I bite my plastic straw as I suck overly-sweet iced vanilla latte into my mouth, unreasonably nervous and hyper-caffeinated (not the best combination). I’m trying to draw the ‘50s-style stool at the counter, but my sketch looks more like a weird robot with wonky legs. I am a terrible artist, and this person is going to see right through me immediately; there’s no way they’re going to want to work with me. My leg bobs up and down, which is not helping my jittering hands or pounding heart. I shouldn’t be here–it’s Wednesday! I should be at my comic shop picking up new releases. I’m just about to get up and run for the door when the person I’m meeting walks in. I recognize them from their profile pic–they have straight, shoulder-length brown hair, round glasses, and a curvy figure. They’re wearing a green shirt under denim overalls. Their gray eyes are piercing. They spot me immediately and make a bee-line for my table and I somehow manage not to curse out loud.
“Hi. You must be Eve?” They say, holding out a hand for me to shake.
“Yeah. Jo, right?” I’m proud that my voice doesn’t quiver and my handshake is firm.
“That’s me,” they respond, and set their messenger bag on the other chair at my table, “I’m gonna grab a drink.”
“Okay, I’ll be here!” I smile and laugh, and they smile back. It’s a good smile. I cringe inwardly at my cringy self.
I have come dressed in my ‘I don’t care’ armor: black tank, oversized jeans, black boots, many chains and buckles, heavy black lipstick and eyeliner under spiked blue-and-black hair. I’m always hoping my goth style will make me seem unapproachable and aloof. Unfortunately, I do care. I care too much–I am constantly threatening to suffocate under all the care.
They come back with a no-nonsense mug of black coffee, sit across from me, and pull a laptop from their bag.
“So, the story is about a writer…” they start, booting up their laptop.
“No way,” I say, laughing.
“I know, I know, self-inserts are so cliché, but if Stephen King can do it then can do it so can I.”
“Fair enough. Is there an artist involved in this story?”
“Yeah. A hot goth artist, actually.”
“Oh, really?” I feel my face grow hot as I smile in spite of myself. Did they just call me hot?
“I mean, she was just an artist until I walked in here,” they say, smiling.
“Wait…are you still working on the piece?”
“I said it was unfinished. I’m inspired by live events. They say write what you know…”
“I don’t think they mean it literally!”
“How do you know?”
“I guess I…don’t…”
“Look, do you want to work together or not?” They ask, seeming slightly irritated.
“I do, I’m sorry, I just…haven’t worked like this before.”
“Okay, it’s cool. You’re probably used to working with professionals who like to outline everything,” they laugh, an edge of self-deprecation to their voice.
“Actually, this is my first time working on a collab. So, I don’t really know how it works,” I reply, laughing.
“Great. Me, neither. So, where was I?”
“The cute writer and the mediocre artist?” I offer.
“Ha! Sure, we’ll go with that,” they respond, beaming at me.
“I loved your short stories, but have you written for comics before?” I ask.
“Not yet. I’ve always wanted to–I grew up reading comics. I just don’t have the patience or talent for sequential art.”
“Well, I don’t have the patience to write a cohesive story for all the characters I draw, so I’m glad we’re working together!” I reply.
“Same! I’m excited to see where this goes!”
Three days go by before I get an outline from Jo, which is fine because I’m working on character studies for the descriptions she hastily typed out and emailed to me while we were at the cafe. I find it wholly uncomfortable to be drawing a comic book version of myself. I know I shouldn’t be, and at least I can use a mirror as a reference, but staring at myself has never been my favorite activity. I much prefer drawing Jo. They’ve sent me several photos in various positions and expressions (per my request) and I am growing intimately familiar with their lines. They seem as uncomfy but as accommodating as I’m doing my best to be. I could spend hours examining the way their brow creases, the curve of their lips, the enigmatic color of their eyes. I have pretend conversations with them in my head and watch what my silly jokes do to their face.
