‘Afterlift’ Writer Chip Zdarsky and Artist Jason Loo: The Conskipper Interview

Afterlift, the 2020 Eisner Award winner for Best Digital Comic, by Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo is about to expand its audience through the new Dark Horse Comics print edition, allowing those that still love to hold a graphic novel in their hands a chance to experience the award-winning story.

Zdarsky and Loo took some time to reflect on the inspiration and creation of Afterlift (as well as their other notable projects) in this exclusive interview.

What are the origins of Afterlift and how did you both end up working together?

Chip Zdarsky: There were a lot of things that just kind of came together. I was thinking of Michael Mann’s Collateral, thinking of the River Styx, and thinking about how at one point ancient ideas felt incredibly modern, which led to the app-based updating of the afterlife journey. After that it become about what I wanted to say with all of that and, of course, who should illustrate it?

I had an urge to do this digitally for the speed of getting work out, and I thought to myself: who do I know who delivers great art fast?

Jason Loo: I’ve known Chip since I was a college intern at his old studio and throughout over a decade followed his work, especially with his Marvel stuff. I got an email from Chip out of the blue after I wrapped up my creator-owned series the Pitiful Human-Lizard that I’ve been working on for five years. That email was such a motivational booster since at the time, I was feeling down and uncertain what to do next in comics. Knowing there is going to be more eyes on this project than my previous works, I was so determined to bring out my best in this series. So when Chip warned me I’d be drawing lots of cars, I practiced drawing them for a month to win his approval. I didn’t want him to regret working with me.

Your version of the afterlife is multicultural and draws from various mythologies from around the world.  How did you decide on the look and feel of Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven (and their inhabitants)?

Zdarsky:  It was tricky! I did a lot of research into the various interpretations of the afterlife, across a lot of religions. I toyed with the idea of doing a mish-mash of all of them, but it lost the personal connection to the characters. So, I leaned into the idea that the afterlife was what you brought to it, that your beliefs in the world affected the afterlife you encountered.

Loo:  I had a lot of fun drawing out the concept designs of the demon bounty hunters. I didn’t want to base them on the conventional looking demons we’ve seen depicted in Christianity illustrations. So the fact that we were adding to this afterlife melting pot with elements from different religions and cultures, I took inspiration from Indonesian demons, especially from the masks and paintings hung up at my uncle’s house since I was a kid. They came in all sorts of colors, had bulbous eyes, crooked fangs, and some were even hairy. And then most of the time, I would get a brief description of the locations from Chip and I just ran with it, with some Google image searches.

Afterlift was initially a digital comic before the Dark Horse edition.  Do you approach a digital comic any differently than you would a physical one (in terms of the creation of the comic)?

Zdarsky:  Not really. I mean, we had more leeway on page count, especially being able to add text pages or black pages for effect. But beyond that, the format for myself as a writer doesn’t change. I know Jason had more considerations though.

Loo: We definitely had to consider the guidelines of what works when being presented through the Comixology interface. So we couldn’t go too creative on panel shapes or draw out giant page spreads. But it let me visually-tell the story cinematically with wide panels.

Jason-You draw a lot of cars in Afterlift.  How did you prepare for so much racing action?

Loo: I watched a number of car chase scenes from Mark Wahlberg’s Italian Job and some of the Fast and Furious before I studied Initial D and their magnificent speed lines. And then I free-handedly drew every car that was going to be in the book at different angles until I felt comfortable drawing them in the comic itself.

Chip-Twyzel is an important character that Janice and Suzanne meet on their journey. Why was a “fallen angel” (but not a demon) important in terms of the themes of the story?

Zdarsky: Yeah, Twyzel was maybe my favorite character to write as he bridged a lot of what was happening for Janice and Suzanne. He reflected the grey area and guilt that most of humanity lives in, an inability to forgive oneself. I miss him!

Chip-You are currently in the middle of a very successful run on Daredevil.  How did you approach a character that has such a long, and critically acclaimed history?

Honestly, you just have to figure out what you have to say with the character. The title’s definitely been blessed with some legendary runs, but you have to try and put those out of your mind when writing, except for making sure you don’t contradict them! I’m hoping I can, y’know, keep it up!

Jason-How have you grown as an artist and storyteller since The Pitiful Human-Lizard?

Loo: Afterlift allowed me more time to put more care in the artwork than The Pitiful Human-Lizard. When I was working on PHL, I’d set a shorter amount of time to write, draw, letter, etc on every issue. So instead of drawing 4-5 pages a day (after a shift from my full-time job), I’d do 2-3 pages a day on Afterlift. It was quality more than quantity. I’m also better at drawing cars now.

Have either of you had any memorable ride share experiences?

Loo: Only once on my way home from a convention. I was the front passenger when my Uber driver rear-ended another car on the highway. Luckily, traffic wasn’t moving at all when both cars decided to stop on the middle lane and trade info.

Zdarsky: I got into a ride share one night driven by a very trippy woman who had decked out the interior with jewels and other shiny knick knacks. And fizzy handcuffs, which was weird. She kept trying to set me up with the stranger I was riding with. It was a long ride home and I’m glad the cuffs stayed where they did.

Upcoming projects?

Loo: Chip and I got a couple things we’ve been working on, and one of them already has four issues in the bag. I’m also working on a short serial with writer Alex Paknadel on the horror anthology Razorblades.

Zdarsky:  Yeah! Excited for my projects with Jason! I also have a new Image series in the pipeline, which should be announced soon. And some DC stuff. And some Marvel stuff. Oh shit I gotta get back to work!

Afterlift is currently available from ComiXology and in the new Dark Horse Comics edition at your local comic shop or bookstore. Zdarsky and Loo will also be appearing at two virtual events in celebration of the Dark Horse edition of Afterlift. On February 4, Toronto’s The Beguiling will host the virtual kickoff party at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom and on February 16, Skylight Books Los Angeles will host a Crowdcast with Zdarsky and Loo at 6: 30 pm PDT.

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