The Man Who Discovered GAY MAN
by Kevin Ahearn
On July 10, 1965, a legend was born that would grow and flourish because no one knew the truth.
At 3:15 am, Alan Trad slid silently out of bed, leaving his friend gently snoring. Downstairs to get dressed, he took a couple cupcakes to get him through the morning. Out in the car, he coasted to the road so as not to wake a soul.
On the front seat next to him, he laid out the money and the map. This had to go down like clockwork. If the delivery trucks were on time, he’d have little time to make his deal and hit the next one.
The first truck was three minutes late. Alan was waiting.
“Morning,” he said to the driver. “Like to buy a packet of your stuff before it hits the racks.”
“Wadda jokin’?” came the reply.
“How about I pay you five times retail?” said Alan, flashing the cash. “Things fall off these trucks all the time.”
One down. Six to go. Eight if he was lucky. The tip he’d gotten was bigger than a fix in the Kentucky Derby. History was at hand, and the more of it he could get his hands on, the better.
By noon he had hit every delivery. Only one driver refused his money so Alan waited until the product hit the shelves and bought them all.
He had no intention of showing his partner or anyone else what he had scored. “Nobody knows,” he vowed, his brakes squeaking as he pulled back into the driveway.
Alan kept his trunk locked till his friend went to visit “mother” for the weekend. He had suspicions about “mother,” but this time she came in handy. No sooner did his friend drive away than he sprang into action. A stop at the hardware store, the collectibles shop, and then the camping outlet got him all the support materials. The pawn shop supplied his “treasure chest,” a heavy-duty trunk whose owner had wound up going nowhere.
Back home he chose the perfect spot in the backyard and peeled off a section of matted grass. Then he began digging — deep enough so that no future gardening would stumble upon it, wide enough around to ensure plenty of insulation to keep the treasure dry.
“’You are who you are, and I am who I am,’” he whispered with every shovelful of dirt.
Finally the underground vault was ready for packing. Alan lay down the waterproof tarps, doubled over for maximum protection. Back to the car, he brought in his “treasure chest,” the packing supplies and then, oh, so carefully, the prized stock, each to be individually wrapped. One by one he placed them in the tarp-lined trunk.
One last look.
“My retirement hero,” he said before closing the lid
Waiting until it was dark, he carried the heavy trunk to the hole and gently set it in. Two more tarps around the sides and on top before he shoveled the dirt back in. Finally he replaced the sections of matted grass, patted them down and scattered the remaining soil around the lawn.
The legend had gone to ground. As it turned out, Alan’s score would generate events beyond his wildest dreams, but it was not the best investment he could have made. For the same amount of money, he could have had his car’s brakes repaired. Two days later they failed him, causing a head-on with an eighteen wheeler, killing him instantly.
His friend sold the house and moved in with “mother.” The property would exchange hands six times over the next forty years. A young ad exec and his wife bought it in 2005. Two years later, when he made vice president, it was time for an in-ground swimming pool.
Two hours into digging...
“Mister Crafton,” said the contractor. “You’d better come take a look at this.”
“It looks like a trunk of some kind,” said Charles.
“A buried treasure,” said his wife, Mary.
“Maybe a body, cut up and dumped here,” said one of the workmen.
“Don’t think so,” said the contractor, pulling the trunk out of the hole and setting it down in front of them. “It’d weigh more and smell like hell.”
“A terrorist cache?” suggested Mary.
“Planted last century to blow what up?” said Charles. “Let’s get it inside and see.”
Charles and Mary took the trunk inside and put it on the kitchen table. The swimming pool crew followed them in.
“Back off, everybody,” said Charles. “I get to play Indiana Jones.”
Facing the front of the trunk while the others looked on from the other side, Charles lifted the lid.
“There’s some protective tarp in here and...” Charles’ eyes opened wide. He slammed the lid back down. “Pete, you and the boys can take the rest of the day off, full pay.”
“Mister Crafton, what’s in it?” said the contractor.
“Make that time and a half plus a fifty dollar bonus for you if you’re all out of here in ten minutes.”
They were gone in eight.
