As most of you gentle readers probably know, I've got a lot of stories I want to write. Unfortunately, most of them I want to do in comics form, but my own drawing skills are relatively weak, forcing me to work with unreliable and lazy artists. (Hi, Aaron! Hi, Sam! Just kidding!) So I've decided on a compromise: I'm going to do a few short stories from some of my universes, and see if any of them grab people's attention. Hopefully, it grabs your attention enough to give me some money to fund the creation of the full comic. Without further ado, here is 'Doodle', a short story from what will probably be my biggest and most awesome comic, Victoria.
For the nineteenth time that night, Alex Caoimhin leaned back, rubbed his temples, and sighed. He had to deliver twenty-four comic pages to his publisher by Friday. Pages one through sixteen had been easy. Pages seventeen through twenty had kept him up late. Page twenty-one was giving him a migraine, an ulcer, and muscle spasms. At this rate, twenty-two would kick his dog and stab his mother. He started idly sketching a face while running through the pages in his head.
Nine panels, one of them an establishing shot. Too much dialogue. Character placement difficult—hard to block out the conversation. Move the third panel up, that would help the flow, but then there's less space for the establishing shot...combine panels six and seven to fix the layout, but then the dialogue would cover the art...move panel nine to the next page? No, it's a spread...
Alex got up and went to the kitchen. His apartment wasn't the best place to draw comics—in fact, he was pretty sure it was the worst possible place to draw comics—but at least the coffee maker was twenty feet from the drawing table. He walked those twenty feet, filled his mug, walked the twenty feet back, and found a girl sitting at his table leafing through his pages.
She had the slender build of an athlete, with long, slim fingers that moved like birds. Her features weren't exactly Hispanic, Scandinavian, Slavic, Asian, or any other ethnicity. Her eyes were quick, and dark, and she hardly blinked.
Alex didn't take the time to notice her appearance. Hopped up on caffeine and comic-book action, he threw the full mug at the girl from nowhere.
Without looking up from Alex's drawing table, she caught the mug and, with a flick of her wrist that was completely impossible, collected the coffee that had spilled in mid-air inside it, letting not a drop fall. “Watch it,” she said. “You could've ruined your pages.”
“Sorry,” Alex mumbled. He suddenly felt embarrassed for reasons he couldn't exactly place. “What is this? Who are you?”
The girl handed the mug back to Alex. “My name is Victoria Hill, Mr. Caoimhin, and I might be here to save your life.” She opened a manila envelope Alex hadn't noticed and handed him a Xeroxed page. “Take a look.”
The page showed an ornate illuminated manuscript page in marginally readable old English. Several tiny cherubs flew in and around the large capital letter at the top of the page. One cherub, off to the side, had comically large eyes pointing in opposite directions, an overly wide smile, and a strange curlicue of hair.
Alex stared at the page. “Is this...” he started to say.
“English. Late 14th-century copy of the Book of Hours. It's in a private collection in Germany.” The girl who called herself Victoria took another page out of the envelope and gave it to Alex. “This is from a French broadside, mid-18th century.”
Alex looked. It was an early caricature—some political figures tormented by a horde of tiny, comic devils, both sides saying long phrases in French. One of the devils had bugged eyes, a long, toothy grin, and a curly haircut.
“Here.” Victoria pulled out more pages. “English caricature, late 1890s. Early American newspaper comic, 1908. A minor surrealist painter's notebook, 1930s.” Alex leafed through them. Despite the different styles and subjects, each page had a figure somewhere with wall-eyes, a large, inhuman smile, and the same strange hair.
Alex handed back the pages. “I've got a bunch more, but you get the idea,” Victoria said, stuffing them into the envelope. “That character shows up in works by a couple dozen artists stretching back to the Dark Ages. And those are just the ones we know about—there's probably hieroglyphics with him in some lost tomb...”
“So what is this? Some kind of copyright thing?” Alex grabbed the envelope and started pulling out the sheets again, searching through them. “You think I stole the little guy I doodle in my sketchbook from a clay tablet?”
“Wait, how do you even know I've drawn him? I've never put him in any pages.”
