Lemire & Snyder Explore Death and Life in A.D.: After Death [Interview]
November 16, 2016
JEFF LEMIRE: I'll let Scott give his own answer here, but for me, A.D. is the story of one man in a world where death has been genetically cured and his own personal exploring through this future, and also through his own past. It's a big sprawling science fiction story that explores mortality and memory.
SCOTT SNYDER: Yeah, for me, this is an intensely personal story, maybe the most personal I've ever done. In terms of a hook, it's about a man—a common thief—who, after helping steal something that leads to the development of a cure for death, finds himself living long enough to see his world become something alien and terrifying. But in terms of what it's about, at its heart, it's about terror and bravery in the face of death. The truth is, I'm embarrassingly afraid of death...I feel like since childhood I've had this unhealthy preoccupation with the brevity of life, the tininess of it. It's terrifying, especially when I'm in a bad place. This book imagines a world where that's all removed—death itself and the impending dread associated with it—and explores the consequences of an unending life, of what it would mean, the good, bad, and ugly.
IC: Both of you are known for doing very resonant and intimate stories. Should we expect something in that range from A.D., or are you pushing it in more of a horror storytelling direction?
LEMIRE: I would not call it horror. I think science fiction is really what A.D. is. But it's not really like anything else I've ever done. It's an extremely intimate story. Scott has constructed a world, and a character in Jonah Cooke, that is incredibly deep and rich.
We are both known for doing smaller, emotionally charged, and character-driven stories, and also for larger world-building and bombast in some of our more mainstream work. A.D. combines both of these approaches, but it's done in a way that is totally new for each of us. The way we are combining traditional comics with more prose-driven sections feels really new for us and for comics.
SNYDER: I totally agree. There are certainly moments of horror in the book, but I think those moments come more from self-realization on the part of characters than anything else. If anything, genre-wise, this is big, speculative science fiction. Part of it takes place now, in the present day, and part of it takes place nearly 800 years from now, so it's got this huge, wild reach. The future section of the story takes place in this isolated community where everyone is cured of aging, sickness, dying...and Jeff spent a lot of time on the look of the place. We wanted it to be part nostalgic, part futuristic, a place that's like a series of historical styles with no historical grounding anymore. What Jeff came up with is just terrific.
IC: A.D. was originally announced as an original graphic novel, complete in one volume. Now, it's coming out in three prestige format books from November to January. What's the purpose of the change in format? Did the switch require a change in how you told the story, too?
LEMIRE: The story was originally going to be a tight 100- or 120-page story that would be done as one complete graphic novel. And this is how we started, but the story just sort of evolved and changed into something else as we got further and further into it. By the time we hit page 80 or so, both the structure of the story and the size and scope had grown. We knew that it would be much larger, and there seemed to be natural break points built right into it. We considered just making these three chapters within the same volume, but since we have both done so much serialized, monthly work, we thought it would actually be more fitting and serve the story better to split it up into three separate volumes and really lean into the serialized aspect, which was really where the story seemed to want to go.
So now it will be published as three perfect bound volumes of approximately 70 pages each. As soon as we made this decision, I feel like the aspects of the story we had been struggling with suddenly revealed themselves to us, and everything fell into place.
IC: The storytelling format of A.D. is fascinating too—a mix of traditional comics and illustrated prose. Scott, how's it feel to work your prose muscles again?
SNYDER: It feels amazing. It's strange, working in prose again, because I realized how much I've come to rely on artists over the past years, how much I've come to lean on them for all sorts of effects. If a scene is tense, I direct it as tense in the script, with a lot of panels, and so on, but above all, the feeling of the scene, the energy, is carried by the art. In prose, though, there's no one to create any effect but you. At first, it took me a while to really get back into it. It was hugely intimidating, in fact. But after a while—after reading a bunch or prose and poetry and just practicing a bit—I fell in love with it all over again. But it sort of took some time to remember that the autonomy of it is the joy of it. You're writer and artist. Still, Jeff's illustrations in the prose sections add so much. I'm extremely proud of how integrated it all feels.
IC: Jeff, you tend to do more writing or working as a writer/artist than drawing from someone else's script. What was it about this story that led to you collaborating with Scott on this story?
