I’m the creator of No Small Town Heroes, a video comic about ordinary people trying to solve some extraordinary problems.
This is a new type of visual storytelling, where you get to witness the artistic process as the story unfolds. If you already watch No Small Town Heroes, thank you. It means the world to me that you’re as excited as I am about Simon and Amy and Leonard - and even the occasional super villain passing through Mavis County.
If you're new, start from the beginning here or watch the series on YouTube at: No Small Town Heroes
And if you have the means and desire to become a patron of NSTH, I’m going to thank you, but I know I won’t be able to put the extent of my appreciation into words. You're allowing me do for a living what I did for a long time for free.
Part One: Summer
No Small Town Heroes - Episode 1: Summer in Mavis
Me and Leonard pedal hard across cracked concrete, racing past the boarded up windows of the old train depot. I pump my legs, and the collectible cards in my spokes make my wheels hum. They aren’t my best superhero cards; those I keep safe in a plastic binder. But I always stick some in my spokes for luck.
Spinning in the spokes of my wheels is probably the closest a super is ever going to get to a small town like Mavis. They’re probably worried about getting stuck here like the rest of us.
There’s not but three ways out of Mavis County. Dad says I’m too contrary for the military, and there’s no way I’ll ever pitch for the Cardinals. That just leaves university. Barring a miracle, education is my ticket out.
But it’s June, and school doesn’t start for months. So me and Leonard race into the wind, sunbaked grit in our eyes and sticking to the sweat on our necks. I hop the tracks and ride down a stretch of dry grass before crossing Main Street to the Rexall drugstore.
No Small Town Heroes - Episode 2: Leonard Crossing the Tracks
“Hey,” my cousin calls from behind me, “wait up.”
Leonard is big boned. He stops pedaling to walk his bike over the tracks, and I wait for him outside the store while he crosses the street. Things tend to disappear around Leonard. So I keep close, just like I’ve done all summer.
Leonard’s dad is the sheriff in Mavis, so my cousin is usually good about following rules. But even Leonard doesn’t bother to look both ways before crossing Main Street. There isn’t much other than wind moving along Mavis streets on sweaty, summer afternoons.
“Get away from the window, dummy.”
Leonard motions me over to one side of the building with a wave. I oblige him.
He gives me a cross looks and says, “If Jason’s inside, he might of seen you.”
We ride around to the back and ditch the bikes behind a utility shed. There’s a back way into the building past the stairs leading up to Doc Cunnigham’s office. We go in that way so as not to get caught by Mr. Tollerude who owns the store. Don’t either of us have any money, but more than that, Leonard’s dad doesn’t much like the Tollerudes.
The door is open, propped against a wooden packing crate with Sears, Roebuck & Co. burned into the side. A pair of mismatched electric fans wage war on the invading heat. They ruffle the paper notices tacked to hallway walls, and give Leonard and I enough cover noise to sneak inside to the magazine racks.
No Small Town Heroes - Episode 3: Shotguns and comics
It’s dark inside after the full strength of the summer sun. It’s cool, too. We’re both wearing our shorts. Leonard’s ride too high over his rounded hips. I don’t tease him about that, though. He’s sensitive about his shape.
Our hair is cut high and tight for the summer. The fans make drying sweat feel cold against my skin.
Back in the corner with the periodicals is a spinning wire rack where we like to sit. Next to the magazines are men’s products. It smells like sock-drawer tobacco, shoe polish and hair pomade.
Most days I read the nickel comics from the bottom of the rack, but Rexall’s gets new books in on Tuesdays and today the top of the rack is full of cellophane-wrapped new editions.
There’s a trick to checking which collectable cards are inside without opening the wrappers. I shake the cards to the middle of the comic. My fingers are tacky from the heat and the rubber grips on my handlebars. I hold a comic upside-down, bend it just right, and the cellophane pulls away with my sticky fingers. My cheeks feel tight from a grin as I peer under comic after comic to see which super is pictured on the card inside.
