This was a difficult comic to make, on several levels. Let’s start with the superficial ones, OK?

The art here consists of figures drawn into photographic environments, a technique I refer to as mezzo-fumetti. The term fumetti is just the Italian word for comics, which — for some reason — came to be associated in North America with comics which use photographs instead of illustrations. Mezzo is simply the Italian word for half. So “half-photo comics”.

There’s a common perception that fumetti are comics made by “cheating”: instead of going to the effort of drawing the scenes, you just take a picture instead. But depending on what the images are, that isn’t necessarily going to be easier. For example, I had to carefully script out and thumbnail the whole story before I started taking pictures, to make sure I got all the scenes and angles I would need. Even so, I ended up taking a lot of extras, for all the same reasons that an illustrator might have to try out different angles and compositions when drawing a page. Even though I had a digital camera and could immediately see how each shot had turned out, that’s not the same as knowing that it’ll work on the page, with the figures added.

Which is the next part of the difficulty. I had to draw it backwards. Like oh so many hack cartoonists (and pros) I almost always start a drawing with the figures. Then I draw just as much background as I need to around them. The advantage of mezzo-fumetti is that you don’t have to put in all the work on the background, but you do have to work within it to render the figure. You can’t just pick the easiest-to-draw pose for the figure, or the angle that allows you to skip drawing the hands: I had to draw the figures so they fit.

And finally, you have to draw the figures so they look right in the photo environments. Not that they have to look photographic… I’m not that good, not without taking way more time than I have. But they have to be rendered fairly realistically. In this case, I put a lot more work than usual into the coloring, and especially the shading and shadows, trying to get the figures to at least look like they occupy the space they’re shown in.

Frankly, this was more work than drawing backgrounds would’ve been. But it was still worth it. That’s because it allowed me to create a more rich environment for the story. Instead of doing my usual crappy shorthand versions of trees, or keeping them out of the background to save time trying to get them to look right, rather than simplifying and abstracting the setting, I was able to literally capture the actual setting for it, and bring the story more… to life.

And that’s just the mechanics of this story. The harder part was the story itself. In a previous comic, I vaguely hinted at the fact (without saying it) that I had lost my partner at a rather unexpectedly early age. I’m not going to tell that story itself in this series. Not because I have a rule against unhappy stories (see the tale I just mentioned), or against personally traumatic ones (stay tuned), but … because. I’m not going to. There will be stories that take place before and after, and they’ll reflect it (because how could they not), but that’s it.

But I don’t want to just dance around that event without addressing it, and this story gave me a chance to do that. It is not — as I hope you’ve guessed — absolutely factual. (I hope I never led you, dear readers, to believe that this series would all be strictly true.) I got the idea for this story when I took a week off from work, packed up the computer and headed up north on a creative retreat. By myself at the cabin in the woods, Jay’s ghost was — in a metaphorical sense — very much with me. I’d planned for that much, at least.

During that time, as I enjoyed a week away from the world, in the wilds of northern Michigan, I wrote, took the background photos, and drew this tale. But despite my best efforts to come home with a finished comic, I didn’t get it fully finished while I was there. And the hardest part was completing it. That’s because it meant taking the message I’d written into it, the message that I knew in my head had to be said, and accepting it.

It wasn’t easy to be a “widow” at an age when most of my peers hadn’t even lost a parent yet. When I lost Jay, I was just wise enough to reassure myself that, “My life isn’t over…” but already bitter and cynical enough to follow that with, “…only the good part is.”

There’s a scene in the worst Star Trek movie ever, where Kirk says, “I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” And he’s right. We can try to cover it up with booze and drugs and sex and launching a quixotic career making comics, but the pain remains a part of us. As Anne Bancroft’s character says about it in Harvey Fierstein’s (much better) film Torch Song Trilogy, “It becomes a part of you, like learning to wear a ring or a pair of eyeglasses. You get used to it. And that’s good. It’s good, because it makes sure you don’t forget.”

Remembering is difficult. But moving on with that memory is the really hard part.