A smooth black line appeared on the screen connecting what was a hand grasping a guitar. Bryan drew closer to the screen and studied the line, too stiff. Bryan began propping his tablet up as his stylus pointed towards the eraser tool. As Bryan began to eye a new line for the hand his attention began to move towards the carton of ice cream sandwiches he had in the cooler next to him. A fifth ice cream sandwich couldn’t hurt, he thought as he reached for the sugary splendor. As he grabbed the sandwich, Bryan looked up and saw the knob of his apartment door begin to twist and turn. “Oh god. Not now! She’s early,” whined Bryan.
Appearing from the door came out a blonde haired girl in a black sweater. Clearly, the sweater was a symbol of the death of Bryan’s Friday night enjoyment at least that’s how Bryan felt. In reality, the only reason she was wearing that sweater was because the rest of her clothes were in the wash so she was stuck in that sweater and yesterday’s jeans. Behind her was a small man in a green jacket with small brown hair. “And here’s my apartment,” said the woman. “That little shut-in over there is my roommate Bryan,” the woman began walking inside the apartment.
Bryan just went with the flow waved his hand at the man and said, “Hello, Brenda’s friend.” The man began to enter the apartment following her and noticed Bryan’s drawing set up, which wasn’t hard to notice as it took up a fourth of the main room. Consisting of a desk that sat on a slant like a giant easel propped up by Bryan’s old art school text books. A giant wad of papers underneath with a surge protector with several lamps and a tablet charger plugged in sat to his left and a single stool for Bryan to sit on.
Brenda moved forward and motioned to Bryan’s desk, “Don’t mind his mess. He’s an independent comic artist or something. All he does is watch cartoons and make comic books for a living. He’s a giant man-child.”
The man laughed and asked, “You ever work on anything I would know?”
Bryan emotionally rebutted, “Guitar Samurai. That’s my only independent work. Everything else is commissioned. Really, I want to work on my own cartoon show.”
The man laughed, “Well, you keep on keeping on guy.”
Brenda took out a bottle of vodka from the fridge and began to motion her guest to her bed room. “I’ll be right back after I get my room in order.” The man smiled and watched her leave.
Bryan seeing the venerable man in his apartment decided he needed to pounce on the opportunity. “You know she’s asexual right?” The man looked back in confusion. “Well, really, what kind of woman would room with a man like myself, live in such close quarters and resist all urges to hook up. Really, she’s just too friendly, and I can see you’re a man of physical taste, so really, if you want to avoid an awkward night I’d go home. She’ll understand.” Bryan began to move all his attention towards the tablet again and murmured, “Happens all the time.”
The man began to shift his gaze toward her direction again and looked at Bryan as he slowly moved closer to the door. “I knew she seemed too good without drinking too much. Last time I go to pick up women at Gadsby’s.” At the moment of hearing “Gadsby’s” Bryan began to let out a smile, Gadsby was a stupid sports bar that only older women went to pick up men. The man then left the apartment and said, “She has my number so she’ll still be able to call me, so technically I’m not just a sleazy guy right? I mean can you let her know I got a stomach ache and left? Please buddy.”
Bryan motioned him to leave and replied, “No you’re good she’ll just laugh at the miss understanding. You’re not a sleaze, you perfect angel you.” The man left as Bryan began to laugh out loud at his rhetoric winning him a much deserved night of peace.
Brenda walked into the main room from the side bedroom and saw the man was gone and asked, “Where the hell is Tim?” Bryan began to laugh. Brenda’s eyes lit up in anger, “you didn’t!”
Bryan laughed, “He was a sleaze. You don’t need that kind of man again. The last thing you need is a one night stand with a dude-bro who can’t appreciate the concept of a guitar wielding badass who travels feudal Japan.”
Brenda began to shout, “you got rid of him because he wasn’t interested in your stupid comic!?”
Bryan yelled back, “No, because the last thing you need are these constant one night stands with different strangers. Giving them fake numbers so they can call you back and you can remain emotionally distant from men. It’s been a year of this, just cry about your break up and stop drowning your sorrows in sex!”
Brenda ran into her room as she yelled, “Asshole! Who do you think you are? Just because you have a comic and kickass job doesn’t mean you know better than everybody.”
As her door slammed Bryan’s eyes perked up. That was the first time she’s ever considered his job as anything but nerdy and or stupid.