LEMIRE: It has been a real challenge, but a good one. I certainly feel I've grown leaps and bounds as an artist on this project. You're right, aside from a couple of eight- or ten-page short stories here and there, I have only ever drawn my own work. So I knew this would be different and it was a bit intimidating. But I would never have committed to doing something like this if I didn't have complete and total faith in my collaborator. In addition to being one of my closest friends, Scott is also one of the best writers in modern comics. I put him on a very short list of the absolute best writers currently making comics. So, in this case, it was easy to let go and have trust in him and invest in doing this.
And, being forced to get out of my own head and to draw someone else's work has been really good for me. When you are drawing your own scripts you tend to tailor them to your strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Meaning you write stuff you know you are good at drawing and avoid material that might be challenging or not naturally in your wheelhouse. But this forced me to get out of that comfort zone and, as a result, it forced me to grow. It also let me shut off the story part of my brain a little bit and focus on storytelling and draughtsmanship more. I can honestly say that the work I've done in A.D. is the best art I've ever produced. I think I've grown a lot since Sweet Tooth and Trillium.
And drawing the looser, non-comics prose sections has been a revelation. Doing that has helped me develop a whole other style that I know I will bring back into all of my work moving forward. And the material is just so inspiring. I get chills when I read Scott's script pages. It's amazing stuff to be able to draw.
IC: Who is Jonah Cooke? How is he coping with never dying?
LEMIRE: I think that's part of the problem. Despite living for a very long time, Jonah Cooke still doesn't really know who he is. In a way that's what the story is really about. I don't want to say much more than that and spoil anything. I'll let Scott do that. I can say that from a visual approach, I wanted Cooke to be very approachable, a real everyman that anyone could relate to. I based his look a bit on Clive Owen from Children Of Men, which was a huge inspiration for me on this book. But of course, he evolved into something else the more I drew him. Scott and I played around with more "futuristic" versions of the world of A.D., but none felt right. It wasn't until we stepped back and went for a more grounded, classic Americana look combined with small bits of advanced technology that we really found the visual voice of the book. And Cooke fit right into that.
I think visually the book is the perfect synthesis of Scott's and my own interests. That classic Americana that Scott loves with the small town rural vibe of Essex County and Underwater Welder. I realize I didn't really answer your question and kind of went on a tangent there. Sorry.
SNYDER: Yeah, Jeff really hit it on the head. Jonah is a character who's deeply conflicted about his situation. He was a common thief in the present day, and sort of lucks his way into the cure that allows him to live for 800+ years. Now, so many years later, he's haunted by the isolation of his own life and wants to escape his situation, but there's a bigger mystery behind the cure, and the world Jonah is living in.
IC: More generally, how is death perceived in the time period of A.D.? Does a life "after death" extend to animals as well?
LEMIRE: It extends only to humans in this world. Or at least I think it does? We don't really address the idea that it may extend to animals as well. That could have been fascinating. There are some crazy new animals, though. I got to draw a weird blue sabre-toothed tiger.
SNYDER: The cure is an administered thing, so it is possible someone could give it to an animal! I actually came up with the idea for A.D. when our cat was sick about five years ago, so maybe it's all a pet immortality fantasy. (I miss you Fergus.)
IC: There's a real feeling of change, both upcoming and painfully present, threaded throughout A.D. It feels ominous and inevitable. What are you drawing from for this story? What do you want the readers to feel?
SNYDER: Well, in a lot of ways it's a story about now. I think we all feel this end-of-times bassline nowadays because of the massive challenges we're facing, from climate change to globalization to resource depletion to class stratification to issues of race, religion—we're all so connected now, crammed together on this warming, crowded planet. There's a sense of dread because things can't be kicked down the field any longer. It's like our adolescence is over in general—we're mortal. We can end in a big way. I think this is why there's such a massive trend toward doomsday fiction and speculative fiction right now. There's a lot of dread and a lot of ambition and will to overcome. This book speaks to that underlying mix of feelings, I hope—not in a dark way, so much as an exploratory way. We can't turn away from mortality, so what do we do?
A.D. After Death Book One arrives 11/23.