Stan, the Man

If I give it a bit of thought, I realize Stan Lee was likely the greatest influence on my creative ventures, more than anyone. There are other influences, sure. Robert Jordan and C.S. Lewis and Carolyn Keene and my own mother, as well as all of the authors of my beloved Choose Your Own Adventure books from childhood. But Lee, he created the universe I would spend my lifetime with. He set up an entire age that would capture me for decades. More than anyone, he inspired my awe.

I’ve learned a lot about Stan Lee’s life over the years, but for the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on his creative endeavors, the one that impacted me the most. For years, the comic book industry had been dominated by super heroes, ones who transcended all of the romance and cowboy and war and monster books that filled every shelf in America through the 40s and 50s. Superman and Batman are the most widely remembered. The stories were simple and short on substance. Super hero keeps his identity secret from his friends and foils plot by fill-in-the-blank villain, be they mad scientist, alien warlord, or misunderstood monster.

But then, in 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby put together the Fantastic Four, and they changed the industry completely. They made their heroes flawed. They were fallible, they made mistakes. They overcame overwhelming odds in order to triumph over villains. And the villains suddenly became relatable, with variable motives and intentions. The lines blurred, and suddenly everything felt more human.

Stan Lee gave us the Thing, a man who hated being transformed into a lumpy orange monster, and one who took his rage out on the world even while being as lovable as can be. He gave us Spider-Man, a young man who dedicated himself to good after one of his own mistakes resulted in the death of his Uncle Ben. A line-up of X-Men, who were hated by the world for being different. Daredevil, who was a blind attorney by day, a hero who could jump off rooftops by night. The Hulk, a scientific Dr. Jekyll with a secret Mr. Hyde he was ashamed over. Iron Man, a selfish playboy billionaire with shrapnel near his heart. Thor, an arrogant God of Thunder who must learn humility at all cost. Stan Lee was an idea machine, giving the world more and more heroes to wonder over. Ant-Man and the Wasp. Dr. Strange. The Silver Surfer. Magneto. Green Goblin. Dr. Doom. Dr. Octopus. The Human Torch. The Inhumans. The Black Panther. Captain Marvel. The Skrulls. Loki. He brought back Captain America, and then he grouped up random heroes into the Avengers. And it was later he added more characters that he loved, ones who hadn’t had titles of their own: Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Quicksilver, Black Widow.

It’s been over 60 years, and these character names still headline comic books, multi-million dollar movies, toys and clothing lines, and cartoons. They’ve become household names, some gaining more notoriety than ever in just the last few years.

Now granted, reading these old 60s comic books from the year 2018 can be a bit uncomfortable. The heroes are overwhelmingly white and male. When girls did show up, they were often given passive powers and, when not fussing over their hair or outfit, were generally relegated to the kidnapped and tied-up damsel. And characters of other races, including Asian and Black, were generally characters. But over the years, that would evolve, as the comics addressed more relevant issues.

I didn’t start reading comic books until the mid-1990s. By then, many of these series were numbering in the hundreds, an impressive feat when you consider most books produced about 12 comic books per year. Picking up Amazing Spider-Man #300 meant the book had been running for 30 years. Stan Lee wasn’t really writing anymore by then, a man near 70 years old. The company had changed. Some characters had surged in popularity and added entire franchises. Characters died and came back. Storylines became complex, frequently saturated with complex and intricate plot devices. Was Spider-Man the clone or was his clone the clone? Cable was the product of Cyclops marrying the clone of his love, Jean Grey, and bearing a child, and sending that child to the far future to be raised, and then that child coming back to the present followed by a clone of his own. There were alternate dimensions and timelines, time travelers, shape-shifters, and teleports to save any character from seeming death. There were secret shadow organizations, and characters still alive from World War II who should have been dead decades ago. Marvel invented a sliding time scale, basically stating that although the characters debuted in the 60s, you could just presume that they had been around for ten years or so before you picked up the book. And as long as you didn’t mind the decades of history, the suspension of disbelief, the occasional continuity gaff, and the fact that you couldn’t possibly afford every book on the shelf, well, you had a whole world you could get lost in.

