What if there was no death? What if life’s joyful moments could just continue on and on without the constant specter of oblivion hanging over a person’s every waking moment? That is the question being put forth by writer Scott Snyder (All-Star Batman, Wytches) and artist Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Descender) in their new book for Image Comics, A.D. After Death.
The story of A.D. centers on a man name Jonas Cooke who is intimately acquainted with death and fears it all his life, even during his many joyous boyhood moments, but in the future, Cooke finds himself trapped in the world of A.D., a world that has suffered a mysterious cataclysm and exists without death, where human beings see life as a series of endless job and relationship cycles that stretch on forever. A.D. is told through Snyder’s lyrical and revealing prose, Lemire’s chilling and honest illustrations, and is an exploration of the mundane horrors of life and death in a world that only two modern day masters of the craft like Snyder and Lemire can truly understand.
We down with Snyder and Lemire to discuss the one of a kind world of A.D. After Death.
Den of Geek: Can you talk about the genesis of this project?
Scott Snyder: It started a few years ago. I had this story I wanted to do that was very small. It imagined a future where death was cured. It was a short story that looked at a world without death, but someone was trying to leave this place, this community, this future where death had been cured to find out what was still out there in the world.
I brought it to Jeff… as we started talking about it, he responded well and said he would love to do it if we ever got a chance. He really pushed me to develop it because I think he recognized…that it had material in it that hit some nerves for me, and had material that was central to a lot of books and themes that I’ve written these past years, stuff he’s seen me struggle with a lot. We started developing it, and the more we developed it, the more ambitious it became.
Eventually, it occurred to me to incorporate prose which is where I got my start as a writer, and to make it more intimate, more confessional. So, what we ended up with is something I’m so proud of. I’m very grateful to Jeff because this has all stretched me as a writer. On the one hand, the original story component in it, the speculative science fiction story, was almost the wildest thing I could do, a future where no one knows if anyone is left alive and death has been cured and there’s been this cataclysmic event. Everything’s on the very edge of my imaginative capabilities.
On the other hand, the prose that tells the story of how the main character Jonah Cooke got to this place. That material is really intimate and confessional in some ways… in that way, it’s a project that has the farthest flung ambitions and intentions I could go for.
Jeff Lemire: When Scott mentioned it me it was much smaller in scope. I’m always really busy writing and drawing my own work in addition to any mainstream work I do, so I never thought I’d have enough time to …do a full project like this…I thought if we did it as short story, it would be something I’d be able to handle. But the more we talked about it, the more I fell in love with the world… the more engaged in it I became.
So we just worked in our schedules…and I really committed to drawing. It was the first time I’d ever drawn something this size that someone else has written. With someone like Scott, who is one of my best friends and a great writer, it seemed like something that was perfect. It’s been an amazing project as well.
Scott, what was it like returning to prose?
Snyder: It was really scary, honestly. I hadn’t worked in prose in such a long time, I thought I might have gotten rusty. I started to gravitate to prose in comics again. I did an issue of Batman that was prose heavy and I did an issue of American Vampire that was prose heavy. I had been thinking of going back to it in different ways. Jeff was the one who pushed me to going back to prose.
I had been looking for a way to make A.D. confessional and to have more of an intimate, more of a journalistic feel. The prose parts are written as a main character’s journal. When Jeff suggested I do it, I was really scared. But as I got more into it, I realized how much I missed the idea of having a creative outlet where I’m completely autonomous.
In comics, I get so used to saying, “It’s a dark and stormy night. OK Jeff, go!” You realize as prose writer it’s your responsibility to write “It’s a dark and stormy night,” and not sound cliché… It’s one of those thing I’ve been very envious of Jeff who can write and draw…this is my favorite work he’s done. It just gave me a way to switch muscles. Because Batman and Superman, and all the stuff that I love working on for DC, there’s certain muscle memory things you wind up developing. Like every twenty pages there’s a hook, or you always need some action here, and you just get so used to it.
My favorite creators, Jeff being on the top of that list, are always trying things we haven’t seen before. People like Jason Aaron, Grant Morrison, or Mark Waid. I’m very happy Jeff gave me a space to encourage me to try something like that and risk falling on my face.
Jeff, the art was frightening in its portrayal of everyday life with a shadow underlying of fear. Can you talk about creating the visuals that make the mundane scary?
Lemire: It was really fun. At this point, I’ve drawn tons of comics. I’ve drawn thousands of pages of comics. To do something new where we’re not just doing traditional comic storytelling but incorporating these prose sections with more spot illustrations…the key to the challenge was that it didn’t read like two separate things. That you never got pulled out of the story, you should be able to follow form one section to the next. So for me, it was just a matter of developing a visual language that unites everything… the key was to keep visual aspects alive in the prose sections. It’s very freeing to do illustrations when sequential storytelling gets challenging.
Scott, why this subject and why now?
Snyder: Well, I mean for me… this subject has always been one of the big batteries for me. As strange as it sounds, I developed an anxiety over how fast things change, how fast things change as we lose people we love at a young age. I’ve been myopic about not being able to enjoy things…being unable to look away from the fact the last time you get to do this, or the last time you get to experience something. Jeff, again, who is one of my best friends, has seen me struggle with this in real life. So, it was something, knowing he would be my partner on this book, I wanted to dive into head first and explore in ways that aren’t just depressing but conversely that are wondrous.