Everything began to become quiet. Bryan hated silence, so he began to turn on the music on his tablet. If anything could salvage this night it was the sweet melodies of “The Shallow Sisters.” Bryan began to question to himself why the band was called “The Shallow Sisters” if they were all guys. Musicians are weird.
After about two hours past Bryan began to hear the sound of Brenda’s door opening as he finished his latest panel of “Guitar Samurai.” Bryan began to look up and saw Brenda enter the room with makeup smudges on her face from what looked to be tears. Bryan took back a moment to realize the situation, for once in her life she took his advice. Truly scientist and historians will study the events that transpired here tonight, thought Bryan. He just needed to play his cards incredibly careful for the next hour or two. Emotions were coming his way and he wasn’t looking forward to them.
Brenda looked straight at him in her poor position and sobbed, “You’re right.” Bryan’s mind began to race with comments and retorts, but his male to female interactions senses warned him to shut up. “How long have you been thinking this,” she asked as she began to collapse on the couch next to Bryan’s drawing set up. “When have you thought of me as someone who uses sex to cover up my problems?”
“Ever since I moved in.”
“I said, ‘ever since the first new guy came in.’”
Brenda began to sigh and looked towards Bryan as he continued drawing. “You’re not very social are you?” Bryan stood silent at that question. “I mean, every time we have a party here you go to your room and work. Every time I go to a party you just stay here and just watch cartoons on tv and draw. Sometimes I feel like I’m your only friend besides those ice cream sandwiches.”
“It’s called a work ethic to end all work ethics. I didn’t go to Cal Arts, so if I’m going to make a cartoon I got to work harder,” murmured Bryan as he started a new page of “Guitar Samurai.”
Brenda began to bring out her phone and looked up the cartoon making process. “You must really want it don’t you,” said Brenda. Bryan nodded yes. After a few minutes of searching Brenda found an article and began to skim it aloud, “It says here some convention called Ditkocon does cartoon creation.”
Bryan laughed, “No, they fund people to make pilots for cartoons in some big over the top contest. Tons of people go there, it’s a cluster of bad ideas and poor hygiene, it’s infamously one of the largest animation and art conventions in North America.”
“Why don’t you go,” questioned Brenda as she looked at the website for Ditkocon, “This year it’s at the state line. Only a couple hours away.”
Bryan began to grab in his cooler for his sixth ice cream sandwich and replied, “Easy, I don’t have the motivation for spending money to wait in line with some sweaty neck beards.”
Brenda took Bryan’s excuse and thought to herself how Bryan’s never going to go anywhere if he just rather chased away all the guys in her life. Her finger began to hover over the pre-order button for tickets as she looked at the date of the convention. She could raise the ticket fees in the amount of time between then and the convention. Bryan began to put away his drawing tools and tablet and stood up stretching with the ice cream sandwich hanging from his mouth. “Well, enough about me, I though women were more interested in their own emotions, don’t you have tear marks on your face? Let’s talk about the stupid ex that sent you on a yearlong sexual conquest.” Brenda began to think to herself, Bryan may be asshole but he was pretty good in his core.
Months began to pass until one foggy Saturday Bryan found himself asleep at his desk. Bryan surveyed his room and realized he had fallen asleep drawing. He began to check his e-mail for any notices from his publisher, nothing. The best kind of publisher e-mails. Bryan began to walk around the apartment and looked for Brenda. She was nowhere to be seen. That was the worst kind of Brenda. Bryan began to make his way to his small room and was shocked to find a letter on his bed.
Bryan began to read the simple words “pack your clothes.” Bryan began debating whether he would listen to this mysterious letter. Just as he reached a conclusion the apartment door opened and Brenda’s voice erupted, “Are you packed up?”
Bryan, realizing tomfoolery was afoot, began to meet Brenda out in the main room. “What’s going on?”
Brenda flashed tickets in his face. “We’re going to Ditkocon.”
Bryan looked in shock and asked, “Why the hell do you want to go I thought you hated animation?”
Brenda began to retaliate with, “Well, maybe these last few months I’ve had a change of heart.”
Bryan tried to digest this revelation and responded, “Is that why I saw you sticking out your head while I was watching those cartoons?”
“Are you ever going to pack,” asked Brenda, “don’t forget your cartoon pitch material.” Bryan stood still for a second and began to speed through the apartment to get his stuff. After grabbing a duffel bag from his room Bryan dived into his pile of papers under his desk and revealed a large binder underneath.