And that was exactly what I needed at the time. Things were getting tough at home. My step-dad was lashing out with anger more frequently, and it was getting more difficult to hide the fact that I was gay and pretending to be straight. I desperately needed an escape. And so, one weekday, I bought an X-Force comic book off the grocery store shelf. And it was amazing. Within a few years, I was working at a local comic book store by special arrangement: they paid me in comic books. And by the time I left on my Mormon mission at the age of 19, I’d collected thousands of them, meticulously preserved in bags and lined up alphabetically and numerically in dozens of cardboard boxes that lined the walls of my room.

And on that mission, for two years, reading comic books was my secret sin. I could buy them when no one was looking, hide them under my mattress at the apartment, read them when my companion was sleeping. Again, I could escape. All through college, I raided back issue bins in comic book shops, carefully scanning for every issue that I didn’t have. And always the hardest to come by was the original Stan Lee stuff, the primordial works from which an entire universe developed.

Even now, comic books are a part of my life. Everything for me is digital nowadays. I don’t keep my books in boxes, instead I keep them on hard drives. Every week, dozens of new Marvel books come out, still charting the stories of these classic characters and their extended families. The heroes from the 60s should be elderly, or dead and gone, but we readers just pretend they are perhaps in their late 20s or early 30s. I still love the X-Men, although their school has blown up 35 times by now, and every one of their members has died and come back from the dead at least twice. I’m still captivated by these classic characters. I sip my coffee and click through my pages with love and excitement. My brain auto-plays the sound effects of Thwip and Snit, and the classic phrases still leap off the page at me. Flame on! Hulk Smash! With great power comes great responsibility! It’s clobbering time! By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth! By Odin’s beard! Oh my stars and garters!

Everyone who followed, all the other big names that have also become something, they only succeeded because of the platform Stan Lee created. Luke Cage. Iron Fist. Wolverine. Punisher. Moon Knight. Cable. Elektra. Ghost Rider. Deadpool. The universe got a lot darker for a long time, then it got lighter again. And in the new comics, the world looks a lot different. There are gay characters running around everywhere now. Women play a much more prominent role. Many of my favorite titles star characters that Stan Lee must have been proud of. Moon Girl (a 9-year old black girl, the smartest person on the planet) and Devil Dinosaur (her big red T-Rex). Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani-American teenage girl, a Muslim). Squirrel Girl (a plucky computer nerd with a squirrel tail). I sit down with my children now and read these stories, sharing with them the joy of these characters, ones who make us laugh and smile.

I got the news today that Stan Lee died at the age of 95. I haven’t given him much thought in recent years, except to smile whenever he’s made a cameo in a Marvel movie or show that I love. Before I got that news, just this morning, I read the latest Spider-Man, and just last week I looked at the last episode of Daredevil on Netflix. And it dawns on me how much he transformed my life.

Thank you, Mr. Lee, for giving me another world to escape to. It was a complicated world, a rich one that expanded far beyond your original concepts, but then again, you started it all. You built a civilization under the ocean, and another beneath the surface of the Earth. You made up entire countries, some that floated in the clouds, some that nestled between existing borders. You gave men and women powers from a myriad of sources: alien experiments, exploding chemicals, radioactive spiders, godly interventions, magical training, Gamma bomb explosions, radioactivity, or just an accident of birth. You made me believe anything was possible, and that, no matter how complex and flawed the world might be, that good always triumphed and there was always another adventure beckoning.

Thank you, Mr. Lee, and Rest in Peace. Excelsior! 95 was a good long time, and your universe lives on.

Stan

 

The Sexy Cop at Gay Christmas

“Maybe I could actually pull this off,” I told myself, surveying my costume in the mirror.

