Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Category: Mild Mannered

Mild Mannered story

Mild Mannered: Issue #10

I’m lying on my couch, holding my phone above my face. My eyes are glued to the little “Saved” counter on my profile on the Fantastik Comics website. In the time since I got home, the number had gone above 1,000.

The front door opens and closes as Kara gets home from work. The unique jangling of her keys tells me she’s carrying something in her hands.

“Jules! I bought food!” She yells out, probably assuming I’m in my room.

“I also used the money from your account to do it…” she says more quietly, not realizing I’m on the couch.

I don’t react to this though. I’m still too focused on the rising number on my profile. I have an audience now. There are going to be people looking at my art just because a stupid, haughty, well dressed stranger told them to. That’s pressure I don’t need.

“JULES!” Kara yells up the stairs.

“I’m over here.”

She pops her head in the living room, holding what looks to be takeout. We probably should have just got groceries, but I’m not exactly complaining either.

“What are you doing in here? I figured you’d be obsessing over your computer.”

“I didn’t make it that far. I got caught on my phone here.”

She sits down next to me, setting the bag of food on the table. She holds out her hand, and I place my phone in it.

The light shines and flickers across her face as she flicks down to refresh the page.

“A lot of people have been looking at your profile…”


She jumps off the couch, eyes glimmering with energy.

“This is amazing! See, you have a following now! I told you your art would be good enough!”

I snatch the phone out of her hand. I tap the screen, perform a quick search, and hand it back to her.

“It wasn’t me. It was him.”

Kara takes the phone and sifts through the artwork Tobias had submitted. She seems impressed, but her face contorts with furrowed brow.

“I don’t understand.”

I explain everything that happened at Michael’s shop while we eat. When I mention that Tobias has comic strips that go viral online, her face lights up with understanding.

“Oh! I think I’ve seen one of those. Never really thought about who drew it though.”

She pulls out her phone and starts scrolling through it likely, to show me.

“Yeah, it’s just, I don’t know how to feel about this. On one hand, this is likely the only way I was going to move forward in the contest. On the other, it feels wrong that I only got by on a chance encounter.”

Kara finishes finding the comic and hands me her phone. It looks like someone else edited the word bubbles to make a funny meme, but I don’t think I get it.

“You gotta relax, buddy. Successful people often work hard, but they all got a lucky break somewhere along the way. Maybe this is yours?”

I finish scrolling through the comic and set her phone down.

“But is this a lucky break, or is it just cheating?”

Kara throws her hands in the air.

“I give up. You’re completely hopeless.”

“Hey!” I exclaim.

Kara stands and walks away, taking her takeout box with her.

“You’re hopeless. You catch a lucky break, and decide to sit there, over analyzing it. Do you know how badly some people would love to be you right now?!”

“But I didn’t get there on my own! What kind of man am I if-”

“What are you even talking about?! ‘What kind of man are you?’” She mocks. “You’re the kind who doesn’t know what he wants, and is too afraid to go for it when he does, and when he’s forced to have what he wants, he asks if he deserves it.”

“I mean, you don’t need to say it like that.”

She sets the takeout on a counter, and turns to face me.

“What was the name of the last guy I tried going out with?”

“It was Rodrigo, right?”

I’m not sure what just happened here? What is her point?

“His name was Rodney.” Her voice is low. Quiet.

“Why does this matter? You shut him down because you thought he was boring, didn’t you?”

“Yes! But you don’t care enough about me to ask why I haven’t tried finding someone since. You haven’t asked why I started picking up more shifts.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve been sitting here worried sick about this art contest and Michael and I couldn’t tell you what my best friend was doing the last few weeks outside of work and talking me through my shit.

“Jules, my mom cut me off.”


“She wasn’t exactly happy that I dropped out of college. We’ve been going back and forth for months, but she finally pulled the trigger.”

“Kara, I’m so sor-”

“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear how sorry you are. I just want you to stop being so damn sorry for yourself.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #9

The man sitting in front of me is tall. Even seated, I can feel him towering over me. His brown hair is coifed into a perfectly formed tuft on top of his head. His eyes are narrowed as I sit here thinking about how to avoid his question.

“I said, what has made you so confident, Jules?”

I guess it’s now or never.

“I’m not. But you shouldn’t have to be confident to share what you think.”

His eyes look me up and down, searching for I don’t know what. Then he reaches down into a bag I didn’t even realize he had with him.

He pulls out a large binder, filled with plastic protected sheets. The book flops open and the images spill into my mind. The figures within remind me of Renaissance marble statues captured on a page, with hyper realistic anatomy articulating each sinewy muscle.

Gods of lightning and thunder, of science and power, of patriotism and duty, splash across the pages caught in some imaginary war, clashing with the ultimate evil.

This is comic books.

The colors pop and the lines are crisp.

Oh god. He entered the contest. He’s one of the other competitors. This is what I’m up against. I may have gotten into the top fifteen hundred contestants for public voting, but there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to be better than this guy.

“Let us try this one more time. What makes you so confident, Julian?”

Before I can even begin to respond, there’s a voice booming over my shoulder.

“He has every reason to be confident! I’ve seen his work and it’s great!”

Oh god. Oh god, Michael, what are you doing?

He slaps my back and gives the other customer the biggest grin, like it’s all a joke. My hands tremble over the notebook I have on the table. There’s no way I could show him the silly cartoons I drew in comparison to this art.

Before I can protest, the stranger’s hands snatch up my book and flip through the pages.

“Hey! That’s mine!”

“Fair’s fair. I showed you mine, let’s take a look at-“

He stops after flipping back to my original sketches. The pad didn’t have my completed pieces that were submitted, since I lined them digitally, but the pencil sketches were there.

His eyes narrowed, looking through the images on the page. He flips through another page, and then another, finding where my dumb doodles start. He immediately flips back to the original sketches.

“Why did you pick this pose? It seems so…”

“Pedestrian?” I guess.

“Unconventional. Your style fits right in with the fantastical world of comic books, so to see something less over the top is surprisingly refreshing.”