Bryan ran forward and said, “It’s not fully finished on paper, but I can finish it in the car ride.” Brenda smiled at seeing this much life in Bryan. He’s usually so dull and connected to his art, but somehow he’s like a kid on Christmas. Who knew he would have such a change of heart about Ditkocon, maybe he just needed a push in order to stand in lines with sweaty neck beards?
As the two began to leave their apartment with the sound of their landlord’s voice echoed through the hallways screaming, “G-9 is that you? Where’s my rent money?!” Fortunately, the two were not room G-9, however unfortunately, the landlord’s wife stood waiting at the exit door. The large Russian mail order bride stood at the door and grabbed Bryan’s collar as the two tried avoiding her in an escape out the door. The large woman then began to drag Bryan as he just stayed in shock crying silent tears holding his hands out for Brenda to save him. Brenda stood there in shock in fear as she saw her friend kidnapped before her eyes vanish behind the winding staircase of the apartment building. The large woman was Anna a newly ordered bride from the coldest and cheapest parts of Russia for their lonely landlord. She had not gotten acquainted to the faces of all the tenants in the apartment. Her large muscular structure had every tenant on edge and everyone was afraid of her, especially her new husband as she became the new queen bee of the apartment upon arrival.
Bryan felt his body slide across the unforgiving stairs. He looked up to his captor and begged, “Uh… Anna I got no rent money due… So, uh, can I-“Anna stopped and threw him downstairs as he caught himself on the stair railing. “Quiet, sissy man!’’ She shouted as she ran back down to grab him again. Bryan began to try and run, a skinny guy like him couldn’t hold up against a beast of her size it was do or die. As he began running down the stairs to Brenda and escape Anna, Bryan was pounced on by Anna. The woman held him down with her immense weight, grabbed the skin of his neck like he was a new born puppy and started pulling him up the stair to her husband.
Brenda began running up the stairs to the sight of Bryan being dragged upstairs again and began to yell at Anna, “listen, you psychopath, I don’t know how you handled men at the mother land but get your vodka stained hands off of him.”
Anna turned back with flailing nostrils and her red pig tails standing on edge and yelled, “little woman think she prettier than Anna?”
Brenda stood back in a blank gaze asking, “What?”
Anna threw Bryan at Brenda as his thin stick like body smashed against her tumbling both down stairs. Anna began to yell in a harsh demonic like voice, “Back in the mother land Anna had charming husband and bore to him six healthy children. Anna was great mother and great wife, until husband left Anna for Russian ballerina. Former husband never had more children with ballerina, but Anna managed to get on mail order bride service. Who is prettier blonde girl? You or the mail order bride that only lost to ballerina, considered height of all beauty. You only bring drunken lovers you can’t get them to stay.” As Anna began to regain her basic senses she realized she had lost focus on the two and they had escaped during her monologue.
Outside Brenda and Bryan began running into Brenda’s car. “Drive, drive, drive woman, for the love of Cal Art’s famous cartoonist alumni drive,” yelled Bryan as he got in his seat. Brenda ignited the engine and drove off in to the streets. As they drove off, Bryan looked in the rear view mirror and saw Anna’s figure leave the apartment building. Bryan sighed at the relief in knowing they were safer in a moving vehicle than in the apartment building. Bryan looked at Brenda and sighed, “For as bad as all your past lovers were they will never beat that.” Brenda looked back at him and said, “Of course, they weren’t. That thing back there was the whole reason for the cold war.” Bryan laughed and began to take out his cartoon pitch and work on it.
Hours seemed to pass as the two grew closer and closer to Ditkocon. Eventually, the two ran out of good radio stations and resorted to using a mix CD Bryan had created of “The Shallow Sisters.” After listening to the CD for three times straight, Brenda began to look at Bryan and asked, “Why do you like these guys again?”
Bryan without looking away from his work answered, “Elementary, my dear Brenda. I just do.” Brenda could tell he was too invested into his own little world to care about her at the moment. Brenda began to motion her arm towards to eject button of the CD player. Just as she was getting near the button she felt a bright flash of pain as Bryan slapped her hand. She reflected her hand back in pain and eyed him in shock. Brenda then began to pull over to the side of the road and stopped the car. Bryan looked up from his work and stared her in the eyes with an intimidating glance. Brenda returned the look back at him. The car became filled with a large tension of bitter competition. The sound of “The Shallow Sisters” became eclipsed by the sound of each other breathing heavily. Bryan began to shake his glance as his eyes slowly began moving towards his work. Brenda could see she had him on the ropes and began moving her hand closer and closer to the eject button on the CD player. Bryan faced a moment of panic as he couldn’t keep his visual offense. Brenda began growing a sly smile and as her finger pressed on the button. Bryan whipped his head back to his work with a brief reply of, “fine.”