I’d purchased a “sexy cop” costume for forty dollars at a local costume shop. It came in a small compact plastic back that fastened together with a small snap, like one you’d find on a pair of jeans. When I got home, I opened the back up to look at its contents. A police cap of cheap material with a plastic bill. A small vest that would fit over my shoulders but leave my chest and abdomen exposed. An armband that would go around my bicep, one that read Sheriff on it. A pair of black leather briefs with a zipper along the front. A silver star to pin on the vest, like something my kids might be handed by a cop at a family parade. And finally, a small plastic nightstick, 1920s/Keystone Cops style, one I could twirl around like a baton or perhaps slap against my own hand for emphasis.

I looked at myself in the mirror, turning this way and that. My chest looked good. My arms looked great, especially with that little band to emphasize the definition. My legs were strong. I turned and felt like my ass looked nice as well. Turning back, I realized the zipper over the crotch was a nice touch, kind of left the imagination working. And while I wasn’t super proud of my abdomen, I figured I could just kind of keep my gut sucked in all night at whatever party I was going to and just see how it turned out.

This was my third Halloween since coming out of the closet. I was 34 years old, and while I hadn’t quite achieved the type of body I hoped for, I was in great shape for me. Somewhere along the way, I learned to quit caring what other guys thought about me. I mean, either they were into me or they weren’t. I wasn’t for everyone, nor was everyone for me, and that was fine. I liked my body, especially given the fact that I’d weighed 80 pounds more just a few years before. But still, this was Halloween, and I was going to be wearing a ‘sexy’ costume for the first time, and I didn’t have a ton of body confidence. “Maybe I can’t pull this off,” I muttered, changing back into my regular clothes.

When I first came out, a friend jokingly told me that Halloween was kind of a ‘gay Christmas’, meaning that gay men took it very seriously and went all out. I’d known growing up that there were all kinds of ‘sexy’ costumes for women. But I had no idea how seriously gay men treated this idea of ‘sexy’ costumes. I spent Halloween in 2011 at a gay club called Jam. I wore a costume, something simple and not at all sexy, I think I was a 1930s mobster guy, and I went out dancing with friends that night, and I’d been astounded at the costumes. Sexy Mario? A guy wore a red hat with an M on it, a fake moustache, and a red jockstrap that literally left his ass hanging out. That was it. Sexy Tarzan? A super buff guy in a loincloth, under which he wore nothing. I know because I saw him lift the loincloth several times to show people. Sexy Angel Moroni? A lean, muscled guy who basically wore a diaper, painted himself gold, and carried a plastic trumpet. Man, it really was gay Christmas.

So was I sexy enough to pull off a sexy cop costume? Or should I go back to a more traditional costume, something that covered my body? Ugh. I had to try it. I’d been invited to two Halloween parties, and dagnabit, I was going as a sexy cop.

I showed the costume to a female friend, and she fully encouraged me to go for it. I asked what she was going to be that year: a sexy cat, a sexy witch, a sexy nurse perhaps? She laughed and said she was far too feminist for that. When I suggested she should try maybe a sexy suffragette, or maybe a sexy Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and she was not amused.

The first party was on a Saturday afternoon. I went in a bit nervous but confident. My best friend Kurt was there, and as I exited the bathroom in my costume, he threw his head back and laughed with joy. “Yes! You did it! And check you out, you sexy, sexy man!” I blushed as others from the party came to look, and I ended up getting plenty of attention that night. I spent the evening snacking, having a few glasses of wine, and feeling a little bit shy as I fended off veiled comments about the nightstick and the handcuffs. And then, at the end of the evening, there was a vote for various costume categories, with prizes awarded at the end. Funniest, most original, etc. And guess who won the sexiest costume award? The hot cop. That’s right, this guy. Maybe it didn’t matter that I was the youngest person in the room by at least 11 years, I still got the award, and it was a nice ego boost. (When you’re a gay dad with young kids, and you have a lot of gay dad friends with older kids, well, this wasn’t so unlikely).

