“Gabriel Flanagan. Know him?”

Iris shook her head. “Should I?”

“You should if you expect to be in the same panel with him. Don’t you actually read anything besides what you draw?”

“I told you, I’m an artist, not a comic book geek.”

“Gabe Flanagan’s one of the most respected artists to come out of the underground comix–with an ‘x’–movement since Robert Crumb. He wrote, illustrated, and colored three hundred issues of The Monsters of Merryville Street by himself and won a bushel of Eisners for it–not bad for a series that deals frankly with cannibalism, incest, necrophilia, self-mutilation, and includes unlicensed references to the classic Universal Monsters lineup.”

“Ah, I see,” said Iris. “You expected that the author and illustrator of a gentle watercolor comic with no violence and G-rated sensibilities would be familiar with something like that?”

“No, I just would have been impressed if you had. Most people here only know Gabe Flanagan from the 10-episode animated show he produced on MTV in the mid-90’s. Sods. Don’t mention that to him if you do meet; he lost creative control back then and is liable to start punching.”

“Why do you have all the panels drawn backwards?” Rich said, examining Sadie’s artwork.

“You’re supposed to read it right to left,” she said.

Rich wrinkled his nose. “Why? That’s really confusing, not to mention counterintuitive.”

“Because it’s manga!” Sadie cried as if she’d been waiting for the question and the chance to educate its boorish originator. “Manga is written and read right to left!”

“But isn’t that because manga is Japanese and they read right to left?” Rich said, squinting as he tried to follow the flamethrower-toting faerie through the correct sequence of her adventures.

“Look at the translated ones in the library, they’re right to left too.”

“Of course not. They only translated the word bubbles and stuff,” Rich said, flipping a page and carefully examining a panel where the flamethrower faerie was suddenly tiny with stub limbs and wildly swinging a mallet. “If the whole comic was flipped it would create all kinds of problems. But you wrote in English and drew from scratch–very nicely, might I add–so it should be left to right.”

“That’s just not how manga works!” Sadie fumed.

“And your English text is left to right inside the bubbles on your right to left pages! If you really want to be authentic, shouldn’t you write the words right to left too? Or is that tfel ot thgir?” Rich could barely contain a smile at Sadie’s reaction so far.

“Give me that,” Sadie grumbled, snatching the comic back with an expression not unlike the flamethrower faerie. “Philistine.”

Excerpt from Noah Waverly’s entry in Who’s Who in American Graphic Arts (New York: Pequot Press, 2005):

Noah Waverly was born in Cascade, MI on January 13, 1953, to Emmett, a schoolteacher, and Rebecca, a homemaker. The Waverly family had lived in the Cascade area for more than three generations, and both Noah’s parents were graduates of nearby Osborn College. Noah grew up in Deerville, a short distance from Cascade, where his father taught mathematics.

Noah Weatherby hadn’t been seen since his comic strip ended, and I was determined to interview him for the capstone thesis of my journalism degree.

Professor Legrand hadn’t been enthusiastic about my idea. “What if you can’t find this man?” he’d said. “After all, he hasn’t had an interview in ten years.”

I’d flashed a confident grin and pushed the form he had to sign across the desk. “I’m just a student,” I said. “What could possibly be wrong with something only you and I are going to read? Besides, even if I get the run-around, I can still write about it.”

Of course, once Legrand was done with it and had assigned me my final grade, who’s to say the Times or the Post wouldn’t be interested? It would be quite a coup to start my professional career, and the fact that I loved Weatherby’s work would help make the writing sparkle.

Noah was a quiet student, and led a relatively undistinguished academic career, though he was active in drawing cartoons for the school newspaper and yearbook. He later attended Osborn College, studying education with an art minor—his parents recall that he wanted to be an art teacher—and drew editorial cartoons for the student-run Osborn Beacon and occasionally for the Cascade Herald.

I had fond memories of the bizarre world Weatherby had painted for me every Sunday—eye-poppingly colorful adventures and flights of fancy, as Keith and Harry jetted across the universe, confronted bizarre aliens, wrestled dinosaurs, and plotted world domination without ever leaving their shared yard. It had been something of a bad influence on me in my formative years—I tried to form my own neighborhood anti-girl club, and begged my parents to build me a treehouse despite the fact that we had nothing bigger than a lavender bush.

I snickered at the memory as I pulled into central Deerville and parked in front of the local whistle-stop café, thinking of the strip where Keith had gotten stuck in a square of wet concrete after trying to make an impression of the seat of his pants.