Story: The Work

By Russ Bickerstaff

work

Dave’s face is a mask. I always get here and I always meet with him here. In this office. And I guess I always wonder what the hell he’s thinking. No idea. We’re sitting there in a business silence that feels like it might well have some kind of purpose, but it’s difficult to tell. My confusion is written all over the moment. I know he’s satisfied with the work that I’ve done, but I really don’t know how I know that much. It’s very confusing–and not for any good reason right now. All I seem to be doing is drifting through the moment.
“It’s good,” he says. “And the sales have been good. No issues or concerns there.” Fine. So I’ve got his approval. And for the moment I feel a little disappointed in myself that I found any relief at all in him telling me that there were no, “issues or concerns,” because it really is just me. I never get any feedback from any kind of readership or anything like that. I never get any kind of feedback at all and I guess I kind of like it that way. It’s best not to have to deal with other people’s concerns in addition to the demands of the work itself.
“Okay,” I said. “Great.” I sat there. He sat there. We both sat in silence. He hadn’t actually made any kind of impression on me that suggested that I could leave, but it’s not like it was ever a situation where I would have ever had to be . . . like . . . dismissed by him or anything. Still: it kind of seemed like he might have been considering something and I didn’t want to suggest that maybe I should get going and leave our little meeting because it could jar his train of thought and suddenly he would have lost track of whatever it was that he was about to say to me that might have been in some way kind of important. Or something.
“So,” I said, “Nice to know it’s doing well.”
“Yes,” he replied. “You’ve really increased sales on the title. It’s been great. Really turned that thing around. We were about to cancel it.”
“Yes,” I said. So that was it. Nothing more. Just an opportunity to tell me that I’d been doing a good job or whatever. I guess I did feel good about that. It wasn’t like it was any kind of relief or anything, though. Even if he decided to terminate my contract or not give me any more work or whatever I didn’t need the work. I had all kinds of far better paying work that didn’t have anything to do with this thing. So I guess I felt good about it but…
“We want to offer you something else,” he said. The whole gravity in the room suddenly shifted and all he did was speak a couple of words. I can’t imagine what the look must have been on my face at that moment. I suspect there might have been a subtle sense of horror. I don’t know where it might have come from…maybe it was the stillness in the room and the sudden lurching. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that they would have offered me further work…it was just the way he said the words. He told me they wanted to offer me more work like it was the most casually disturbing thing imaginable. It was as though there was something irretrievably immoral about me being offered more work and he knew it but he didn’t care. Even though it wasn’t at all immoral to be offering me more work. We weren’t talking about human lives or anything like that. We were talking about comic books for chrissakes.
“Okay,” I said. “Yeah. I’d love to do something more for you guys. I grew-up reading your stuff. You know that.” I was making every effort to try not to seem annoyed or creeped out or whatever by the moment but something told me that I was failing miserably at it. It was okay…I mean…Dave didn’t seem to notice or anything and if he did it’s not like he would have been able to tell me about it.
He showed me the title he wanted me to work on. Fine. Looks good. I remembered the title from years back. It had been caught in reprints for a number of years. No new stories for several years…and this was the 1960s when things were really booming. Difficult to know why it was that they didn’t just cancel the damn thing if all they were going to do for each new issue was reprint old ones. I stared at the thing and thought about it.
“What do you need on it?” I asked staring meaningfully into the cover of the latest reprint.
“Everything,” he said. There was a blank, wide-eyed look on his face.
“Okay,” I said. “Cover too?” I asked.
“Everything,” he repeated. There was a blank, wide-eyed look on his face.
“Y’know…that’s a really ugly logo. Can I change it?” There was a silence that followed my question. No change of expression on Dave’s face.
“It’s not in the budget…but you ARE getting paid to do the cover. You can change it, but you will only get paid for the cover.
“It’s an ugly logo,” I said. “I’ll change it.” And that was that. Only got paid the flat fee for the cover. Worked on a few more issues then left. They kept the logo on that title once I left. They kept it through the end of the ‘60s into the ‘70s. They kept it through the end of the ’70s into the ‘80s. The fan base expands and that logo makes it onto backpacks and t-shirts and lunch boxes and playing cards and on and on and on. They make a fortune off that thing. And I made nothing. I’m not even bitter about it. That logo they had before it…it was an ugly logo…

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