But the next party, that would be the real test. It was a huge house party, with an expected 150 people going. This was a younger crowd, full of athletes and professionals, many of them men who spent hours in the gym every day. This was a party that would start late and go all night. There would likely be drugs in quiet corners, groping and nudity were a given, and I’d expect some guys would have quick sexual encounters behind closed doors. This was the kind of party some of Mormon friends warned me about when they told me not to pursue ‘the gay lifestyle’. It would be out of my element, but I desperately wanted to fit in in this crowd. It was a lifelong need for me to fit in, a primal part of me left over from my adolescent days when I was the gay kid with the straight guys, feeling less than them but in love with them all at once, yet always picked last for every sports team. I needed to fit in here.

The party started at 7 pm, it said on Facebook. So I arrived at 7:02. I was the first guest there. The next few arrived around 8:45. When I’m not careful, the dad part of me shows up very clearly. And so I helped the hosts set up snacks, I had a strong drink that one of them mixed for me, and by the time the party was really going, with loud ‘nn-ts nn-ts nn-ts’ music blaring all over the three story house, I was good and sauced, a rare occasion for me. I chatted a bit, yelling into some guy’s ears, introducing myself to others, dancing a bit in the main room. There were sexy guys everywhere, ripped and toned, with muscles on their muscles, and I felt very exposed in comparison. I drew a few eyes, but the Charlie Brown tree hardly stands out among a forest full of sequoias. Clearly I needed one more drink.

Someone handed me something homemade, and I took it without much of a thought. It was sweet, and I drank it a bit too quickly. It was about 11:30 pm, and the house was full of people. I went back out to the dance floor and saw a sexy construction worker making out with a sexy Superman (he was shirtless with a red S painted on his chest), and the music kept going nn-ts nn-ts nn-ts. I started to dance a little, and then quickly realized that something was very wrong. My head was starting to spin, and my heart was beating faster, and my stomach was seizing a bit.

Now the next day, I would make sense of all of this. I either drank too much too quickly, something I had literally never done before, or that drink I’d been given had been laced with something. It was very likely the second, because I learned later that several other people from the same party had similar side effects, so I’m guessing it was probably something in the drink. Regardless, I had to get out of that room, where the bass was thrumming in my head and in my stomach, and it had to be now.

I fell against a wall and kind of leaned into it down the hallway to the bathroom, where of course the door was locked. I slumped on to the floor and covered my eyes with my hands, and my brain felt like it was swimming around in my head, just turning and turning. The door finally opened and two drunk and giggling gay men, one of them in some sort of sexy Pikachu costume, came stumbling out, and I crawled in, kicked the door closed behind me, managed to lock it, and then proceeded to vomit. And then again, and again. I threw up until there was nothing left to throw up, and then I dry heaved a few times, and sat back against the wall, where my head was still swimming. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but someone finally knocked and shook me to alertness again, and I stood up, flushed the contents of my stomach away, and washed my hands before opening the door.

It was sexy Pikachu again, with yellow ears, yellow briefs with a lightning bolt tail, and a Pokeball hanging from each side of his shorts. “Hey, hot cop costume!” he said, tracing his finger down my stomach and to my leather shorts. While such attention in this setting might welcome in different circumstances, I was seeing four of the shirtless Pokemon bouncing around in the air in front of me, and I simply muttered a thanks while holding on to the wall for support again. I found the stairs and used the banister to pull myself up. There were three bedrooms upstairs and only one was unoccupied. I made my way inside, lay down on the floor by the bed instead of on it for some reason, and watched the dark ceiling twirl above my head as I lay there.

I must have stayed in that spot for three hours. At some point, freezing there on the floor in my sexy cop costume, I pulled the comforter off the bed and onto the floor, where I covered myself with it. Shortly after that, two drunk men came in to make out with the door closed, and they continued even after they saw me, perhaps thinking I was asleep, or perhaps just too drunk to care. And then, I fell asleep.

