HEAT VISION

Supernatural Comic 'Afterlift' Combines Ride Sharing and Hell

Creators Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo talk about their new action-comedy, from Amazon's ComiXology.
Jason Loo/ComiXology
Creators Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo talk about their new action-comedy, from Amazon's ComiXology.

In ComiXology’s new original title Afterlift, the road to Hell is apparently going to be paved with ride-share ratings. Created by Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals, Marvel’s Daredevil and Spider-Man: Life Story) and Jason Loo (The Pitiful Human-Lizard), the five-part series centers on Janice, a ride-share driver with an unlikely destination: Hell itself. The series also features Paris Alleyne as colorist and Aditya Bidikar as letterer; Allison O’Toole acts as editor.

The Hollywood Reporter talked to Zdarsky and Loo about the inspirations behind the series, and what part She’s All That plays in the relationship between creators. (No, really.)

I have to ask: How hard is it to avoid puns like “The gig economy is a hell of a time” when talking about this book?

Chip Zdarsky: Uh, sorry, I'll be right back. Need to change something in issue one. And two. And three.

Jason Loo: I must’ve used the Hell pun plenty of times since the announcement at SDCC that people might start to think I’m plugging Hell’s new lodge and resort or something. It does have a better ring to it than say, “Purgatory yeah!”

OK, a real first question: Where did Afterlift come from? How did you both get to the point of, “Oh, an Uber driver but they drive souls to Hell?”

Zdarsky: Well, Afterlift is the modern version of paying Charon to cross the River Styx. That idea was the start of it all, but like with anything, the story really started after bringing Jason in and developing the characters.

How did the two of you get together? You’re both part of the Toronto comics scene, I know…

Zdarsky: I've wanted to work with Jason for a long time now, but he's, frankly, too good of a writer to have to draw my words. I half expected him to turn me down, so I was pretty excited when he said "OK, I guess!”

Loo: Chip reached out to me around the time I wrapped up my comic series The Pitiful Human-Lizard. I didn’t want to pass this first-time opportunity to work with a guy I’ve known since my college internship who’s become this powerhouse of a comic talent in the last several years. I honestly feel like Rachel Leigh Cook from She’s All That, and Chip’s Freddie Prinze Jr.

Chip just gave me a few sentences on the premise and I, the eager beaver, sketched up a storm of all sorts of cars and character concepts for about a month before I got the first script.

Zdarsky: I wish this was the first time I've been compared to Freddie Prinze Jr.

Between this and Image Comics’ Crowded, it feels as if comics is getting around to dealing with the gig economy, which feels…strange. Not to see comics tackle the subject, as such, but because comics is a gig economy made up of freelancers and has been for the most part since its inception. Is Janice’s experience a way to subtweet your own jobs?

Zdarsky: Not exactly? I started my career as a freelance illustrator, which is a lot more short-term gigs than comics. It would be like if I was hired for just a single comic page and then had to hunt down my next single comic page gig. Comics feels weirdly stable compared to that! Which obviously means I'm broken and so is the system.

Loo: I can definitely understand all the emotions that Janice is going through, such as exhausted, tired and frustrated. Hopefully I’ve nailed those feelings to a tee while looking at a mirror to capture those expressions for reference.

Pop culture has seen a lot of afterlife fiction, from It’s A Wonderful Life to Heaven Can Wait to The Good Place. What is Afterlift adding to the genre, and which — if any — previous journeys into life after death have influenced what you’re doing with the series?

Zdarsky: I think for "afterlife" stories, the two that I look to the most are Sandman and The Good Place. Sandman had a really shifting, story-based afterlife feeling to it, which we lean on here to explore personal religions co-existing. But The Good Place is an inspiration in how it uses the afterlife to prompt personal growth beyond death, which is the character journey for our two leads, Janice, and her "fare," Suzanna. Death isn't the end of growth.

Our big addition to the genre is the action element of it. A car chase through the afterlife, like a hellish Fast and the Furious. Though I suspect all the characters in the Fast and the Furious movies are already dead considering the supernatural things their cars do.

Loo: I had a lot of fun designing the demon bounty hunters. Normally when we see demons depicted in other mediums, they have the usual goat legs and the same kinda horns as seen in illustrated Holy Bibles or old European paintings relating to Christianity. So I wanted to make our demons look a little more bizarre and fresh.

Since I was a kid, Indonesian demon masks hung all around my uncle and aunt’s house. Their crooked fangs and bugged-out eyes looked like they’re always sinisterly laughing. Some even had crazy long hair kinda like in an '80s glam-rock fashion. All in all, we were amalgamating all kinds of ideas and interpretations about the afterlife because...what if they’re all right?

As the preview below shows, the first issue takes its time to introduce Janice, and build the world around her before the supernatural takes over, and it’s really sold by Jason’s naturalistic art. Was it important to both of you to allow this to be as much a character piece as a straight-up high-concept comedy, at least in the opening issue?

Loo: I was taught that the story writes itself when you’ve fleshed out your characters very in-depth. That’s why I admire Chip’s work, as I feel he approaches storytelling the same way.

And to have an Asian lead in this series, it is important for me to make sure we get a lot of mileage out of this and let the readers understand where Janice is coming from. Though when Chip wrote in the script that Janice’s parents’ house has a mantle with both a crucifix and a Buddha statue, I was kinda paranoid that he invited himself in my parents’ house for research.

Zdarsky: Your parents are lovely and they told me they're very proud of you, Jason, but you should visit more often.

I think no matter what genre you're playing with, the focus has to be on character building, or else the readers won't connect to anything. That first issue is why Jason was so important to the book. He's amazing at character development and expressions and gestures, which is how the reader empathizes with the cast.

We’ve talked about Janice’s role in the story, as well as Suzanna’s, and you’ve teased the car chase element of the run, but what can people expect from the series as a whole? What can you say to tease the hell — tortuous pun more intended than I should admit — out of Heat Vision readers?

Loo: A magnificent blend of fast-paced action and pit stops for readers to take a moment to cry because it’s one emotional ride!

Zdarsky: A tight five-issue tale! As a guy who's known for writing Marvel books with their constant second acts and ongoing continuity, one of the really satisfying parts of this project was to be able to tell a whole story over the series. It's maybe my favorite ending of anything I've been a part of, and I'm really excited for people to fall in love with Jason and Paris' art.

***

Afterlift launches Oct. 30 on ComiXology, with Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited subscribers able to read it for free. (The issues will be available to purchase for nonsubscribers.) A print collection of the series will be available via Amazon upon completion of the digital serialization. Before then, read on for a preview of the first issue.






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