The outline and script are literally our conversation at the cafe. It’s not word-for-word, but it’s pretty close–with some elaboration and poetic license. I feel the same discomfort rise in me until I get to the end, where the artist asks the writer out on a date.
The artist asks the writer out on a date…
We meet at the same cafe a week later. We’ve been corresponding back and forth throughout the week, but I haven’t mentioned anything about the potential revelation at the end of the script they sent me. Once again, I arrive way too early and drink way too much coffee, my leg bouncing and a really fun flutter in my stomach.
“Hey!” Jo waves as they enter casually (as though they hadn’t dropped a huge bomb in my inbox the week prior).
“Hi!” I say, too loudly, too eagerly.
They grab a coffee and sit across from me, smiling expectantly, “So, can I see them?”
“Oh! Of course!” I carefully set my portfolio case between our drinks and unzip the sides so I can open it. I feel a swell of pride in my chest as they audibly gasp (this was the reaction I was hoping for). I’ve strategically placed the intended cover art at the top of my more rough work. I spent HOURS on this cover art: a close-up face-shot of the two main characters (essentially, us) looking at each other, rough sketch-lines emanating from my character and a stream of stylized words flowing from theirs until the lines and words combine in a series of swirls. Each face holds an expression of curiosity and wonder. I’m not sure if my face has ever truly made that expression when looking at another person.
“This is incredible,” they say, matter-of-factly.
“Thank you,” I am trying not to blush (but failing miserably).
“Is there more?”
“Oh yeah, of course!”
I flip through the other pages to show them the character studies I’ve put together as well as some sample panels. They are delighted with everything, and I might be giddy for the first time in my entire life.
“So, I’ve gotten a little stuck on the next part…” they say, hesitantly.
“That’s okay. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. You…you’re a brilliant writer!”
“I’m not really, I’m just…” they look down and tuck a strand of hair behind their ear.
“You are! I’m really excited to see what you come up with next!” I tell them.
“I’ll do my best,” they respond.
I remember the question I’ve been avoiding this whole week, “Hey, do you…do you want to go out with me?”
“Yes! Are you available this Friday?” They respond immediately.
“No, that’s not what I…” I look at their face, their gray eyes lit up like they're looking at a Christmas tree and not some awkward gothy artist, “Friday would be great! How about 7:30?”
Of course I’m available. I’m always available. I have no life.
“7:30 is perfect! See you then!”
“Yeah, looking forward to it!” I respond as I try not to panic.
We have texted back and forth for the last week–texts about how our day is going, what dreams we had the night before, flirty texts, cute photos. I have learned more about their family and their life and their beliefs than I’ve known about most of my own friends. I really like this person. A lot.
I arrive at their apartment way too early and I have to sit in my car and wait until an appropriate amount of early-ness comes along. At least this time I do not have an excessive amount of caffeine in my system to make me more jittery. I still have plenty of anxiety to make myself naturally jittery. I’m wearing my best black skinny jeans and a sheer black tank-top and I hope it’s not too much. Or maybe they like ‘too much’? Why else would they want to go out with me?
Finally, at 7:23 PM, I grab the wilted bouquet I’d picked up for them and head up to their apartment. They answer immediately even though I barely knock, and they are smiling and they are so bright they remind me of the sun.
“I got these for you but it’s hot and they’re wilted, I’m sorry, I think you said you like daisies?” the sentence comes out more like one long word (and I know they like daisies, I checked their text about their favorite flower three times, but I don’t want them to know that).
“I love daisies! These are beautiful! Come in, I’ll put them in some water,” Jo leads me inside their tiny but adorable apartment. Framed posters cover almost every inch of the walls–some classic art (I appreciate the print of Van Gogh’s less-known Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette), some fandom (I recognize The Doors of Durin from Lord of the Rings), music (the album cover from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars has a place of honor above a velvet, moss-green sofa). Being allowed inside their space feels both too intimate and just right after everything we’ve shared with each other.
They find an antique-looking green vase to put the sad-looking flowers in and grab their bag.