Around 3 am, I woke up on the floor. I’d turned on my side, the sheriff’s star poking hard into my chest, my trusty nightstick still near my fingers somehow, the handcuffs still hanging from the side of my briefs. The room wasn’t spinning, but now my head was thudding terribly. I got up, saw two people sleeping in the bed, and exited the room. I heard someone vomiting in the bathroom, saw about 8 people passed out in various rooms of the house, and realized the music was still playing. Nn-ts, nn-ts, nn-ts. I turned it off, found where I’d stashed my keys, and exited the house. There was more vomit in the driveway.

As I drove home that morning, I thought of my children, and the way they grounded me. Sometimes I resented having all that responsibility. I’d started my life so late. I hadn’t come out until I was 32, which was also the age when I first kissed a man, first had authentic sex, first stopped hating myself. Sometimes I sat around and felt sorry for myself, for all the time I lost. No college parties, no backpacking across Europe, no crazy adventures with a first love. I’d missed my 20s somehow, spent them being a responsible Mormon boy. But an event like this, with loud music and strong booze and promiscuous hook-ups and revealing costumes, well, they might make a fun story to tell one day, but they ultimately weren’t things I really wanted. They were just thinks I thought I wanted. I’d much rather have A drink, hang out with a FEW friends, and be in bed by midnight so I could wake up to the sounds of my children. A night out from time to time would be wonderful, but I certainly didn’t need a headache like this to show me a good time.

I got home, unzipped my leather shorts, un-velcroed my arm band, slipped out of the vest with the sheriff’s star, removed the hat, and hung up the handcuffs and nightstick. Then I slipped on a pair of baggy blue sweat pants and a tent-size T-shirt left over from the days when I used to be fat, popped a few Ibuprofen, and collapsed on the couch, where I would sleep as long as I could. I certainly never wanted another hangover.

I smiled to myself as I fell asleep, though. I’d won a ‘sexiest costume’ award. And I’d gotten drunk at a party. That was enough, once, I told myself as sleep beckoned. That was plenty sexy enough.

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Hillary Clinton as the Bachelorette

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At 6 am in a coffee shop, I overheard one of the best conversations ever, my fingers clacking nonchalantly on my keyboard to keep up.

Okay, picture it. Hillary Clinton. As the Bachelorette.

She’s already married.

No, no, like the show. Like the Bachelor, except when a girl is one it. The Bachelorette. 

Dude, she’s, like, 70.

Duh, I know. Come on, just hear me out. We all know she’s going to win the presidency. I mean, she’ll win the Democratic nomination, that’s what all the polls are saying. It’s gonna be close, but she’ll pull out on top and then everyone will vote for her over any of those Republican buffoons. And I mean, I don’t like Hillary. At all. But she’s gonna win and I’ll vote for her because she’s the least terrible choice.

I know, I know. I swear her whole campaign is like some whiny platform she built. ‘Look at me, I’ll Hillary Clinton, my husband was the president, so I should be the president, too. Oh yeah, I was Secretary of State, too, waaaaah.’ She drives me nuts. 

Yeah, me too. But listen to this, listen to this. After she wins, we hold a Bachelorette competition to figure out who her vice president is going to be. All the current presidential candidates will try to get her vote. And every week, she gives a rose to some guy who will end up crying as his career comes to an end, and they drive him off in some hearse.

That’s dumb. 

It’s brilliant! Hillary gives great facial expressions, she’ll be awesome. Each episode, she’ll go on some date. She can, like, hot air balloon with Ben Carson. They’ll be floating over the Earth and Carson could talk about how the Earth is really flat even though it looks round from the sky because that’s how God wants us to see the world. 

What? That doesn’t make sense.

I know, that’s the point. Carson has some whacked out theories. So Hillary hands him the rose and two guys come and put him in a straitjacket and pull him off to the crazy house.

Okay, yeah, I’d watch that. 

And then Chris Christie would take her to, like–oh! They could go bridge-jumping! In New Jersey! And he would be like non-stop talking about why he shut that bridge down that one time, and Hillary would give a classic look to the camera that’s almost an eye-roll. That guy is annoying as hell. 

