November 1st, 2015 - The Last Day Of Comikaze
Cracked editor and my own living deity, Alex Schmidt, slapped a T-shirt down on the counter in front of me.
"Duddy, we've stopped moving shirts. Do you remember what I told you?"
It was the last day of Stan Lee's Comikaze, a comic-themed gathering at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Think of it as the Tupac to Comic-Con's Biggie, but with more '90s nostalgia. Alex and I were selling T-shirts from the Cracked Dispensary at a booth amidst an amorphous sweaty mess of fans in spandex and facepaint.
"Yes, I do remember," I said. "Interns don't go to heaven unless they wash your car."
"Not that. About selling T-shirts. A customer just returned that shirt because, and I don't know why you keep doing this, you signed it for him."
Alex smoothed out the shirt and pointed to where I masterfully penned "Keep on Crackin'. Eh? Eh? -- Duddy"
"It's a Cracked collectible now! Here, I'll sign one for you." I popped open my sharpie and grabbed the sleeve of Alex's flannel shirt.
"No! Stop doing that. You aren't a celebrity. You're just ruining these shirts."
Another harsh truth passed down from my very own superhero. I had to relish the moment. But it also gave me an idea.
"You're right. I'm not a celebrity. But Stan Lee is." I gathered all of our remaining T-shirts in my arms. "If Stan Lee signs our shirts, we can upsell them and make all of our money back."
Like Superman over a building, I bounded over the counter, catching the edge with my shoe and tumbling forward. Nailed it. I collected all of the shirts back into my arms and cradled them tightly to my chest like a damsel in distress.
"I'm coming, Stan Lee!"
"No, Duddy! Stop!" Alex called out. He climbed the counter in chase. "We can just sell the shirts we have left. T-shirt sales don't really affect our bottom line. It's more of a fanservice-type thiiiinnng!!!"
Noble soul that he was, Alex was trying to dissuade me because he was worried about my safety. He's courageous that way. But it didn't matter. I squeezed my way into the crowd. Nothing could stop me in my quest to save Cracked.
My first obstacle was that I had no idea where Stan Lee was. I wandered the convention center without direction, like a lost droid on Tatooine. If only I could find my Princess Leia.
"Excuse me, miss," I tapped a woman on the shoulder. "Do you know where I could find Stan Lee?"
She turned and I nearly dropped a steaming pile of T-shirts all over the floor. It was famous script doctor Carrie Fisher!
"Carrie Fisher!" I squealed like a very heroic pig. "I loved your work on Lethal Weapon 3!"
"Thank you? I guess."
"Listen, I don't have much time. I need to find a celebrity to sign my T-shirts in order to save Cracked. Do you know which way Stan Lee is?
"Stan Lee is at the front of the convention center, but I'd be glad to sign that Star Wars jukebox T-shirt for you."
"Sorry, but I don't see the connection."
Meeting Carrie Fisher was a dream come true, but I didn't have time to investigate her relationship to jukeboxes. I turned to leave, but left her these parting words:
"I'm too old for this shit. Right?"
And like Lethal Weapon 3 in the pop culture zeitgeist, I was gone.
I ran weaving through the crowd, dodging Hylian shields and ducking under swords, poles, and whatever Martian Manhunter uses for a weapon. His mind sword, I guess.
That's when I spotted Michael Swaim, Dan O'Brien, Katie Willert, and Soren Bowie. The Cracked AfterHours crew, or as they're known around the office, "The Four Sages of Cracked." Perhaps with their ancient wisdom, I could acquire the skills necessary to convince Stan Lee to sign the T-shirts. But since they were seated in front of a crowd and answering questions, I wondered if a whole bunch of other people had the same idea.
I got on stage and knocked a poorly-done, hairless and weaponless Rocket Raccoon cosplayer (or small child) away from the microphone.
"Hey guys, Duddy here. I'm the intern who sells T-shirts. You know, the one with all the office cheer?"
The blank faces and stunned silence of respect. Perfect.
"Oh great sages, I beseech you! Since I worked through the 10:30 a.m. Cracked panel yesterday on how to write for the Internet for money, and the panel on Women In Online Comedy, which was also noon yesterday, and even the Live Cracked Podcast which was yesterday at 1:00 p.m., I was wondering if I might ask your wisdom? For clarification's sake, those were all yesterday -- yesterday being Saturday, October 31st."
"That was very expository," Soren the Handsome answered. "Just tell us what you want."
But just as I began to ask, a hand reached out from the costumed masses. The hand of a god. Not Thor, but Alex Schmidt.
"Duddy, come back." Alex called out to me. He poked his head out from the crowd, his arm tangled in the hair of a very realistic She-Hulk. "We can sell the shirts as is. Just please come back to the booth. They've ransacked it entirely. These people are savages."
"I'm sorry Alex, but as you taught me, there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest it."
"No, I never taught you that. I might have said, 'If you see something weird, ask yourself if it's really worth the trip to HR.' And I definitely taught you, 'Stay at the booth, because that's what we pay you for."
Alex began to untangle himself. I couldn't let him stop me from doing what was needed. I ran across the stage, knocking over chairs and at one point running my hand through Michael Swaim's beard. I would have to complete this quest alone. Sometimes a hero's path is a lonely one.
After stumbling through the convention center for an amount of time that can only be described as longer than a Dr. Who fan talking about phone booths, I finally found Stan Lee. He was sitting and signing autographs, a long line of fans stretching out before him.
"Stan Lee! I need your help," I said, pushing aside another piss-poor Rocket Raccoon cosplayer.
"You have to wait in line like everyone else, kid."
"You don't understand. I have to save Cracked. Please just sign this shirt so I can sell it at a much higher price."
I laid out the History Friends T-shirt. Stan Lee stood up and slapped me in the face.
"No, you don't understand. You have to wait in line like everyone else."
I had lost. Not only did I fail to save Cracked, but worse, I recalled reading somewhere in the employee handbook that the penalty for failure at Cracked was seppuku.
I knelt down in front of the line to accept my fate, when I felt the hand of a god rest on my shoulder.
"Duddy, how do you run so fast carrying all of those T-shirts?"
It was Alex.
"Alex, I'm sorry. I let you down. I let down Cracked."
He patted my back. "I wouldn't say all of that. I think you're really overestimating your importance here. I will say, though, that you have to reimburse us for all of the T-shirts you dropped while running through the convention center."
"Thanks, Alex. That means a lot. Hug?"
Alex shook his head, and just as he began to back away (probably to take a running start into our hug) a flying T-shirt struck me in the face. I unfurled it. There was a message written on it in black marker:
Dear ... Duddy, is it? I just saw you push a small child. We live in a society. You can't do that. I worry you are deranged, so I am writing this message as a distraction in order to give security time to apprehend you. I hope you find the therapeutic help that you so desperately need. -- Stan Lee
My dream had come true. I had an autographed shirt from Stan Lee. And as two men in uniform grabbed me underneath my arms and dragged me away, I realized that I was leaving with more than just a signed T-shirt. Stan Lee had taught me a valuable lesson. Being a hero doesn't come from the costume you wear or the T-shirt you have autographed. Being a hero comes from your heart.
Cracked will be at Comikaze October 30th - November 1st. To get tickets, go to the Comikaze homepage here and click on the menu tab to buy tickets. Enter promo code "Cracked" to get 10 percent off.
Special thanks for the comic panels to Elijah Espada. If you want Elijah to make webcomics for you, he totally will! Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org