“Okay, ready if you are!” Jo beams at me, and I melt internally. They’re wearing an emerald-colored a-line dress and brown Victorian-style boots. I hope I am dressed nicely enough for this date. I hope they are not disappointed in me.
“Yep, I’m ready!” is all I say out loud.
I have never been able to carry on a conversation with another human in a normal way–I either talk too much or fall into frequent bouts of awkward silence. With Jo, however, the conversation is natural and nice and lasts all night. They seem to be interested in what I have to say, and they actually listen instead of waiting to speak. They are brilliant and insightful and I could listen to them forever. I want so badly to ask them to be my partner, but is this too soon? Am I allowed to do that on the first date? Or would this technically be our third? No, the first two coffee not-dates were for business. Or were they? I don’t know the rules!
We eat at one of my favorite Italian restaurants and then visit a nightclub where people are performing poetry. I manage to only drink two beers, but it’s all I need. They have a glass of house red wine, and that seems perfect somehow. Everything seems perfect and rose-colored.
They invite me back to their place after the show. I am nervous again, but I enter anyway and sit on their moss-green couch while Ziggy watches, warily.
“Would you like a drink?”
“Oh sure, just water, please,” I say too quickly.
They bring me water in a mason jar, and it’s the best water I’ve ever had as I try to swallow my beating heart and the glass clinks against my teeth.
“Are you okay?” they ask.
“Yeah, sure,” I say, and set the empty jar on the only part of the coffee table not covered with poetry books or writing magazines.
“No, I’m good, thanks. Can I kiss you?” I ask without planning to.
“I thought you’d never ask,” they say, a slow smile spreading across their face.
We both lean in, and everything becomes blurry and crystal clear all at once as we fall into each other.
The next few days consist of many texts, each more bold than the last. Jo is so clever and I am doing my best to keep up. I am afraid they’ll lose interest if I don’t say the exact right thing every time, but they seem to laugh at even my cheesiest jokes and I start to relax.
And then I get the next script.
It is Our Date, almost word-for-word. It’s idealized and romantic, and I am blushing through the end part.
And then the writer breaks up with the artist.
Oh, hell no.
We agree to meet at the cafe the next day. For once, I am calm. If this is the end, then so be it–but if I can figure out why Jo thinks our characters should break up, then maybe I can make my case.
And I have my suspicions about the ‘why.’
Jo enters the cafe somberly, almost sheepishly. Their eyes are puffy and red-rimmed behind their glasses. They sit across from me without getting a drink.
“I don’t think this is going to work out,” they say, their voice thick and shaking with barely-held tears.
“Okay. Why?” I shoot back.
“It’s just…not a good idea right now,” Jo responds, not meeting my eyes.
“Is this about the story?” I ask, and they finally look up at me.
“What do you mean?” Jo’s eyes are wide.
“Do you think this is going to make our story more interesting?”
They don’t answer me, but they don’t have to.
“Look Jo, I like you. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. But I think you have it in your head that we need to do things to drive the plot or whatever, and that’s just not true. We can do whatever we want, and I want to be with you. And I think you want to be with me, too. We have something special here! And I’m not going to let you, or the plot, or Bex Jordan change my mind,” at this, I point out of the panel and look directly at Bex Jordan as they type. Bex looks down at the keyboard.
“Wait, who’s Bex Jordan?” Jo asks.
“They’re the writer,” I say.
“Oh. Do they know why I keep getting writer’s block?”
“That’s not the point!” I grab Jo’s hand, “The point is, I think I’m in love with you. I’m not here to create conflict for readers, I just want us to be together. Do you really want to break up?”
“No,” Jo replies without hesitation.
“Then let's go!”
“Wherever we want! We are in control of our own story. Will you come with me?” I ask, my heart drumming hard in my chest.
“Yes,” Jo laughs, and the tears finally slide down their face, “I’ll go anywhere with you!”
“Then let’s go!” I get up from my chair and pull Jo along with me.
Together, we walk out of the cafe, out of the panel, and off of the page.
Art Reference: Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes