What happens at the nexus of comic books and films when fan boys and moguls meet? 3,086 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Abraham Zimmer, the reclusive Israeli owner of Myriad Comics, felt the weight against his chest as he leaned back hard in his chair. It was a very useful weight, reminding him of the here and now, the knowledge that at any time he could just pull the pistol from his holster, pull back the safety and shoot a hole right through the forehead of this Californian prick asking for more money.
But it also took him back 50 years, to a time of blacker/whiter morality. It was him against the world, armies on all sides, and there were only six days needed to push back all-comers and change the world forever.
He wasn’t going to shoot anyone. Not today. Anyway, strangulation was always so much better in these circumstances. Bullets cost money.
Abe had a reputation for being a penny-pinching boss, though some called him pathologically greedy along with volatile. But it was a cred he had purposefully created, because he was always teaching lessons. Like the time he had waited until everybody was in the Myriad Comics office before he started screaming about the use of too many Post-It notes. The same when he roasted the editor-in-chief over booking a car service just because he left the office for home at two in the morning. Abe didn’t give a shit about those individual examples. What, was he a psychopath or something? But over the next quarter, office costs came down by half a million. The quarter after that, by a whole million. He never had to make those cuts himself; everybody did it for him.
Having the gun certainly helped. And now he was away from the comic books, and away from the plastic toys, that brought him to this industry, and instead he was going toe to toe with producers, directors, actors who had spent their lives having their every whim enabled by Hollywood, a fawning institution that didn’t care where the money went.
He had lessons to teach them as well. He leaned forward in the chair, the leather squeaking, and he felt his full weight shift onto the California prick in front of him. “If he asks for more money, fire him. No actor is irreplaceable on this project — not even him. You see this?” Abe said, holding up a copy of one of his comic books featuring a deity masquerading as a superhero. “At Myriad, we just replaced this guy with a broad. Tell the actor he’ll not only take a pay cut and like it, or we’ll fire him and cast his pretend girlfriend in the part. Think about the shower scene we could have filming with her instead.”
Which is just what Abe proceeded to think about. The Californian prick could see he was getting nowhere and left.
Somewhere in an office cubicle decorated with comic book merchandising sat Mickey. You could tell he was a big fan of the Force Family, a sixties superhero team published in a more innocent, but also racist, time by Myriad Comics. Mickey’s cube had posters, statues, toys, all featuring the five Force Family members in a variety of poses, facing off against another famous superhero character from another publisher, The Purple Turtle. The Purple Turtle didn’t look happy. And, to be fair, neither did Mickey.
It had been a bad year for Mickey. They’d announced a film version of the Force Family with Eyebrow Studios, but the father, Daddy Stardust, was to be played by Dominic Mint. Mickey knew Dominic was a fine actor, and could even accept a British actor playing the character. The Brits all seemed able to do accents, and if not, they could pretend.
But Mint was black. There was no way to pretend that he wasn’t.
And Mickey was furious.
It wasn’t just Mint was black, he was meant to be the actual father in this family. So what would that make the kids? Why weren’t they being cast as mixed race? Thinking about it just made Mickey’s own face turn puce.
It wasn’t “Forced Casting,” as the Internet – predictably — was calling it. Myriad had also just cancelled the Force Family comic. Online scuttlebutt had it that the head of Myriad had gone toe to toe with Eyebrow Studios over the film rights to Force Family which had been acquired because of a particularly successful hand of cards 20 years ago. It had all gone sour, and Abraham Zimmer informed the rest of Myriad that he didn’t even want to see any images of the Force Family when he walked through his company.
And so, despite some Myriad employees having grown up feeling that they were as much a part of the Force Family as any fictitious figures, they did as they were told. The book was gone — though Myriad managed to tie the cancellation in with summer’s big “Killing Fields” story where all the comic books crossed over and were renamed. Some went on hold. The Force Family found their characters split amongst other books. Daddy Stardust joined The New Invigorators, teen scream queen Hullabaloo went off to space as part of the Cosmic Code, the twins Dazed and Confused had been revealed to be members of the Skewed genetic aberration clique, and Ms. Stardust became a member of the anarchist group The Social Warriors.
Seriously, this matters to a lot of people. Like Mickey, who worked in the insurance claims business. But, today, no one was going to get their insurance payout. Mickey could be sure of that. Oh, there would be appeals, and maybe some other insurance adjuster would be magnanimous. But today no one was going to get a single dime from him, whether their house had burned to the ground or not. He was that angry over what Myriad was doing to the Force Family.
All the Force Family merchandise and licensing also had been cancelled by Myriad. No more toys, no T-shirts, no cartoons for Mickey to buy. Older approved merchandise featuring theFfamily were now very valuable on eBay. It may have surprised Mickey’s co-workers to learn that the contents of his cubicle had suddenly become more valuable than the lease on their office.
But Mickey couldn’t see the upside. He’d never sell them anyway.
