By Roshita Narasimhan
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The theme for the 47th contest was LGBT Romance.
(CW: outdated terms for transgender people; instance of transphobia)
San Francisco, July, 1974
“Hey, we’re about to close!”
Marcie wasn’t in the mood to deal with yet another customer who didn’t follow the rules. First it was some teenager (probably drug addicted, a lot of them recently) messing up the inventory before leaving. Then, some jerk came in and got into an argument with Albert (her boss) over the recent issue of Masters of Kung Fu and also messing up the inventory. Another long day at the Comics Castle, and she just wanted to go home.
She got a better look at the customer: A rather tall, thin fellow, with sunglasses, a goatee, and an afro. He was wearing the uniform of the Black Panthers, the jacket, the tan pants, everything.
Marcie was seeing more Panthers in the Castro for a while, since the police had started putting on more patrols. President Agnew called it “The War Against the Fifth Column”, and had authorized more funding for police. The SFPD loved this new funding, especially how it allowed them to beat up blacks, gays. She could pass fine, but as a transsexual, she was always on the lookout
The stranger was holding an issue of the New Gods, in its larger, glossy format. He hadn’t opened it yet, but was carefully looking at the cover. Darkseid unleashing a whole horde of parademons at the reader.
The stranger turned. “Oh, sorry, I learned this store was here, and I figured I could get the newest issue here.”
“I see another fan is here.”
“Oh, yeah, this series is great! The whole line is great, really. I’ve been reading Kirby since Fantastic Four, and this is his best work.”
“Yeah, there’s going to be an epic conclusion, if the letter pages are to be believed.”
“Seems like it. A big conclusion, a battle between Orion and Darkseid…”
The two were looking at each other, staring into each other's eyes. Finally, Marie shook her head.
“Lemme ring that up for you.”
She moved back towards the counter and rang up the purchase. The customer leaned onto the counter. She smiled at him as she rang up the comic.
“You know, I have a collection in my apartment. Kirbys, Ditkos, a couple of EC, even a Gold Key or two. If you want to check it out.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
“Lemme leave my address for you to visit.”
“Lamar. Lamar Glover.”
“Marcie. Marcie Anderson.”
The transaction finished, Lamar grabbed the comic, and said, “Nice to meet you, Marcie Anderson.
“He invited you to your home?”
Marcie was cooking some dinner for Esther, her older redhead roommate. She liked to claim that she was the second person to get a sex-change, after Christine Jorgensen. Marcie didn’t know whether to believe her, but Esther was still a delight, with her stories about New York, the Manhattanites (before she was kicked out), and her various liaisons with men.
“Yeah. I don’t know if he was asking me out, but …. I think he might’ve been interested.”
“Then you better take it. You don’t have a great selection going to that damn den. Man-children all around”
“Thanks.” She knew that Esther was fundamentally correct, but didn’t want to admit it.
“You know I’m just saying, you’re a beautiful girl! You deserve the best, and the burnouts who visit that shop aren’t the best.”
“Again, thanks.” Marcie stood in her sweater, long skirt, and messy blonde hair.
“Look, you’re missing the point. You’re beautiful. Is this guy worthy of your time.”
Marcie considered it for a minute before going, “Yes.
“So, visit him, see where it goes.” Esther paused. “But also be careful.”
“I know.” Boy, did she know.
“A comic shop? In the Castro?”
Lamar and Anne sat in the Panther classroom, which was empty. Caricatures of Spiro Agnew and General Westmoreland were drawn on the board, with an explanation on how Agnew’s continued policies in Vietnam defied both international peace agreements and US law. They were in an abandoned building to avoid the clock. Anne-Marie and Lamar took shifts teaching various classes. They were both on their lunch breaks
“And you think she’s…”
“A lady. A different kinda lady, but a lady.”
“Uh-huh. Are you…”
“Ann, you know that! I like all of them, anyone.”
“Hey, I’m not judging. Brother Huey has talked about the need to unify our gay and black brothers.”
“I know. I am unity. All the goddamn colors of the rainbow.”
The two chuckled for a bit.
“Do you think this could go somewhere?”
Lamar stroked his goatee for a bit.
“We’ll see. I’m just showing her some comics.”
“That’s good. Keep at your apartment, keep ‘em away from the kids.”
“Don’t be so sure. I’ll just sneak some into tomorrow’s pamphlets.
The two laughed, but the kids were about to come back and they needed to get back to teaching.
