A.D. After Death Book One by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire

A.D. After Death: Book One

A Literary Science Fiction Comic

Wednesday, November 16 23 sees the release of “A.D. After Death: Book One” from the fevered minds of Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire.  It is a literary comic with a science fiction twist, unique in its formatting and presentation.

The book is split into two halves.  The first is the story of Jonah Cooke, a young boy whose life takes an interesting twist during a rushed family vacation to Florida. His mother falls ill and a series of changes and experiences in his life happen because of that.   The second story is of Jonah Cooke in the future, living in a world completely different from our own, yet somewhat familiar.  It’s far into the future and death has been eradicated, in part because of something Jonah did. (Or so he thinks.)

The ramifications of this are pretty outrageous, but we’re only getting the tip of the iceberg about it in this issue.  I’m sure there’s lots more to understand in the coming books.  This book, in the end, feels like a bit of a tease.  We see a lot, but much of it in the future time frame, at least, is still presented without proper context.  I want more of that context to piece together what’s going on as Jonah moves to a new job.

A.D. After Death Part one by Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder.

 

The Format is The Twist

The big twist of the book is in the format.  The story of the past is told in illustrated prose, while the story set in the future is classic panel-by-panel storytelling.

Snyder started as a prose writer before taking up comics full time, so you can imagine this is a scratch he wanted to itch.  It works well.  The writing is fairly literary.  You can see Snyder placing objects throughout the story that might be allusions to something else.  There are stories within stories, telling small parts of Jonah’s life in short story form.

When the series is completed, it’ll be interesting to go back and try to place what some of the allusions are, where the symbolism exists, and where we’re just reading too much into it.

I have to be honest: I haven’t read too much prose in recent years.  I read a couple of books on a business trip last year on various flights, but I’m usually too backed up with comics to bother with novels.  It took a few pages to fall back into that flow with the book, but that’s on me, not Snyder.  His prose is easily approachable. He’s not being flowery, nor is he telling a boring story.

It can be, at times, dreamy like a memory you cherish so much that you hold on tight to it.  The prose, told in first person from Jonah’s perspective, feels like a memoir of a golden age in the character’s life, even when it’s not all wine and roses.

Snyder is a strong prose writer, is the point.

 

But, Wait, There’s Art, Too!

Lemire shows off chops in this issue as both designer and sequential storyteller.  On the prose pages, he has to lay items out on the page that fit around the text.  He does so in a way that doesn’t repeat itself. He tries a little of everything.

In the sequential narrative on the future pages, he takes a deliberate pace to sell the world as much as to make every moment feel more important.  The simple grid pattern to the panels (usually three or four tiers high) keeps him on the straight and narrow, matching better the more formal reality of the prose text in the other half of the issue. He also keeps everything restrained.  He doesn’t go for showy angles or Kirby exaggeration.

And he does it all with watercolor, which is also impressive and gives the series a feel all its own.

Credit to Steve Wands for the lettering in the series.  He found a typewriter font that feels old and slightly broken, which fits the tone of the book.  Throughout the text, you get letters where the counters are filled in, for example, with the black ink the font is simulating.  Or, smetimes it’s the narrowest space between the serif and the rest of the letter that bleeds a little ink.  Wands picked a good font for this — readable, and filled with character.

 

The Physical Form

This might be my favorite part of the book.

It is oversized, roughly an inch wider and taller than your standard North American comic book.  It is square bound, much like those old DC Prestige Format books would be.

The big difference between this format and the Prestige Format, though, is the cover stock.  I can’t ever remember a comic book using this stock for its cover.  It’s a textured cardboard kind of thing.  I’m not sure I know how to describe it.  It’s thicker like a cardstock cover, but the inside is smooth while the outside is filled with bumps.  It feels more like an old paperback book or school workbook than it does a magazine-style comic. It feels great in your hands, and the non-stiff cover means it’s much easier to hold open and read without creasing the spine.

The larger size pages allow for two presentation advantages of this book:

  1. It gives Jeff Lemire’s artwork more scope.  Because the page is physically bigger, it feels like the art has expanded in scope, too. Lemire uses that to his advantage specifically in a couple of cases, with wide angle establishing shots that spread across two pages.  It’s glorious.
  2. It lets the creative team play with the design and layout of the pages that are filled with text.  The prose is rarely a single column of text.  Sometimes, it arrives in circle patterns.  Sometimes, it fits around the images Lemire has laid out on the page.  It can be left, right, or center justified, depending on what the page has room for.  This isn’t just illustrated text; this is a well-designed comic that fits type together with art.

Ample whitespace is used to keep the pages from being dominated by text, even when there are very large blocks of text in this book.  Snyder doesn’t adjust his novelist’s style to what we’re all more used to reading from blogs these days.  He packs text into paragraphs which can often run ten lines of text. It can be oddly frustrating in moments, due to our unfortunate training with reading off web pages that are designed to be three lines, max. But it’s not at all hard to read. You just need to flip your mindset when reading those pages.

You can’t give Jeff Lemire enough credit on this book for being a great designer, though. Those pages of prose feel more literary for how well he lays out the images surrounding the words.

 

Is It Worth Reading?

If you like the way Jonathan Hickman plays with comic book formats, then yes.  If you’re an avid prose reader, then yes. If you’re a Snyder or Lemire fan, then you don’t need my approval.

The format does mean it’s a $5.99 book, so you might want to take cost partially into consideration.  At the same time, though, realize that that $6 will give you more reading minutes than three standard size $3.99 comics will.  While it seems like a big number, keep in mind that it’s a fair trade for the size and format.

I’m sold already on reading the next two issues. I just hope the rest of the story pays off as strongly as it has started.

I’m also curious to see if they release a fancy hardcover edition when all is said and done.  It would make for a great package, over all. Plus, this already feels like a book desperately trying to get into libraries and bookstores. That kind of format would help.

 

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