Now, having children, when you go through a good period you can find an inspiration and wonder in the brevity of things. The book is an exploration of that fantasy, the fantasy of never having to worry about death, but then realizing it’s death that gives meaning to life. Not in a silly platitude way but in mysterious ways, ways that you’ll never be able to define.
Why now? I think… as we become more and more connected- there’s a speech in the book, later than the one you have- where one of the antagonists talks about why do this now, why develop this cure for death now? He talks about when the human race is in its infancy, he talks about how as a child you’re unaware of the world around you, but as an old man, all you’re aware of is how small you are. As an old man, he is aware of small he is and how connected he is and what a part of a bigger story that is and how terrifying that can be. He posits, now that every country is aware of each other, now that people know how much room is left, we’re in our old age as a species. I don’t agree with him, he’s the big antagonist of the book.
But I do believe right now that there is a sense of urgency around us, needing to recognize that there needs to be a solution to these things that seem huge and intractable. Or the opposite, which is the choice the characters in the book follow, which is to retreat and try to build walls around the things that are important to them. The book explores those warring impulses. I think it’s something that’s in the air. As science advanced to major life extension, as these major corporations like Facebook and Google are pouring money into life extension, it’s something that’s in the zeitgeist.
Jeff, I believe this is one of the few times that you illustrated something for another writer, why this story, why now?
Lemire: I’ve illustrated a few short stories, ten pages each for guys like Damon Lindelof. Doing short stories like that is a different muscle than this. This is the only time I’ve done a significant project that I haven’t written myself. Why now? Scott’s one of my best friends. Even if he wasn’t if I was just reading his work, he’s be one of my favorite writers. So, those two things combined, if I’m going to commit to working with another, it’s a perfect chance to work with Scott on something like this.
We’re at a point of our careers where we’ve done a ton of super hero stuff, a ton of our own stuff, and we’re just looking for challenges where we don’t become stale creatively. And this forced both of us out of our comfort zones and forced us to do stuff we never would have done on our own. I think we both grew, it’s definitely my best artwork and Scott’s best writing. At a point in our careers when people are kind enough to pay attention to us, it’s hard to pass up.
Did either of you do any research into any science that is trying to cheat death right now? Can you recommend any books or authors that you found particularly compelling?
Lemire: I know Scott did.
Snyder: I did, I did quite a bit. One of my favorite books was The Book of Immortality by Adam Leith Gollner, which talks about cheating death and life extension and frames with a story that David Copperfield finds a fountain of youth on an island he bought. The story begins with a reporter trying to get an invitation to the island. At the end of the book, he gets a response and gets to go visit. It’s hilarious. The bulk of the book examines our attempt to find ways of making sense of death, from religious to the cryogenic to the more spiritual. It’s a good, funny book.
When you look at the science itself, and there’s plenty of non-fiction books and articles, they can barely keep up with the science itself. It’s fascinating. The gene editing that goes on, all the stuff they’re experimenting with that extends life another quarter, or has rejuvenating effects on cells. All of it, you realize, no matter how effective some of these treatments are, that life is incredibly complex and you’ll extend life but you’ll develop some terrible cancer, or it’ll keep you from aging for this long but there’s a rapid decline…there’s no way of effectively curing death or extending life.
It makes you also see the balance of things in some ways. I enjoy looking into it because it puts you at peace on how fragile things are and how quickly you can go. You see the extension of these things doesn’t make you feel better. Adding twenty or thirty years to your life at seventy doesn’t lessen the core fears. Fears that I hope are in the book and are potent for people. I think it’s not about having more life but hanging onto the things you love and holding on to what’s important. Those are definitely the themes of the book.
Why choose Image Comics for this project?
Snyder: The thing we both recognized about Image is that they’re so deeply committed to a creator’s vision of a project. We knew that with A.D. it might be unwieldly and something that was not necessarily going to be published in a format that was highly commercial or that was not going to be in the most traditional format. Image is awesome to us and Eric Stephenson has been great adjusting to the project. His commitment to it and Image’s have been inspiring. Every time we decided it needed to be longer or done in three books, they’ve been very supportive as long as we can explain why it’s right for the book. They’ve been a wonderful and supportive place to work.
What’s scarier a world with death, or a world without it?
Lemire: Without it. Because then Donald Trump would live forever. Seriously though, it’s the oldest cliché in the book, but without death it would be impossible to define ourselves. It would be hard to give any meaning to anything we do. We would all like to live forever or longer, but who knows what kind of nightmare scenario that would open.
Snyder: It’s funny, as I was writing it, at first, I came up with certain ways that this society that is free of death would be terrible and be predatory. But the more I wrote, the existence that you would have there. Being with different people, constantly developing new skills, eventually, for the first couple of times, it became nightmarish. That sense of total repetition, the sense of never having a story. One of the things the book is about is the only way life can make sense is to have a beginning a middle and an end, and when you take that out of it, a sense of any ending, it just keeps going, it becomes meaningless and frighteningly diffuse. So yeah, I would agree, except if you came over and said, “Here’s the cure!” I think I’d take it.
The first issue of A.D. After Death hits stores on November 23rd. Snyder and Lemire’s magnum opus of immortality will be a three issue series, with each installment clocking in at seventy to eighty pages in length. And seriously, if we had an eternity of comics like A.D. After Death, immortality would truly be a blessing.