“Oh, Fantastic Four #51!” Marcie pulled up the comic. “One of my favorites.”
“Mine too.” Lamar pulled out another comic. “This is my favorite.”
He pulled out the cover of Fantastic Four #52, with the Black Panther looming over the Fantastic Four.
“I can see why. Do you think the Panthers got the idea from him?”
“Nah, I showed this to some of them, they’d never heard of the Black Panther. He’s real popular at the school though.”
“Yeah, kids love him. The leadership doesn’t. They think a monarch isn’t a good role model.”
Marcie looked over the longboxes. Full of Marvels, DCs, Warrens, ECs, even some Gold Keys, as Lamar said. It was a closet full of comics.
“You give these out to the kids?”
“Well, I let them ‘borrow’ or take the comics. Again, leadership hates it.”
“They think it’ll rot their brains?”
“Pretty much. They want the kids to read only the classics. Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, that stuff. Stan Lee and Neal Adams, not so much.”
“Yeah, I try to tell them about the Montgomery Story.”
“The Montgomery Story?”
“It’s a comic about Dr. King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that. The bus boycott, not that comic. My dad was a bus driver then. Hated it. That racist piece of shit”
“So, you’re from Alabama?”
“Yeah, unfortunately. I left as soon as I could. Got on a greyhound bus and came here when I was 19.”
“You still talk to your family?”
“Of course not. Their ‘son’ died a long time ago.”
“Hm.” Lamar twiddled with a necklace he was wearing. “I don’t really talk to my folks much, but it’s not that bad. They don’t like that I associate with ‘god-hating communists.’”
“Sound like my folks too.”
Marcie and Lamar laughed a little, before getting back to their comics.
It soon became night, and Marcie decided to go home. After going over Lamar’s collection, they had talked politics (the recent arrest of the last member of the Manson Family, some 5 years after Lynette Forman shot and killed Richard Nixon), pop culture (they discussed the transsexual on All in the Family and Good Times), music (Marcie had never heard Marvin Gaye before) and some local politics (Marcie was considering joining the campaign staff for Harvey Milk, Lamar disparaged the response to the Panthers by the SFPD)
“I really enjoyed spending time with you.” Marcie said as she stood in the doorway. “I hope to do it some other time.”
“Yeah.” Lamar stared at Marcie. He stared at her smile, her big blue eyes, her big blonde hair. As she closed the door, Lamar made a snap decision.
“Wait!” Marcie stopped, and opened the door a little.
“I… don’t want you to go.”
Marcie looked at him, and in an instant, knew what she had to. After all, she didn’t want to leave either.
She ran back inside the apartment, and hugged Lamar, locking lips.
It was a very long night….
Oakland, August 1975
Lamar and Marcie sat up in bed, naked. They were transfixed on the television. President Spiro Agnew was being led away from the White House in handcuffs.
“.... As President Agnew is being arrested, we’re getting reports that Vice-President Rockefeller is being flown back into Washington DC to be sworn…” Walter Cronkited crackled on.
“Never thought I’d seen this.” Lamar clicked before taking a drink of water.
“Me neither.” Marcie watched as Agnew was loaded onto a car.
“The shit he pulled in Vietnam should get him arrested, not some obscure tax stuff.”
Marcie lit up a cigarette. “Well, they had to get rid of him somehow. If it’s this or his war crimes, fine.”
“It’s bullshit, is all.” Lamar got out of bed, and started getting dressed. “I’m late. Some vets are speaking at the school, and then Brother Fred is going to speak about the impeachment.”
Lamar raised an eyebrow at her. “ Don’t you need to go too? Isn’t Senator Moscone close to winning?”
“He is, but I’m off today. And Al says that someone will cover for me at Comics Castle.”
“Alright. Say, a bunch of the Rainbow Coalition is having a party to celebrate the impeachment. You want to come?”
“I don’t know….”
“You’ll be safe.”
“I think I’m fine.”
Lamar sighed. “Suit yourself.”
As he kissed her and left, Marcie grabbed the glasses and headed to the kitchen. She was trying to move in for longer than could be needed, merge their collections of clothes and comics. She put on some Airplane, took a puff, and relaxed.
She noticed a copy of the Montgomery Story and the newest issues of Kamandi and OMAC. Lamar had dug the former out to show her and she got a copy of the latter two from the shop. She stared at the two and in her heightened state, she began to get some ideas….
