And We Walked Out Once More Beneath The Stars
Over a decade ago now, I started a World of Warcraft blog about my new paladin. The Warcraft blogging community was different then, very active and with lots of blogs. Because of those blogs, someone made a blogger’s guild. And because of that guild, I met Rades.
We got excitedly chatting, we became blogging buddies. We’d link to each other, wrote a few guest posts, and swapped our blog’s design around once for an April Fool’s joke. We were blogging friends, and then we were friends. When I met Mike in person for the first time, I wrote about it on the blog. I had no idea what he looked like at all, but we were going to be in his area and I wanted to meet. He was sitting in the window of a Jugo Juice, with a hand-written sign that he flipped up when he saw us. It said “Welcome, Vid and Voss!” I was just relieved he was there! The initial awkwardness only lasted five minutes, and then it was as natural as if we’d always known each other. Our friendship continued to develop in hours and hours of chats and later voice communication, until one day I said to him: I’ve been thinking we should start a comic.
We launched the comic together on November 1st, 2011 after we figured out a name, a concept, and made a few comics together. It started out as gags, but the reoccurring characters were – naturally – his orcish hunter Rades, and my draenei paladin Vidyala. It was a comic about unlikely friendships, and unexpected friends. It was about making each other and other people laugh. Later, we changed the direction of the comic to write a real story with continuity, chapters, and narrative. Mike tackled it the same way he approached anything, with a keen understanding of plot hooks, and a plan years into the future.
Making From Draenor with Love with Mike took our friendship into a new arena: colleagues. We talked every day, we spent hours and hours on every single page. He’d storyboard, we’d discuss it, bounce ideas off each other, he’d write the script, I’d do the sketch. The sketch would undergo several revisions usually, until it was perfect. I’ve never known a more demanding critic than him, and I say that now with understanding and admiration. He made me better. He made everything better. It was pretty much the only thing we ever argued about. I told him once, you’re so demanding. He told me he knew he was a perfectionist, but he also thought that as my comic partner and friend he owed it to me to make sure I was doing art that I would be proud of and that would do me credit. He wanted us to be the best we could be. I told him, I didn’t know he thought that highly of my skills, and he just said, “Well, who am I doing this comic with?”
We made the comic together for five years, getting together in person when we could. He came here to go to the Calgary Comic Expo with us, and got locked outside because he didn’t buy his tickets in advance and they closed the doors because the venue was over capacity! Luckily for him, someone waiting outside decided he was going to come back the next day and gave Mike his ticket for that day so that later when they did open the doors he could go in. Things just had a way of working out for him like that.
He was there for me at honestly some of the hardest times of my life. I was going through infertility treatments and IVF, and I know I was an irrational mess at least some of the time. It never phased him, and he just patiently kept being my friend and telling the story we wanted to tell. When I’d get to see him, it was like we had to cram years of friendship into just a day or so, or sometimes just a few hours. We’d talk a mile a minute, and exasperate Voss, who’d say “You two idiots!” We’d wind up at Denny’s at three in the morning just laughing and joking until Voss would have to drag us away because we had to leave early in the morning to drive seven hours home. On one of our visits, our waitress stopped at our table and smiled at us. “Where did you meet?” she asked. “You seem like really good friends.” I just felt like he’d always been in my life. We used to joke that if we’d known each other as kids we would’ve been inseparable, as we had some of the same weird interests even though we didn’t meet until later. We’d edit each others’ articles for Blizzard Watch. I helped him prepare his application when he applied for the holy paladin columnist position. We compared notes about raids, strategies, logs and progress. I’ll always regret that we didn’t get to raid together.
He was one of the happiest supporters when we found out we’d be having a baby thanks to IVF. When our son was born we told him about his Uncle Mike, who kept sending him presents (Transformers themed, once he was old enough). He did get to meet our son (P3) when he was just a baby, but unfortunately just the one time. We didn’t take any trips to his province in 2019, and of course in 2020 it wasn’t possible. I wish we had seen him more recently, and that life hadn’t made it hard to get together. I wish a lot of things. Mainly, I wish he’d had more time. This isn’t how this was supposed to be. The last time we talked, I sent him a photo of P3 who had fallen asleep clutching his brand-new Transformers backpack. He’d chosen it for himself even though I didn’t think he really knew what Transformers are. I sent Mike a photo of him passed out in his car seat, backpack in his hands. He wrote back simply, “I love this.” As far as last words between friends go, they’re good ones. I choose to apply them more broadly to everything: I love P3, I love that I got to meet him. I love that we got to create so many things together. I love you.
Mike, my honorary brother, I love you so much. I’m so sorry you’re gone. I’ll never meet another person like you, and I’ll never forget you. You made me a better artist, and you made me a better person. I’m better for having known you. I’ll try to be the best I can be, just like you would have expected.
Those of you who followed From Draenor with Love know that the site hasn’t been working for a few years now. Mike and I struggled with the technical aspect of running a site together, and it got hacked and we never got it working again. Our mutual friend Sean has been able to get a site working in the last week, I haven’t shared it publicly yet because I wanted to give him a chance to get it going. Right now there’s a landing page here: From Draenor With Love. As Mike passed away unexpectedly, the last week has been pretty awful for all of the people who loved him (and there are a lot). I am writing this post about what Mike was to me, but there could be 100 posts like it written by different people. That’s the kind of person he was. I was really floundering with my grief. I’ve never lost anyone so close to me, never lost someone I considered a best friend. Another of Mike’s friends, Tommy, told me that when he lost a friend he wrote a song about it and it helped him. My version of that is to write this, and also to literally haul my Cintiq out of storage so that I could make one last page of FDWL. It hasn’t been added to the site yet, but eventually it will live on the last page. It is, as you can imagine, deeply personal. I hope sharing it is cathartic to someone, at least it has helped me.
Making the very last page of FDWL without him was terrible. I did so many sketches. I asked for other opinions about my idea, but the one person I really wanted to ask – I couldn’t. Also, Mike loved to make people feel deeply. Check out his Letters From A Shattered World if you need proof. He loved to do it with FDWL too. Without spoilers, every time there was a major revelation or event he was cackling with glee. If something was sad, he wanted it to be gut-wrenchingly sad. He wanted to leave the reader devastated. So, I give you the last page of FDWL. I did the best I could. I could almost hear him with me the whole time as I was working on it. When I added the first colours, I showed it to Voss. “What do you think?” “Oh shit,” he said. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. I don’t know who I am without him. There’s a few pages of FDWL towards the end that absolutely shattered me this week. It’s as if the theme of the comic itself, and the things that Rades says to Vid, are speaking directly to me. This was the only way I could conceive of adding anything to the comic. A last footnote in honour of my friend. I’m not sorry if it makes someone else cry (it made me cry). It’s what Mike would have wanted. As always, brother, I did my best. I hope I made you proud. It’ll never be the same without you.