Next to my desk are 6 print books of Unlife. Creating these books for sale can be super difficult and time consuming, but I made them without the intent of distribution, which is why you won’t find them for sale on this site. Instead they sit here as a convenient way to loan the story out to people who want to read beyond the restriction of a computer screen. The format is probably preferable, as this comic was not written to be enjoyed one day at a time, but binged chapter by chapter (but I don’t need to tell long-time readers that). But my point in all this is that so long as I have worked in this school, I have not shared these books once.
The simple explanation is that Unlife is not what you’d call a kids’ story. But plenty of the faculty probably fall into Unlife’s target demographic (whatever that may be). And the books sit here, next to Fenix Gear and Division, gathering dust. What’s the point of them being here if I can’t share them?
I guess because I like to have them near me.
Like hanging a diploma on your wall, the books are physical proof of achievement. I don’t think I’ve ever really read anyone’s diploma on the wall. And in the same way, the people who work here don’t need to read my comic to understand what I’ve been doing. It’s not like I wrote it for them. I wrote it for me, I guess, because it was a challenge I wanted to take on.
Zack approached me about Unlife as we finished up on Fenix Gear, calling it the story he always wanted to tell but could never find the voice for. I agreed to be that voice because the metaphor inherent in the concept and the potential I saw were captivating. And in the time since, I have taken the material we first discussed and grown it into something. I couldn’t have told you a DBZ/Dark Souls chapter was in the cards when we started, or that characters like Mica or Karrie would eventually appear to represent other aspects of James’ Unlife adventure.
And when I started, I didn’t intend it to be a big staple of my life. It was a side project that grew into something else. A big part of that was having fans comment on the website, having people respond to my work. It was a thrill that I was no longer screaming into the dark, and that someone was responding back (even when the response was “I don’t get it”). It’s not that any specific comment or commenter made the difference. If I had to boil it down, it was the affirmation that what I was doing wasn’t just going into a drawer or being ignored. It was being seen, acknowledged, and responded to, which made continuing the work feel important. It felt like taking that next step in the creative process that I had been unable to breach since starting. Even today, Unlife is my most successful project in terms of being made.
And it’s the longest one too. Most of what I wrote were pilots and first issues, never spanning long enough to see towards a conclusion. And with Unlife’s fast approaching, I look at the full set of work and…
It looks so small.
In book form, especially; I’ve been working on this for what will soon be 6 years, and I can fit all of it into my backpack. So tiny, and yet so much of my time and life and writing energy over the better part of the last decade has been devoted to this. How can something so big to me be so small?
But when I open the pages and I see how dense these tiny books are, watching the unfolding lives of all these characters birthed into existence by Zack and me, watching them suffer and overcome and discover their own paths – it doesn’t matter who else sees them or tells me how much they did or didn’t like it. I have that proof of my work and it feels…
It feels like I did something with my (un)life.