“No, but you put him in a sketch you did last week at that convention in Denver. Remember? The kid asked for—”
“'Something random,' yeah, I remember.” Alex threw the envelope and its contents down next to the pages he'd been working on. In the margins of one page, drawn lightly in blue pencil, was a loosely-drawn figure with the same basic details as the ones in the copies. “So I drew Doodle.”
“Doodle? That's his name?”
“That's what I call him, yeah. He's not, like, a character or anything...”
“Nobody knows what the hell he is, Mr. Caoimhin, and that's the problem.” Victoria picked up the page with Doodle on it and stared intently at the sketch. “One of my colleagues thinks he's a memetic virus, that his specific features create an intense desire in certain viewers to replicate his image. There's another opinion that he's a symptom of a neural condition, or just an extremely specific form of OCD...”
“Memetic what now?”
“But my hunch is that the character himself is actually attempting to travel from the realm of ideas into the physical world, and is using artists like yourself to give him a material form.”
“Realm of ideas?”
“Just like it sounds: the world of ideas. Thoughts. Forms. Where every fictional universe is built, and every character lives, and every idea anyone's ever had is born.” She tapped her knuckles on the drawing table. “In this world there's ten million tables, but in that world there's just the idea of the table, of which all physical tables are just shadows. It's a Plato thing. Get me?”
“I...” Alex ran his fingers through his hair. “I think so. And Doodle, he's—he comes from there?”
“That's my guess. And he's trying to come here.” Victoria rubbed her thumb over the sketch thoughtfully. “The question is why? Why is he trying to come into the physical world? Does he want to spread his influence as a character? Is he trying to escape something? Are his motives sinister or benign?”
“How could we possibly know?”
“Easy. Send me in with him.”
For the third or fourth time that night, Alex was completely at a loss. “What?”
“Draw me into a comic, and then draw Doodle in, too. Where he is right now—halfway between the ideal world and the material world—I can't interact with him. But if we're together in the same medium, I can talk to him directly and find out what he's trying to do.”
“So...how do I, uh...” Alex made a drawing motion in the air with his hand.
“I'll put you in a hypnotic trance and open a portal through your drawing process.” She saw Alex's skeptical expression and grinned. “Don't worry,” she said, “I'm a professional.” She stood up from the drawing table and motioned to the chair.
Alex goggled. “What, now?” he said.
“No time like the present.”
Reluctantly, Alex sat in the chair. He took out a sheet of printer paper and a ballpoint pen—he didn't want to waste any of his good pens in case this all turned out to be some kind of insane hallucination.
Victoria put her hands on his temples and gently turned his head towards her. She took a small, shiny object—Alex couldn't quite see what it was—and started moving it in front of his face in a strange circular pattern, first slowly, then quicker, back and forth and back and forth and
the pen moved
touching the paper
drawing her in
and then he stopped
and then the universe shifted gears, everything lurched, and Victoria was standing next to him. “Did it work?” he asked, dazed.
“Far as I can tell.” Victoria rubbed her hands, massaging the joints. “His features aren't unique any more, so there's no way to spread his identity as an individual. I made him...sterile? Non-infectious?”
“Neutered?” Alex suggested.
“What about all those pictures of him? The caricatures and stuff?”
“Shouldn't be a problem. They no longer have any connection to Doodle as he is now.”
“Well...thanks, I guess,” he said, feeling stupid. “For not letting me go insane, I mean.”
“No problem.” Victoria picked up one of the pages, smiled a little, then flipped it around to show to Alex. “But you kind of...exaggerated my proportions in a few panels.”
“Yeah, sorry. Force of habit.”
Victoria handed him back the page, then turned and walked to the door. “Keep those pages safe,” she said back over her shoulder. “And don't show them to anyone else.”
“Can do.” Alex opened his mouth to speak, then shut it, then opened it again. “Look, this...this has been the weirdest night of my life. You save me from a, a parasitic character by jumping into a comic page and rearranging his face—and don't think I'm not grateful for it, but...” He paused. “I just wanna know—what are you?”
The girl looked back one last time. “Like I told you,” she said with a smile. “I'm Victoria.”
And then she was gone.