I look at Michael who gives me a wink and my heart melts just a little bit.

Our well-dressed friend sets my book down carefully and slides it back to me. I take it, and slide it off to the side.

“You’re good. I can give you that.”

I am?!

He continues,

“My name is Tobias. I suppose you’ve earned that.”

“Um, nice to meet you Tobias.” Did I really not know his name? That feels wrong.

“I do hope you get through this preliminary vote. My win would feel less complete if I didn’t beat you properly.”

Okay… Well that seems more antagonistic than necessary.

“Do you have a following online?”

“Well, no?”

“That won’t do.”

He slides out his cell phone and starts tapping the screen very quickly with his thumbs. After a minute, he turns the screen off and slides it back in his pocket.

“There. That should help.” He stands up and grabs his binder. “Don’t ruin the chance I gave you, Jules.”

He turns around and walks to the door.

“And Michael, I’ll be calling later this week with another order.”

And with that he leaves.

“What the actual hell just happened there?”

I turn to Michael, but he wasn’t behind me. He’d moved like lightning behind his counter, using his computer there to pull up something.

“C’mon! You stupid hunk of junk. Load!”

“What are you doing?”

He looks at me incredulously.

“Do you now know who that was?”

I grab my stuff and take it with me to the counter.

“He said his name was Tobias, and he dresses in nice suits, and can draw like some kind of art god, but other than that? No.”

The screen in front of Michael finally loads wherever he was trying to go. The blue website of a social media page.

“Jules, that guy is famous online. He literally has millions of followers.”

“Oh. That’s cool I guess.” Oh my god, that is so freaking cool!

“Cool? Cool?! Jules! Do you now know what he did?”

At some point I’m going to have to learn how to piece together my own life and figure out what’s going on. But it is not this day.

Michael grows frustrated at my silence and points to his screen. I step forward to get a better look.

The series of posts by what I assume is Tobias on his social media page show more of that gorgeous art. Some of it is just poses, others are self-made comics. But there, at the top, was what Michael was getting at

Check out this artist in the Fantastik art contest! I am loving this art! Be sure to follow BeJuled, I’m sure they’re going to do great!

The post linked to my entry in the contest. I click the link and find my profile, showcasing the entries I had submitted. While the voting hadn’t started yet, it was possible to save the page, and the counter would show my how many people have saved it.

This morning, I had myself, Michael and Kara. Right now, I’m sitting at several hundred.

Mild Mannered: Issue #8

“Oh! Teddy! I couldn’t imagine life without you!” Estelle opines.

The man holding her in his arms is brooding very handsomely.

“I understand. But I cannot rest now. There are more patients to be seen.”

Tears fill the woman’s eyes. She tries to blink them away, then buries her face in his white lab coat.

“If I could say a magic phrase to make you stay, I would.”

He lifts her head, his eyes sympathetic.

“You can. Say, ‘I love you.’”

“Ah man! That line gets me every time!” Michael says.

I had convinced him to bring a little TV to the shop. Figured if I was going to be spending time here, I might as well watch my favorite show.

It wasn’t entirely selfish. Michael can use it for showing nerdy stuff for background noise when people start coming more often. Besides, he’s using me for clout, I might as well get something out of it.

My laptop is open in front of me as I sketch down notes and ideas in my drawing pad. The book in front of me was filled with half started plans, scribbles and doodles and the words Why are you so bad at this? written off to the side.

However, nothing new had been added in the past twenty minutes. It’s not like I can not watch Doctor Magician, M.D.

“I dunno,” I respond, “I liked him with Angela better. She was feisty.”

Michael was leaning on the counter behind the cash register. Since I came in, he’s had all of one customer. This really is a strange ghost town.

“How’s your first assignment coming along?”

Ugh. Way to change the subject.

“It’s fine,” I tried to say. The second vowel is caught in my throat and pitches my voice an octave higher.

“That sounds super convincing.”

I didn’t realize I’d have to continuously compete in this competition. Before they narrow it down to artists for the tournament bracket, they’re having a public vote.

Anyone currently accepted can redesign and resubmit their entries, and I decided to be dumb enough to do that, despite Kara’s protests.

However, now I feel super dumb because I don’t know what I would do differently. I think I showcased my range in my initial drawings, mixture of lighting and shadow, pose and form. I’m not a colorist, so it’s not like I can go too much further, but I did digitally line and shadow the images too.

So why don’t they feel like enough?

There’s still over a thousand people in the running, and I need to stand out. Sure, what I did was my best, but is it good enough to beat out some other online artist who already has a following? There are people with art accounts big enough to make it, and this is the opportunity they needed.

What do I have?

“I didn’t mean it like that. You’re probably overthinking it.”

I must have been staring at my pad for a while, because Michael was trying to comfort me with his words. I’m not gonna lie, it helped.

Before I can respond, the bell at the front door jingles. The man from the other days enters.

His clothes were different but still as fancy as ever. It’s difficult to put into words how it made me feel. Small? Insignificant? Like a gross little comic goblin?

Huh. Guess I can put it into words.

“Good afternoon, Michael.” The man’s words are smooth, but as cold as I remember. He doesn’t pay me notice as he moves right to the counter.
“I hope you have that issue of Night Fiend I requested.”

“Yes, it came just today.” He reaches down and pulls a package out from behind the counter. “Thank you very much for your patience.”

The man accepts the package and opens it, taking a glance inside.

“Yes, I believe this quality is acceptable.” He sets the package down on the counter and pulls out his wallet.

Michael takes the money, beaming.

“Any time! Just say the word and I can get you what you need.”

“I will admit, I was surprised. My normal shop wasn’t able to find several things on that list. And I thought that Night Fiend issue all but lost.”

“I know a few people.” If Michael was bragging, it almost didn’t show. “Like I said, just say the word, and I can find what you need.”

“Do you like Night Fiend?” The stranger’s words were louder now. He doesn’t really have to shout if Michael is just behind the counter.

“Uh, Jules, I think that was addressed to you.”

