Not a half hour ago, as I was writing this, Josh took a look at today’s panel and said, “Dude, this is pretty brutal. You should take a break.” And it is a rough scene. Stacy is dead. At the bottom of a gorge, her blonde hair soaked with her blood. And I felt numb. These characters are a part of me, but especially Stacy.
In 2007, I wrote a short story called Unlife. It was around twenty pages. There was no James Falick and no Stacy Goering, but there were James and Stacy. They had to separate, because everything was telling them not to be together after James became a zombie. But first they tried as much as they could to make it work.
In that first version, the world of Unlife was different. James didn’t live with his parents; he lived on his own, in a tiny apartment full of DVDs and books a lot like the one the Stacy you know would inhabit. He had a bed – for guests, because he didn’t sleep. He worked at the library, and the tension in the story was that of living this unlife next to Stacy as friends instead of as lovers. In a way, Stacy haunted James. She was the living spirit of what he lost, a reminder of a love that burned as though fresh in his memory. Stacy wouldn’t abandon James, and for a while she didn’t leave him. They went on dates, to movies, they tried to make it work. He loved her. She loved him. But in the end, social pressure and eventually law forced their relationship to be nothing more than close friends. The comic ended with them being friends and enjoying each other’s company, but with James berating himself for his failure to be alive and with her.
When I turned back to look at that early story, I asked myself, “What was 2007 Stacy like?” I went through my old file storage and found a handful of the old pages, though they’re only penciled out and not inked. (Those were the days when I tried to be an traditional comic artist drawing on paper, so I used to scan them between stages just for posterity.) But I must not have uploaded everything. A vague panic filled me. Where were my Unlife pages? I had just moved and everything was the wrong place. I pulled apart bins and boxes. Nothing. Portfolios. Nope. A plastic bag full of Bristol paper? There you are.
Yes, that’s an unironic Portal shirt, because it’s 2007, and Portal everything. James might look familiar because I reuse some of his 2007 design for flashbacks. Stacy, however, is completely different. Wavy blonde hair, in some pages, much wilder than her hair has ever been in our comic. Then again, it was nearly ten years ago, and as a fledgling comic artist, I was a bit less consistent.
I emptied the bag, organized the pages. One to twenty. I flipped through them, and I remembered. The story was already expanding, even then. I turned the pages to see a proto-Luna character with bulging eyes. Josh brainstormed Luna, but seeing that design, I’m sure I subconsciously put that in. James smoking, with the line “It’s not like it’s going to kill me”, because I was edgy.
James and Stacy on a couple dates, one with them hanging out with her friends, and of course, the dick joke. And it’s bittersweet, because I finally felt a bit of the loss, both of the original character that I made, and the new character that Josh and I made together. This tenacious, vibrant person, and just as she’s about to make it out, Fate cashes in her number. Stacy may be gone, but her absence will always haunt me, and James. Haunted by the ghost of someone we loved.