I think I came up with Califata in 2013. At least, that’s when the first sketch is dated. I don’t remember the exact day, but I do have a clear memory when the idea materialized. It was a sunny morning, and I was driving through Highland Park on the way to work when it came to me: princess necromancer. And then: princess necromancer and her reluctant apprentice. Early on, it was just sort of a silly idea, a subversion of princess tropes, with high jinks and adventure. As it percolated — as I watched more movies and TV and paid attention to the stuff I liked — it began to drift in more serious directions.

My Dad died in 2014. I’d been having the first inklings of an existential crisis for about a year at that point, and his death ratcheted up that fear and uncertainty to eleven. I’ve never been a person who believes in anything spiritual, metaphysical, religious, whatever — I’ve just never had the capacity to make that leap. And yet, when my Dad died, for the first time I found myself with a profound longing to be wrong. (I made a comic about this in 2014.)

Margot has always been a self-insert. She has glasses and a long face like me; she’s got some of my best traits and a lot of my worst ones. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want her motive to be to learn necromancy to raise anyone specific — that felt too easy, too expected. My father’s death seemed to prove that instinct correct, too. I didn’t so much want to bring him back as I just wanted to believe this wasn’t the end. At some point in my late twenties I realized just how big time and space are, and just how tiny our lives are. “Because life is too short, and death is too long,” Rube says in Dead Like Me, and sometimes, the weight of “too long” becomes too much to bear.

Which is all to say I lost my best friend of nineteen years this week.

It’s hard. Harder than I imagined, even though I had two years of chronic illness to prepare myself. Once again, I find myself picking at a scab in my brain: he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. He was here and we shared that brief, shining moment together, but now it’s over. “Forever” is already hard enough for me to wrap my brain around; “gone forever” seems incomprehensible right now.

Chapter two of this story begins with the phrase “death is not the end.” After Dad died, I looked at Califata and thought I’d constructed a world which answered that doubt and pain I felt with certainty, a place I could retreat to get away from the gnawing awareness that our lives are too short. If Margot is a self-insert, well, this was the ultimate wish fulfillment.

But now, when I think about the arc of this story, the paths these characters take, and I don’t think it’s that. It’s not a huge spoiler to say Margot’s quest is futile in the grand scheme of things; it’s not so much that she fails as that, in the end, there’s no way to undo death. “This is all we are,” Thack says in the last episode of The Knick, and for me, that’s the hardest truth. Ultimately, I think Califata is a story about facing that truth with courage and honesty, but also hope.

For now, I’m working on the basics again, on accepting the idea that he won’t be waiting in the kitchen when I come home. I wake up in the morning, I eat, and I mourn. I miss my old friend terribly.

I know — inevitably, eventually — spring will come.