“OH!” Crap. What are my thoughts on Night Fiend? He’s all dark and brooding and it feels like he pulls wins out of nowhere. A little too much for me. But he’s so well respected I can’t just say…

“Not a huge fan. He always wins and gets really boring.” Dammit, Jules! Why don’t you listen to your own internal monologue?

“Is that so?” His voice does not sound surprised, but it’s hard to get a read on him. “Interesting choice of words.”

“Excuse me? You asked me for my opinion. What about yours?”

The first bit of emotion crossed his face and it’s bemusement.

“Are you the same boy who told me he was going to enter the art contest without any confidence in his voice?”

He takes a few steps over to my table and invites himself to a seat. Michael watches in awe, unsure what to make of all this.

“So tell me, Jules, what did you enter to the contest to make you so confident?”

Mild Mannered: Issue #7

Five minutes. Just five more minutes to wait. The preliminary results will be announced, and we’ll know who has moved on to the next part of the competition. My leg can’t seem to stop bouncing up and down.

Kara is right behind me, both figuratively and literally. She’s laying on my bed swiping through her phone as I refresh the page every few seconds. She’s trying to be the calm and collected one, but I know better, she’s just as nervous as me.

“Would you stop jiggling your leg? You’re shaking the whole room,” she says. Her voice is even and controlled. She’s totally freaking out too.

“I can’t help it! It’s nearly here!”

“You keep moving that leg, and I’ll unplug and hide the router.”

My leg instantly stops. Damn, she knows me too well.

“Better. Now come sit on the bed and wait a few minutes without burning out your eyeballs.”

I push my chair slightly away from my desk and flop out of it onto my bed next to her. My face is buried in my comforter.

“So how went things with Michael today?”

“Ahh dood now…” my muffled voice started.

“And if you try to tell me you did not go back to the comic shop, I’m hitting you with a pillow.”

I flip over and shoot her a dirty look.

“You’re history’s worst villain, you know that?”

She gives a quick grin.

I pull myself up onto the bed proper, and sit next to Kara.

“Fine, yes, I went back to the comic shop today. Found out pretty boy actually owns the place.”

“Really? That’s impressive.”

“Right? It’s so intimidating.”

“Relax, he might be gorgeous and successful, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of your league.”

“I guess. He’s not that successful anyway. Apparently, I was his first repeat customer.”

She puts her phone down, giving me all her attention.

“Weird. Seems like the kind of place he’d get a lot of foot traffic.”

“I talked with him a bit about my entries to the contest. He seemed really interested, though, I’m not sure if it’s because he’s planning to use me, or if he genuinely likes me.”

“Could be both.”

“Then some fancy guy came in and ordered a bunch of old issues.”

“Fancy you say?”

“Nice clothes, expensive comics. Michael’s eyes seemed to light up at the idea of selling so many comics.”

“I change my mind; he might not be out of your league, but he sounds like a gold digger.”

“I really don’t need you saying that.” I groan, as I hit the back of my head against the headboard.

Kara moves and adjusts to sit right next to me, she lazily rests her head on my shoulder, and I rest my head on hers.

“Don’t assume the worst.”

“You, of all people, are telling me to be optimistic?” I’m incredulous. I don’t think she’s lying, and she’s definitely not being malicious.

“Yes, me of all people. Sure, I can hate people just as much as you do, but I don’t want to hate people. I sometimes worry you like being proven right about how rotten the world is. Aren’t you supposed to wish for something better?”

“Wow, Kara… that… was way too frikkin sappy. What the actual hell?” I tease. She shoves me so hard, I nearly fall off the bed.

“Never mind. You’re still hopeless. Just, do me a favor and at least open yourself up to the idea of something good happening.”

I sigh, almost wanting to argue. But I don’t.

Maybe I am a little more dour than I should be. Maybe I am looking for the worst in people. As much as I think Michael was just using me to improve his store’s image, he wouldn’t have spent so much time with me if he didn’t like me, right? I’m not famous, and I have just as little a chance as anyone of being a comic artist.

Ugh, either I hype myself about how good I am, or I give myself reason to think Michael likes me. I can’t do both.


Kara brings me back to reality. My computer is beeping with a notification of a new email. I don’t even have a chance to blink before I find myself back in my computer chair, opening my inbox.

It’s a message from Fantastik Comics.

Subject line: Congratulations!

Mild Mannered: Issue #6

I can’t help but feel slightly used.

“Why’d you pick this pose? Seems so… pedestrian.”

Michael had talked me into showing him the submissions I drew for the contest, by bringing them up on his computer. Now he was critiquing them. He wasn’t being mean or anything, but I feel like whatever flirting I may or may not have read into his actions was a lie. I mean, it’s possible he likes me. It’s also possible he saw me buying Fantastigirl, assumed a stereotype about buying a ‘girl’ comic, and figured he could use me. I don’t even know what to think any more.

“Well, I decided to just draw the character walking because I think almost all the entries would be these over the top action poses. Putting in something a little more mundane in this case can actually show variety.” I’m surprising my own self with my ability to talk right now. I guess having gone over all this with Kara when I first drew the submissions made it easier.

“Ah! Makes sense.” His face never leaves the pages. I don’t know what he expects to do about it right now, but he’s very intent on analyzing each and every drawing I downloaded to the computer. It was rather surprising, we’d been at this for half an hour and I still haven’t seen any one else come in. He really does get as few customers as he says.

“So here’s what I was thinking,” Michael finally looks up at me again. I’m slightly less enamored by his smooth skin, and charming eyes now that I know he just wants me for advertising purposes.

“If you make it into the tournament bracket, we should do some kind of event here! Like, have fun cheering on a local, or something. Plus, that’d be great to put in advertisements…”

I really want to say no. I really don’t want to say no. Argh! What do I-

“…And in exchange, I can give you free comics or something.”

“Trade paperback!?”

He gives a giggle.

“Absolutely, so long as I can afford to keep this place open.” He leans back in his chair, turning to face me. “You know, you’re a pretty good artist.”

My face feels significantly warmer. I can’t imagine the shade of red I must be right now.

“Thanks.” I manage to eke out.

