Richard “Rick” Andreoli is no stranger to geek culture: As a former San Diego Comic Con volunteer-turned-staffer and avid writer, he’s been a part of the subculture for years. Comic Con was one of the few places he felt loved and accepted when he first came out. “This was the early ’90s, and that kind of acceptance wasn’t common in San Diego,” he tells NewNowNext. “But I eventually realized it made sense: These were the freaks and geeks who society mocked, just because they weren’t considered ’normal’ like everyone else.”
Now, Andreoli is bringing that world to life with Battle at the Comic Expo, his second book. The story follows Ron Lionel and Joe Cotter, two unlikely allies who must defeat the odds to save America’s Finest Comic Book Expo and themselves. Queer characters featured in the book include Xander Thompson, a “big out-and-proud cosplaying gay boy” who plays a minor role in the plot, and Lionel, the novel’s sexually fluid and label-free antagonist. “I find him to be the most fascinating of all the characters in this book,” Andreoli adds.
Below, find an excerpt of Battle at the Comic Expo, reprinted with permission from Andreoli.
Joe watched as two boys dressed like Rebel Alliance fighters raced down the hall and crashed right into a frumpy, dark-haired woman in an orange skirt and top. She folded to the ground, dropping her phone and knocking over the two rolling suitcases at her side. The boys stopped for a moment, then took off running again.
“Selfish!” she screamed as she struggled onto her knees. “SSSEEELLLFFFIIISSSHHH!”
Joe raced over to help her.
“DON’T! YOU! DARE!” she screamed, stopping Joe cold.
Suddenly, with a swirl of fabric and light, Xander appeared by her side in his full Renaissance Faire garb. “Shh, sweetie, it’s okay,” he said calmly. “Let’s get you over here and settled.”
As Xander helped the woman onto her meaty legs, Joe reached for her suitcases. In flash, she slapped at him.
“Leave my things alone!” she screamed.
Joe tried to speak, but she just kept yelling at him. Xander stepped between them and smiled at her.
“Honey, it’s okay,” he said. “That’s Joe. He works for the Expo. He runs security here.” The woman stared at Joe with suspicion. “I’ll get your suitcases. You just sit here.” Xander walked her to a bench, and she slumped down, slap-wiping some tears from her cheeks.
“Something’s not right,” Joe whispered to Xander.
“I think she’s okay,” Xander said. Joe resisted the urge to ask him when he became an authority on a person’s mental well-being. “Let me sit with her for a second.”
Realizing he wasn’t helping—and hating that realization—Joe stepped around the corner where he could watch discreetly. He felt defeated.
“Now, then, better?” Xander asked as he rolled the suitcases to the woman’s side. She bit her lip. “Somewhat?” She nodded. Xander plopped himself down next to her. “Xander Thompson,” he extended his hand. “America’s Finest Comic Book Expo Fan of the Year, three years running.” No response. “And you are…?”
“Velma.” She offered a dead fish handshake.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Xander replied. “Enjoying the event?” She glowered: obviously not.
“Come on, Velma,” Xander finally said. “If you can’t trust a queer at a comic book convention, then who can you trust?”
Velma suddenly perked up. “You’re a free spirit? Like Whimsy in The Enduring,” she said. “The Gods send Whimsy to help Dexter whenever he gets lost on his journey.”
“And who are we to question the gods?” Velma looked at him with wide eyes. “Joking. I know the books well. I met the creator, Ron Lionel.”
Joe knew he shouldn’t be spying, but there was something odd about this woman. And he was seeing a side of Xander he’d never witnessed before. Calmer. More … normal.
“What was he like?”
Xander sighed, thought about it, and a small smile rose on one side of his mouth. He clearly had a crush on the comic book creator. “Not what I expected. But in a good way.”
Velma nodded. “I came all the way here from Charleston,” she told him. “My mother and I love his writing. We read it and reread it and try to figure out the clues together.” She clenched her fists, frustrated.
“You’re upset about the Book of Revelation storyline,” Xander said. “It’s been the talk leading up to the Expo. Ron’ll have to answer questions about it during his panel.”
“It’s why I came. But then I ran into him…” She sounded wounded. “You spoke with him?” Xander asked.
“Not really,” she looked at Xander, confusion written all over her face. “When I’m alone or with my mother, I can talk, I can laugh, I can do anything. But my mother couldn’t come to San Diego, and today…” Velma stopped, looking down at her thighs. “I just felt so stupid.”
“Girl, listen to me,” Xander quietly instructed. “Stop those tears, because they aren’t doing you or anyone else any good. “I’m scared too,” he said. Velma looked surprised. “All the time. Anyone who wants to achieve a dream and isn’t scared is both a fool and a failure. But my nana always said that the only way to overcome fear is to dive right into it.”
Xander looked deep into her eyes. “Miss Velma, you deserve to fulfill your destiny no matter what anyone else says, and that includes your doubting self! We might look like geeks out there in the mundane world, but we know who we are on the inside: strong, smart, and possessing the skills to do whatever we want! So to hell with the mundane world. Make your own destiny happen!”
Velma wrapped her arms around him, causing his peacock-feathered hat to utter off his head. Xander made a few half-hearted protests about not wrinkling his blouse and cape.
Joe watched the moment, unaware of the dangers Xander had just unleashed.
Battle at the Comic Expo is available at Amazon.