Dark Justice: Setting the Record Straight about “Heroes and Villains”
The other day, I logged into my Amazon Author Central page and was happy to see that someone had left a new review for Detritus, the anthology that my short story “Heroes and Villains” originally appeared in. Happy, that is, until I actually read the review:
I enjoyed all the stories with the common ground of “collecting.” Quite a few made me cringe. However, one bothered me- it was the comic book story which seemed to recreate the story from a movie I’ve seen and upon research it appears the movie came first. This really bugged me as it seemed to steal a great idea. Other than that I was quite impressed with the collection.
Ahhh, nuts. I’ve been afraid someone would think that.
Now, I don’t know for sure what movie she’s thinking of, but I strongly suspect that it’s Comic Book Villains. I have seen it; it’s a fairly entertaining, if occasionally meandering, indie thriller. And yeah, the setup of that movie and the setup of my story are fairly similar, because both involve savvy comic book dealers taking advantage of the heir to a comics collection who doesn’t know its true worth. Beyond the set up, though, I think the two stories are substantially different; at least, I hope they are, although admittedly it’s been years since I’ve seen the movie.
The thing is, though, I wasn’t really thinking of the movie when I came up with the idea for this story. I was thinking of the same thing that the creators of movie were thinking of — an actual historical event.
In 1977, Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics discovered the “Edgar Church collection”, or as it’s more popularly known, the “Mile High collection”. The estate of Edgar Church was desperate to unload the roughly 22,000 comics that the collector had accumulated during his lifetime, and weren’t interested in commission sales — they wanted them gone now, and offered to sell them to Rozanski for $2,000.
At the time, the collection was actually worth more than $300,000, and Rozanski made over $2,000,000 from selling the collection over the next eight years, mostly to other dealers.
I’ve read Rozanski’s own account of the discovery and subsequent sale, and I’ve read a lot of criticism over the years by people who feel that he took an unfair advantage and basically swindled them out of some valuable property. I’m kind of undecided as to what I think of the ethics of the situation, but one thing I knew for sure when I first heard about it — there was some serious human drama involved there, and it could be the seed for one hell of a story. That’s stayed in my head ever since I first heard about it, and when I saw the call for submissions to Detritus, it was the first thing I thought of.
I just took the same liberty with the original event that the makers of Comic Book Villains did — added another party to the transaction, so there would be conflict and drama. There really isn’t much of a story there otherwise. In the movie, the factions are two rival comic book shops; in my short story, it’s just a couple of kids with big ambitions, which I think makes a huge difference to how the events of each story play out.
I would love to comment on the Amazon review, and let the reviewer know that while my characters may be thieves, I’m not one myself. I didn’t “steal a great idea” anymore than the makers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stole their idea from Psycho, just because both movies were based on the atrocities committed by Ed Gein.
But I’ve always considered it poor form to directly respond to negative criticism with anything other than a, “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the story, thank you so much for reading.” So I’m just going to leave it alone. But since it’s been itching in my brain for the past couple of days, I figured the only way to get it out of my system was to set the record straight here. (I also, to make myself feel better and for your amusement, decided to mock up the cover of one of the comics mentioned in my story. Although this clearly isn’t the actual issue mentioned in my story, but the cover from a Nineties reboot of the same character. I mean, obviously.)
By sheer coincidence, I’m going to dinner tonight with my friend Steve Feldon for his birthday, and I’m going to be bringing him a few boxes of comics from my collection that I don’t actually want anymore. If it turns out that anything hidden away in those boxes makes him a millionaire — well, I at least hope he’ll buy me a beer or something.