Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Illustrator: Jason Loo
Publisher: Comixology Originals (digital) / Dark Horse (print)
WHAT IS IT?
Afterlift is an action-packed, high-concept road trip to the afterlife.
Take the driver-as-hostage thriller concept of the 2004 film Collateral, sprinkle on a few sword fights and car chases, then steer it straight to hell.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Janice Chen is stuck. She makes minimum wage as a ride-share driver for Cabit and her relationship with her parents is fraught. But her night turns into a freewheeling, plane-spanning adventure when she unknowingly picks up the slickly dressed demon, Dumu.
Dumu is tasked with taking fresh souls to hell, and thanks to a demonically controlled ride-share app, Janice is now his method of transport. Their cargo is the freshly dead Suzanna, who doesn’t seem to have much choice in her destination. With a small horde of demons hot on their heels, Janice has two choices: drive them to hell for a fat reward or take control of the wheel and try to save Suzanna’s soul.
Thrilling car chases and sword fights share panel space with big emotional wounds and it all gets sorted in a heady spectacle somewhere between Heaven, Hell, and an expensive ride-share.
Writer Chip Zdarsky (Stillwater, Daredevil) comically updates the Greek mythological practice of guiding souls to the underworld by replacing Hermes and a ferryman with an Uber.
Jason Loo’s linework makes everything tick in this comic engine. As silly and outrageous as the plot gets, Loo firmly grounds the comic with his excellent character design and clear storytelling chops.
Paris Alleyne’s bright, glowing colors provide the roadmap for this adventure. Cool blues, hot reds and glowing objects help orient the reader and our expectations within each panel.
Letterer Aditya Bidikar uses wavy tails and subtle hits of color to differentiate the dialogue between human and non-human characters, helping guide the reader through a chorus of voices.
The rideshare isn’t just the vehicle for the characters: it’s the relatable hook that gets the reader emotionally involved. We’ve all gotten into cars with complete strangers and put our trust in them—it’s a part of everyday 21st-century life.
Zdarsky’s afterlife isn’t based around a particular religion: it’s a refreshingly inclusive vision where anyone that believes in something has a place.
The story’s not really about religion—that’s just window dressing. Zdarsky’s real target is humanity and how people deal with our own life-altering tragedies: do we punish ourselves in perpetuity or do we pick ourselves up and keep on fighting?
Representation matters: the butt-kicking and courageous protagonist, Janice, is Asian American. Loo based Janice’s features on his cousin, Marsha, who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time.
Loo’s demons look fresh and original. Their appearances were inspired by Indonesian masks from his childhood.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Comics excel in escapism. Tackling death and the afterlife in a historically traumatic time for humanity is a tough sell. I had this book in my queue for months—starting and stopping it several times—before finally giving it my full attention.
This is a fairly grand tale to wrap up in just 5 issues, especially when the pit stops are purgatory and hell.
The ending is tough to swallow. But so is death. And in a book about the afterlife, it makes sense that the ending isn’t really the end.
Content warning: while the story is light on violence, this is definitely a book for adults as suicide, self-harm, trauma, and death are all paramount to the story.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The creative team won an Eisner for Best Digital Series for Afterlift—and it shows. Loo, Zdarsky, and company treat a traditionally convoluted topic with extreme care and clarity. For fans of Chip Zdarsky or bold comic writing in general, this high-concept exploration of the afterlife and the life-changing impact of grief takes big swings and connects on all fronts: writing, art, coloring, lettering.
Sometimes it’s tough to shake out of our comfortable nest of superhero and sci-fi titles, but this creator-owned work is a complete breath of fresh air and you will be rewarded for giving it a try. From a production perspective, it’s also fascinating to see Afterlift thrive as a free digital Comixology Original and then get picked up for a trade paperback by Dark Horse. Potentially, this could be a new path for more non-traditional creator-owned titles, which is exciting to be a part of.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Stillwater by Chip Zdarsky & Ramón K. Pérez
The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III
Alienated by Simon Spurrier & Chris Wildgoose
If you like the art:
The Pitiful Human-Lizard by Jason Loo
Nocterra by Scott Snyder & Tony Daniel
Hollow Heart by Paul Allor & Paul Tucker
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Chip Zdarsky (@zdarsky) – Writer
His breakthrough in comics was as the artist on Sex Criminals. He learned how to write comic scripts through the creative process on that book with writer Matt Fraction.
Chip Zdarsky is his comics pen name; his real name is Steve Murray!
Based in Toronto.
Jason Loo (@Rebel_Loo) – Illustrator
Loo’s best known for The Pitiful Human-Lizard, which follows a struggling superhero in Toronto. He wrote and drew the series.
Often pulls from real life for his character designs. The mom in The Pitiful Human-Lizard is based on his mom. Janice in Afterlift is based on his cousin.
Also based in Toronto…
Paris Alleyne (@ParisAlleyne) – Colorist
Eisner Award winner.
Teaches digital painting at Max the Mutt College of Animation, Art & Design in Toronto.
Is everyone on this book based in Toronto?
Aditya Bidikar (@adityab) – Letterer
A seasoned letterer whose recent work includes Little Bird from Image, Bloodborne from Titan, and These Savage Shores from Vault.
Previously worked with Chip Zdarsky on The White Trees from Image.
Resides in Pune, India. NOT Toronto. Phew.
Allison O’Toole (@AllisonMOToole) – Editor
Works as a freelance comics editor.
Previously worked with Loo on the The Pitiful Human-Lizard and Memento Mori.
ALSO BASED IN TORONTO.
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