Lamar and Marcie greeted Anne as she walked into the apartment. Anne was still wearing her Rainbow Coalition uniform, which was the old Black Panthers uniform with a rainbow badge. Lamar and Marcie were wearing casual wear, a yellow and blue sweater respectively with jeans.
They were reading a comic called The Hunger Dogs. A chaotic cover, featuring Darkseid and Himon battling with the parademons, with Orion in the background.
“Oh, is that the comic Lamar was very excited about?”
“Yeah, it’s the end!” Lamar mumbled.
“Of the New Gods!” Marcie piped in.
“Okay.” She couldn’t really distinguish this from Casper or Superman or the Hulk or whatever else.
The two put down the comic, marking the page, and sat on the couch with Anne.
“So, congrats on the Moscone victory!”
“Thanks! I know you don’t like him, but I appreciate it.”
“I never said that! Just that he wasn’t enough, we need bigger changes in the world than City Hall could provide.”
“And she gets that,” Lamar interjected.
“I know…. But anyways, how is everything else? Marcie’s getting a new job at City Hall?”
“Eh, no. I have a new venture in mind. I even quit Comics Castle.”
“Oh, this should be interesting.”
“I’m not leaving comics, though. In fact, I had a great idea a while ago. I was thinking, there were two types of comics that were sold at the Comics Castle. There were the mainstream genre comics. Your Tarzans, your Spider-Mans, your Romances. Most of it at least entertaining, fun, great worldbuilding. And there are your undergrounds. At the Castro, you have people like Alice Kominsky and Howard Cruse and Trina Robbins, who draw for the gay audiences. Those are pretty personal and all pretty relevant. Features people that aren’t shown in those mainstream comics”
Ann couldn’t follow any of this (again, Caspar, Superman), but Marcie was so convincing at what she was talking about that she couldn’t help but pay attention.
“So, I’m thinking, why can’t we have both? Why can’t we infuse the social relevancy of stuff from Kitchen Sink and the entertainment of Marvel? Make something not mainstream nor underground?”
“Look, I don’t understand any of this.”
“What’s she’s saying,” Lamar interjected. “Is that she’s going to start her own comic company.”
“Yeah, Albert’s got connections to some hippie presses, and he said if I can write and draw my own book, he could get them to print some copies.”
“And you support this, Lamar?”
“I told you about the Montgomery Story. I’m thinking we can do real-life stories like that and genre stories. Make both entertaining and educational. Help out the cause by making kids actually want to read it. We could do the stories of James Baldwin, Paul Robeson, those guys. And some black and gay superheroes wouldn’t hurt either, if they want more adventures.”
“Wouldn’t hurt for us either.” Marcie laughed
“Huh. Congrats.” Anne was uncomfortable as Lamar happily hugged and kissed Marcie.
The three talked into the night (talking about the withdrawal from Vietnam, President Rockefeller’s poor polls otherwise, the arrest of former councilman Dan White, and if Harvey Milk would run for mayor after Moscone), though Lamar began to notice Anne’s poor mood.
Finally, Anne had to leave. Marcie said goodbye, and left for her room. Anne left the apartment, but Lamar chased after her.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“What do you mean? I’m fine.”
“I saw you all night. You clearly weren’t fine.”
“No, it’s nothing.”
“Anne,” Lamar lowered his voice. “We’ve been friends a very long time.”
“Very long time.”
“You can tell me if something is wrong.”
“It’s just… I don’t know, I thought that maybe this would’ve become something.”
“You and m…. I thought we had a connection, and now you’re dating someone else, and you might be…”
“Might be what?”
“I told you, all the damn colors! All the colors! And even if that weren’t the case, Marcie is a woman.”
“Really? Last I checked…”
“Last you checked, what? You saw her dick? You’ve seen it?”
“Well, you have!”
“I can’t talk about this.”
“You want to go out with that freak, fine, but…” Anne sputtered off as she realized what she had said.
“Get out.” Lamar just said in a deep growl.
Anne didn’t say anything, but slowly walked away.
“Is that supposed to be….”
Esther stared at the unfinished page, Marcie sitting in front of it as she finished the pencils with a tall figure with black hair and sunglasses, wearing a suit.
“It’s just a model for now. After what happened…. I thought it might be relevant.”
“Think about it. What Jonestown was, it’s the same as what Hitler did. What Mussolini did. Franco, Stalin. Hell, George Wallace and now Pat Robertson are trying to do the same. Making a cult.”
“Huh. And it’s just Jim Jones?”
