G-Man Talks to Jon Lock about Afterlife Inc’s 10th Anniversary

Jon Lock’s Afterlife Inc. is one of the earliest indies I remember picking up to review and as it hits it’s own 10th Anniversary milestone & marks it with a special collected edition release, I had to catch up with him all about it.

What’s it been like developing Afterlife Inc. and keeping it running over the last 10 years?

It’s honestly hard to put into words! I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Afterlife Inc. has been the biggest undertaking of my life. My career as a writer began with Afterlife Inc. and it’s been a constant presence throughout my adult life. Regardless of what else is going on – be it the highs, lows, major life events or moments of global upheaval – Afterlife Inc. has always been there. It’s both my favourite thing in the world and something of an obligation! When you set something this big in motion you’re honour-bound to see it through to completion. When that time comes and I finally finish the story of Jack Fortune and Co., I genuinely don’t know what I’ll do with myself.

Probably sleep, to be fair.

How has Afterlife Inc. changed in those 10 years?

It’s gotten darker – or maybe just more pragmatic. When I started the series I had a lot of optimism – about the world and about myself – and that optimism was reflected in Jack’s worldview. While I never consciously intended for Afterlife Inc. and its characters to mirror my life, it’s almost impossible to prevent cross-contamination. The optimism is still there but it’s tempered slightly by general exhaustion. I can’t stress enough how busy the past decade has been! I’m immensely proud of everything I’ve achieved in that time, but it’s often come at the expense of my personal life: stealing time where I can to feed my writing, my work at Big Punch Studios, and (for many years) a day job.

In the world of Afterlife Inc. the first three volumes (collected as the Book of Life) represent Act 1 of the overall story, while volumes 4-6 (the Book of Death) are Act 2. Conventional storytelling teaches us that this is when our heroes should be at their lowest point – when the bold mission statement of Act 1 comes face to face with hard, uncaring reality. In the closing moments of the Book of Death our heroes are battered, exhausted and fractured. Everything they thought true has been turned on its head.

And while I’ve got the rest of my life to make sense of my issues, given the threats that are gathering against them, the crew of Afterlife Inc. might not be so lucky.

Have your influences evolved along with the book?

I know they must have, if only because I know I’ve changed as a person, but it’s hard to call to mind any one piece of work that’s changed the course of the series. One thing that remains true is my respect and admiration for Grant Morrison – the writer who taught me that comics can, and should, be weird and wonderful (and a form of magic). But at the same time, I’ve learned to relax my hold on my influences. I want to be like my heroes… I don’t want to be them – and while I’m still not entirely sure what my voice is, I think I’m closer now to finding it, rather than mimicking those who’ve gone before me.

One thing I try to remember is that being a ‘clever’ storyteller is one thing but it’s worthless if you’re not compassionate along with it. Nick Harkaway does a wonderful job in his novels of blending insane sci-fi concepts with deep feeling. The older I get the more I realise that while the initial wild idea might draw me in, it’s the bittersweet moments – the sadness and the surprising compassion – that stick with me the longest.

Do you have a favourite chapter/story from the series?

Volume 5 might be the book of which I am the most proud. It’s an odd one, full of strange little vignettes and snapshots that flow into one another, and it doesn’t have a concise synopsis to tie it all together, but it’s one of my more experimental pieces and it contains some of the most emotional stuff I’ve written.

There’s a moment (and I don’t want to spoil it here) where we say goodbye to a character who was never meant to be a major part of the series, but who had become a fan favourite regardless. Losing them was like losing a friend – and worst of all it was my finger on the trigger. I’d never had to do something like that before to a character I loved. There’s this moment where they turn to face the reader and speak directly out of the page at us, and it was honestly one of the rawest things I’d ever made. It still breaks my heart.

How does it feel to have built up enough for these two hardbacks?

On the one hand, immensely proud – even if I never stop to smell the roses. On the other hand, a little scared! Putting these books together has been a mammoth undertaking (each weighs around 2kg) and while I’m excited to get them out into the world, I’m also aware of how much of a logistical nightmare it’s going to be. It’s enough to make you wish you had a publisher!

Has running this title for so long always been part of the plan?