Leonard doesn’t fancy comics. He prefers the likes of Field & Stream and Future Farmers of America. Not because he’s an avid outdoorsman, but Leonard does have his motives.
The sound of oscillating fans and a pinball machine up at the front of the store let Leonard and I talk. So long as we keep our voices pitched low, that is.
“What do you think is better for plinking game around a farm?” Leonard asks, “A lever action .22 or a .410 shotgun?”
“Leonard Bateman, name me one time when you’ve shot a critter on a farm.”
“I have a friend who does.”
I don’t have to ask who the friend is. It’s Amy Carlson. It’s always Amy Carlson.
The Carlson’s own the dairy outside Mavis, the opposite direction from my hometown of White Butte. Leonard’s dad is a long-time friend of their family. And although I haven’t met her, Amy will start her freshman year at Mavis High this fall. Same as me.
Sheriffing keeps my Uncle Earl busy, and in all the weeks I’ve been staying with him and Leonard in Mavis, he’s never taken us out of town. I’d be surprised if Leonard shoots much and for certain he doesn’t know a thing about farming.
They don’t even come to visit my family in White Butte any more. Not since Aunt Peggy ran off.
Leonard will clam up for hours at a stretch if the mood takes him. He sounds defensive, so I answer his question.
Leonard responds with a grunt, and then, “Says the same thing here in this article. Don’t say why, though.”
“Easy,” I say, “can’t reload rim fire cartridges. The .22 shells get expensive.”
Leonard sits on the worn tile and trails a finger through the grit that piles up in the cracks where the magazine shelves don’t quite meet. He’s lost in the magazine again which means I can concentrate on the comics.
No Small Town Heroes - Episode 4: Superhero dreams
If Leonard ever thinks about the world outside Mavis, I don’t imagine he considers anything much past Amy and the dairy. But I do.
One day I’ll go to Chicago and take a train over to New York City. I’ll meet Nate Crimson and offer to write him a biography. I’ll visit little Annie Draper’s grave and tell her regent, Hellproof, that I’m sorry for his loss. I’ll buy a red carnation from Dystra, Mistress of Manhattan. A real carnation, like she leaves with the criminals she catches. Not a cheapo fake like the one I got from the back-page mail order advertisements.
I come across a new edition with a paper insert blocking my access to the collectible card inside. Irritated, I start to put it back on the rack when the words printed in bold on the paper flyer catch my eye.
“Oh. My. Gosh,” I pronounce each word like its own sentence.
I pull my eyes away from the flyer and see that Leonard has his shoulders hunched low. He’s leaning to peer down the aisle, probably thinking Mr. Tollerude has spotted us.
“We’re fine,” I say, unable to keep the grin from my voice. “Here, take a look at this.”
He narrows his eyes at the comic when I offer it to him but he doesn’t take it.
“Read the advertisement, silly.”
I toss it to him and the cellophane crinkles when he catches it. Leonard’s got a scowl on his face, but I turn my attention to a fresh handful of new releases. At least half of them have the same white flyer tucked inside the packaging.
I turn back to Leonard with a grin, but he’s gone pale. He looks up at me and his eyes are round orbs, a little white showing all around the edges. The comic I handed him is gone, as is the insert declaring Hellproof’s scheduled appearance in Mavis, but I can’t see where he put them.
“He’s coming here?” Leonard’s words are little more than a breath over the drone of the fans.
“Looks like,” excitement heightens the pitch of my voice.
“A super? In Mavis?”
“At the county fair.” I’m standing up straight, both my fists are balled up and I can see them shaking with anticipation as I look down at my cousin. “If I could just meet him, maybe I could get him to sign me a letter of recommendation. Or even get an internship at some big city paper. Leonard, the fair’s in just five weeks!”
Leonard’s eyes are still wide, but the look on his face changes.
No Small Town Heroes - Episode 5: Tilted
“Hey!” Newt Tollerude – in his shirtsleeves and sweating with a box under each arm – sidles down the aisle toward us. He’s got us cut off from the back exit where the bikes are stashed. “I’m going to charge you boys a penny a page if you’re not buying those magazines.”
