At Image Expo Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire sat down to talk about their collaboration on the forthcoming graphic novel from Image Comics, A.D. After Death.
For how long have you guys been planning this book?
Jeff Lemire: Since last night [laughs].
Scott Snyder: No, we started talking about the idea about a year ago.
JL: Yeah it was about a year ago. Scott had originally thought of it as a much smaller story for me to draw, but instantly I connected with the idea and it grew. It was last fall that we really started thinking about it seriously. We went to London for a convention together, so we were on the plane for seven or eight hours and just started talking through it. We got really excited about it and started thinking about how we would actually execute it, and it became a real thing at that point.
Are you two co-writing the story?
JL: No, Scott is going to write it.
SS: Yeah. This is the first time I’ve gotten to do a book that isn’t serialized. It’s something that, for us, is one big story that we see as a graphic novel. For me its the first thing I’ve gotten to do that isn’t highly propulsive or plot driven in a way designed to keep people coming back every issue. For Jeff, he hasn’t drawn something for another writer.
JL: Yeah, besides a couple short stories and one issue of Jonah Hex that Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray wrote. That was the extent of me drawing for another writer, so this is the first major project like that. From a visual standpoint, breaking it down is part of the writing so in that sense we’ll be co-writing, but Scott will be the premiere writer.
SS: I make all my artists do half of my job [laughs].
Jeff, for you, what is it like being an artist and not the writer for a big project like this.
JL: To be honest, we’re just starting so I’m not really sure yet. When you write for yourself its really easy to cheat. If you write something you don’t feel like drawing you can change the script a little bit and make it easier [laughs]. I write stuff that is very suited to my strengths and sensibilities. I’m tailoring the script to myself, where as this will be challenging because there might be things that Scott wants me to draw or execute that’ll push me and it’ll help me to grow as an artist in ways I could never do if I was writing for myself. I’m really excited about that. You can easily fall into a pattern writing for yourself where you have a similar aesthetic or thematic quality, which can be great, but its good to shake it up and go in some directions you wouldn’t normally go.
SS: I plan on writing only things that make Jeff extremely uncomfortable [laughs].
Where did the idea to write about the cure for death come from originally?
SS: I think its been a theme in basically everything that I’ve written for Batman or for American Vampire or for Wytches. For me, this is a book where I’m addressing a major theme in everything I write but in a very central way, with someone who not only just does the art but also helps with ideas and all those kinds of things. It isn’t something that occurred as a high concept, what if they cure death.
Court of Owls was about the idea of growing up in a city, for me in New York City, and one thing that I always thought of as a kid was that you can know your neighborhood, you can know the geography, but you’ll never know all the lives that lived there before you. There is a sense of humility to that, knowing that the city is very haunted in that sense.
JL: You really thought that as a child [laughs]?
SN: Yeah! Even as a kid, there’s this thing where you know someone like my dad who would say, “You know, it wasn’t like this ten years ago.” You get the sense of how quickly things change and what you know is only one moment, and the place will go on much longer than you live there.
With the Joker in Death of the Family, it was about the Joker saying to Batman, “You always wanted to be immortal. You always wanted to be something that transcends your body, but you betrayed that by making friends with all of these people who love whoever you are under the mask. Forget them and come with me and be something legendary,” and Batman rejecting that.
Endgame is centrally about that too. It has themes and elements that we’re also dealing with in AD. Maybe its just part of being a writer, where you write to communicate the things that keep you up at night and the sense of everything moving so fast, and worrying about what if I was meant to do something else. What if I should have done this. What if I was married to someone else? What if I had different kids? What if I was married to Jeff Lemire [Laughs].
But in all seriousness, what if you got to try all the things that you want to try but you know you only have a limited amount of time, only so many trips around the sun. The book is about what are the wonders and terrors of having limitless time to become whatever you want to be.
JL: The cure for death high concept aspect is really just the starting point. That’s not what the story is about. The story is about if you could live as many lives as you want, you could spent fifty years becoming a master carpenter on a whim and then just forget about it. It’s watching this man reinvent himself constantly, and all the while the world is changing around him too. It’s pretty fascinating.
SS: If you got to do everything you wanted to do would you be closer to the person you wanted to be or would you just be farther away from who you were before? Does the ephemeral nature of life make it so whatever you do is actually what cuts closest to the bone of what you should be doing? Or is it something where endless opportunities to reinvent yourself allow you to find who you’re really supposed to be. For me, having that breathing room with this book, and this is one of the things I really want to stress and I know Jeff wants to stress is that I’ve never gotten to do something, as much as he’s never gotten to do something like this for someone else, I’ve never gotten to write something like this that is so exploratory. It’s not serialized so I don’t have to hit that “is he going to live next issue?” hook. It’s nice to question and wander and let it be whatever you want it to be in terms of length and space. I really think it’s going to be one of the best thing that I’ve ever worked on and I’m really excited about it.