“Charley, it’s money, isn’t it?” said Mary. “A Mafia fortune.”
“No, it’s not money,” said her husband. “Not yet.”
“You are looking at the King Tut’s Tomb of Comicdom!” he said. “The Holy Grail of comic books!”
“You didn’t say ‘comic books’?” she asked as he reopened the trunk.
“Imagine if one of our grandfathers had bought the first appearance of Superman or Bat-Man or Spider-Man, cleaned out as many comic book stores as he could, and then buried them, all preserved in mint condition. Do you know what kind of house we’d be living in?”
“Yeah, sure,” she said, pulling away at the inside tarp. “But... GAY MAN! Who in the world is... GAY MAN?”
“Not just a hero...a legend! I have discovered... GAY MAN!”
“So what?” said Mary.
“So why don’t you get us a couple of beers and we’ll read this thing.”
Instead she joined him in the living room with her laptop.
“According to Wikipedia, GAY MAN was more legend than real. ‘The underground comic allegedly got a short run in nineteen-sixty-five. Seems something never fully explained went wrong with distribution. Then civic groups and schools and especially the church cracked down and sacred off the vendors. Not a single copy exists today.’”
“We’ve got five hundred and thirty-three,” said Charles, removing two copies from their plastic bags. “Madam, I give you... GAY MAN!”
“You actually want to read this thing?” said Mary.
“Hey, nobody else can.”
“Well, I like the cover,” she said. “Nice costume, but I expected that, you know.”
“’I am GAY MAN and I am a hero!’” Charles began to read aloud. “’Skip the origin, nobody cares. I became GAY MAN because everybody else had a hero and I wasn’t allowed to!
“’I can fly, I’m strong and my X-Ray vision is getting better all the time!
“’You see me as white?
“’I can be black!
“I can be Asian or Hispanic.
“’I can be old or young, fat or skinny, ugly or handsome.
“’I can be anybody because I could be anybody!
“I am who I am, you are who you are, but you could be me!!’”
“This guy’s got style, but subtlety?” said Charles. “Written and drawn and inked by...”
“I’m on it,” said Mary, hitting the keyboard. “’William Laird, (1946-1965) controversial and openly homosexual artist and creator of the legendary — that word again — ‘GAY MAN, which, if he ever existed, has disappeared. When Laird’s longtime lover discovered that he was involved with GAY MAN, he ended the relationship. Laird either overdosed or committed suicide that same day’.”
“Talk about a delayed legacy,” said Charles. “Saved from oblivion by an obsessed comics geek way ahead of his time.”
“’Look at all the other heroes made of paper and colored ink, imagination and ego,’” Mary took over the reading. “’I can be brave and courageous and humble and generous and I’ve got all kinds of personal problems I’m forced to deal with. But I won’t be ashamed and I won’t be afraid. Not any more. I’m proud to be GAY MAN!’
“’High above a great metropolitan skyline, the Man of Steel lords over all he surveys, the greatest hero ever put into four-color print, when suddenly...’
“’BLAM! Never saw me coming, did you, Superman! Bet you never dreamt I could even exist. Of course, it’s so acceptable that you’re a space alien with a righteous streak no human would possibly live up to!
“’Well, think again, you overmuscled, overpowered, human male impersonator! KAA-BLAMM! I’m just as masculine as you’ll ever be and from right here!’”
“’Just a little bit later, in Gotham City...
“’Who are you?’” said the Caped Crusader, read Mary.
“’I am you, with your late filthy rich father and your cute ‘Boy Wonder’ always wished you could be, even for just one adventure!’
“BLAM! Did that hurt? Not as much as you’ve hurt me! And one other thing, Bat-Man, something that’s been bugging me ever since you appeared...’
“’BOOM! Rework that cowl!’
“’Not long after, on a New York City skyscraper...
“’You’re new in this biz, wall-crawler, but it doesn’t take “Spidey sense” to know you’ll make it big.’
“’Who are you and what do you want?’ asks Spider-Man,” read Mary.
“’To settle this here and now! BLAM! ‘I am GAY MAN and I’ve got personal hang-ups all my own, but I don’t look like a young Dick Clark and I never want to!’”