Mickey wanted his favorite comic book family back and intact. And there was only one man who could make that happen – Abraham Zimmer, the owner of Myriad Comics. It’s just that Mickey, like almost everybody else in the world, had no idea what Abe looked like.
But he knew someone who did.
A tired, unshaven, hungover Gary Bridges looked at his mobile again. Fifteen messages from Mickey The Troll. It was at a San Dimas Comic-Con so many-years ago that Gary had found himself in the hotel’s smoking area, toking something that until only recently would have gotten him tossed in jail, and first met Mickey who’d given him a copy of The Purple Turtle comic to sign.
Gary hadn’t much to do with the Purple Turtle comic back then, but he did work as an assistant to Simon Dent, a highly leveraged multimillionaire who wanted to make a Purple Turtle movie and had managed to wangle the rights from its publisher, Delicious. And not just the Turtle, but a series of Turtle movies, each playing off this cosmic race of amphibious animals that protected the galaxy, part of a comic book that no one had really heard of. But that didn’t stop anyone any more. And Mickey, as Gary soon discovered, knew more about The Purple Turtle than anybody, even its own publisher.
So Gary took Mickey for a walk around the Convention Center to explain the plan. Gary rather liked finally finding someone who actually wanted to listen to him, even if it were only Mickey. And Gary was a lazy man, so from then on every Purple-related question which Dent passed his way, Gary could delegate to Mickey — then spend the afternoon trying to pick up women with self-esteem issues.
Fast forward 10 years, and it was really happening. Delicious, now owned by The Cyclical Group, was making this Purple Turtle movie as their tentpole for the summer. Meanwhile, Gary was expanding the comic book line with more toys to the point that entertainment analysts and media pundits were predicting a massive franchise. Gary was even writing the comic for Delicious according to Simon’s movie sequel plans.
But Gary kept getting messages from Mickey. He hadn’t responded to one for weeks. They were a seemingly endless series of reminders about which belt the Purple Turtle would wear in the movie, why the different earrings worn by the races of Shellions threatened the universe, and exactly how many times the Purple Turtle had gone into hibernation. Gary knew all this by now because he lived and breathed Purple Turtle and no longer needed to run after women. They ran after him. But rather than his phone being filled with messages from Delilah, Jackie or Phyllis asking him to join them for a delightful evening of naughtiness, he saw nothing but Mickey’s texts.
And what was worse, Simon Dent wished him to stay in contact. “It’s people like Mickey we need on our side,” Simon opined one evening. “Get the fans on our side, give them what they want, every jot and tittle.”
Dent wasn’t just English, he was professionally English. Pinky raised, he directed the crowd scene he wanted to see when the movie opened.
“They will come to the film with their friends and family, then stay for another showing. And another one. And another one," Simon instructed. "Fill the film with so much background detail that they won’t be satisfied sitting through just one showing, but six! Or 60!”
And that was why the Purple Turtle included every single character and all the stuff that had ever appeared in the 50 years the comic had been published, even just in a panel or two. The money had been spent on research with teams of archivist poring over every issue and identifying everything and everyone to make sure each was lovingly recreated in pitch perfect CGI.
Sometimes, Gary wondered if the company should have spent more on the screenwriter or director, but Dent was adamantly against that. “Superhero movies do not succeed on the basis of the script. Don’t you remember the Deirdre Dresden song in Omniman?” Gary remembered well: that seventies film featured a song as the characters were travelling from one dimension to another. It had rhyme but was without reason. By any objective viewpoint, the script of Omniman was terrible. But no one seemed to care, then or now. It was a classic, and that’s all Simon Dent wanted of this new film.
So Gary texted back Mickey, knowing that for every one message sent he would get 20 back. But he needed something to tell Simon. And he needed Mickey to be on their side.
And yes, Gary wrote to Mickey, he did know what Abraham Zimmer looked like, or at least he thought he did. But why was Mickey asking?
Caitlin Manors listened to Miguel Smith outside the private screening room shouting into his mobile again. That she even had a trailer blew her mind. All she’d made previously was one small film about Roma gypsies fighting with local government, and it had done reasonably well on the festival circuit. And suddenly she was now making a film for Myriad based on one of their seventies blaxploitation comics, Harsh Scythe, and the company execs were reviewing her rough cut. Her previous film had been set in Brooklyn, this film on the Jupiter moon of Europa. Caitlin shook her head in disbelief and counted her lucky stars. Of course, she was sure that directors on big blockbusters made a little more money than she was on this. But she wasn’t complaining, not that anyone could hear.
Miguel was complaining though, and everyone could hear. Apparently the film needed to include guest appearances from a number of other characters soon to be in other Myriad movies, but they hadn’t been cast yet. Or, rather, none of the actors they’d approached had agreed to cut their fees in half yet. Miguel hated having to close the wallet, but it was the Myriad way. They’d made great deals over the years and given chances to many newcomers as a result. But they’d also built up plenty of resentment.
