Page 263 has come out, so go read or re-read it, okay? Then we’ll do notes.

1. It is with a heavy heart that I announce that this is Samantha Albert’s next-to-last page as our regular weekly artist. Sam remains enthusiastic about the comic but, unfortunately, the weekly grind is too much to fit in with her work schedule and personal obligations.

2. The original plan for this page was to wrap up Brianna’s conversation with Plant Man and Verka, and then cut to Catagonia and show the mind-controlled cat people. But Brianna’s conversation wrapped up nicely on the previous page, and I realized I had room to fit in some moments of closure.

3. I mean, when we started “Brianna’s Story,” we didn’t know that Sam was going to be leaving. I probably wouldn’t have chosen for her to end her tenure on the comic with a flashback story. Now that we’ve done it, I’m glad we did, because I’m really happy with it. Still, it was a shame that Sam didn’t get to draw the other members of the team one last time. Then I realized, hey, she could draw the other members of the team, we could cut away to them on the next-to-last page. So here’s Sam’s chance to say good-bye to Leeta, Zarko, and Mr. Amazing, characters who are what they are because Sam designed them and brought them to life.

4. The last time we saw Leeta, she was alone and crying in a dark room. Something in me tends toward the melancholy endings. But I don’t want to have all sadness all the time, so it occurred to me that it would be nice to check in on Leeta and show that, while she’s still sad, her friend is checking in on her and comforting her.

5. I also thought it would be good to sort of re-establish where everyone is, that while Brianna’s telling her story, and Leeta’s crying, Mr. Amazing is talking to Bart Hill at Perfect Pizza, as established in the story Time Trouble that Josh Burnett and I did. I liked the idea of seeing that drawn by Sam.

6. What is perfectly appropriate is that when Sam sent me the black-and-white art, my feedback was to point out that she had forgotten to include the lightning bolts on Mr. Amazing’s costume. This seemed appropriate, because it’s become a tradition. Even though Sam designed the costume, pretty much every page Mr. Amazing’s appeared on, I’ve emailed her to point out that she forgot the lightning bolts in at least one panel. Ah, memories!

7. While I was planning this page, and feeling sentimental, it occurred to me that we could see Irene the server, who’s based on Sam, in the background. That would be a fitting tribute to this being Sam’s last story. Then I thought, hey, why not include Elizabeth the Pizza Girl, who’s based on Abi? And Sir Jackson the Brave, who’s based on my son Jackson? Then, obviously, I thought about how Abi and I always intended Perfect Pizza to be run by a character based on me, who had never appeared in the comic, so wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for cameos from Sam, Abi, Jackson, and me?

But THEN I realized that we had told our high-level patrons that they would get cameos in the comic, and we kept forgetting to do that, and if we wanted Sam to draw them, this was our last chance. So I asked Sam to draw Rachel, Nat, and Taylor at a table, with her waiting on them, while I talked to Abi and Jackson, all in the background, while Mr. Amazing talked to Bart Hill in the foreground.

So that’s 9 characters. And then Sam added a random customer in the foreground! What an overachiever! I know the panel’s kind of crowded, but now you can see why.

8. Don’t the cat people in the last panel look good? I suggested they have swirly eyes, but then Sam added that cool glow. They totally look hypnotized. And Sam came up with the cool effect of breaking up their dialogue into the different word balloons.

9. We’ve seen the good people of Catagonia twice before–the last time was here.  I grew up reading comics in the 80s, so I love cutting away from the main story to develop subplots. If you look back over the course of this series, you’ll see I’ve been very restrained; that page I just linked to is one of the only subplot-heavy pages I’ve done. And look, as of next page, all three of those subplots will have been paid off.

10. Next week is the End of an Era. I have feelings about it.