Marlon Castle, 22, got in line for the entrance to the San Diego Convention Center after having stood in line for 20 minutes at the will-call window for his ticket. The ticket is worn around the neck and also serves as a name plate: “Marlon Castle: Professional.”
It was Friday, July 24, and Marlon was becoming vaguely nervous about being found out. He hadn’t actually sold any of his graphic novel manuscripts. Not yet. So far, no one at Comic-Con had, apparently, checked. His name tag was right there.
Princess Leia brushed past him, cutting ahead in line.
He was astounded at the size of the crowd. How do you fill a convention center this size as well as several downtown streets? With 200-, 300,000 people. That’s how. “Teenyboppers,” his dad would call them.
Chaos, resounding, echoing voices in a room larger than an airplane hangar. People jostled each other at every other elbow. The first distinguishable voice Marlon heard was from a man about his own age. He was enormous, brown crew cut, neat beard. He was saying, “You wouldn’t need blasters in space. That’s rubbish! The most efficient weapons would be some form of zero-G slingshot…” Then his voice blended into the din, but Marlon knew he was referring to a display he had just passed made up of sci-fi illustrations of space-opera dog-fighting ships. The enormous boy was yelling to a teenaged Star Trek crew member.
How would he find Jack Black and Kevin Smith in this deafening, colorful sea? They were supposed to be here. That would be so cool to hang out with those guys and party. More importantly, how would he find a publisher or agent? Someone who could do him some good with his stuff, who wouldn’t laugh at his proposal for the G.N. featuring Zack Kane, the tortured immortal mercenary?
He paused at an exhibitor’s booth with some great old paperbacks and pulp magazines. Here was a Galaxy mag from 1972. He bought it. He loved these old writers. Only $7. These were the guys to steal from, not other graphic novelists and comic-book hacks.
“Are you Japanese?” He heard this from behind him and turned. He saw a pretty Asian girl, maybe younger than him and wearing Raggedy Ann red-and-white-striped stockings. She also had a wig of blue braids.
“No, but I get that a lot.” He had to shout. The girl was referring to his eyes and spiky, long, jet-black hair atop a pale face. Marlon was, and presumably still is, not terribly tall. He told her his name and asked hers, which was Terry. Terry was dressed as her character idea that she would try to sell here: Missy Void.
They wandered the Con together for the rest of the day. They passed a comic-book writer, famous and holding court with a group of some 30 young fans. One asked, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
“Rock Springs, Wyoming.” Deadpan. The blue-eyed, white-haired writer had the flushed face and peanut eyes of a habitual drinker.
Comic-Con seemed to flow past them rather than they through it.
They had dinner together at Kansas City Barbecue. Marlon is from L.A.; Terry, Chicago. They returned to the Con that night. Marlon then realized that many other fans and attendees were carrying the same kind of large shoulder satchel as he and Terry. Were they all aspiring writers, artists armed with manuscripts and samples? No. Probably most were carrying those things to hold posters, comics, and toys and role-playing software.
They watched a screening of some fantasy film late — at, like, 11 or so. They didn’t pay much attention, and neither of them could tell you what it was about or what it was called or who was in it. They were more interested in each other, an interest veiled in a feigned fascination with the internal logic of the respective universes of Missy Void and Zack Kane. The crosstime dimensions in which Zack moved, the heartbroken loss of Missy Void’s character-driven wanderings after the murder of her parents by Zoraxians — these were code. Code for “You are wonderful/I am wonderful too.”
At no point on that Friday did either of them realize, or maybe just acknowledge, that they had not taken care of business. They had not sought out publishers, agents, illustrators for their inner worlds. Their inner worlds were occupied, though. Just not with Zoraxians or crosstime, doom-laden mercenaries.
In his hotel room, Marlon could not sleep. He watched television without seeing it, just staring at the thing as if it were his father’s lava lamp. At one point he panicked that he might not find her in the crowd Saturday morning.
Don’t know if he did. That’s all he told me.