If the world woke up one morning to learn a cure for death had been discovered, and all you had to do was pop a pill to stave off the hereafter, Scott Snyder would have to think long and hard about whether or not he would pull an Alice and down the 'Drink Me' potion. His long-time pal and collaborator Jeff Lemire, on the other hand, says he wouldn't hesitate.
The paradigm exemplifies the likely two most traveled paths one could take if such an opportunity presented itself, and it's also the central question of the creative duo's upcoming collaboration from Image Comics.
"A.D: After Death" is a three-issue, 80-page prestige format series written by Snyder and fully painted by Lemire that launches on November 23. The story follows Jonah Cooke as he deals with the loss of a loved one while he contemplating life after death – or, more specifically, life without death.
In speaking with CBR about "A.D. After Death," Snyder and Lemire shared their own fears about death, the realities and difficulties of parenthood, and the creative choices they made to deliver the best possible version of a speculative story that has been years in the making.
CBR News: Wow. First issue of "A.D: After Death" was a mind-blowing experience. A little bit of "Lost" in there, a little bit of "Twilight Zone," but in your words, how would you best describe it?
Scott Snyder: It's really intensely personal speculative fiction. It's a blend of almost a memoir, or journal, mixed with a really wild science fiction plot. And it's almost dream-like, too. It deals with personal fears and also offers this incredible fantasy - and then it takes that fantasy apart. It's easily the most personal book that I've done. Between this and "Wytches," I think that it's as autobiographical as I can go.
Jeff Lemire: The joy of this book is that for the first time, I'm not the writer, so I don't have to describe anything. [Laughs]
Just make it look pretty, right?
Lemire: That's right. It's science fiction, but I don't think it's like any other science fiction comic out there. Not only the format and the structure, which we've chosen that is very different, but the tone. Like Scott said, it's like an autobiography or a memoir because it's a deeply personal and emotional story and it just happens to be set against a sci-fi backdrop. It's pretty experimental and, hopefully, pretty unique.
I don't want to give too much away, because I think you have to read this book to truly experience it, but the solicitation copy gives away one major reveal, which is that a cure for death has been discovered. While there is obviously hope and promise for such a discovery, there would be downside too, no?
Snyder: Oh, yeah, and the book is so much about that. A lot of the emotional material in the book is autobiographical. I certainly struggle with a lot of the fears that Jonah, the main character, has. I am sort of bewildered about why I can't stop worrying about some of those things, especially having kids. In some ways, the book offers a fantastic cure for all of that, not just literally, but also in a more abstract way where all the things that come with death that we wouldn't think about. You're free from your own history, from your own context.
You're almost like the balloon at the beginning of the story. You missed the entire contest that you thought that you were a part of. You're constantly gathering new stories and new meanings. You're completely separated from history, from memory, from all of it. How wondrous that would be at first but I think that also gives way to nightmarish realizations. We also wanted to push every aspect of that formally with an experimental format that really pushed both of us. Jeff is drawing for another writer and I am blending prose with art. We also wanted all of that to speak to the complexity of the issue. The book is a big experimentation and a meditation on these issues that there is no easy or clear pat answer. It's the opposite of what is sometimes available in superhero comics where you can patch everything up with Batman or whoever; there is kind of a lingering doubt. Here, you can be as exposed as you want and as vulnerable as you want on the page. I hope all of it kind of works organically where all of the experimentation and all of the choices that we made physically and visually and story-wise underscore the difficulty and the pain that I think you feel trying to answer some of the questions that plague the main character.
If a cure were found for death, would you take the magic pill?
Snyder: [Laughs] One of the things that is so strange is that I wanted to make the main character someone who doesn't have the same attachments that I have. It means it would be impossible to do it [take the pill] if your kids and your loved ones weren't doing it, too. That said, one of the things that is so spooky is that there are so many companies that are actually pouring so much money into research in this exact field, from Google on down. Everybody is interested in life extension. I don't think that it's that far off that you are going to wind up having these kinds of pills on the market. I think it was just last week that Facebook announced it was pledging $600 million over the next 20 years to try and cure all diseases. The idea that you could live to be 150-200 years old and there would be this kind of transhumanism is not that far off. Part of the question becomes, would it be amazing to be able start your story over, or is better to give way to being something small?
That's one of things that I struggle with. Sometimes, the bigger you feel and the more time that you think you have and the larger your life seems, the more anxious I get. And the smaller you feel, the more dwarfed you feel by everything and the less important that you feel, the more okay you are. At least for me, it feels that way. I feel calmer about my own mortality and I know that's a strange paradox against wanting to live longer and staying young.