There’s a slight jingle as the bell attached to the front door opens. Must be another customer. I slide out from behind the counter where we were looking at the computer to avoid being mistaken for a worker.

The man who enters looks fancy. Too fancy to be coming into a comic shop. His blonde hair is kept short, neatly groomed with some kind of product in it. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the brand of three piece suit he’s wearing, but the material is nice enough that even I can tell it’s expensive. That light hair, decked out in black, with piercing blue eyes feels intimidating. He gives off an air of confidence.

“Hmm, this place is even smaller on the inside,” the newcomer mumbles to himself.

Michael doesn’t seem to notice the vague insult.

“Hi! Welcome to Multiversity! Anything I can help you find?”

The well-dressed man looks him over.

“Yes, I’m looking for the owner of this shop.”

Michael chuckles, not really believing getting that twice in one day.

“That would be me. What can I do for you?

If the customer was surprised at this revelation, he didn’t show it.

“I have some very specific items I’m looking for. Could you tell me if you have these issues?” He produces a small slip of paper, and hands it to Michael.

There’s a gleam in Michael’s eye that, just for a moment, betrays his naturally friendly persona, and reveals the greedy monster lurking beneath.

“Yes! I do believe we have these comics. Let me go grab them for you.”

And with that, he rushes off into some back area of the store.

The stranger turns to me, as I realize I’ve just been awkwardly staring a little at this whole exchange.

“Do you work here as well? Perhaps your boss could use some help.” His voice isn’t really cold, but it sends shivers up my spine all the same.

“Oh, I don’t work here. I’m just a-a…” Oh crap. What am I? Acquaintance? Customer? Lustful stalker? “Friend.”

He gives me the same once over he gave Michael, as if scanning me to reveal the truth. Not that I’m lying. At least, not that I think I’m lying.

“Interesting. Do you enjoy graphic novels as well?” His body barely moves, yet there’s a slight shift toward me that I notice. Why is he so interested?

“Yes… yes I do.” My eyes find they can’t hold contact with his for very long. I turn to some of the comics on the shelf behind me and start looking through them.

“By any chance, do you read Fantastigirl? It’s expertly written.”

My ears perk up and I turn back around in a snap.

“Yes! I love that series! It’s so ground breaking-”

I’m cut off by the man holding up his hand.

“Less is more, my dear.” He finally moves, his steps very deliberate, yet graceful. Like he’s gliding over the carpet. He reaches out for a magazine on a shelf, and starts flipping through it. “Have you heard of the contest for the new artist?”

“Oh, yeah, well, actually, I entered it.” I look away, thinking about all the questions that arose from Michael finding out I entered the contest. Don’t want to have to go through all that again.

There’s a slight twitch in his hand when I responded, though. It was so slight, I’m surprised I noticed it. He turns his attention from the comic in his hand back to me.

“Is that so? Yes, most interesting.” His eyes search mine, as if they held some kind of secret he nonchalantly wanted to know. “I wish you luck in the tournament, mister?”

“Jules. Just call me Jules.

He glides over to me, extending his hand as he crosses.

“Jules. Pleased to meet you.”

Oh god, I want to leave. Why is this happening?

“A-and you too, I guess…” I trail off as I take his hand and give a very weak shake.

Right at that moment, Michael comes back into the room, arms loaded with comic books.

“Yes! We had pretty much everything. I am missing that 1956 issue of Night Fiend, but I can acquire it for you, if you don’t mind waiting.”

“I better go!” I spit out. “Michael! We’ll talk more soon, okay?”

“Oh! Yes! You have a good day, Jules!”

I give a quick nod to Michael, then turn back to the stranger, whose eyes still haven’t left me.

“Have a good day!”

He smirks.

“Oh I shall, Jules. I shall.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #5

“Have you been sitting there all night?”

I snap up, my head peeling from the keyboard. Gross. Did I fall asleep here? Again?

“Jules, you’re not going to hear back from them right away. When did they say they were announcing the results?”

My head turns toward Kara, standing in my doorway. She was dressed in her work uniform, tying an apron around her waist.

“I wasn’t looking at that. I promise. I just got in late.” I wipe the saliva from my face, praying that I didn’t mess up my keyboard.

“I don’t know how much I like your overnight shifts at work.” She walks down the hall, her voice becoming more muffled as she talks. “Promise me you won’t obsess over the contest!”

“When have I obsessed over anything?” I yell back.

I got my entry submitted. It only took a small pep talk from Kara that was mostly her yelling and me mixing my tears with digital paint. I sketched, lined, and colored seven poses from a fictional detective story based on one of the episodes from Kara’s favorite podcast.

It’s been two days since I sent everything in, and it’s been torture the entire time. The results aren’t being announced until the end of the month, so I have weeks of waiting ahead.

“And Jules! Do something with your day or I’ll kick your ass again!” Kara’s voice rang through the apartment before the door closed. She is off to work, while I’m stuck here alone with the contest website.

She’s right. I shouldn’t obsess over this.

I refresh the webpage a mere twenty-seven times before getting up and showering. I throw on some clothes and consider what I can do with my day.

My hand instinctively grabs the remote and navigates to the next episode of “Doctor Magician, MD.”

I pour myself a bowl of cereal, a late breakfast, as the credits play. Cliché items used in magic tricks are interspersed with medical tools and surgical equipment.

Aw, man! Are we really out of normal milk? Did I not get some the last time we went grocery shopping? All we have left is Kara’s almond milk. She’ll be pissed if I drink it, but I can’t eat dry cereal. That’s just uncivilized.

I sit down with my ill-gotten cereal as the episode starts.

Two men are running down the sidewalk, chatting about their wives.

“Did you remember Stacy’s birthday?”

“Only barely. I was able to squeeze in a reservation at Grigorio’s for Saturday. Should buy me some time.”

“Hey, hold on, I need a quick break.”

The two stop jogging, one putting his hand on a nearby wall, trying to catch his breath.

“I didn’t think you were getting that old, but I’ve been wrong before.” His friend jokes.

The one catching his breath is having trouble. He can’t breathe.

