If you’re an avid fan of anime, you may have watched a little something called Bungou Stray Dogs. And trust me, after reading this particular series, you’re going to want to check that one out! In essence, Afterlife Inc. by Jon Lock is very much like BSD in a lot of ways. It has the same amount of historical and literary references. Both series focus on the shenanigans encountered by their company – in BSD’s case, it’s an agency. They also carry that same premise with similar flair and flamboyance. Even Afterlife Inc.’s main character exudes the same charisma and business instincts as that of BSD’s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Afterlife Inc. tells a series of stories around Empyrean, the world post death. With an episodic structure, it presents the dead’s varying encounters with Jack Fortune. Jack is an ex-con, and now the CEO of Afterlife Inc. His company specializes in an abundance of afterlife business ventures; from social work, marketing, recruitment, investigations and politics. Each story focuses on different one-off characters, exploring their life, death, and reintegration into a new society. Lock works with a collaboration of different artists to bring to life the world of Empyrean.
Vol. 1 is a semi-lighthearted series of origin stories, establishing characters alongside visually stimulating art. This volume sets a precedent for those that follow after. While most of the volumes can be read as anthologies of different encounters, there are instances such as that of Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 which initiate some semblance of a plot. Vol. 3 in particular is notable as it is the first of the series to showcase Jack’s vulnerability.
Prior to that, Jack has always exuded this façade of an impenetrable genius who can get himself out of any situation. However, in Vol. 3 he gets hurt. And he finds, there are just some situations from which he can’t easily come back from. As the plot unfolds, so does Jack’s humanity. Because no matter how the afterlife works, he was still human prior to his death and that’s something that stays.
The writing exhibits morbid sense of humor. It utilizes the converging of different characters from different eras in time to create dynamic. Sometimes there can be a lot of philosophical jargon such as lines crossed, morality, and lack of an end or death within the afterlife. These often translate into more business-oriented conversations to keep up with the theme. These are the moments in which I feel like the text is trying too hard to create unwarranted nuance in the characters’ dialogue.
Some stories are fun, captivating, extremely interesting, and each have their own little ways of being told. Silver Screen for example is poetic in typewritten font. It reads like a script with a lot of profound and deep meaningful takes, sprinkled with over-indulgent puns to do with film and showbiz. Other times, the stories get a bit dull and a little more niche. However, the recurring characters make the continuity easier to follow despite the barrage of different story beats and plot threads introduced.
As for the art, it changes with each chapter. But not because the artists are different. Each style is specific to the kind of story and death the chapter is telling. There’s the noir marvel of a Hollywood origin story, with edgy shading and monochrome tainted in small doses of electrifying colors. There’s a missing child’s story drawn and written like a storybook, interlaced through regular comic panels that shift between different perspectives.
Afterlife Inc. also uses a lot of different techniques to keep each story fresh. It uses color and stylistic speech bubbles to differentiate the characters from each other. The narration box’ layout flows well with the art and direction of the narrative. Each different art style also reflects how the narrator’s perception of Jack Fortune changes. Such as for Alice, he is charming with a boyish grin. For Non, he is God-like with strained features that resemble tired wisdom. And to Arthur and Jon Antrobus, he is but a nonsensical man child with big ambitions.
The panel structures oscillate between different narratives and events. For example, in Vol. 3, Mister Orchroid’s speech and the panels of the manna spring opening is juxtaposed against the behind-the-scenes destruction. This provides an almost cinematic approach to the visual storytelling, which again, breaks down the façade of Jack as an impenetrable being.
But flaws aside, Jack Fortune is a brilliant protagonist. From his first introduction, in the back of an empty plane, you can already tell he’s the main character. He means business just by his pose and the framing of the panels. He’s an opportunist, and that is established right from the start; his first appearance being the first person to welcome the dead pilot into Empyrean.
In general, Afterlife Inc. is a very intriguing series. It has a lot of potential, and a lot of unique storytelling to offer. Each style of art complements each style of writing. Lock is so versatile that his writing changes to suit the different narratives of the characters introduced. Whether you’re reading the chapters as individual, interconnected one-shots, or reading it as an overall cohesive plot, there’s always something that sticks.