New York Comic Con, Set-up:
Erica, owner of feminist publisher Geek Girl Comics, hauls and unpacks boxes of glossy comics. They have that unvarnished, virginal paper smell. She likes feeling the pages as she lifts them out of the boxes and arranges them on her table. She imagines each issue’s future reader, how the oils in her fingertips will blend with the ink as she turns the page.
Next to her booth, a burly man and his crew slice boxes open with box cutters they wield like swords. They pull out colorful bags of cookies and stack them a foot high on two tables in their much-desired corner booth. Erica reads the banner two workers unfurl and hang for all to see: “Roy’s Cookie-pocalypse.”
Erica dresses as The Menstrual Beast, the eponymous character from one of Geek Girl’s most popular comics: a mild-mannered freelance graphic designer becomes a misogynist-fighting werewolf once a month. Erica sweats inside her wolf mask, furry body suit, and matching Sarah Lawrence sweatpants and sweatshirt. She watches crowds of costumed convention attendees shuffle past her booth. Crowds move like herded cattle through the aisles, eyes glazed over from the fluorescent lights of the convention center combined with the spectacle every booth has to offer.
Roy’s Cookie-pocalypse attracts many of the wandering superheroes and villains. They give away samples of cookies with names like Peanut Butter Pow Pow, Epic Chocolate Chip and Bacon, and Kick Ass Oatmeal Raisin. Occasionally, people stop to talk to Erica—costumes range from colorfully-wigged anime characters, every sexed-up version of comic book superheroes from Rogue to Black Widow, and the occasional throwback to a movie from the eighties.
One teen boy stops at Erica’s booth jovially adorned in nothing but boxers covered with classic Archie comic strips.
“Hey, got any free stuff?”
“No, but we’re selling all our comics at a discount this weekend,” she shouts through her wolf mask.
“Oh, okay,” he answers, his body half-turned away and revealing a back covered in a constellation of acne. He strolls a few steps over to the cookie booth and eagerly paws at the samples.
Erica’s eyes follow after him and stop when they reach the women working behind the counter, who are dressed in camouflaged short shorts and thigh high brown leather boots. They wear button-up shirts that are mostly buttoned down to reveal electric blue bras that match the berets sitting on top of their heads. There are four of them, refilling samples and selling boxes of cookies to customers with eyes as hungry as their stomachs. The same man from the day before, presumably Roy, sits down behind the booth, adorned in camo pants, a General’s jacket, and a mouth agape as though it is missing a cigar.
New York Comic Con, Day Two:
The hired talent at Roy’s Cookie-pocalypse dress in camo body suits, so tight, Erica swears she can make out every mole protruding from their arms and backs. For her part, Erica wears a striped shirt and glasses in homage to Mo from Dykes to Watch Out For. Nobody but her intern realizes she is in costume.
At the end of the day, with only a few stragglers left disobeying the dimmed lights and the 7:00 exhibit hall closing time, Roy wanders to the wobbly railing that serves as the border between his booth and Erica’s.
“Half-way point. How’re you doing?”
“Okay,” Erica lies, fingering the stack of Suffragettes (a comic about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony re-imagined as superheroes) that has yet to shorten. “You?”
“Pretty much killing it. The thing is, you gotta have freebies. Freebies and girls,” he explains. He looks between Erica and her intern and adds, “Like girls girls.” He looks one ass slap away from managing a strip club.
New York Comic Con, Day Three:
Erica dresses as Jabba the Slut. This character comes from nowhere but her desire to wear a Jabba the Hutt costume with a Slave Leia bikini over top it. The large polyester costume with its worm-like tail restricts her movement and makes going to the bathroom particularly annoying, but she appreciates hiding behind the mask and observing the crowds.
She watches two girls pause in front of her booth to pose for a picture. She doesn’t recognize their costumes, which mostly consist of poorly applied body paint, smeared to reveal the naturally pale skin beneath it.
“We’ve never been this popular,” Erica overhears one of the girls whisper as they walk away.