“Well, I use the visual shorthand, but it’s different. He’s also a cult leader with a following”
“And this is for…”
“The Young Gods. The kinds of Gods that appear in the Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu, what have you, myths, but adapted for a modern age.”
“Oh, I like that.” She loved her some mythology. Or some statues.
“So, what else is going on here?”
Marcie put down the pencil, and gets up to show her friend around.
“We have a few divisions”, Marcie was using a euphemism to describe the three other artists who were working on other titles.
“Larry” a black man wearing a t-shirt,” is working on The Garbageman. A gay soldier/barbarian in a homophobic world. Jenny,” short haired person wearing a vest with a peace sign, “is doing Libertias, a Spanish Civil War comic, and Jaime,” a young woman in jeans and another vest “is doing Gay Romance.”
“Well, I don’t know much comics, but this operation looks pretty impressive.”
“Thanks, we sell these over to Denis Kitchen. He’s a big hippie comics publisher, and I don’t think he gets it, but he’s giving us a wide distribution deal.”
“And what’s your boyfriend doing?”
Lamar was hunched over on a desk, attempting to figure something out.
“He’s doing the other side of our work.”
“What would that be?”
“Pamphlets.” Lamar took one out, unfolded it, showing a short comic strip with two people talking. “For the Peoples’ Party.”
“I heard about that. You’re working for them?”
“Well, we’re working with them. Helping their cause with our skills.”
“You ready to do this?”
Lamar looked at Marcie, with her white dress, going down to her knees. He hadn’t worn a suit for ten years, and he shifted in it.
They could never have a traditional wedding. Marcie’s family was a non-starter, and Lamar had stopped talking to his father, who was erratic and angry following the death of his beloved wife and the fact his son was “sinning in the eyes of God”.
“I am ready. Let’s do this.”
The two entered the courtroom. They both knew that, no matter what the courts or “God” had to say about it, they were husband and wife, no matter what.
“And we will continue to fight for the working people. Men, women, gays, blacks, Hispanics, we fight for them all. President Glenn had promised a great change when he came to the White House, but has failed to deliver! We will fight to ensure our rights…”
As Fred Hampton continued to speak at the convention, preparing to give an endorsement of Jesse Jackson and George Moscone for President, Marcie watched in awe. She had been managing some of the comic journalists who were covering this event.
She watched as Jesse Jackson took the stage. On the sidelines was her dear friend Esther, cheering him, as Jackson lambasted the Glenn administration and promised a new dawn.
She tugged on her shirt, and especially a rainbow button that was pinned to it.
Lamar had only heard he was here just a few hours ago. He was there with some writers from “Rainbow Comics” promoting some of their journalistic work and some new genre comics. Luckily, he went to a local comic shop and was able to find and buy the exact issue he wanted to be signed.
The person in front of him wanted DC’s “Devil Dinosaur” to be signed. He signed it. He looked… smaller than his stature suggested. He was old, greying hair, and big spectacles. The signature was easy enough for him.
Lamar was next. He had the New Gods issue right in hand. He took it and got the pen out.
“Who should I make it out to?” His voice had a distinct Brooklyn accent to it.
“Lamar and Marcie. My wife. We meet over your comic.”
“That’s real nice.” He signed. “You know, when I met Roz, I took her up to see some of my Captain America drawings. She thought we were going to fool around, heh, but hey, it’s been 40 years now.”
He finished. “There you go, kid. My best to you and your wife.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Kirby.”
Lamar and Marcie sat on the couch as the journalist from The Comics Journal continued. A poster showing the joint Democratic/People’s Party nominees Tom Harkin and Ron Dellums hung above them.
“... And that’s really the whole idea behind Rainbow Comics.” Marcie finished up, explaining the balance needed to do both underground and mainstream style stories without neglecting one or the other.”
“Do you feel compromised working with Epic, a subsidiary of Marvel?”
“Initially, yes. As time went on, we found that our comics could go further on certain topics, while the superhero comics of Marvel still retained a certain conservatism. But we were assured complete creative freedom, and a cut of the profits.”
“Are you excited to see The Young Gods in a larger format?”
“Certainly. It would be nice seeing it in color as well. It’s expensive, but I always envisioned it in color.”
“Lamar, do you think The Panthers, your memoir, would work well in color?”
“Well, I would like to think that the original was pretty good on its own merits, but sometimes things can be improved.”
“Now that we’ve talked about the mission statement of Rainbow, let’s talk about you. How did you meet?”
Marcie and Lamar just looked at each other. Couldn’t help, but smile.