Miguel’s voice grew louder and louder. That was the moment Caitlin knew that Miguel was talking to Abe. She’d never met the CEO, but the effect he had on Miguel was a predictable one. She had to strain to hear. Apparently, Abe was going to screen her rushes to a better known director to try and persuade him to come on board for a film in two year’s time. But first Miguel was to get a teaser made on the cheap to insert at the end of Caitlin’s film.
She sucked the vanilla out of the honeycomb of a Cadbury’s Crunchie her British actors brought back for her and realized it was an even worse day now that Miguel had spoken to Abe.
Mickey came out of the private screening with a tear in his eye. It had been just for him with Gary, Simon and someone from PR in attendance. “I love it,” Mickey gushed, then pleaded. “I want to see it again. When can I see it again?”
Simon smiled. “I think we can manage another screening.”
For Simon, this was the cherry on top. The Purple Turtle had the merchandising, it had the fast food tie-ins, it had the wall-to-wall advertising budget, and now it had the authentic approval of the biggest Purple Turtle fan they knew. Simon felt the pressure lift, his 15-year odyssey almost over.
But Mickey had something else to ask of Simon. “Gary told me you know what Abraham Zimmer looks like.”
“Well, my wife goes to the same hospital as he does, but.. I’m sorry, Mickey, he’s a very private man.”
“Did someone ask for Abe?” It was Miguel, who’d just arrived to go into his company’s film screening.
Simon and Gary instantly bristled. The enemy, in their own camp? The danger of using these for-hire screening rooms was the synchronicity. Sure, it was fine for them to bump into a well-known director and start a conversation about how they simply must do a new film about The Whizzer that they remembered fondly from their childhood one day. But there was also always the chance of bumping into the men from Myriad.
Simon tried to change the subject. “We were just giving a special screening to our good friend Mickey. We’ll be leaving now.”
Miguel smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mickey. I know your type well. Let me guess: you blame Abe for all the ills in comicdom, right? Canning the Force Family? You know that was all him, right?”
Mickey was trembling now. “I read that on the Internet.”
“Well, if you really want to have it out with Abe, he’s right around that corner.”
No one stopped Mickey as he stepped forward. Miguel even got out of his way, still smiling. And then Mickey saw his prey. Abe looked like a skeleton in a suit, but a skeleton that was more surprised to see Mickey there than the other way around.
But Mickey was always prepared. Dropping the Purple Turtle satchel from his shoulder, he reached in and slipped on the Hullabaloo Hands that usually hung from his cubicle, shifted his body weight onto his left foot and pushed off with his right.
Because whatever love Mickey had for the Purple, his hatred for those who would destroy the Family superseded it. Raising the Hullabaloo Hands, he began to scream.
Abe looked up, his thoughts full of contracts, and saw a sweaty, overweight, bearded, spectacled lump of a man lunging towards him with large oversized fists. Had the Harsh Scythe screening started early? Had he wandered into a comic convention accidentally? Again?
Gary ran forward and tried to stop Mickey en route. What was this fool doing? Mickey was in the screening room under Gary’s signature and could get him blacklisted for whatever might be about to happen.
Abe no longer felt the gun against his chest. Instead, it was in his hand, raised, held, pointed. And Abe was no longer in a screening room hallway, but somewhere half a world away amid the sounds, the screams, the explosions — all the noise he remembered so well and the fear dripping down his legs.
Then Mickey fell to the ground as Gary and Simon dropped to their knees to stem the flow of blood from Mickey’s throat.
Mickey had breath for one last word.
Family Force, the Myriad Studios movie, took in a paltry $20 million in theatrical grosses on opening weekend. Everyone hated it, even the people who had made it, and everyone had someone to blame. But because of the controversy involving their ex-CEO, Myriad Comics declared they would relaunch the comic book after all. With a new racially diverse cast. And a newly drawn Daddy Starburst who looked suspiciously like Dominic Mint. With newly drawn mixed-race children.
The Purple Turtle did even worse, taking in a mere $12 million. The sequels were cancelled, the fast food meal deals binned, and Simon Dent declared bankruptcy. Gary went around telling everybody that he’d known what was wrong with the movie all along, and as the writer of the comic he could have fixed it — if only they’d listened to him.
Mickey got a very sizeable payoff which he spent buying up all the liquidated Purple Turtle merchandise he could get his hands on. He has no voice box any more, but he never used it much anyway, and he relishes the new online fame. There’s even talk of a porn film role.
Caitlin walked off Harsh Scythe citing diabetes complications. Miguel didn’t. He took full control of the studio in Abe’s absence and had bigger plans – and more zeroes to add to his contract negotiations. The film is postponed for a year while they cast people who Miguel’s wife has actually heard of. There is currently a hashtag suggesting actors.
Abraham Zimmer is still on the run, location unknown. All remaining records of him have been removed by a mixture of legal takedown demands, North Korean hackers and several suspicious fires.