April 09, 2012

Interview with Jon Lock

Written by Gavin O'Reilly

What is new in the after life? Jon Lock gives us the answers, read on to see what this new indepedent UK title is all about.

LF:To somebody completely new, what the heck is Afterlife Inc. all about?

JL: Afterlife Inc. is the tale of Jack Fortune, con-artist extraordinaire, who upon his untimely demise discovers an afterlife in chaos. Never one to miss a business opportunity, Jack sets out to reinvent the afterlife as a modern day corporate entity, Afterlife Inc.

This is Jack’s vast Promethean dream: stealing fire from the gods to sell back at a profit; empowering the deceased to take charge of their afterlives and build an eternity they can be proud of. Which sounds noble on paper, but in reality equates to a whole world of trouble. Establishing a new business is always challenging, but throw rampaging archangels, a misplaced God and the afterlife’s darker secrets into the mix, and Jack’s life is about to get very difficult. Death too, for that matter…

LF: If somebody were to like Afterlife Inc., they would probably already like...?

JL: Some of Grant Morrison’s personal projects, or maybe Warren Ellis’ ‘Planetary’. It’s hard to think of a decent comparison without overselling yourself. I can only list my personal favourites, or the books that inspired me to bring Afterlife Inc. to life, such as ‘Top Ten’ by Alan Moore and Gene Ha, or ‘Ex Machina’ by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. Both these titles merged something as wild and fantastical as superheroics with the down-to-earth worlds of a police department and mayoral office respectively. And when it comes to messing around with boardroom conventions, ‘Wildcats 3.0’ proved it was possible to mix godlike power with business suits – and look cool as hell in the process. Afterlife Inc. may not match them in style, but each of these titles contributed something essential to its creation.

LF: Jack Fortune is your lead character. Describe in five words please.

JL: Smile of an angel. Possibly.

LF:To me, reading Afterlife Inc. seemed like delving into a great concept with lots of potential for exploration and growth; it also feels to me that it may translate well to other platforms. Have you any thoughts on this?

JL: Ash Jackson, the regular artist on the series, has many other talents in addition to being a dab hand with a pencil. In his other life, Ash is the driving force behind Monster Robot Studios, an independent game developer. We’ve plans to produce an Afterlife Inc. app that blurs the boundaries between a comic and a game. By combining gameplay and puzzle solving with an exclusive storyline and more of Ash’s amazing artwork, it would be possibly to create a branching, interactive narrative with multiple possible endings.

I’m currently looking into converting the Afterlife Inc. back catalogue into a more tablet/Smartphone friendly format, so hopefully we’ll see the comic in the digital download market before too long. Thinking further afield, I’d love to see an Afterlife Inc. animated feature – although this is perhaps just a dream for the future at present.

LF: In the collection ‘Dying To Tell: Tales from the Afterlife’ (my introduction) you work with a lot of diverse and talented artists. How was it working with so many? Were each giving different things?

JL: With ‘Dying To Tell’ I wanted to showcase the world of Afterlife Inc. and demonstrate the wealth of potential stories that existed in this diverse afterlife. With a Film Noir chapter, a sci-fi instalment and a Sherlock Holmes mystery (complete with fog-cloaked, cobbled streets) it was important to pair an artist with the story that best suited their style. Thankfully, I had a list of likely candidates in mind when writing the series. Some of these were folks I’d collaborated with before, others I had yet to have the pleasure of working alongside.

Without exception, everyone who contributed to ‘Dying To Tell’ was an absolute joy to work with. It’s a testament to their talent that they were able to each leave their unique stamp on their stories while remaining true to the overall theme and character of Afterlife Inc. As a writer, I rely on these people to make me look good – and they didn’t disappoint. The final product turned out even better than I could have hoped for, and I’m incredibly grateful for their efforts.

LF: In the collection it feels like a slice of life collection, a taster if you will, of what you could plan as an ongoing series with more fully realised plot arcs. Is this something you’re gearing up to? (LF hopes so)

JL: You guess correctly! ‘Final Destination’, the first chapter of ‘Dying To Tell’, began life as an Afterlife Inc. sampler, inspired by ‘Nuclear Spring’, an 8-page ‘Planetary’ short that introduced the key principles and characters of the series in an engaging, entertaining fashion. I had planned for this story for support a pitch for an ongoing Afterlife Inc. series, which I would have presented to publishers. Somewhere along the line, this got sidetracked somehow, and instead I found myself producing an anthology of short stories… and then another. Before I knew it, I had ended up self-publishing.

