Afterlife Vol. 1 original graphic novel
Writer: Stormcrow Hayes
Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Rob Steen
Editor: Luis Reyes
Price: $9.99 US/$12.99 CAN
This is my first Tokyopop book.
As best as I can recall, I’ve never read one of Tokyopop’s graphic novels. I am not a manga fan, and Tokyopop is known as a manga publisher, but more recently, it’s been branching out beyond Japanese adaptations. Afterlife is a U.S., homegrown horror graphic novel. It’s clearly inspired visually and conceptually by Japanese comics fare, but it stands up well on its own as an original and thought-provoking premise. Writer Stormcrow Hayes explores faith and ethics from a unique perspective, challenging his readers to question their own moral and social beliefs. The plot and characters are somewhat diverting, but the larger questions posed here stand out as the book’s greatest strengths.
Some people believe that when you die, that’s it. Some believe there is a glorious paradise awaiting the good and a torturous eternity awaiting the evil. The good news is that there is an afterlife. The bad news: there’s nothing to do, and everyone who’s ever died — all 100 billion of them — is stuck there too. Fortunately, there is an elite team of guardians, dead human beings as well, who maintain order in the Afterlife, and they protect the confused, bored souls from the occasional rampaging demon-monster as well. Unfortunately, the Afterlife is slowly but surely decaying, and the Guardians have no idea what to do to prevent it.
Rob Steen’s artwork boasts a strong manga influence in it. His horrorscape, full of organic terrain and slithering tentacles, screams of Japanese inspiration, as does the fleshy, melted look employed in the various character designs. The overall look of Afterlife isn’t completely Japanese in appearance. There’s a Western look at play as well, especially when it comes to the characters’ faces. Steen still applies an exaggerated approach, but there’s more of an American-underground look to the characters. I was actually put in mind of Renee (Marbles In My Underpants) French’s wide-eyed, grisly artwork. Steen’s more extreme leanings work against the book, however, when it comes to the depiction of real-world figures in this ugly Limbo land. Still, those familiar faces play a small role in the story, so the flow doesn’t hinder the book too much.
Thaddeus is the main hero of the book, but he is initially defined by his resolute surrender to his fate and then by his determination to find meaning. He’s really not all that riveting a figure, though there’s a clear nobility in the character. It’s much easier his fellow Guardian, Mercutio, and his quest to reconnect with a lover from his life. He’s monstrous in appearance, and he refuses to accept the futility and potential disappointment of his mission. As a result, he comes off as a pathetic figure, but that’s true of so many of the characters trapped in the Afterlife.
One of the high points of the book is Thaddeus’s confrontation with a bookish but angry soul who rails and rants about the pointlessness of their fate and how it means that life was pointless as well. The bespectacled character embodies the cynicism that’s at the heart of the book, and it’s easy to agree with his assessment of the existential equation with which he is faced.
Thaddeus’s effort to find meaning is meant to balance that cynicism, but it fails to do so. The book is so dark and the Afterlife is presented as so hopeless and boring (yet frightening) that one can’t help but adopt the miserable perspective that dominates the earlier chapters of the book. Not that there’s anything wrong with misery once in a while, and one has to applaud the creators for crafting something that has a real emotional impact on the audience. 6/10