“Jackson? Are you all right? Jackson!”

Jackson is wheezing heavily, as he clutches his throat. Soon a white bird bursts from his mouth flying off into the sky.

Jackson is immediately able to breathe once it’s gone.

“I think I need to see a doctor,” he says.

“Or maybe a magician,” his friend replies.

Ah, this is a great episode. The return of Dr. Magician’s arch-nemesis, the Plague Wizard. He uses his sleight of hand skills and medical knowledge for chaos.

I crunch down on my breakfast, wondering what I can do to take my mind off my contest. Binging TV shows all day would certainly accomplish that, but then Kara will be upset. I could go out, but where to?

The man from Multiversity Comics enters my head and I feel my face get flushed. I mean, he probably isn’t there. He can’t work there all the time, right?

But what if he is?

I finish scarfing my cereal, then run to my room and quickly put on some shoes and grab my wallet and laptop. As I leave, I turn off the TV.

As I walk down the sidewalk, I consider the sun. It feels pretty good right now. Not too hot, maybe a little bright for my tastes. While I’m used to walking everywhere, I’m also used to walking when I’m more awake.

It takes longer than I expect to get to the comic shop, but the sign appears in my line of sight soon enough.

I enter the front door, the cool air relaxing every muscle in my body. Thank god. I’m probably in terrible shape, seeing as it wasn’t that far of a walk, but man, air conditioning is the bees knees.

“Oh hey! Jules, right?”

Michael calls out from behind the counter. Oh my god. I can’t believe he’s here.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, incredulous.

“I kinda work here,” he smiles. “Did you submit for the contest?”

“Yes! It was good. Very, uh, very good.” What should I do? I can’t leave, he already saw me come in. Plus, I’m really tired. But I can’t handle talking to him without support. Maybe I can buy a single book and leave? Walk a little bit to a café to read and catch my breath? Somehow, I’m blaming Kara for this when she gets home.

“Are you okay? You’ve been standing there silent for like, five minutes.

“…Yes,” I slowly respond, not at all looking like a weirdo. “So, Michael. How long have you been working here?”

Oh god. I’m engaging him in conversation. This is a bad idea.

“Well, since I opened it last month.” He seems to laugh in his tone.

“Oh! So you were here for the opening? How did you get a sweet gig like that? Do you know the owner?”

“I would hope so. You’re looking at him.”


What does that mean? Is there someone else here, or…



“You own this comic shop!?”

“Yeah! Well, I own the business. I rent out the shop space itself.”

“How? Isn’t it expensive to open a business? You’re so young! Getting contracts with wholesalers must be a process, but if you-”

“Slow down, Julie-boy.” He stepped out from behind the counter and crossed over to me when I wasn’t looking.

“It’s a long story. Though, I’m having a problem. You’re the first return customer I’ve had.”

“How? You’re in a great location, especially since you’re so close to the mall.”

“I thought so too, but it isn’t working out that way.” He crosses the store to a gaming table and pulls out the chairs, he gestures to me to sit down.

“That’s insane.” I’m having a normal conversation with him. Oh man, this is so great.

“I’m worried my father was right. He told me there wasn’t a market for comic and game shops anymore. Everything is online.”

He isn’t wrong, I think. I’ve seen a few places shutter up, despite the popularity of superheroics and new games. But others have thrived.

“Well, you got a good idea here. People may be able to order games online, but they need physical places to play them,” I point to the gaming table. “And maybe you just need some buzz, like some local ads, or um…”

“Like discovering a super star artist?” He grins.

“Yeah! That’s be great if you were lucky enough to…”



Oh shit.

Mild Mannered: Issue #4

“But doctor! Where did this man’s appendix go?” the breathy nurse inquired. Her scrubs top had a particularly low cut for her to be working in a hospital.

The camera hard cuts to a man with an appealing face. His hair is dark, falling in perfect locks framing the smirk that crosses his lips.

He is wearing a black cape over a white lab coat.

“That, my dear Estelle, is the magic!” he exclaims, with a flourish of his wrist.

The screen fades to back.

Doctor Magician, M.D. will return after these messages,” the voice on the TV kindly informs me.

I had been sitting on my couch for the last half a day, a blank sketchbook taunting me the entire time. Outside the window, the sun had set, reminding me of all the time I’ve wasted getting nothing done.

Not one idea has come to me. I’ve got nothing. I’m a fraud. I’m a failure. I bet this never happens to real artists.

I did some research after getting home from the comic shop yesterday. The contest involves drawing original characters in dynamic poses. At least five detailed pieces are needed to be entered to the contest, though I imagine they’ll ignore you if you send too many.

Contest officials will narrow it down to 64 artists and put them in a tournament style bracket, with a mix of popular vote and judges determining who wins.

It was a massive event. It was insane. And how the hell did I not know it was happening until now?

I can’t do this. How am I supposed to get to the tournament ahead of thousands who will probably be entering. This was dumb, I shouldn’t even bother.

“You can’t expect me to approve this!”

The hospital administrator was furious, the paper in front of her obviously upsetting.

“You can’t requisition half these things. How are you going to remove a man’s heart with mirrors and swords?”

“A magician never reveals his secret!” the doctor responds.

He throws something from his sleeve at the ground, causing a flash of light to blind the screen. The doctor is gone as the administrator’s and audience’s vision returns.

“Damn you, Doctor Magician!” the administrator screams toward the ceiling.

“Ugh, he’s such a good doctor,” Kara says. I could hear the eyeroll in her voice.

I throw a pillow at her without even looking, my eyes glued to the screen.

“Oh stop it. You like this show too,” I remind her.

She slaps the pillow out of the air without breaking stride, on her way to the kitchen. She had changed out of her work clothes, into some sweats and a tank top. Somehow, even dressed down, she gave off an aura of class.

“But you forget, I can watch it without distracting me from my work.”

I hear her open the fridge for an instant and close it again. Forgot we need to get some more groceries. Instead there’s the clinking of glassware, and the sound of the faucet.

She enters the room again with her water.

“How’s the art project coming along?”

