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.”
“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?”
“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.