The Cookie Girls seem less enthusiastic about crushing massive cookies down to the appropriate serving size. They are adorned in camo leotards today (it’s as though Roy is also the proprietor of a line of naughty military uniforms; Erica imagines its name to be Patriotic Sluts).
One girl breaks from the pack to introduce herself to her unpopular neighbor: “Hi, I’m Sandy. Are you having a good time?”
“Sure. It’s interesting. My first time.”
“Mine too!” She says with an enthusiastic bounce that knocks her beret off balance.
“How long have you worked for Roy?”
“Oh, just since the start of Comic Con. The girls and me aren’t full-time employees. We’re event spokesmodels. Companies hire us for conventions, car shows, things like that. This one’s a trip.”
“I agree. So you work as a spokesmodel all the time?”
“Yeah. When I’m not working the shows, I’m a writer.”
“Yeah. I write a lifestyle blog. Things like tips for first-time Tinder users, how to tell if your gym is ratchet, and why I think dating is seriously lacking because everyone let go of traditional values–like just let the guy pick up the check, okay?”
“Hey Sandy, come over here,” Roy calls from in front of the booth. “Chewbacca wants to take a picture with y’all.”
Sandy adjusts her beret and her cleavage and runs to join the other girls as they stand on either side of the hulking behemoth.
New York Comic Con, Day Four:
Erica has foregone a costume today, knowing that she will spend the evening packing up boxes and carrying them back to her studio apartment. She wears sneakers and a Pussy Riot t-shirt. The Cookie Girls, wearing black string bikinis and their berets, do not look like they would survive in the harsh environs of Roy’s dystopian cookie wasteland.
Erica leans back in her chair and sketches Roy, still in camo pants with the addition of a black t-shirt that says “The Destroyer.”
“Looking a little quiet over there,” a voice says from above.
Erica looks up and sees Roy leaning over the railing like an unwanted neighbor. She sits up and asks, “How are you?”
“Better now that you’re smiling.” He says with his own smug smile in response.
Erica’s lips curl under. “Really? Whether or not I smile has an effect on your mood?”
“It does. Pretty girls should smile.”
“This is my face,” she says with an encompassing gesture. “I choose what to do with it. What you do with your face is your business, and what I do with my face is my business.”
Roy harumphs in response and mumbles something about using the “little boy’s room.”
Sandy watches him walk away and says, “Wow, you really told him off. What if he would have been somebody who wanted to buy something? Roy says we’re not allowed to say anything negative to our customers. Negative attitudes equal negative sales,” Sandy repeats in a sing-song voice.
“I’ll settle for no sales then,” Erica answers, slouching in her seat. She spends the rest of the afternoon finishing her sketch–a scene of her comic book creation, Geek Girl, in battle with Roy the Destroyer. The dialogue bubble above her head reads, “Don’t tell me to smile.” In his booth, Roy can be heard telling the Cookie Girls about his idea for next year’s booth: “Two words: stripper pole.” Erica puts the finishing touches on her sketch, stars and squiggly lines around Roy’s head to indicate a knockout.
At the end of the day, after she and the intern have packed up the unsold comics, Erica tucks the picture inside an issue of “The Amazing Geek Girl #1: Geek Girl Vs. Wage Inequality.”
“Hey,” she calls to Sandy. “It was nice being booth neighbors with you. Have a comic.”
Sandy accepts the comic book and holds it open with one hand while she rubs at her shin with the other. “Thank you. I don’t usually read comic books, but this is cool. I’ll definitely take this one home. Here, have a cookie.” She extends her arm over the railing and hands Erica a Kapow Chocolate and Potato Chip.
On her way out, Erica drops her uneaten cookie in the garbage. She hopes that Sandy won’t do the same with the comic. She leaves the convention center dragging a dolly of boxes. As she waits for a cab amongst the chaos, she wishes she could fly off into the night like her alter ego, tortoise-shell glasses on and fighting ignorance one comic book at a time.