As Brenda spent five minutes going through stations on the radio until settling on an Alternative Rock station and began driving off. Bryan recoiled to his work in defeat. As the song on air began to wind down the voice of the DJ came bursting into the car, “And that ladies and gentlemen was November’s Children with ‘Symphony of Fleas” now for a band that opened up for them the other day back at Boar’s House it’s The Shallow Sisters with ‘49 Dollars.’” After the opening notes of the song began Bryan began reaching his arms towards the heavens in divine embrace. Brenda took a quick look at his sudden motions and sighed in defeat.
The rest of the car ride remained uneventful. After another hour of driving Brenda snapped at Bryan for his attention and motioned him towards the convention center they were nearing. Bryan looked at it and said, “Wow, I thought it would take us a couple more pages to get here.” Brenda looked back and asked, “What?!” Bryan motioned his pitch to her, “my cartoon pitch, I wanted a couple more pages done when we got this far.” Brenda pushed her gaze away and began to look for a place to park.
Eventually, the two arrived in the big entrance line to the convention hall and prepared their tickets. Brenda began looking at her phone and noted, “It’s seven fifteen right now the pitches begin at eight. That gives us some time to look around.” Bryan began to look away at all the people who dressed up for the convention. Stood before them was a sea of men dressed as power fantasy after power fantasy, women in attention seeking outfits and the rare and elusive guy crossing dressing. Bryan was awestruck. This place really was full of animation and pop art culture nerds just like him! As Bryan finished observing the culture of the convention, a large man with a thick neck beard dressed as Connor the Space Barbarian passed him. Bryan recoiled and changed his mind on them being just like him. He detested facial hair.
After just fifteen minutes of standing in line to get in the convention Brenda and Bryan arrived into the convention hall. Brenda began to search the main hall and saw nothing but fan boys, geeks and the strange littering around. Brenda turned to Bryan and asked, “Any big seminar or cartoonist of interest in here?” Bryan began to shift his eyes around and as he was about to speak a large voice began to rise above the crowd.
“Look over there! It’s Kraig Marcus!” Everyone turned to face the source of the voice, a young man in an elf costume pointing towards a lanky thin man with blonde hair and glasses in a jean jacket. The lanky man began to run from everyone’s eyes as people began to walk his way.
Brenda looked over to Bryan and asked, “Who’s Kraig Marcus?”
Bryan began to look away from the crowd and answered, “He’s an up and coming artist. He works on a couple tv shows right now and he got his start from a previous Ditkocon. He’s kind of a legend around here. I’m surprised there’s not a larger reaction to him being here.” As Bryan said that he began to notice a large group of people stampeding inside at the announcement of Kraig Marcus’s appearance. The two ran in separate directions from each other as people invaded their personal space. Bryan began to get as far away from the crowd as far as possible. Seizing the opportunity to gain distance Bryan observed his locations and found a small art book shop near him and began to escape inside hoping Brenda would put two and two together.
Brenda repulsed away from the neck bearded crowd and realized Bryan had disappeared from her sight. Not knowing what creepy deprived soul would come to her without Bryan warding off any creepy admirers she began her search.
After about 15 minutes the pitch meetings began. A panel of judges came up to a large table with a key speaker came up to the front with a microphone and began a speech. The speaker cleared his throat and began, “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the crown jewel of Ditkocon. The place where independent creators get a chance to express their views with the world. When this convention was just an idea there was a great cartoonist,” A projection of the cartoonist shown up on the wall behind him. “This man was Ray Ditko he was a graduate from Cal Arts who created several animated series that changed the world of animation. In the animation world you can get anywhere you want with a degree from Cal Arts, But Ray didn’t care that everyone from Cal Arts got an automatic free card to their dreams. Towards the end of his life Ray began developing a fund for creators who were less fortunate than him to come forward and express their creations. Wanting to make it a public event to everyone out there, he got friends and fellow animators Miles Groening and Rex Watterson together and they created Ditkocon as a convention for cartoonists and animators alike to come taste the business. Twenty years later and we still hold true to that message. So without further ado please welcome our judges for this year, Martin Segar the creator of ‘Body Snatchers.’” At the panel table a man in a strange purple suit waved to the audience. “Malcom Kitchen, creator of ‘Connor the space barbarian.’” A short red headed man with a beard waved from the panel. “Robert Moore, writer and artist for the comic ‘Weekends with Satan’ and ‘Sharks on Parade.’” From the panel stood a man with death in his eyes and wickedly long unkempt hair. “And lastly Sarah Splenda writer and creator of ‘Foxtrot Superstar and Everything Wrong with the Universe.’” Behind the panel sat a woman in sunglasses and an “I’m with stupid” shirt who gave the crowd a wave. “Each of our contestants will be paired with one of these professionals discuss their pitches one on one. Each judge will get to choose one pitch they like best and be given funding for a full pilot from our sponsors and partnered animator studio “Straight Lines Studios. So without wasting any time, let’s begin.”