Lemire: I would take the pill in a second. [Laughs] How could you not? I feel that it would be really hard to say know to that if the offer presented itself, especially if Scott did it. We could be together forever.
We're laughing now, but do you think you would have different answers to these questions if you were in your twenties instead of your forties?
Lemire: I don't think either of us would have done this book if we didn't have kids. It all comes from that. It's when you have kids that your own mortality suddenly becomes very urgent and a real thing. You're terrified of leaving them. They're asking questions, and starting to realize their own mortality -- that's all of the stuff that made this book happen. It's not even possible, for me anyway, to imagine doing something like this when I was in my twenties.
Snyder: I agree with Jeff. Having children makes you vulnerable all of the time to these fears. I actually had a similar experience to the main character where I just never stopped worrying about death in this abstract way. I've had a lot of anxiety about it, like the main character has, and a lot of what he thinks are things that I've said before to friends and to myself. There's a lot of autobiographical stuff in there but the point I really agree on with Jeff is that having kids and seeing them go through that is the one thing that I really wished that they didn't get from me. I wish they could relax more than I am capable of. I think the book really comes from how acute those desires and those fears become when you have a child. I want to not worry about these things because I want them not to worry about them. But I can't.
Again, I really don’t want to ask to many questions about the actual storyline. but I want to ask you about the main character, Jonah Cooke. Was the character – and his cow – named for Darwyn Cooke? I know the series was in the works before his death but what kind of an impact did real-life deaths like Darwyn's and others close to you have on the series and the philosophy of "A.D.: After Death"?
Snyder: It was actually a coincidence to have the name 'Cooke.' Jeff pointed out that it was similar to Darwyn, and then we were going to take it out. When Darwyn died, we ended up leaving it in, but it was a coincidence.
What Jonah goes through in the first part, when he steals a recorder to record everything, I did it. I had this tremendous fear of losing the loved ones around me at a very young age. What's strange is that I think the fear of losing them is actually worse than losing them. It's awful when your grandparents die, or the people who are close to you, but the people that I have lost so far have thankfully lived very long lives. In the book, I write a lot about the paralyzing fear about losing people close to you and wanting to preserve them somehow for yourself. And yet, half of the time, you end up not enjoying your time with them because you're concerned about it being the last time.
There is a brilliant mix here of traditional comic book storytelling, painting and prose. Why the decision to go this route with this story, not to mention releasing it as a 3-part, 80-page, prestige format series?
Lemire: It was all an evolution. We didn't set out with this being our original idea. I think originally, it was just going to be a short story that I really liked and wanted to draw. It was going to be a little side project that we were going to do for fun so we could work together. It was much more noir, kind of sci-fi, genre stuff. And then when we started talking about it and doing it as a longer format graphic novel that's when it really started to open up the potential of it. It started becoming bigger and more expansive and it was Scott's decision to add some prose to it to really blew things wide open. It became like a 150-page graphic novel in theory and I started working on it that way. And then that got bigger and it's probably going to be 210 pages or even 220 pages and the story itself just had these natural breaks so it was easy to structure in three parts. It just seemed to be the best way to deliver it was to serialize like this in these big, oversized books with 80 pages each. We play on some of the mystery of the book that way where we just give some of the mystery in installments at a time.
And why was Image the right publisher to deliver "A.D" in this format?
Image has been so generous with us. In speaking to what Jeff just said about the format, I also want to thank Jeff because a lot of the changes came as I was working through a lot of the material myself and he's been such an incredible partner and a friend on the book. I am totally inspired when I work with him and also very grateful. Image has always been really great to us and allowed us to let the story dictate the form of the project and that was really our goal because we're both lucky enough to make our good livings in comics in general and to be able to do stuff that we enjoy doing with superheroes and other types of characters that we feel passionate about. For this book, we really wanted it to be something that we didn't feel constricted by publishing demands or commercial expectations. And instead, we wanted to do something that was intensely personal and experimental for us and let it speak for itself. Luckily, it's turning out to be a book not only that I'm proud of but easily as proud of as anything that I've ever done. For me, I think Image is the place for a book like that because they're incredibly supportive. Every time that we spoke to [Image publisher] Eric [Stephenson] or we spoke to Eric as this has been evolving, he's been super supportive and tried to find a way to take advantage of that to make us comfortable. Ultimately, this is the perfect form for it. I ma glad we land where we did because the other thing is that if it came out just as a hardcover graphic novel for $20 or whatever, I feel like it skips over some of the fans in the direct market, who know us for other things. This way, it costs less to buy the three books and it's in comic book stores, which allows the audience that knows us for certain things to be able to see us trying something really different and new together. And they don't have to make the same commitment as a big, hardcover graphic novel – hopefully they will [Laughs] and like it, but you know what I mean.