beauty, comics, fiction, short fiction, women




If you’re reading this, then I’ve won.

Or lost.

It is a matter of perspective.

If the aim is survival, then I have won.

If the aim is the natural order of balance and justice, then I have lost.

This happened.

I wrote and drew a comic book based on a public domain character called Blackout. It started like most things as a joke when I was playing Serious Artist who sought to revolutionise the medium of comic books. I worked in an office during the day, answering the phone to damaged and upset people who were reporting the damaged things in their public housing that upset them then scripted and drew either in the mornings or late into the night. It was exhausting but each time I drew a page or finished a script; it was a little victory and enough fuel to sustain me through another appraisal where I had to lie and say how awesome my job was.

Success came when one of the collected editions ended up on the desk of someone who worked at Imagine Entertainment and then they met with me in London. I had to walk around the block twice to make sure it was real and to burn off some of the adrenaline that made me want to shit myself and throw up at the same time. The meeting went well; I contributed a script and two years later; I had the surreal experience of watching my characters speaking my words on a big screen.

It felt like a mild, pleasurable delusion. The money enabled me to commit to the work full time. I got a card and a set of brushes from my colleagues. It was difficult to hide my fear and my excitement at being able to live out a long-denied dream of mine.

That is all the background so you can dislike or envy me. It depends on how you view what happened next.

I had been busy with revisions for the movie sequel, comprising notes from the star and executive producer who had read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and understood none of it alongside scripting and drawing the latest graphic novel. I did too much too soon and although my enthusiasm had not waned; it loosened the clutch on my judgement a little.

Which is why I took the bike out late when it was dark and the roads were wet.

I was not doing over fifty when the flare of headlights sliced across my eyes and the bike bucked out from under me, skidding and slipping before I experienced nothing at all.

I awoke in an alleyway, the high, ammoniac smell of urine in my nostrils and still in my leathers but without my helmet. A rat the size of a puppy stared at me as it dragged a bloodied child’s sneaker by a fraying pink lace. No injuries but no bike and no sign of where I was.

I looked up at a night sky stained with sodium lights. A canopy on the city that never slept.

I knew this place.

I created it.

My last mental breakdown had been horrible, a complete and unsparing awareness of the world and my place in it. A perpetual battle to do simple things like shave or go to the shops without floods of tears or a panic so complete that it made me speechless. If this was one, then it was more interesting and complete than anything before it.

Hanson City was to Blackout what Gotham was to the Batman and New York was to most of the Marvel Universe. It was a monumental pile of shit to have as a residence, but it provided me with enough story ideas to power me through a good decade of work.

Political and religious corruption.

An ancient order of architects and potentates who controlled the fate of Hanson City with a tight grip and resented the efforts of Blackout to bring about justice and order to the city.

Villains who were analogues of better villains, and I even had a team of garish cyborgs who remained in suspended animation until the artificial intelligence that controlled them would awaken them to go on rampages that occurred when I had nothing to say of true artistic value but needed a section to pad out the second act.

So I had created a place perfect to play God over, but never in a million years worth being subjected to.

I left the alleyway and ran straight into a sloppy, ugly fight between a young man and an elderly woman clutching at her purse.

‘Oi, stop.’ I said.

He turned and sneered at me, reaching in his pocket for a knife to brandish at me. If he had used it on the old lady, he would have been home by now.

The thump of something heavy landing from a long way up shook the surrounding buildings. In my head, Hans Zimmer’s score started up and I knew this scene before it happened. I had written it a million times.

Continuity had other plans.

I had worked myself into exhaustion writing a story that talked about the possible realities of having a post human with abilities beyond those of men. The heroes of the comic book universe would terrify in real life. I knew not to give the finger to my audience. I compensated for the internal whispers that despite my success, I was not a Serious Artist.

When Blackout punched his hand through the mugger’s skull, I screamed louder than the old lady did.

She ran away and I stood there. The blood steamed off his fist and he glared at me, his eyes shining with brutal need. He looked different from how I had drawn him, part of the anguish of the artistic process where in your head it is a perfect symbolic ideal and on the page, it looks like you gave yourself a paint enema and opened your cheeks onto the page.

He had sallow, pockmarked cheeks from adolescent acne and his hair was thinning. His muscles strained against his black unitard, which highlighted his abdominal definition but not the outline of his cock. I put my hands up, but he kept coming, slow for dramatic effect and I imagined the amount of panels.

I pleaded with him. In the script, I had a second act twist planned but here it was all reality. I stared into the eyes of my creation.
There was a voice in my head that was the antidote to the whispering doubts, it strutted around, kept me writing when I could have lapsed into marathon sessions of Borderlands 2 and Netflix. I had taken this character and renewed him, made him complex and beautiful. In his original appearance, he had gained his power from the vapours produced by a synthesis of formic acid and chemical names I had to search for without understanding.

You should have seen some of the letters I got. A woman who lectured chemistry at a university in Massachusetts wrote me an eighteen page letter explaining how and why I had gotten it so wrong. I sent her a signed copy of the last graphic novel, but it was her attention to detail that came as I stood there.

Nothing is original except for your voice. His revised origin was sleek and modern. Operant conditioning, genetic enhancement and control words gave Blackout his powers.

Control words.

There were several, used at points where I needed to create the false climax. No, not the kind you use where you groan like you have a cramp and tell her how lovely she is, but the narrative kind.

I had made them up using Enochian, a language developed by John Dee, the historical alchemist which was the language of angels. I was unsure whether it would stop him.


He stopped, clutched at his head in a performance that would have earned awards if it were happening anywhere outside of my head. His belch made the air fill with the stink of sour milk and battery acid before he keeled over and fell onto his face.

I kneeled in front of him, checked his pulse and found nothing.

I liked to use minimal backgrounds but the fan fiction had capitalized on my laziness and I read enough of it to figure out my bearings.

If I was mad, then I had done a great job of building this delusion until it became real.

My body might be on a bed somewhere, tubes packed into every orifice, bandaged and comatose as my relatives discussed whether to switch off the machines keeping me alive. There, I was a deep-fried vegetable who might warrant a hashtag on Twitter.

Here I was someone who knew a few things.

The location of the secret lair. All the costumes I had designed and the rows of chemicals that controlled his power levels.

My secret lair.



The rain had stopped. I stood over his body and heard the wail of sirens coming towards me. In the books, it was always a cue for him to run across the rooftops, take to the sky or have a terse conversation with the police detective who was his friend on the force. Here, it was a cue for me to be arrested and not be able to explain a single word of what had happened.

I ran. It took over an hour to find the lair, but I stood in front of the rusted sewer grate and fought the urge to weep with gratitude.

I am writing this. I performed two sets of intra-muscular injections an hour ago. In another thirty minutes I will take a dose of neurotropics that will enhance my intellect and sensory acuity. An hour after that, I will see if my delusions have any real import to them.

If you’re reading this, then I’ve won.

Or lost.

It is a matter of perspective.

If the aim is survival, then I have won.

If the aim is the natural order of balance and justice, then I have lost.

Either way, it will make for a hell of a story.


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