“Just fine, thank you,” I answer, indignant. “Couldn’t be better.”

She take s long sip from her cup, never breaking eye contact with me.

“So you still haven’t started.”

I feel my cheeks go warm, too embarrassed to admit she’s right.

Kara walks over to the couch and sits next to me.

“Do you want help?”

…I didn’t expect that.

“Maybe? What do you care about comics though?” I’m pitiful.

Surprisingly, she doesn’t get snippy with me.

“You’re my friend. You want to do this. Why not let me help?”

She wants to make amends. Stop holding the grudge, Jules.

I turn in my seat, angling to face her.

“Okay, I need some dynamic poses for a character, but I need to make the character first. What do you think would be a good superhero?”

Kara leans back on the couch, eyes wandering up to the ceiling. It’s a minute before she responds.

“Well, lots of superheroes can fly, right? Flying is pretty dynamic. One of your scenes should be her flying.”

“I considered that, but Fantastigirl doesn’t fly. What if they look down on that?”

“Then draw her punching someone?” Kara suggests, taking a sip of her water after.

I had already been through all these ideas in my head. Nothing seemed right. I keep finding things wrong with anything I come up with. Kara means well, but I don’t think this is helping.

I need something bold. Something striking! Something sure to catch people’s eyes…

“Draw her punching someone while she wears skimpy clothing. It’s what literally every other comic does.”

“GENIUS!” I yell.

Kara sighs and buries her face in her hands.

“No. Do not do that. I was joking.” She frees her face and gives me a slightly angry glare. “For the love of- Jules, this isn’t complicated. The poses don’t matter. They want to judge your skill as an artist. You can’t change that overnight so draw anything. Draw what you feel comfortable drawing. Draw what you want to see in a comic.”

“Okay, but what if I don’t know what I want?”

“Then draw what someone like me would read. You may be hopeless, but you know the kinds of things I like, right?”

That’s… not a bad idea. Kara really likes these true crime stories. How would those translate to the comic page?

“Hey Kara, what’s that podcast you’re always listening to?”

She raises her eyebrow.

Two Girls, a Wine, and a Murder?

“Yeah…I think I know what I’m going to draw.”

“Great! Just don’t, you know, Jules it up.”

I sit for a minute, thinking about the possibilities. I can draw the killer in dark shadows. The victim’s body contorted. Fights, confrontations. All centered on a fictional detective.

This should work. This will give me a chance to show off, and I can invent a new character. I just-


“Did you just use my name as a verb? Because I don’t like that implication.”

Mild Mannered: Issue #3

Kara had made her way over from the front of the store, pretending to sift through some comics herself. I’m sure it made it look like she was helping. I’m sure she absolutely wasn’t.

“So, what kind of comic are you thinking about getting?” she asks. What a bitch.

“Nothing in particular. Just… uh…” I trail off. What am I still doing here? We could just leave.

“Are you avoiding the cute guy running the comic shop?

“Hey!” I say a little louder than I intend. “…you aren’t supposed to just say it.”

She turns to me, looking determined as ever.

“Right, well you can either get a comic so we can leave or go talk to the boy. I’m not hiding back here all day.”

“…couldn’t we hide for just a bit longer?”

“Jules!” she exclaims. Damn, I know that tone.

“Fine! I’ll grab my comic and we can go!” I pick up the recent ‘Fantastigirl’ book that I had thumbed over several times, knowing full well it was what I was getting.

As I walk to the counter to pay, I curse an effigy of Kara in my mind. Maybe she’ll get a nice big zit just asymmetrical enough she can’t ignore it. Haha! Take that, Mental Kara!

The guy at the counter beamed as I approached. Is he taunting me? Could he be psychotic? What if he’s just pleasant?

“Find everything all right?” he asks, the politeness feeling so natural from him.

I quickly swallow and try not to stumble over my words.

“Yes. Just fine. Thank you.” Good job, mouth!

He takes my comic and pauses when he sees what it is.

“Fantastigil, eh?” Don’t see a lot of guys buying this one.”

“Yeah!? What of it!?”

…that was significantly more confrontational than I meant to be.

“No, no! Sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” he calmly apologizes. “It’s just, I love this series too. The writing is, pardon the pun, fantastic! The art isn’t bad, but I feel Pearson isn’t right for the story.”

“Yeah! It needs someone a little more lighthearted, like… Scott McGill!”

“Ah! McGill would kill on Fantastigirl!” The excitement lights up his eyes, like lightning. “Alternatively, they could get someone new.”

His eyes look off to the side, like he’s imagining it.

“Oh? Where did you hear that rumor?” I hadn’t heard they’d wanted to switch out the artist.

“Um, because of the contest?”

Contest? What contest? My eyes must have spoken for me, as he points to a poster where he was staring before. It was a brightly colored splash, asking ‘Are you the next Fantastik artist?’ with a silhouette of a person in the center.

Oh god! Fantastik Comics are having a contest to find a new artist! How did I not hear about this?

“It starts in a few weeks. If you feel like signing up, the website is on the bottom.” The guy behind the counter takes my comic and enters a few buttons on his computer. “That’ll be $17.73.”

I don’t really hear him, my focus still on the poster. I take my wallet out of my pocket and hand him my debit card. Could I really get the chance to illustrate for a comic company?

“You’re really stuck on that contest aren’t ya?” he smiles as he hands back my receipt and card.

“Yeah, I guess I’m so surprised I didn’t hear about it sooner.”

“Well, what’s your name?” he asks.

I turn back to him finally, seeing his perfect smile. I could melt into that smile.

“You do have a name, right? I wanna say I knew the great new comic artist before he got famous.”

I quickly stretch out my hand for a handshake.

“I’m Jules,” I manage to say.

He takes my hand and gives a good shake.

“Michael. Hope to see you around.” He gives a wink as he turns back to some business behind his counter.


“You can stop smiling now.”

I’m called back from my daydream out the window by Kara’s negativity.

“I’m not smiling. You’re smiling.” I look over at her, noticing her eyes fixated on the road. “You can’t even see my face!”

She giggles a knowing giggle.

