No. Fucking. Way.’

I had been watching events unfold, struggling to contain my amusement. But on hearing the word ‘fifty’ I sat up, leaned over, and whispered in Shaun’s ear.

‘You know, fifty quid would pay for our table today, and put us twenty up.’ Shaun looked at me, every feature of his face screaming ‘You can’t be serious,’ but he knew I was. Shaun snatched the My Little Pony comic from the equine enthusiast’s hand.

‘Fifty quid, and not a penny less.’

Shaun got to work on his commission. He couldn’t believe that it had come to this. A little more of his soul died with each movement of the pencil, and the image began to take shape.

‘Yes, that’s it, just like that,’ his client breathed. Shaun was so eager to finish the piece that he hadn’t noticed the woman approaching the table with her young daughter.

‘What’s Pinkie Pie doing, Mommy?’

‘You are a sick person,’ said the mother, her disgust plain as she dragged her confused child away. The pony guy skipped off with his purchase, and Shaun slumped against the table.

‘At least we made a profit,’ I offered.

‘Yes. You managed to sell my integrity for fifty quid. Well done.’

‘Oh, don’t be such a drama queen.’

‘Drama queen? I had to draw a donkey’s pu…’

‘This looks interesting. What’s your comic about, then?’ asked a young woman dressed as Harley Quinn. If we had learned anything during our first day on the comic convention scene, it was that spandex was not suited for all body types, tights will only stretch so far before they become see-through, and fully-grown men dressed as Robin should always, always, always wear underwear. So what was refreshing about this particular Harley Quinn was how naturally she filled out her white t-shirt, and blue and red spangly booty-shorts combo.

‘It’s uh,’ I stood to talk to Harley about our comic, but the words seem to jam in my throat.

‘It’s a modern-day western,’ Shaun interjected, ‘about a young girl who feels trapped in her environment and tries to get away, but ends up somewhere worse.’

‘Sounds good. Did you write it?’ she asked Shaun.

‘I wish,’ he said. ‘It’s a great story. My friend here wrote it.’

‘I can hardly ignore a recommendation like that, now can I?’ How much?’ Harley winked at me.

‘Uh. Three pounds, please,’ I said. Harley put the comic in her bag, and offered us a big smile.

‘Thank you. I look forward to reading it.’

It was five o’clock, and the day was over. We packed up our boxes, and left the convention one comic lighter than when we had walked in.

‘I’m sorry, Shaun,’ I said.

‘For what?’

‘For everything. They already have The Justice League, the Avengers, and The Fantastic Four. I was an idiot to think anyone would be interested in anything a couple of dreamers from Dudley had to offer.’

‘She was.’ Shaun nodded over in the direction of Harley, who was leaning over one of the other tables, chatting to an artist. ‘I’d take that one sale of something we crafted together over a hundred Harley Quinn or Deadpool posters any day.’

‘That’s beautiful, man,’ I said. ‘You know what we need to do for the next show though, right?’

‘Obviously,’ Shaun answered. ‘Deadpool posters.’




Mike Aston (left) and Shaun

Mike Aston is a Creative and Professional Writing and English student in his final year of study at the University of Wolverhampton. He has published comics online since 2010, and more recently distributed printed editions at comic conventions across the UK. Mike describes himself as working-class, and currently work shifts as a CNC Programmer/Setter/Operator.

‘Shaun and I have frequented comic conventions since the dark ages of the late 1990s, before Marvel movies made it possible to admit to liking comics while retaining social credibility. The landscape of comicons has changed dramatically over the last two decades, from the nerdy legions of teenage boys and questionable looking men in their 40s to a more diversified, socially acceptable crowd. Dressed as superheroes. This story is a recounting of the first time we attempted to experience life on the other side of the table. And yes, Bronies do exist. Just take my word for it. Don’t Google them. Some things can’t be unseen.’