In this world, does immortality change human nature?
JL: Absolutely. There is also a separation between those who are immortal and those who aren’t. We don’t want to give too much away, but there are two worlds where there are people who have access to this immortality and those who don’t.
SS: One of the things that is really exciting about this are the visual cues from it. Imagine you live your life over and over while you watch in the distance all the buildings fall, trees go up, trees go down, new buildings go up. We want to give it the sense of hundreds and hundreds of years, give it that scope and sense of time that seems impossible to imagine.
Are there any thought exercises you go through while writing this to put yourself in those shoes?
SS: For me, I have kids, and I have become pretty obsessive with writing down everything that happened that day. Before I have no record of my life up to the point of having children. Once you have kids time moves so fast and they become different people every six months when they’re young. The exercises for me for this book are trying to let go of that and think, what if instead of worrying about time passing quickly, you knew suddenly that you had no limitation on how much time you have. All those worries you have: are you married to the right person, are you pursuing the right career, are you living in the place that you should be living, now suddenly put no pressure on you anymore because you can just try again.
The thought exercises are very personal, honestly, because I feel like for me at least, as a writer, is living in terror of the passage of time and how quickly it goes. Again, its a theme that’s been in almost everything I’ve done. American Vampire is centrally about that also, because you’re following these figures who are constantly watching people live and day because they are timeless. For me the exercises I do are just trying to imagine what if you had to stop worrying about the thing you worry about every day, like writing everything your kids do in a journal because you’re worried you’ll forget.
Not to give too much information, but for me at least, and maybe it’s because I’m just having children now, it worries me all the time. I don’t remember what my kid was like two years ago unless I watch a video. I can’t remember what we did, who he was, any of it. That sense of how quickly it goes and how everything changes is just a giant engine in terms of my writing and what keeps me up at night and what gets me excited about when I think about the possibility of a cure for death. The book is something that strikes a very raw nerve. I really think this is going to be something special.
If there were a cure for death, would either of you take it?
JL: I don’t think I would. I’d be too scared.
SS: I feel like all my life that is what I’ve been hoping for. I love all of those shows like intervention [laughs] and shows about those kinds of pathology. The show that spun off of intervention which was a show about obsessions and O.C.D. There was one about a guy who had this exact obsession, where all he would do was work out all the time because he was terrified that he would die before they developed a cure for death, and that he would be the only one left before the entire world was changed by this possibility of living past your own mortality. It was so horrifying to watch someone who was that terrified of it. It was one of the things that engendered the idea for this book. If you live your whole life in fear of death and how circumscribed what you do because of that fear, you end up missing out on what it was that makes life so special.
I guess, I think I would not take it. I totally looked into ways of preventing it, though. My wife is a doctor and I ask her all these medical questions for the book, like why don’t cryogenics work? I’ll tell you. It’s because when you freeze somebody it destroys the cellular structure of any kind of biological tissue. When you freeze tissue, the water expands and destroys all the passageways and things like that. But then I go, “well, but still it could work right?” [laughs]
When I told Jeff the idea, that this was the book I want to do if I get a chance to go back and write a novel, this would be it. It’s a book that matters to me tremendously and its something that really cuts to the heart of what I like to write about and I think its going to be something really special and personal to me, and doing it at Image is perfect. I remember when I first talked with Eric Stephenson about doing Wytches and I asked him about three or four ideas I had and which ones would fit the publishing slate the best, do you have too much science fiction, too much horror, I can be flexible. He was quiet for a moment and said “I don’t understand, whichever one you want to do.” The fact that they welcome you and want you to do the thing that matters most to you, whichever passion project you really want to do, this is literally that. This is me doing the thing that matters more to me than anything else.
And not to be corny, but getting to do it with not only one of my best friends in the world, but somebody who even if I hated Jeff’s guts I’d still say this is the best person to do this book with. His storytelling and artistic ability is…
JL: [Cuts Snyder off] Thank you. I love you too. [laughs]
SS: No really! Getting to do this with someone who has the same sensibilities and likes the same things and has the same fears is amazing. I could not be more excited to be doing this.
What are some of the Image books that you guys are reading?
SS: What aren’t I reading? My favorite book on the stands, and I feel bad about naming one, because I love The Wicked + The Divine, I love Southern Bastards, there are so many books I enjoy tremendously, but Lazarus is my favorite. That book to me is the closest to perfection in terms of how the visual style matches the writing. On top of that the pacing, the breadth and scope of the book. The daring of how character based it is when it has this incredible hooky high concept that could be something that is really plot driven or very Michael Bay. It could very easily have been a very good book just by being very fast and explosive, but its very held back. Its one of those things that makes me think that I need to up my game because it is just so good.
JL: I love The Fade Out. Southern Bastards. Saga. It’s inspiring how irreverent it is and how daring it is every month.