Blake Undying #3 - "Nikki"

As you might know, Ezequiel has been hard at work inking BLAKE UNDYING #3, “Nikki”. And as you can see, he’s really bringing his A-game to the drawing table. It’s coming out far better than I’d hoped, and that deserves some recognition, I think. More on that in a moment.

The script for chapters 2 & 3 was originally written and shared back in 2008 during the first campaign to promote Blake Undying as a property. At the time, we were ‘encouraged’ to flesh out the property with additional scripts, supplemental material, a plan for a season of television, the outline for a movie screenplay, et cetera. The end result was that everyone generated a ton of material on spec, and only one person was rewarded with the promise that their idea would be put into development and receive profit sharing of any production that resulted from the effort. Ah to be young and naive again.

Well flesh out I did. I created a five year plan for the series, with interwoven story arcs on tentpoles stretched throughout the years, giving me enough flexibility during development to expand or repurpose certain narrative threads were they to prove to be more (or less) interesting than I had initially expected. After setting up the five year plan, I built a one year plan, and wrote out a full year of a television series, with summaries for 22 episodes marking the average network television series length at the time. It was a wildly improper assumption in hindsight, because what network show would have bought this series without restructuring it beyond all recognition.

From the one year plan, I started at the beginning and began to write scripts. Not just elevator pitches, but full comic scripts, with panel descriptions, dialogue, effects, and layout directions. A dozen scripts that introduced the main characters of the series, fleshed out Blake’s background, set him on the path to superheroism and even provided his equivalent of an origin story in BLAKE UNDYING #2 “Circles”. To this day, Circles remains the most poignant and beautiful piece of writing that I think I’ve ever produced. After the relentless pace of “Failure”, “Circles” is almost like a narrative sucker punch that lets you know that there’s more to the series than just bathtub toasters and tracheotomies. There’s a lot more going on under the surface and the watery chasm that yawns beneath you beckoning suggests previously unknown depths and a shocking capacity for darkness.

Fan wanking aside, the point is while I was writing these scripts back in 2008, I produced some of the most satisfying and clever work I’d ever created, and it was only halfway through the campaign that I realized that even if I were to win and my IP to be licensed, that I would likely never work on Blake again, and that these scripts would certainly never see the light of day. Considering the strong overtones of irony endemic to the Blake narrative, the sudden revelation and ultimate outcome of my dilemma seemed perversely logical. Almost a decade later, I could picture specific scenes from that first story arc, clearly in my head as though I was watching an old movie that never got a sequel to address its cliffhanger ending.

Flash forward to the mother of all years, 2020. The rights to Blake Undying had reverted to me a few years back, but there never seemed to be enough time to do anything with them, until the world’s slowest apocalypse started creeping across the land that is. So before Captain Trips manages to get it out of first, I figured that I should finally pull the trigger, and here we are. And all it took was a staggering amount of money, and a truly blithe disregard for my future career development to accomplish. Now I lead my own team of artists and madmen (and madwomen, of course), and BLAKE UNDYING #1 has been reborn from the ashes of the old. So what does the future hold? Well, there’s a fun game that I like to play with my girlfriend that goes a little something like this:

I have good news and bad news.

You would not believe how much she hates it when I start conversations that way. Anyways…

First the bad news. Back in June, I hired a team of illustrators and colorists with the intent of streamlining our development pipeline and get our fledgling studio run up to producing a full issue every month. Two artists, two colorists, each team would work on alternating issues and strive for relative style consistency between them. At the time BLAKE UNDYING #1 still had about a half-dozen pages left to complete, so we paired Ezequiel with our new colorist Jovanna Plata on the Red Team (later to be re-branded as EZ Company, for the obvious Band of Brothers joke.) The theory was that if the Blue Team were to begin work on BLAKE UNDYING #2 right away, we’d just about fall into a monthly schedule and have three issues in the can by the time we hit the October target to launch the Kickstarter.

Well unfortunately the second artist who was going to join the team ran into a scheduling conflict and indicated he would not be available for two months until a previous commitment was fulfilled. After going through a long and involved selection process to find an artist that could replicate Ezequiel’s style with reasonable consistency (with an affordable page rate), I did not want to immediately search for a replacement. So I offered to delay the issue and wait for him to complete his project and return, to which he had agreed at the time. After very little communication over the following month, I began to fear the worst, and last week my fears had been confirmed. I was down an artist.

I had explored the possibility of engaging an established studio to take on production of the issue, because they had the availability and could produce the entire issue in roughly a month, which would put us back on track. The page rate would have almost tripled my budget for the issue but I thought it would be worth it, I reasoned, if I could maintain the schedule. Unfortunately, the artist (while very talented) had a style that was far too conventional to be anything less than jarring when placed side by side with the look of the first issue. Actually here, I’ll show you it. Here’s a never before seen sneak peek at BLAKE UNDYING #2, showing Blake’s first meeting with Cassidy Monroe, as interpreted by Fernando Melek of Stone Tower Studio.

BLAKE UNDYING #2 “Circles” Page 6. Inks by Fernando Melek. Colors by Sebastian Valencia.

It’s still a beautiful image, and will likely either be offered as a print during the Kickstarter or appear in the trade paperback as an extra when we get to that point. But the style just isn’t consistent with the look of the series, so we’re back to square one. I’ve got a new selection process underway and we’ve narrowed down the field to a half dozen or so contenders. Once a decision is made I’ll chain the artist to their desk and two months from now, in mid-October, we’ll have a completed BLAKE UNDYING #2 likely coinciding with the completion of the Kickstarter campaign. So in theory, not a insurmountable delay.

The good news is, as I mentioned earlier, Ezequiel has begun work on BLAKE UNDYING #3. This issue is one of those from the first story arc that will consistently deliver scenes that I am certain will become iconic in Blake Undying history. In fact, the first scene in “Nikki” has been playing in my head on a loop for 12 years. I have very specific, and very high expectations for the visuals on this issue. It is important that I tell you this so that you have context for when I tell you that Ezequiel is delivering over and above my wildest expectations. Here is an early preview of the first pages of BLAKE UNDYING #3.

BLAKE UNDYING #3 “Nikki” Page 1. Inks by Ezequiel “The Man” Rubio

Holy crap, right? He. Has. Brought. It. And you haven’t even seen page 3! So about 4:30 AM this morning I had a moment of clarity. Discussing my idea, Ezequiel agreed to my proposal and a plan was made on the spot. To better show off Ezequiel’s groove, and give him room to breathe on the panels, we have decided to add 4 additional pages to BLAKE UNDYING #3, making it our first supersized issue. And well deserved to showcase this scene (also page 4 was doing way too much heavy lifting in the original script anyway, so two birds with one Blake.)

Now, this will delay BLAKE UNDYING #3 slightly, but it will still be completed before #2 in any case so it shouldn’t wrinkle any foreheads. In fact, because BLAKE UNDYING #2 is 95% flashback, we could potentially release #3 first, and follow with #2 during the Kickstarter. Unconventional, but coincidentally the structure of the first three issues lends itself to this quite nicely. I’ll probably put up a poll near the end of September to see how people feel.

In any event, we are still plugging away steadily. Once we have a staffing update to announce I’ll let everyone know, which will start the two month clock on BLAKE UNDYING #2. This still means that we will be able to offer both digital and physical releases of the first three issues of Blake Undying as backer rewards, and start laying the groundwork for production on BLAKE UNDYING #4 “What Does Not Kill You”. Watch this space!

BLAKE UNDYING #3 “Nikki” Page 2. Inks by Ezequiel “The Motherfucking Man” Rubio