The line of people began to go over to the judges as security rationed them off to individual judges. Brenda could see Bryan from the crowd and unfortunately it looked like he was getting matched with the man that looked like a satanic version of Santa Claus. Everyone watched as some people left the panel smiling and others left crying. Eventually, Bryan came up to the man who probably wasn’t allowed to be near schools for fear of terrifying the children inside. Brenda could only see Bryan’s back as he obstructed the view of the other man’s face. Brenda could feel a little sweat beat down her face.
Up front at the table was Bryan and Robert Moore. Everything going on was being analyzed by Bryan in his head. “Ok,” he thought. “Everything wrong is going wrong, but everything good is going good.”
The second voice in his head began interjecting, “Idiot, no it’s not!”
“We got him to laugh at the premise and he seems to like the character designs.” Robert Moore began to look through Bryan’s portfolio of pitch notes.
He began to look up at Bryan with a death glare that gave him a shiver down his spine. Bryan began to panic in his mind, “ok… ok, we’re are dead. Dead on arrival. Super dead.”
The other voice joined in, “deader than a thanksgiving turkey.”
Robert Moore began to lower the pitch and asked, “You’re the guy who works on that ‘Guitar Samurai’ right?” Bryan’s heart skipped a beat. “The art style from that comic is really prominent in this pitch. Sadly, what I would have done is worked on a unique style just for the pitch. What works in a comic won’t always animate well.”
Bryan felt each syllable of his words echo and throb in his head. Bryan retreated into his head, “We are so screwed!”
The other voice replied, “I know!”
Robert put the pitch closer to his face almost obstructing it, he was studying the lines. Bryan panicked. “He’s checking the lines!’
The other voice screamed back, “Oh sweet mother of Daniel Chong, he’s checking the lines!”
From the audience Brenda saw Bryan and the man exchange a little more dialogue. They shook hands and Bryan began to leave the panel of judges. He was stopped by the speaker from the before and exchanged a couple words with the speaker and he began looking around for Brenda. Brenda got out of her seat as she began to make her way to him.
As Bryan became in ear shot of Brenda she shouted, “Well, how did it go with Satan Claus up there?” Bryan opened up his pitch portfolio and revealed a scrap piece of notebook paper filled with notes on his work by Robert Moore. Most of the notes just happened to be criticisms.
Bryan began to hand Brenda the paper in defeat, “I don’t think I’m getting a call back for funding.” Brenda looked over the notes. Most of the notes weren’t exactly nice or polite to Bryan as an artist.
Brenda gave back the paper and questioned, “So what now?”
Bryan looked to his pitch, “Well, according to the professional up there, I should just stick the comics. Robert apparently knows best.” Bryan began to take out several papers from the binder. “Or you know, I could just rework all the bad stuff and fit it in with the rest of the good stuff from the pitch. Go from mediocre to something more polished.” He then proceeded to take the several papers and threw them away in the trash.
Brenda just looked at him. Then she summoned the curiosity to ask, “Shouldn’t you be devastated?”
Bryan looked back in a blank reply and replied, “Totally, but trust me, this isn’t my first failure. There were a lot of failed comic books before “Guitar Samurai” got published. Failure is just a reason to check your inventory and clean it up a bit.” Bryan started reorganizing his binder and asked, “Can we go home now? I wanna cry into my pillow for a couple hours before starting a new pitch.”
Brenda just looked at him blankly and smiled, “sure, we can even stop for ice cream sandwiches on the way back.”
Bryan immediately replied, “ice cream sandwiches are for winners.”