Coming clean right off the bat, I went in blank when diving into After Death. I knew Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire had teamed up for the first time to write a book that would let them push some boundaries, as creator owned books tend to. I knew it was a sci-fi book with a very concise synopsis –
What if we found a cure for death?
And I am going to be honest with you, that’s the best way to read After Death. Not knowing what you are getting yourself into, makes the impact of this, quite frankly, unique book far greater.
First off, I am hard pressed to think if I have ever seen any other “comic book” structured like this. It’s more like an illustrated novel. Verbose and prose heavy with some traditional comic book panels thrown in. But it fits every phase of the story Snyder and Lemire are trying to tell us. From the opening pages that has a green paint stain drawing your attention then diverting it to the three sentences broken up to cover the page, you feel like you are not in control of your eyes anymore. Like a masterful director, Lemire and Snyder control where your gaze lands. And this follows through every page. There are text heavy pages with a single picture, perfectly married to the words on that page. Its quite uncanny in how it evokes a feeling that you weren’t really expecting. My favorite being one where a cassette tape flows to the bottom of the page to become an IV into Jonah’s mother’s hand and then flow back to up to the tape again. It’s such a heart rending scene, made even more evocative by the wonderful usage of watercolor by Lemire.
Through the story we jump through different phases of Jonah Cooke’s life. As a young boy, as a teenager and as an adult. His story takes the front stage in the backdrop of a canvas created with high concept sci fi elements being slowly introduced to us. Little morsels of information like Jonah has been working on a farm for 50 years, that people are immortal and that Jonah has a secret. Or secrets. I am not quite sure yet. But the character is king in this story or at least book one of this story. We traverse the memories of Jonah via the aforementioned prose and you immediately see the effects Snyder’s wordplay has upon you. Vividly allowing you imagine walking in the jungles of Africa or a parking lot in Florida, the words do so much and then you are hit with a near perfect illustration by Lemire. It’s quite beautiful in its combination. It opens up Jonah to us. It takes us on his journey. Having only read Snyder’s superhero work previously, this make me want to hunt down his other acclaimed works outside of the Caped Crusader and gang. Also makes me want to break into rich people’s houses. Read the book, you will get it.
The book is heavy. Its 70 pages long and it barely provides any context as to why this world is as it is. There are no clues, no hints. Sadly no plot. Well there is a basic plot, but this is mostly a character driven story as it stands right now. And you know what I am fine with it. I like Jonah. I want to know his story. I want to know why he is doing what he is doing. But be aware it takes patience and work. But like all good things, it rewards you for it.
To end it off, I would like to say two things. Lettering is one of the most important jobs that is sadly overlooked in comics, but here Steve Wands has done an amazing job. The flashbacks are written in this old timey typewriter font that on the textures created by the water colors look amazingly worn and sad. The placement of the words is just as important as the words themselves and by god Wands has knocked it out of the park. Secondly, even after reading the whole thing twice I have no idea where I am in the story. I am confused. Well, alright, I am intrigued. I wanted more than 70 pages and that’s a good thing. Right?
A solid 4 Thwips out of 5.