If a cure for death made living forever possible, how would it affect the world? How would it affect you? Would the removal of death as a real concern change how you view yourself? Your identity? Your very sense of being?
These are questions that writer Scott Snyder and artist Jeff Lemire explore in their new Image Comics graphic novel story A.D.: After Death, the first of a three-volume story hitting stores this Wednesday. The tale centers on Jonas Cooke, a man who remembers a world when death was a real possibility, yet finds himself tethered to an existence without end, stretching into forever. Mr. Snyder and Mr. Lemire spoke with me recently about the genesis of the story, the tenor of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and how the characters view a life that never has to end.
FreakSugar: For folks who are considering picking up the book, how would you describe A.D.: After Death Book 1?
Jeff Lemire: A.D.: After Death is a sprawling science fiction story set in a future where a genetic cure for death has been found. Years after the discovery, one man starts to question everything, leading him on a mind-bending journey that will bring him face-to-face with his past and his own mortality.
FS: What was the genesis behind A.D.: After Death?
Scott Snyder: It started as a short story I was going to do as a comic. When I told the idea to Jeff, he liked it. This was almost three years ago. We decided that we wanted to work on it together. As we worked on it, we at first thought it should be a novella, but soon decided that it needed to be a full-length graphic novel. What’s so inspiring about it, but also at times challenging, is that we wanted the story to dictate the shape of it. Where we’ve landed, I couldn’t be happier with or prouder of. I would love to thank Image for allowing us to run with it and make it what it is.
In terms of the genesis of A.D., it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The short story version of what I pitched to Jeff is that I wanted the story to speak to a lot of the fears and power I write about. One reason that the shape and size of the story kept changing is because I wanted to do something ambitious and robust. Jeff’s work deserves it. The story deserves it. That’s how it became what it is today.
FS: I know that you two have been friends for quite some time and have collaborated behind the scenes in the past. What made this book the right time for your first outing together?
JL: We’ve been good friends for seven or eight years now and it was only a matter of time before we worked together. Like he said, Scott pitched the idea to me and I really liked. At the time, it was only going to be a 20-page short story. A high octane sci-fi story. For me, I was always so busy with other projects that I was drawing, so I though the story would be a good chance for the two of us to do something together. If it’s only 20 pages, I can work on it between my other things. [laughs] As it changed, though, it became clear I was going to need to devote a year-and-a-half to two years of my life to it. Obviously, I thought the story warranted it and the chance to work with Scott warranted it. I didn’t know if I’d ever get another chance to work on something like this.
FS: I don’t know if I would characterize the people seen in the book as despondent or depressed, but, to me, they certainly don’t seem what I would call happy. How would describe the mindset of the people populating Earth in the world of A.D.: After Death?
JL: I think they’re kind of numb. I think that if you lived that long, there would cease being an importance to what you do, if you knew life was never going to end. There’s a certain sense of numbness to the characters, for sure.
SS: I totally agree. I think the characters see an evolution happening. Some of the things they thought they were living for before are changing. They’re shedding some of those things and it’s terrifying to characters like Jonas, exciting to others like Inez. It’s almost like everyone is at a crossroads in the book. These people who have lived for so long are looking for a new purpose. Our character is scared and uncertain about moving forward and letting go of the person he was before. It has a full range of emotions about the state of things.
FS: That was something I thought about while reading the book. There’s that old chestnut that what makes life worth living is that it does end. If you know it’s going to go on forever, you have to reevaluate what is important in life and go from there.
SS: That’s what we have to believe because there is no other option. What if someone told you that you could live your life and then you could try again? I don’t think anyone would say that, no, what gave life purpose is that it would end. [laughs] Of course, I agree with you, that’s what life is, but it’s interesting when you open that door in speculative fiction and ask those questions.
FS: Jeff, I’ve always enjoyed your art, but your pencils here really seem to match with the feel and lump-in-the-throat hitch that permeates the book. When approaching the book’s look, did you have something very specific in mind that you wanted to convey?
JL: When I started doing sketches and trying to build the world, at first the world was going to be very futuristic and weird and almost unrecognizable. None of those approaches felt right, though. They felt fake. I decided to go back to what we’re both comfortable with: Americana, small town sensibility. By doing that, the book felt grounded, even when future tech was added. If anything, we both boiled it down to what we like to do and what we do well and combine them. It makes the book feel true.
FS: The story feels like a very micro-level story with the mystery of why people stopped dying as the backdrop. The book feels very much infused with fears about mortality that I think we’ve all felt at one time or another. From a personal viewpoint, what of yourselves and your worries have you brought to the book?
SS: It’s pretty intensely autobiographical in many ways. There are many ways that it’s shielded. The main character is a thief and doesn’t have a family like I have a family. So there are some obvious changes. Above all, the things that he does and says and thinks in his childhood—particularly stealing a recorder to record his family—those are things that I did. I look back at and think how strange it was to be concerned with those things at a young age.
So, yeah, it’s a deeply personal narrative and it was something that was very challenging and uncomfortable at times to write. Jeff was very supportive of the process for me. Ultimately, what the great thing about wedding the story to this crazy science fiction, and just fiction in general, is that, weirdly, you can be more truthful. You wind up finding ways to say things metaphorically. Setting these scenes 800 years in the future allow you to say things about life that you might not have been able to otherwise. It offers questions and answers in a way that feels truer. It’s been a really interesting experience and one of the best of my career. I love working on this book.
FS: The first volume ended on a cliffhanger of sorts. Is there anything you can tease about what’s to come in book two?
SS: It’s a book that we tried to construct very delicately. We want readers to feel lost because the characters feel lost. As anecdotal as the book is, many of those little details play into the mystery by the end of book three.
A.D.: After Death Volume 1, written by Scott Snyder with Jeff Lemire on art, hits comic shops this Wednesday, November 23, from Image Comics.
From the official graphic novel description:
WHAT IF WE FOUND A CURE FOR DEATH? Two of comics’ most acclaimed creators, SCOTT SNYDER (WYTCHES, Batman, American Vampire) and JEFF LEMIRE (DESCENDER, Moon Knight, Sweet Tooth) unite to create a three-part epic like no other, set in a future where a genetic cure for death has been found. Years after the discovery, one man starts to question everything, leading him on a mind-bending journey that will bring him face-to-face with his past and his own mortality. A unique combination of comics, prose, and illustration, A.D.: AFTER DEATH will be serialized monthly as three oversized prestige format books written by SNYDER and fully painted by LEMIRE.