Okay, calm down, man. You’re way too excited about this. 

It’s hilarious! Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see Donald Trump and Hillary on a date. 

This show would be way funnier if it was Trump as the Bachelor. That guy is funny.

Yeah, but that would mean we would have to elect Trump president.

No thanks. I’d move to Belgium and laugh at the Americans. 

So Trump and Hillary…

Okay, I’ll play. Trump would sit back over champagne and caviar and talk all about all of the beautiful women he’s been with. He’d be like, ‘I have dated some of the most beautiful women in the world and my daughter is the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. They like me because I have money. But you can’t even keep your husband away from the interns. That’s why you should choose me, Hillary, because I would make you look good.’

Oh man, that’s golden! And–and they could go wig-shopping!

Okay, yeah, this is a fun idea.

So then… I don’t know, like… horse-back riding on the Bush ranch with Jeb, and–oh! Salsa-dancing with Marco Rubio! That would be awesome!

What about Carly Fiorina? It could be a hot lady candidate date. 

Why not? It’s 2016. Oh my god, they would hate each other so much. 

No one hates Hillary more than Bernie Sanders, though. They all pretend to respect and like each other, but you gotta know that they are just seething with hate. I mean, they both want to be president so effing bad and the other person is the one stopping them the most. So on their date, Bernie would be like ‘Hillary, congratulations on the nomination’ and he would look all happy but on the inside he is like ‘I hate you so much’ and she would be like ‘thank you, Bernie Sanders, you deserved it too’ but on the inside, she would be all ‘hahaha, I won, you crazy old man.’ You just know she and Obama were like that back in 2008. 

But in the end, she would totally pick Sanders as VP. 

That’s because the Republican candidates are all basically comic nook super villains. They are all ridiculous caricatures of humanity. She might as well be running up against Lex Luthor, Skeletor, the Joker, and, like, Dr. Doom. All ‘I’m going to rule the world!’ when really none of them have a chance. At all. 

I can’t think of even one single Democrat candidate besides Bernie and Hillary though. Weird. 

I–wait. Wasn’t there some guy named Chaffee? Oh, Martin O’Malley. What happened to that guy? He just disappeared. 

Yeah, he can’t be on our show. No one knows who he is.

We’ve totally got to pitch this idea. 

Man, we’d make a million. 

And it’d be tax deductible, right? I mean, it’s politics.

HiIlary Rodham Clinton

 

Comic Book Nerds

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“So, you work for Marvel Comics?”

I nod. “Yeah. Well, I used to.”

The girl is heavyset, wearing a Cookie Monster hoodie. She has acne, and she looks at me suspiciously as she takes bites of a pretzel. A few crumbs scatter off of it, landing on the books set up on my vendor table. “I bet I could beat you in a trivia contest.”

I give a small smile, but I’m annoyed. I would expect her to be excited by the Marvel connection, most are at least mildly impressed. “Well, please don’t eat over the books here. But go ahead, I’ll try out some trivia.”

She shoves the rest of the pretzel into her mouth. “I bet you can’t tell me what Northstar’s real name is.”

A few other customers walk up to the table, casually looking. I greet them. “Sure I can. Jean-Paul Beaubier.”

Her eyes narrow. I’ve made her angry. “Well, what super hero team was he on?”

I laugh. “Alpha Flight.”

She steps back, arms folded over her chest. “Okay, fine, well, which character besides Steve Rogers has been Captain America?”

I cock my head to the right. She was being downright obstinate. “There have been many. The Patriot. The Spirit of 76. Bucky. USAgent. Roscoe–”

“Okay, okay. Geez.” She turns and starts walking away.

“Thanks for stopping by!”