“Jules, you’re absolutely lost in thoughts of him. I can prove it.”

“Like hell you can!”

“Who paid for the comic?”

“I did!” Wait a minute. “You promised you’d buy me a comic!”

“If I did that, you wouldn’t have had alone time to flirt.”

“You still owe me a comic. Besides, he wasn’t why I was distracted.”

She raises her eyebrow, eyes still on the road.

“Sweetie, he was pretty enough to break your language. I’d say you can cut the act.”

“No seriously! I was more interested in that art contest he mentioned.”

Kara’s brow furrows.

“But, Jules, you never really…” she trails off, unsure how to say it.

“Never really what?” I ask, more than a little annoyed.

“Jules, I love you, but you’ve never really put that much effort into your art. You have that website, but your work on there is sporadic to say the least.”

Kara’s words stung like a knife. Comics are my passion, she knows that.

She continues.

“I guess… Well, I guess I never really thought you saw that as a potential career.” Her words are steeped in humility. It’s an odd change for her.

“So what? Am I supposed to accept life at a call center for the next thirty years?” My tone has a little more bite than it should, but I expected support from her.

“No! Of course not. It’s just, I didn’t really expect you to care more about an art contest than a hot guy.”

“Not everything has to be about my love life!” I spit back. “Besides, like you can talk. Never imagined you’d want a guy with substance over looks.”

I feel the entire mood of the car shift. Neither of us says anything the rest of the way home.

Inside the house, Kara immediately makes a beeline for her room. Fine. She started it, but fine. Be that way.

I head to the kitchen and pour myself some tea. It was the only thing we had left in the kitchen. Guess we need to make a grocery run.

The hallway to my room has a clear shot of Kara’s closed door. I stand outside my room for a minute to take a careful sip.

As the steam rises up from the glass and hits my face, I remember the warmth in my face as I stood there talking to the comic guy.


My face warms, but not from the steam anymore.

“Told you, you were hung up on him!” Kara yells from her now open room door.

I choke on my drink, and drop the cup, spilling my tea on the floor.

“I ain’t cleaning that up,” Kara says, before going back in and closing her room.

Mild Mannered: Issue #2

We pull into the mall and park. Kara leads me to some of her favorite department stores. As we walk around the shopping center, I can’t help but think about what Kara said. I mean, she’s kinda right. But I think the break up with Cal just really made me think about my life.

I work for a call center. My associate degree helped get me a, well not cushy, but not super terrible position. It paid well enough to more than live. I could survive and do the things I found fun on it. But it doesn’t feel fulfilling. I considered going back to college, but I don’t know what I’d study. I don’t know what I want to do.

When Cal broke up with me, I realized I don’t seem to be going anywhere. And I don’t know what to do.

I dread this experience. As Kara and I move through the different department stores, I can’t help but wonder who wears this stuff. I think that manikin was wearing four shirts? Oh god the perfume! Can’t breathe! Tell my Chris Evans I lo-

“Stop it Jules.” Kara had stopped in her tracks and is glaring at me.


“You’re judging everything in here.”

“I am doing no such thing.”

“You’re making your ‘I’m dying’ face.”

“I am not!” Wait. “I have an ‘I’m dying’ face?”

Kara makes the same face I was just making.

“Tell Ryan Gosling I love him!” she mocks.

“…It’s Chris Evans now.”

She rolls her eyes and grabs my arm.

“Come on, it’s not that bad. Here, how about this one?” She holds up a long sleeve, button up shirt.

“I dunno. Not sure how I look in green.”

“You’re literally wearing a green t-shirt right now.”

I look down and realize she’s right.

“Yeah, and you don’t like this shirt.”

“Good point. Better take these two as well!” She hands me the same shirt in red and blue and points toward the fitting rooms.

“Fine! I’ll try them on, but one day you’ll admit you don’t like this shirt!”

I begrudgingly try on the shirt and step out, modeling it for her.

“See! You look great!”

“This is too tight! I feel like I’m going to rip it if I move my arms up!”

“It’s the style. Here, how about this instead.” She hands me a dark teal with vertical stripes.

“A little ostentatious, don’t you think?”

“You could do with more ostentacity. Try it.”

“That’s not a word!”

“Try it on!”

I change and step back out. Looking over myself in the mirror, I have to admit, I like this one. The sleeves are even the right length for my arms, which is a difficult find.

“Wow! What a change of wardrobe can do!” Kara said in an over-the-top voice.

She was just being nice, but still. I actually felt a little confident in this shirt. I guess this one works.

Kara talks me into buying three shirts, in addition to the teal which she insists I wear out of the store. Despite my shirts not taking up much room, I notice I’m holding three bags as we leave.

“Um, what’s all this?”

“You took forever trying on shirts. I did some shopping in-between.”

“Ah, of course.”

“What? It’s not like you’re carrying too much.”

I look down at the bags again, then back to her.

Kara grins and abashedly says,

“We can stop by that new comic shop we saw on the way here?”

Good enough for me.

“Trade paperback,” I remind her, and quickly walk toward the car.

“Whatever you say!”

Kara drives quickly, probably wanting to get the experience over with. We pull into the parking lot and I look up at the shop sign.

In big letters, it says ‘Multiversity Comics and Games.’ Cute. I hadn’t heard about this store opening. I wonder where it came from.

We walk inside, the cool breeze of the air conditioning hitting us so gently. Layout was fairly familiar, similar enough to other comic shops, though noticeably devoid of customers. Comics and games were laid out across the store, different racks holding comics, games, figurines, and even t-shirts. I briefly contemplate how mad Kara would be if I bought one.

Behind the counter was the employee. He had dark skin, and his hair was long locs with red tips, pulled back into a ponytail. He is wearing a black shirt with an apron over it.

He waves as he greets us.

“Hi there! Welcome to Multiversity!” His voice is like liquid chocolate being poured over a strawberry.

“Hi!” I squeak. Good job, Jules.

Next to me Kara has her hand over her mouth, a small chuckle stuck in her throat.

The employee steps from behind the counter and approaches us. It felt like he was moving in slow motion, which would have been nice as I needed more time to think.

