Every day, Jude wakes up from his fretful sleep, rides the bus to work, takes his lunch alone, goes home to sleep, and then does the same exact routine all over again. Every day, he watches the same woman drop her handkerchief on his way to work but can’t muster up the courage to approach her. In Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo’s “The Life After,” however, today is not every day and — when Jude finally breaks the cycle — he gets the shock of a lifetime or two. “The Life After” #1 is what every debut issue should look like with its intriguing concept, succinct exposition and quick pacing.
How, exactly, does one create a sense of overwhelming monotony without getting monotonous oneself? Well, it seems that Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo are the ones to ask. Their set up is remarkably swift, cramming Jude’s never-ending series of bad days into one jaw-droppingly massive splash page that contains no less than fifty separate panels. The repetition combined with Jude’s tired voice exudes the tedium that Jude feels in a compact way while covering a hefty stretch of (perceived) time. The middling nature of his life — an existence neither good nor bad, just painfully average — reads like limbo in and of itself. Through it, we become familiar with Jude’s routine, but not overly so, for Fialkov and Gabo take us quickly into the meat of the story shortly after. With such a firm set up, Jude’s action — even something as simple as following a woman off the bus to return her handkerchief — feels climactic, a tone that lasts almost the whole duration of the issue thanks to this simple, speedy introduction.
When Fialkov and Gabo kick off the book, Jude’s world is familiar: a small apartment, rush hour traffic, an office job, the works. However, as Jude falls off the beaten path, his surroundings become more and more absurd. Jumping from the Old West to outer space, Fialkov and Gabo establish purgatory as a personal, timeless void. This — and Jude’s ability to see other’s deaths through physical contact — gives the story a wonderfully wacky (if dark) atmosphere. What’s more, Jude the Average Joe becomes the perfect conduit for the reader as he walks through this world and reacts to each bizarre in just the right way.
The build towards absurdity which drives the book has a lot to do with Gabo’s artwork. His wider shots — the ones that zoom out to give us a large street perspective — are wildly inventive, throwing astronauts and samurais together in a zany compilation of figures. However, as they stroll in and out of Jude’s perspective, Gabo makes their existence feel strikingly normal; in the context of the story, with everyone lost in their own worlds, this is not only an appropriate choice but an eye-catching one that contributes astounding detail to the setting. His figures are a bit Roald Dahl-ish in their designs, with more attention on their cartoony expressions and body language than hard details. Additionally, his simulated effects — which facilitate Jude’s movement between perspectives — add an unpredictable, intriguing, and rather insidious dimension to Jude’s existence. Gabo opts for a rather muted color pallet for this comic, which works well in conjunction with Jude’s dull life.
Even though I had a sense of what “The Life After” was about, nothing could have prepared me for this startling, attention-grabbing debut. Fialkov and Gabo’s promising new series will grip you tight and take you on an electrifying adventure through the afterlife.