A superstar creative team of this caliber only comes together rarely to create a book that can change how comics are consumed and touch us with such personal stories. Scott Snyder (Batman, Wytches, American Vampire, Swamp Thing) writes A.D.: After Death for Image Comics with artist Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Essex County, Descender, Animal Man) contributing illustrations for this mostly prose comic book story.
These modern masters of comic storytelling joined Forces of Geek to talk about November’s upcoming first oversized volume in three parts of A.D.: After Death. The book proposes what it might be like if someone cures death itself.
FOG!: Thanks for joining us guys!, We’re here to talk about After Death. I gotta say, this is really different and unexpected, two huge talents coming together. How did this come about?
Jeff Lemire: Scott and I have been friends and colleagues for quite a while, and mainly working on superhero stuff together for a bit (Animal Man/Swamp Thing). We’re developed quite a friendship and this started when Scott mentioned the initial idea of the story to me a couple of years ago.
At that time it was just going to be a straight forward, 20-page comic, a sci-fi, high-octane bombastic story, as a fun side project. We just wanted a chance to work together. We sat down and started to work on it, and the scope of the project started growing and changing and evolving. It became a much bigger project, what it is now.
Scott, this is your story, correct? Is Jeff writing too?
Scott Snyder: I’m writing it, but everything in it, I’ve run by Jeff. He has been an incredible help, sound-boarding stuff, brainstorming it, troubleshooting. He definitely deserves a credit toward the creation of the story as well. Having someone who is such a terrific writer, I feel like I have only a quarter of the work! He’s a terrific artist, he’s drawing it, and he helps me with the story.
If anyone got off easy, it was probably me! (Laughs)
I wouldn’t exactly say you got off easy, you are going to the depths of some real emotion here with the story. You are talking about mortality, and the ‘chocolate/peanut butter’ combo for me is that Jeff’s artwork is reminiscent of some of his earlier work, like Sweet Tooth.
Scott, tell us a bit about your struggles with mortality when the After Death concept came about?
Scott: Yeah, sure. For me I’ve always had a bit of anxiety around mortality since I was a kid. I was so strangely isolated with it. And knowing Jeff, who has become one of my best friends, he’s seen me with my ups and downs with different aspects of that. When we started working on this project, even though it started as something small, he encouraged me to go deeper, start working in prose, and try to make something more ambitious and personal.
I am extremely proud of what the project has become, I think it is some of my best stuff and Jeff is such a huge inspiration with it. For me, the reasons to dive into the stuff so centrally is that is the big power battery in most of the stuff that I write. I think more aggressively into it and more personal and more of a memoir and get more autobiographical with it and there is no better way to do that than to do it with someone who you consider a true partner, like Jeff.
You feel supported, you feel like you can take risks, you can feel like you have a sounding board and companion who can tell you if you are going too far ‘this way’ or ‘that’.
It was the perfect opportunity to make something that is both the scariest book with regard to that but also the most hopeful.
I did feel how personal it was, and I think you are even taking a big risk with the format of the book. It is not a traditional comic, it is not an illustrated book. After Death is a hybrid between writing a lot of prose that is really personal and smack dab in the middle of it, you have got this amazing art from Jeff. How did you come up for the format for this Image comic? Image is a great place to do something like this, in my opinion.
Jeff: I think the format just grew organically. We didn’t envision what it is now we first started. Initially it was just a short story and then the idea, as it got larger in scope was an original graphic novel to come out as one big book, a hardcover with the whole story.
The story itself had natural break points with three acts, and we started discussing serializing this in these three books, and eventually collecting it. That helped us piece parts of the story together that we were struggling with and they clicked together.
Printing it oversized, larger than comic sized, came about because we did a couple of preview pages in Image+ Magazine #5 and when we saw it magazine sized, I kind of fell in love with the book that way. I asked if we could print it that way, and it wasn’t something we pictured perfectly from the start, one thing led to another.
The great thing about Image is that you have absolute and total creative freedom, and they are so supportive of us that they were more than willing to back us in all of the different iterations of the project. We were supported all along. Knowing that a publisher can let a project become whatever it wants to be, rather than dictating format or size from the start, it is so much more creative.