“So, what can I help you with today?” he asks, his words sincere.

“Comics!” I yell. Kara is all but rolling on the floor right now. The man in front of us looks confused.

“Um, are you okay?”

“Fine!” I’m yelling again. “Will be, I mean. We will be fine. I’m going to… comics.”

I speed walk away, trying to ignore my broken brain, hurrying to the back of the store. I quickly stick my nose in a rack of comics, trying to look preoccupied. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I can disappear forever.

“You okay there, sweetie?” Kara asks. She seems to have recovered from her laughing fit.

“Just peachy,” I reply.

Mild Mannered: Issue #1

“No! Absolutely not!”

I’m jolted from my slight doze by the yelling from my roommate, my mind only now registering I’m in my computer chair and not my bed. Kara isn’t normally up this early. I sit up and look at the clock on my computer.

Oh. It’s nearly noon. I guess I was out longer than I thought.

“I told you Jules! I’m not letting my best friend spend another day slumped in front of his computer! Go get some clean clothes on. We’re going out.”

Her voice is a weird mix of irritated and strict, but also playful. I would argue with her, but I’m too tired to deal with it at the moment.

I try to stand and find myself too tired to do that either. I guess talking is easier.

“I thought you had to work today,” I whine.

My chair spins as she turns it to face me. Kara wasn’t terribly tall, but she wasn’t really that short either. Her olive skin suited her dark hair, which was long, going halfway down her back.

Her clothes are always fashionable, her bag is brand name. What name that was, I could maybe guess if you put a gun to my head and I tried real hard to think.

And somehow, I’m her best friend. You average, tall and lanky nerd, wearing only the finest in shirts with geeky references.

After spinning me around, she stands with her hands on her hips, giving me a bit of a scowl.

“I took the day off. You promised me you’d do something active with your weekend.”

“I did, but then I fell asleep.”

“Until noon?”

“A boy needs his beauty sleep.”

“Shut up. Go shower, get dressed and meet me downstairs.”

She stomped a little walking away, giving me my answer as to whether she was more angry or teasing.

Ugh. Do not want to do this.

I open my closet and dig through my hanging t-shirts. I had some nicer shirts, but those are more like ‘interview’ or ‘wedding’ clothing. Not ‘being dragged out to be social against my will’ clothing. I grab a green shirt with the Triforce on it and head to the bathroom to shower.

True to my slightly whiny word, I get dressed in a shirt, jeans and sandals and head downstairs. I can only guess what her devilish plan for me is. At the bottom of the staircase I see her sitting at the breakfast table, tapping away at something on her phone. She glances up as I enter the room, sizing up my outfit.

“I know you disapprove. Please, let’s get on with whatever you wanted me to do today.”

Her eyes return to her phone for a few more taps before she decides she’s done.

“You clothes don’t matter to me.”

“Really? I thought the shirt kinda fit with these pants, and I think I’ve seen some guys wear sandals like this.”

“No, definitely not. They don’t matter because we’re going clothes shopping for you. Let’s go!” with that, she hops up and walks briskly toward the door.

I follow, but vocalize my displeasure.

“What? Why? There’s nothing wrong with what I wear!”

“There isn’t most of the time, but if you’re going to start going on dates, you’ll need something you haven’t worn to interviews for the last ten years.”

We get outside and she opens her car. I’m still talking as I cross over to the other side and open the door.

“What dates? I haven’t been on a date in months!” I hear my own seatbelt buckle and only now realize I followed her into the car for this plan I most definitely don’t want to do.

“Hence why you need to start.”

She starts up the car and pulls out of our apartment’s parking lot.

“It’s been what, nine months since that asshole unceremoniously broke up with you?”

“Hey! The break up with Cal was a mutual thing…”

“You ran out of the party crying when he dumped you.”

“…it was a mutual dumping.”

She sighs.

“Jules, I don’t like seeing you sulking. You’re a great guy, and there’s lots of boys out there for you to date.”

“If they’re so great for me, why do I have to hide my geeky shirts?”

“You don’t have to hide them. Just, you know, change things up every so often. Besides, when you dress good, you’ll feel good. I promise.”

I groan burying my face in my hands.

“A frontal lobotomy would feel good right about now.”

“Stop being so dramatic. I’m not telling you to stop buying comics or going to your D&D group. All I’m saying is that if you wear something a little more dramatic, you’d get noticed. I mean, geek chic is in, and your possible dates might think you’re a… what did you call them?”

I quickly roll through my mind, thinking of whatever she could possibly be referring to.

“Fake geek girls?”

“Right. That.”

“There’s a gay joke I can make, but I’m too classy.”

She rolls her eyes.

“Fine, how about if we find a shirt you actually like, I’ll buy you a comic on our way back home.”

“Trade paperback?” I quickly ask.

“Yes,” Kara nods. “Whatever that means.”

Well, that makes this trip worth it.

“Okay. I’m in. So, tell me what’s new with that guy who came over the other day. Rodney?”

Kara gives a shrug.

“Eh, not really my type.”

“Not your type? I’m almost positive we could literally do our laundry on his abs.”

“Yeah, but he was so boring. He would not stop talking about his fantasy football league.”

“That’s all it takes to overcome, like, the abs?”

She groans.

“You do not get it. It was bad. It was so bad. Any time his mouth was moving it was just ‘my team did this’ or ‘my player screwed me.’ I would rather hear about your games than that.”

“Hold up. You’d rather hear about my D&D campaign than a hot guy talk sports. That is ludicrous.”

“What? Yours at least have a story I can talk myself into being interested in. He just whined about his quarterback’s dislocated shoulder and how his buddy cheated him.”

“Sure. I just figured the body of an Adonis would more than make up for that.”

“Well, it’s not like I didn’t have my fun.”


She giggled at our go-to tease for each other.

“Like you wouldn’t have done the same. See! This is why I want you dating again. I miss talking boys. You’ve been so-“

“I get it. I guess I have been a little more shut off than usual. If it will make you happy, I’ll get some new shirts.”

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