I love comic book conventions. They have this visceral energy about them, this ‘let your freak flag fly’ mentality. Fans will pay 20 to 50 dollars just to get in, then they will wander among the hundreds of tables, looking for their favorite books and artists, ready to spend hundreds of dollars on the things that they love. Conventions are often divided up into various sections, representing movies, television shows, video games, books, anime, action figures, and comic books. Hundreds of vendors and artists will print up materials featuring favorite characters, none of it authorized by the official companies, and fans will go nuts, paying cash to pick up their favorites. T-shirts, posters, sketches, small toys, and prints of every character that comes to mind from Deadpool to My Little Pony to Ninja Turtles to He-Man to Batman to Adventure Time.

I’m set up at my little booth in the middle of a row, my table covered with merchandise. Half of the contents on my table are Marvel books I worked on, back during my college years, Official Handbooks and Files of various kinds, as well as trade paperbacks that I was in on the planning process for. On the other half is my original comic book, the Mushroom Murders, a book I’m hugely proud of, that I planned and organized myself, working with an amazing art team. The Marvel works bring people to the table, but it’s my book that I’m there to promote first and foremost.

“Excuse me, did you write all these books?” I look up and my eyes widen at the woman in front of me. She’s dressed like a slutty version of Jessie from Toy Story. She must be fifty years old, with thick make-up and a whole lot of cleavage showing.

I smile. “I did, yes.”

She picks up my graphic novel. “What’s it about?”

I give my practiced sales pitch. “It’s rather like Law & Order meets Army of Darkness. It’s a detective story with supernatural elements and a lot of twists and turns.”

She gives a broad smile. “I’ll take one if I can get an autograph of the handsome author and a photograph with you.”

I sign the book, she takes the picture, kisses my cheek, and hands me the cash before walking away with a wave.

I love the people at conventions. So many of them dress-up, some in costumes they have worked on for ages. Bearded men in Wonder Woman costumes, super fit Superman, Deadpool in a business suit, baby Mystique, toddler Aquaman. Groups of friends will coordinate costumes, so that six members of the Justice League will be roaming together. Some costumes are so elaborate, they must cost several hundred to make. A man walks by dressed as a real looking Galactus, holding the planet Earth in his hands; a mechanized Sentinel walks by; an R2-D2 constructed of Legos stops to beep at my table, his owner behind him. I am constantly snapping photographs.

A 20 year old Asian young man stops back by the table, his smile wide and infectious. He had stopped by yesterday to chat for an hour before buying my book and rushing off. “Chad, hey!”

I stand and shake his hand. “Hi, Allan, welcome back.”

“You remembered me! That’s so cool!” He pulls open his backpack and pulls my book out. “I have to get an autograph! I finished the book and it was so amazing! I want to get an extra copy for my mom!”

These brief encounters at conventions make the whole thing worth it. Conventions are exhausting. It feels like three straight days of McDonalds’ rush hour in a row, working these. Constant smiles, handshakes, sales pitches, greetings, all while sitting in one hard back chair, grabbing food or bathroom breaks whenever possible. Most fans wander around a bit suspicious, browsing the merchandise but feeling like everyone is trying to get their money and attention (which in fact they are). Many are waiting to see their favorite writers, artists, or celebrities on various panels or for autographs. Some celebrities go from Con to Con, living off their fame. Lou Ferrigno charges 40 dollars per autograph, characters who were on the original Power Rangers or Star Trek, thirty years and forty pounds later, still find fans to greet.

But these brief encounters, like the one with Allan, make it all worth it, seeing someone enjoy the book I worked so hard on.

I look down the aisle at the other vendors. The man to my left draws beautiful sketches for 15 or 20 dollars each, commissioning specific pieces for those who pay him. The woman to my right has a table full of steampunk jewelry she has hand-crafted. The man across from me has his original art splayed over colorful T-shirts.

Allan rushes off, promising to bring his mom back later just as a woman with pink hair steps up to the table, dripping the ice cream she is eating on to one of my books. As I clean it up, I look up at the clock, realizing there are six hours left today. I sigh, a bit sleepy, just as a family (father, mother, and three kids) walk by, dressed as the characters from the Thundercats, the baby dressed as Snarf, and then I’m grinning again.

I love comic book nerds, and I fit right in.