“Oh, man!” said Charles. “And I thought the Baptists killed this book. The copyright lawyers would’ve been on it like wolves. What was the publisher thinking?”
“This just in,” said Mary on the keyboard. “’Hawmark Publishing, Frank Dodd, owner. Labeled a ‘homosexual pornographer’ by the Comics Code Committee and publisher of the notoriously mythical GAY MAN. The comic’s unsolved disappearance drove him to bankruptcy. Hawmark Publishing burned to the ground in August, sixty-five. Dodd was tried for arson and convicted. He died in prison, 1972.”
“My god! The book is cursed!” said Charles.
“Maybe GAY MAN wasn’t about money,” said Mary. “Maybe these tortured souls were looking for something they couldn’t find anywhere or from anybody... acceptance.”
“’You super-heroines,’” read Charles. “’Marketable tarts created by men, perhaps even by GAY MAN himself! Named after housebroken cats and birds, you think you’re what little girls want to be?’
“’BLAM! KA-BOOM! Nobody could be so stupid to be taken in by you!
“’As for you, Wonder Woman, are you an authentic Amazon or not? BLAM! Either go topless or stay in the closet!’
“’From all the companies and corporations big and small they came at GAY MAN, a horde of comic book heroes — gods and giants, mutants and monsters, sorcerers and space beings, robots, androids and every kind of hero for every kind of reader except...
“’BLAM! KA-BAMM! KA-BOOM! GAY MAN took them on, one and two and three at time, his pride his power, his strength his self-esteem, and when each and every one had been bested, he piled them high in a heap in the center of the marketplace.
“’I didn’t beat these phony heroes because I’m bigger or better, smarter or stronger. I beat them because I’m real! You are who you are and I am who I am, and I am GAY MAN! I am one of you!
“’I could be your plumber or your priest, a cop or a carpenter, a soldier or a salesman, a teller or a tax clerk.
“’I might be your father, your brother or your son. I could even be you!”
“Wow!” said Charles, closing the comic. “Talk about tellin’ it like it is.”
“And keeping with that tradition,” said Mary, drawing close. “If GAY MAN were right here, right now, he might be looking at you the same way I am.”
“Oh,” said Charles and kissed her long and deep. “You do love my mouth, right.”
“Do you enjoy mine?”
“Are you going to keep on talking?”
They sort of skipped to the bedroom.
At 3:17 am, his body still tingling, Charles sat up in bed.
“The legend must die!” he said.
“What are you talking about?” said Mary.
“GAY MAN! He’s got to be real!”
“So you want to hold a news conference or something?”
“I’ve got a better idea,” he said and bolted for the den stark naked.
She followed him, and his deluxe PC was warming up.
“The first appearance of Spider-Man in near-mint condition, if you can find one, sells for twenty thousand plus,” said Charles, bringing up the net.
“But that’s Spider-Man,” said Mary.
“Right, and that book’s been reprinted a million times over. We’ve got an exclusive legend... mint! GAY MAN is here and Ebay’s gonna get him!”
“Enough to pay for the swimming pool?”
Charles scanned the cover, wrote in the text. With one more click of the mouse...
GAY MAN doesn’t have to be about money,” he said. “If you think he’s offensive or mean-spirited or that good people are going to be hurt, we can put him back in the trunk and run him to the dump.”
“No,” she said. “The world wasn’t ready for him forty years ago, probably still isn’t... Go GAY MAN!”
GAY MAN went. In less than twenty-four hours, 63 bids brought the price to $35,000. The auction closed at $65,500.
Within a month, Charles had sold them all. Only the last 25 went for less than $10,000.
Of course, the media got into the act.
“GAY MAN is my ‘retirement hero’, but he’s so much more to so many people,” said Charles to a reporter and the feed played everywhere. “’You are who you are and I am who I am,’ he said and he’s right. He’s always been one of us and he always will be.”
As the character’s copyright had long since expired, GAY MAN was in the public domain. In the coming months, three competing comic books would be published. The press runs are rumored to run into six figures. Nobody knows for sure.
Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Ahearn