SPANNER’S GLADE, Colorado [Reuters]. When two cops arrived at the trailer park home of eccentric comics fan Dom Dukes , they weren’t expecting to find much. “We get these kind of anonymous tip-offs all the time,” recalls 44 year-old father of four, Sheriff Ford Foreman. “I don’t know what it is about these comics fans that gets people so suspicious. Maybe it’s those long storage boxes or the way they go to the same shop on the same day every week.”
His partner, Sheriff’s Deputy Sharon Dupree, agrees: “If I was a law-abiding American I’d be suspicious too!”
Of course, crime stats prove that the vast majority of comic-book fans aren’t criminals and dawn raids on their homes usually turn out to be fruitless. “I hate to say it,” admits Foreman, “but most of these fanboys are clean as a bell.”
“At least in the eyes of the law,” chuckles Dupree, pointing at her nose for comic effect.
“Not so sure about the nose of the law,” says Foreman, redundantly.
When Foreman and Dupree entered Dukes’ home they found a bundle of paychecks [in Britain they’re called ‘wageslips’] in an aluminum box [“aluminium”] stored in a concealed wall recess behind a poster of Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Alyson Hannigan [‘Alison’]. The payments came from major American comic publishers and none of them were made out to Dukes.
The cops confronted their suspect: “‘Care to tell me who Frank Miller is, buddy? John Byrne? Mike McMahon from Britain’s 2000ad?’” A frightened Dukes bolted out of his trailer, but collided with a tree, fell down a ravine and was viciously attacked by a bear. During his subsequent trial, Dukes would later claim that these injuries were caused by the arresting officers, but his allegations were dismissed after he left the witness stand and collided with a tree, fell down a ravine and was attacked by a bear.
Foreman and Dupree arrested their suspect then continued searching his home. In the trailer’s bathroom unit, hidden behind a set of bookshelf-themed shower curtains, they found a fireman’s pole: “The DA said Dukes got the idea from Batman,” claims Dupree, “but I don’t know nothing about that – I’m a cop, I don’t read comics.” The pole ran through a big hole in the shower floor and descended into a vast subterranean cavern, or bath-cave. “I knew right then that we were dealing with a real sicko nutjob bastard,” said Foreman. “Don’t tell the guys at the precinct this, but I felt like that Judy Foster chick in Silence of the Lambs. I even talked like her for a while.”
In the underground lair, Foreman and Dupree found three very frightened, very bearded men. Next to them were three drawing boards.
John Byrne , Frank Miller  and Mike “Mick” McMahon [36-24-36] were comic book legends who worked on some of the industry’s most popular characters like Batman, Superman and Jugger Grimrod from the Alien Legion. According to criminal psychologist Dr Bobbi Carolgees: “[Dukes] had a very unhappy childhood [and] turned to superhero comics as a means of escape. His favourite comic artists were like surrogate father figures to him, and as a young adult regularly embarrassed himself at comic convention autograph signings by accidentally calling them ‘Daddy.’”
During the 1990s, many of Dukes’ favourite artists rebelled against the mainstream superhero comics industry and embarked on more edgy, personal projects. Dukes felt a deep sense of betrayal, no doubt exacerbated by childhood memories of his biological parents, who regularly abandoned him to embark on more edgy, personal projects.
Dukes decided to stage an elaborate intervention and make his fanboy fathers see the error of their ways. He’d do this by chaining them up in an underground lair and making them produce twenty-two pages a month of mainstream superhero “daddy issues”.
Byrne was his first victim. He met Dukes during a fishing trip to Colorado and was lured into his trailer with big talk about tax incentives and ‘creator’s rights’: “You know, people say to me: ‘John, how could you have been so naïve?’ But let me tell you this: the people who say this did not work in the comics industry during the late-1990s. Back then, this sort of thing used to happen to illustrious, Eagle Award winning comic professionals all the time. I’m just unlucky that it resulted in a 20-year kidnapping ordeal.”
British artist McMahon was Dukes’ next victim: “Well, to tell you the truth, like a lot of people at the time, I was getting rather disillusioned with the UK comics scene and was quite keen on diversifying into other fields and suchlike. Then one day I got a fax from this General Dukes bloke who wanted me to work for the Pentagon. Apparently, the US Military were launching a new range of combat footwear inspired by my drawings. I thought to myself: ‘Bostin! This is just the sort of career change I was after!’”
Miller met Dukes during a signing tour for the audio-book adaptation of his comic series, Hard Boiled. “The lying weasel told me he was Mayor of Denver, said he wanted a giant anti-censorship mural for the local Amtrak station. Spent weeks planning it out: 60 foot by 30 foot, with Marv from Sin City in the middle, gaffa tape all over his mouth. Went ‘round to Dukes’ trailer to collect the tiles, next thing you know I’m chained to the floor of a dungeon with John-goddamn-Byrne and some Limey who draws bigger feet than I do!”
During their years of captivity, the artists were forced to produce the sort of comics that Dukes enjoyed as a child. “I was working on a Spider-Man strip in the dungeon one day,” recalls Byrne, “and I thought to myself: Hey – wouldn’t it be fun to do a ‘Day in the Life of Aunt May’ yarn? I know what you’re thinking – and you’re right! It’s one of those crazy ideas that only an illustrious, Eagle Award winning comic professional could come up with! When Dukes inspected the artwork he wanted to know where Spider-Man was and who he was supposed to be fighting. ‘That’s just it, old buddy!’ I said, ‘There’s no Spidey! There’s no supervillain! It’s just Aunt May all the way!’”
“Well, I worked with some risk-averse editors in the past, but this Dukes guy was something else! He smacked me across the eyes and beard with a rolled-up copy of Previews magazine and withheld my Hostess Twinkie bar rations for a week – believe me, friend: that was a bad day in the dungeon! You can rest assured it was the last time I tried to do anything exciting or innovative in comics.”
The artists had to endure working conditions that have since been condemned by Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Comic Code Authority: “It was bad enough being half-starved and chained to the floor of a dungeon,” recalls McMahon, “but this Dukes chap made sure our drawing boards were always just out of arm’s reach. He thought we might use them to escape. I must admit, Frank, John and myself did think about making a break for it on numerous occasions, but none of our plans ever got off the drawing board.”
To produce comics pages under these conditions the artists had to improvise. “We used to share a six-foot long bamboo rod with a bingo pen taped to the end,” claims Byrne. “Let me tell you: our linework was all over the place!”
Miller agrees. Holding up some of the comics he produced during captivity he snarls: “Look at this shit! Look what that sick psycho bastard made me do! I don’t know about you, but when I look at this, you know what I think? I’ll tell you what I think: I think it looks like it was done by a guy chained to the bottom of a f*****g dungeon using a f*****g bingo pen taped to the end of a six-foot long bamboo f*****g rod, that’s what I think.”
“Just a pity no one else had the balls to say that – we might have got busted out a whole lot sooner.”