I’ve always had an ending in mind for the series – even from day one. While the course of Afterlife Inc. has changed significantly over the years, that ending remains mostly unchanged. In my younger, more naïve days, I’d imagined Afterlife Inc. as a classic Vertigo or Image-style series, where the entire run would be collected as six or so trade paperbacks. Of course, this was also a time in my life where I thought the only way to make comics was the traditional model of a regular monthly series adopted by so many western publishers. In realising how unsustainable that was, I turned to self-publishing. The ambition to tell a long-form story across multiple volumes was there from the beginning, and one way or another I was going to make it happen, but I’d never imagined that I would be doing it myself as an independent publisher.

Oddly enough, the first three volumes of Afterlife Inc. were never part of the original plan. On the assumption that I’d eventually find a publisher for the series I wanted to hold off on telling the ‘main’ story, which is why the first two volumes in particular are made up of smaller, more standalone chapters. I could never have guessed how much those early stories would shape the series as a whole. It’s worked out that Afterlife Inc. will now run for nine volumes: a trilogy of trilogies. Now that we’re entering the final act, the hard part will be tying together all those plot threads that have been dangling for the past decade!


What’s been the biggest change for the title or even you as a creator during those 10 years?

Probably the switch to self-publishing. In 2012, attending my first show as an exhibitor, I could never have imagined what I was getting into. I’d stumbled upon the most amazing community of creators who were doing everything I’d ever dreamed of doing in comics. All I’d ever wanted was for somebody to do it for me… to pick me out of obscurity and take the hard work out of making my stories a reality. The best advice I’ve ever received was that ‘there’s nothing more overrated than a good idea’. You could wait forever for somebody to do it for you… or you could get to work doing it yourself. It’s been hard, and I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if not for the support of my friends and family, my readers, and having also held down a day job for years. Working in indie comics can be exhausting… but it’s also taught me discipline and an appreciation for the work that

goes into making something amazing happen. Having a great idea is all well and good, but it’s the time, money, dedication and luck that goes into it that makes it shine.

Next best piece of advice I ever received? ‘Success is being quietly excellent for years.’ There’s no faking quality, and if you work hard enough on something for long enough, people will eventually take notice.

You’ve worked with a number of indie artists in those 10 years but are there any others you’d still like to work with or even ones you’d like to work with again?

I was doing some calculations the other day and I was shocked to discover that over 60 artists have worked on Afterlife Inc. over the years. Let’s be honest: comics are a visual medium, and I would be nothing without their contribution. As someone who can’t draw I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who’s lent their talent to the series. Whether my scripts are any good or not would be irrelevant if the artwork weren’t so stunning in the first place.

With endless resources and time, I’d happily work with all of them again – and with three books still to go, there should be plenty of opportunities to do so. I’m always on the lookout for potential collaborations but the biggest considerations are finding the right artist for a particular story, and being able to pay them enough to make it worth their time.

As a side note, one of the coolest (and strangest) side effects of working with so many artists has been watching their careers blow up. To name but a few, Davide Tinto, V. V. Glass and James Stayte have all risen far above Afterlife Inc. since working on the series – and it’s more than deserved!

What’s next for Afterlife Inc.?

Once the 10th anniversary celebrations are complete, my next focus will be finishing the sourcebook for the Afterlife Inc. tabletop RPG, which I’ve been developing for a year or so behind the scenes. Beyond that, I’ll need to start writing volume 7 (tentatively titled Imitation of Life) and paving the way for the inevitable conclusion to the saga of Jack Fortune and Co. I’ve got the book plotted out – and because I’m full of myself, I’m experimenting with a five-act structure – but at some point I’ll have to take the leap and actually write the damn thing.

What else are you working on just now?

As part of Big Punch Studios, I continue to do a lot of development and logistics for our card games, such as Sandwich Masters, alongside recording and editing podcasts. At the same time, we’re doing some game development for a client, and I’m currently writing for another video game project that I’m not currently allowed to talk about. It’s exciting, however, and always busy.

I guess that’s the way I like it.

Massive thanks to Jon for taking the time to chat all things Afterlife Inc. and here’s to the next ten years of comic fun from him and Big Punch Studios.

You can get your hands on the two collected hardbacks or the individual trades and more through the campaign link below:

Afterlife Inc. 10th Anniversary Collection Kickstarter

You can also keep up to date with 

Jon: Website, Twitter, Afterlife Inc. Website

Big Punch Studios: Website, Twitter, Instagram


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