As much as I love ‘Dying To Tell’, and indeed its successor ‘Near Life’, currently running on my site, these are very much the “beta” stories. An opportunity to test the waters before diving head first into a larger series. The main storyline for Afterlife Inc. has been planned out for years. And there’s a definite beginning, middle and end. When I tell these stories, however, I want to do it right – and that means getting as much experience in the world beforehand as possible.

With ‘Dying To Tell’ I produced a series of interconnected but standalone stories. With ‘Near Life’, Afterlife Inc. made the leap to an ongoing story told over multiple chapters. The next step – the final phase in Afterlife Inc.’s “larval phase”, if you will – is a larger, more ambitious story called ‘Lifeblood’, which is scheduled to launch towards the end of the year, and will consist of full size, 22-page issues.

And when the dust settles after that, I reckon it’ll finally be time for those “alpha” stories. 

LF: If you are to go for an ongoing continuous story, would you like to partner up with an artist, and if so, who?

JL: Ash has been a part of Afterlife Inc. from the beginning, and was instrumental in crafting the definitive look and feel of the world. Whenever he illustrates one of my scripts, the final results blow me away every time. As long as he wants to remain with the book, I’m more than happy for him to carry on as the regular artist. That said, with all the great artists I’ve been lucky enough to work with on Afterlife Inc. so far, I definitely want to bring them back in one form or another.

LF: Aside from possibly Jack, who are your other favourite characters from the Afterlife Inc. to write?

JL: Creating characters is like playing with clockwork soldiers. In any situation, you wind them up, let them go, and trust them to act true to their nature. I love the way that certain obvious partnerships and antagonisms have sprung up among the main seven characters, and the rapidly expanding supporting cast. I love the way Jack and Mr Ochroid play off each other, their friendship despite the oddly lopsided nature of their boss/employee relationship. I love the verbal sparring between Anahel and Jack… Lux and Jack… Elizabeth and Jack… in fact, pretty much everyone and Jack. I love the way Jack relentlessly inflates his importance and then fails continually to live up to the expectations of his closest allies.

Some of my favourite characters to write have to be Ochroid and Nuriel. Ochroid, because he’s timid and neurotic and obsessive, yet stronger than he perhaps realises. Nuriel, because he’s earnest. Because he’s a 100 foot tall flaming blue lion monster who still manages to be man’s best friend. You know that if anything were to happen to Jack, Nuriel would physically move heaven itself to come to his aid.

LF: What have readers got to look forward to in the world of Afterlife Inc.?

JL: Big things. There’s darkness on the immediate horizon with ‘Near Life’, as Afterlife Inc. comes face to face to with the being known as Jon Antrobus, the “dead man walking”, who holds godlike power in the afterlife. But even Antrobus is very much a miniboss compared to the threats waiting in the wings for our heroes.

Jack and Co. have had things comparatively easy so far. Afterlife Inc.’s modernisations have taken hold, and for the most part life in the afterlife seems to be improving. But we’re about to see the first real challenge to the company’s power. And with the release of ‘Lifeblood’, a ghost from the afterlife’s ancient origins spells trouble for the entire world.

LF: Have you any other projects or ideas on the immediate horizon?

JL: In addition to Afterlife Inc. I’m currently producing two interconnected new series called ‘Blackjack’ and ‘The Six’ with some truly amazing artists, some of whom will be familiar to fans of Afterlife Inc. I’m also working on an all-ages comic about a boy who discovers a portal to a world of monsters. Rather than attempting to kill them (Default Reaction #1) or running away screaming (Default Reaction #2) he instead sets out to document their behaviour, feeding habits and ecosystem for science, plotting detailed field notes of his discoveries through the portal. It promises to be fun.

LF: Who would win, Galactus or Cthulhu?

JL: No question. Galactus, devourer of worldS, hands down. He’s a primal force of the universe! He lived through the big bang! He wears a purple helmet, for pity’s sake! Cthulhu? Meh. Cosmic sushi.

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