Who Would You Pick As Your Literary Guide Through Hell?

The Life After, Volume 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo. Oni Press, 2015. 9781620103890.

Contains The Life After #1-5

Jude lives the same dull, unsatisfying day over and over while unseen operators (think Cabin in the Woods) manage every detail of his reality. When he decides to change his pattern and talk to the beautiful woman who drops her handkerchief on the bus, reality begins to change around him. He sees visions of violent tragedies involving the people he touches, from the distant past and the far future. The city seems to be pieced together from parts of other times, too. When someone vanishes in a beam of light, he starts looking for answers with his new friend, Ernest Hemingway. The forces behind the scenes scramble to stop them.

The Life After draws an unsettlingly legalistic afterlife that’s part-technological, part-spiritual, where everything’s about the rules, no matter how baffling or unfair, and which is run like an office building behind the scenes. As out-there as some of it seems (part-robot six-winged seraphim, a supreme being that looks like a fleshy teratoma and acts like a horndog), the rules of the various realms of punishment will all be familiar to graduates of Sunday school. A poignant two-page spread shows the sin that brought one of the souls there: stealing a sheep to feed a family, returning it out of guilt, leading to the death of a child from hunger. Jude, baffled (“Well, what the fuck was that?”), recounts his vision to Ernest and asks, “Which part is he here for?” Ernest: “I suppose the stealing part.” Elsewhere, they find caves packed with souls suffering because they “pre-dated the current system.”

There are many artists who process their religious upbringing through their art (I think of it as the “Whaaaaaat?” they were too afraid to shout as a kid). The Life After is one of the more fun explorations I’ve read.

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