“Come on!” I drop the unopened comics on the magazine rack and take off down another aisle toward the front exit. Leonard is right behind me. We hit the open end at a run and I have to swerve to avoid crashing into a wire-caged fan on a wooden box stand.
Jason Tollerude, the shop owner’s son, has a group of older boys gathered around at the pinball machine by the door. I dodge around the fan but slip, crashing instead into the hard, angled edges of the pinball game.
For an instant I have the undivided attention of Jason and his gang. Then Jason’s gaze lifts and I hear Leonard slide to a stop behind me.
Jason is a lot taller than me even when I’m not knocked flat on my backside. Like Leonard, he’s going into his senior year at Mavis High. He’s not as sturdy as Leonard, but he’s taller. Almost as tall as his dad who is cursing from the back of the store.
Jason says, “You need to keep your little pet on a leash, Bateman.”
With no more warning than that, Jason lashes out with a foot. It catches me in the gut and my stomach muscles cramp up so much that I can’t even take in a breath.
“Come on, Simon.” Leonard tries to help me, but I’m not waiting for a hand up. I’m already scrabbling like a crab toward the open door.
“Your cousin cost me a game, Leonard.”
“Sorry,” I wheeze the word, but I’m just a freshman and I’m new to Mavis. Jason is focused only on Leonard. But then we’re out the door and running. The wind hits us, dry and filled with grit.
Something ricochets off the concrete. I look back to see the older boys piling out of the store behind us. Jason picks up another stone from where the weather has worked it loose from the worn concrete sidewalk. He winds up to throw again and I surprise myself with a laugh that sounds crazed, even to my own ears.
But I’m not a bulletproof super like Dauntless or Hellproof. And my bike is behind the drugstore with Leonard’s. Getting away from Jason and Newt Tollerude is all I care about.
Leonard follows me blindly, so I keep my legs pumping in time with the flat-footed slap of his feet. We pelt toward the old depot like its boarded-up windows are the sanctuary of a church. But before I can cross the street, the familiar nose of a blue and white Chevy creeps up to the corner.
No Small Town Heroes - Episode 6: Uncle Earl
I skid to a stop when Sheriff Bateman turns the police cruiser our way.
He crashes into my back and we both go down in a jumble of bare knees, palms and unprotected elbows. It takes the wind out of me for the second time in as many minutes. I slide on the crumbling concrete.
When I can see again, a pair of familiar black boots fills my view. Dust from the day has dulled the shine of the sheriff’s boots but it’s done nothing to relax the creased cuff of his blue uniform. When I look up to see the rest of him, he’s staring down at Leonard and me with an eyebrow raised.
He’s got humor on his face, but it fades quickly when Newt Tollerude comes out of his drugstore. The older boys disperse back into the shop. Jason doesn’t, though. He stands alongside his dad, bold as brass. He bounces a another stone on the palm of his hand.
“Store is for customers what can pay, Bateman. You keep your little vagrants out.”
“Newt,” my uncle says, “you have half the boys in Mavis through your store every summer day.” He helps Leonard and I to get untangled and back on our feet. I’m bleeding from my palm and both knees.
“You and I got history,” my uncle says, “but I won’t have you taking it out on these boys. Now give me a minute and then I need to talk to Jason. I want you there for that.”
Uncle Earl gives us a once over, eyes hard. He purses his lips, I think on account of me being all skinned up.
“Lenny,” Uncle Earl is the only one that calls Leonard that, “I saw your bikes ’round back. Load them in the trunk while I talk to the Tollerudes.”
“They in trouble?” Leonard asks.
“That’s none of your business, son. Now, go and fetch those bikes.” Leonard runs off. I can’t see a single scratch on him.
“Simon,” my uncle says, “you wait in the car and mind getting blood on the seats.”
I get into the back of the cruiser and he goes to have his word with the Tollerudes.