I spent last Friday at home all day, waiting for a package. It arrived early enough, but its contents required my attention the rest of the day. Within were two presents from Zack. The first was this bad boy he whipped up for my birthday in October.
Fine art at its… corniest.
But the purpose of the package was actually the second item – a 65GB USB drive packed with the entirety of Unlife’s archives. And I mean the absolute entirety. Every comic page, every line of concept art, every advertisement, every second of work Zack has put towards visualizing Unlife, at my fingertips. Why? Well, first of all, the series and all its backups have thus far rested with Zack alone, and this seemed monumentally safer. But more than that, it was because I needed to begin working on –
Oops, almost spoiled it. We’ll share more on that soon.
Okay, well, the SECOND reason I wanted it (third? I can’t even count this morning) was for a more personal reason. While arranging and organizing the files for my own super secret purposes, I had a chance to see how far we’ve come, especially since the series began in 2011. And though I am very familiar with the first few strips, there was something intimate about being able to rummage through the PSD files and work within the layers, seeing what’s underneath.
Really, that’s what Unlife is – a series of layers. Layers of text, subtext, outlining, inking, coloring, shading… All of these layers stacked one after another to create the picture you see before you. But some pictures, upon re-reading, are less than perfect.
Now, I only speak for myself and my personal contribution to Unlife. Zack has done amazingly with the herculean task of two full-color strips a week. But I have an incredibly hard time reading the stuff I wrote back in 2011. It serves to remind me of how far I’ve come, and how much I wish my beginnings reflected my current writing prowess. I sometimes cringe when asking people to read Unlife, because I know they have to work through that first chapter, which, while not bad, is just not my strongest material. It drives me up the wall. A few people know that Zack and I talk about redoing those pages. Fewer people know that when it comes to my contribution… I kinda did.
When I was in LA, I wrote a pilot script for Unlife to be a TV show I could pitch. The episode takes place over the course of Chapter 1, ending more or less where the comic chapter ended, with the zombie attack. I finally had a chance to rewrite dialog, giving more time to moments like when James is first bitten and his deteriorating relationship with She Who Must Not Be Named. Everything was sharper, smarter, and more reflective of my writing as it is now. And yet, at the end of the day all it added up to was…
Chapter 1. Exactly as it exists today. Okay, not EXACTLY. I may have added a few layers to the content, but it was ultimately not any “better” than what I was obsessing about. And, look, every layer adds something new and greater to the overall piece. And nothing good can be gotten from trying to make the past better. I really hoped finding some secret understanding in adding those layers would help me make a better future. But at the end of the day, it’s the same intent. The same story. The same picture.
And all you can do is move on to the next one, and use what you’ve learned.