The History of Blake (Part 1)

September 25th, 2006 at 8:10PM.

A lot of times I don’t know exactly where my ideas come from. I used to keep a wall full of hundreds of post-it notes, gathering random disconnected thoughts, pieces of thoughts, a particular word or turn of phrase that I found interesting, a piece of history or mythology that seemed significant at the time. Sometimes a couple of the notes will fit together into a larger idea, slowly accruing dimension as time goes on. Eventually it starts rolling downhill, picking up speed and mass and usually by then I can’t ignore it. How and where that movement began I can’t say, for I usually don’t have a clear impression of the sequence of events that lead up to it. Not so for Blake Undying however. I can remember the exact moment, and thanks to the triggering event I know the exact time it happened.

Hayden Panettiere was climbing a rusty structure of some kind while Thomas Dekker filmed her from the ground. She climbed over the edge of a platform and fell a hundred feet to the ground. After a moment she got up, popped her broken or dislocated shoulder into place and was fine. The thought that went through my head at that exact moment was, “Wow. It would have sucked if she really were trying to kill herself, and that’s how she found out she couldn’t.” That was the very first episode of NBC’s Heroes, about ten minutes in to their pilot episode which aired on September 25th , 2006.

At the time, that was all that it was, an idle thought and a joke that I laughed at. The idea had been planted however, and I started to think about superheroes with similar abilities like Wolverine and Deadpool. What kind of difficulties would they face if they were in my imaginary cheerleader’s position? How would a superhero deal with being unable to die? Would a superhero even want to die? For a month I thought about the nature of superheroism, and how comics always end up going in circles. Spider-man defeats the Vulture and he goes to jail, only for him to break out and fight Spider-man again and again. If I were a superhero, how would I keep going if nothing I ever did was permanent. Would I keep trying to help people? Of course that’s a comic. The status quo is maintained because of market forces, and a super-hero never “wins” permanently because the series is ongoing. The audience likes to see favorite villains return for a rematch, so there’s always crime, always a villain, always a master plan for world domination.

So I began to think about what would it be like in a “real world” setting. What if there were a person with powers, especially if they were the only one. How would they deal with their day to day life? Matt Murdock and Peter Parker had day jobs, because superheroism wasn’t exactly a paid gig. Somehow they worked all day, stayed out all night fighting crime, and somehow didn’t get fired or go nuts from lack of sleep. They had secret identities to protect their loved ones from danger, but what if they didn’t have any loved ones? Would they still try to stay anonymous? If their villainous counterparts kept getting out of jail and coming after them, would they keep trying to do the right thing and let the justice system handle the criminals they caught? For that matter would a criminal arrested by a vigilante even go to trial? Would all the evidence gathered against them even be admissible in court after their rights had been violated by a superhero acting without badge or authority? At what point does a hero step beyond taking the law into their own hands, and start dispensing justice themselves?

Over the next month I developed the idea in my head, fleshing it out, turning it over in my mind. Typically at night, I have trouble sleeping because I can’t get my brain to shut off. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I have to be very careful to get back to sleep before my mind gets out of first gear. In November of that year, as I was tossing and turning at about 4 AM, my mind turned to the story of Blake, as it had done so often recently. That was a very bad idea in concept but it ended up turning out very well for me, for it was then in the middle of the night that the first scene in Blake Undying came to me, basically exactly as it appears in the comic. I scribbled it out on post-it notes in the middle of the night, frantically writing it down before I forgot. I talked about it the next day with a friend of mine who also happens to have a warped sense of humor, and had previously done a webcomic for a few years while at university. He sketched out this rough drawing while we talked, and took photos of the pages. These are essentially the first time Blake Undying existed in comic form.

Blake Undying - Early Sketches

Even in its roughest form, you can see the same story beats and the same dialogue. In fact the contents of the scene predate even the title of the comic. It wasn’t known as Blake Undying until much later, after a lot of spitballing and trying out placeholders. All of the elements were present, from the toaster scene, to the call with Blake’s boss, even to his impromptu marker cap inhalation. In many ways, the crystallization of that scene informed me exactly who Blake was. A deeply frustrated man, struggling with mundane problems in a suddenly much more complicated world. Not yet a superhero, but his origin story would basically set the tone for the series. It turned the classic superhero tale on its head. Instead of the goal being to help people and protect society resulting in villains trying to kill him, he started with the goal of being killed and worked backwards through the chain of events needed to cause that. Helping people were a means to his end, both figuratively and literally.

Blake Undying - Early Sketches

My friend didn’t have time to get into another webcomic at the time, so we didn’t end up working together, but he’s always liked the idea and has been a staunch supporter of the series ever since. It probably worked out for the best for both of us in the end, since he went on to publish his own books, and I went on to make a deal that got Blake Undying to where it is today… possibly the route could have been more direct, but we’re here now.

I’ll tell that story in Part 2 of the History of Blake. Hope you enjoyed the story so far.