Very cool, and this is such a unique story that even after reading it, I still have the ‘Scott Snyder’ “What happens next–!?” feeling. I still have lots of questions about Jonah Cooke’s world, you haven’t revealed everything quite yet in this first issue. But you do understand that there is a different sense of mortality and time. What can we expect as the issues go on?
Scott: In some way we want the book to be mysterious, book to book. He’s a character that is really trying to make sense of the situation and the book has a lot to do with memory, sense of self and identity. In abstract bounds, in a world without death, they become very real problems to hang on to.
In some way we wanted this part to mirror the experiential aspects of Jonah’s story, but as it goes on you learn more and more about the world and how it changed and what was brought about by the discovery of this cure for death and the cataclysmic stuff that happens to the rest of the population and what is left down there. It becomes pretty suspenseful and catches up the story and plot line you see at the very beginning of the book where he is being chased by a bunch of people, he seems to have escaped the place that he is living.
It oscillates between a very professional mode and a very high suspense, science fiction, speculative fiction narrative as the book goes on, they blend together more and more until it crescendos into one big sprint at the end.
You put a huge clue in there that I am dying to know more, I’m ready for issue #2 already! The farmer is talking about how fluid the time is and the cycles. That was brilliant, I was dying to know more. Has he been here for 30 years? 100 years? 1000 years? No one can keep track of where they are in time and memory. Very cool.
Jeff: What you just said is what the book really came to be about. In a lot of ways, keeping track of your own narrative when there is no calendar or calendars don’t matter any more, and beginnings and ends don’t matter. It is actually much harder to define yourself as a human being. Then there is just the physical act of living all of those years and trying to remember all the things you’ve done.
Also I thought there was a sense of duty and a sense of work, and what do you do to pass the time. Like the Lost island, you have to keep up with various occupations, and how much that spreads your time and your narrative, and your sense of memory. All of a sudden you look back and you are wondering where the time went. “Was I just working the whole time?” Were you guys thinking about how busy everyone’s lives are now?
Scott: Yeah, and also how circular they become. Because memory is so fallible and you remember so little of your own life, if you lived hundreds and hundreds of years, how would you find those kinds of stepping stones, those anchors that help you tell a story about yourself that makes sense to the perception of your own identity.
It is all of those things you are talking about, how you define yourself through your work, the things you need to do, the way you contribute to society, all of those things become less solid and more fluid when you don’t have an end to your story like Jeff was saying.
You are going to wind up doing another one in another 50 years, or do something else, or be with somebody else. The more circular it becomes, the more freeing it is, but also the more terrifying it becomes, as the sense of who you are can tend to get diffused or just dissipate.
Wow, as always, sir, you are blowing my mind. You go back to cycles in all of your work, from Batman and American Vampire and this way is a more personal way to tell this story, and I’m really enjoying what you guys are doing. Is there anything else you want the fans to know before the first book comes out in November?
Scott: I would say, our fans have been so supportive in general, the readership for Jeff’s books and the stuff I’ve done, too, they seem to get more excited and supportive when we take risks. That’s surprising, coming in to comics, I always figured that when you did the big bombastic superhero stuff they were supportive, but when you do the wacky stuff on the side, “Screw you”.
The fact that the readership is so incredibly encouraging and supportive, whenever either of us does something personal, it is just hugely inspiring. And we are very grateful for that. I think this one is an attempt, to do something wholly personal and whole collaborative and exploratory when it comes to what we like to do and are capable of. None of it is motivated by commercial prospects of it or anything like that.
This is really meant to be something that we can only do this way and only do together, and the fact that we have gotten such encouraging response from fans already and they really want to read it really means the world.
What I’m getting at is, thank you AGAIN to the people that pick up our books in general and that seem excited about this one because it means a lot.
Jeff: I’m totally nervous to put anything new out but people believe in the book and we’re happy we are doing it. At the end of the day, as long as we are both happy with what it is, and we like to challenge ourselves and do our best. It will be what it will be, and hopefully other people enjoy it as well. We just let go of it at this point.