Are you tired of your life? Sick of your nine-to-five? Have you lived a middling, mediocre life and committed sins too venial for Hell and too gnarly for Heaven? Then take a trip down to Purgatory, where the dead get another shot at life, or closure, redemption, or whatever it is they’re doing down there in the gritty, deadpan universe of writer Don Mancha III.
Purgatory is a webcomic written by Don Mancha III and illustrated by Anubisazp. According to the website’s About page, it is “the story of dead people dealing with being dead while navigating a slowly decaying limbo.” And slowly decaying it is; two chapters in, purgatory’s delivery trucks have been stolen, meaning main character Ryan can’t refill his prescription of what we assume is antipsychotic medicine—though it could be anything, really, in Don Mancha’s world of car-throwing cats and giant toy robots.
For those of us who were raised Roman Catholic, purgatory was the in-between place between heaven and hell, a place of fire and brimstone and purification. Don Mancha’s version of purgatory is “more of the same;” it looks like our world, except reality seems to be a little bit more malleable here. It was inspired, he says, by “San Francisco. Scott Pilgrim. Every employee at McDonald’s.
“I wanted life’s apparent unfairness to be front and center. After dying, instead of a blissful peace or a horrible, endless torture, purgatory is just more of the same. For somebody who feels they've earned that peace they might feel cheated. For somebody who was afraid of an endless pain, this is a godsend. That’s something I want to hit hard as Purgatory goes on.”
But as with every good story, the most engaging thing about Don Mancha’s writing is not the world it is set in but the characters, all of them “based more on [his] interpretation of certain ideals.” Ryan, the main character, is a stoic, pink-haired teenager (?) with an alcoholic for a roommate and an ornery, snarky old lady for a boss. One evening, Ryan’s humdrum existence in Purgatory is shaken up by the appearance of a little kid in need of his help—a young (?!) girl who mysteriously knows his name and starts appearing everywhere, including in the pages of his magazine.
In chapter two, “Lucid,” we are introduced to another character, a street artist named Miles who died trying to complete a masterpiece that his brother also died trying to make. What follows is a touching story of family, passion, and the drive to create against all odds—all in the span of about a dozen panels. (Check it out here.)
Don Mancha tells us that he’s very much influenced by Scott Pilgrim (“the best graphic novel series ever. Fight me.”) and the Gorillaz (“the best band ever. Fight me”). And “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” the best-selling manga series in history, “is gonna sneak its way in at some point.”
As for the aptly named Anubisazp (who does have a real name but did not give it to us. The curious will have to ask him for themselves), he says that inspiration is “pretty much everywhere. Movies I watch, games I play, dumb stuff that happens to me, and of course, insane dreams I have all contribute. Two styles that inspired me the most, however, were those of ‘Samurai Jack’ and ‘Hellboy.’”
They found each other quite by accident—or, rather, Don found him during a random Google search and “tore through most of his gallery. I stalked him on Facebook for a few days until I thought I should talk to him.”
Anubisazp is not the first artist to work with Don on Purgatory. Earlier iterations of the story—including one which, according to Don, was a total ripoff of Scott Pilgrim—were illustrated by different artists. But those didn’t quite pan out.
I asked them what the process of collaborating on a project like this looks like. Is it difficult, considering Don’s in California and Anubis is all the way in Serbia? Turns out it’s almost too simple. Anubis says, “Don usually announces that a task is ahead, then sends a script. I draw pages by hand and send him pencil works for review and edits. Then I ink digitally and send him finished works in zip file.
“He describes key things that should be on an image, and what characters are doing and talking. The rest is up to me.”
Did they have any words for aspiring writers and artists?
Anubis says, “I have two. First one being: don't expect to make a living off of your art. There is a chance over 99% that you won't, not at first anyway. I need a regular job to pay the bills, on top of having 3 art jobs. Art is just unreliable way to earn your cash till you make a name for yourself and people actually start coming to you.
“Second one might sound unusual, so let me explain. Most of people that I know are artists. Only two of them are happy with their lives. It's not unusual that we say we'd like to kill ourselves and finally get the rest from everyday's problems. Thing is, some didn't joke when they said it.
“Don't give up yet. Tomorrow you may feel better, and see things for what they are. Or simply, you might get contacted for an art job. Either way, you win.”
“You’re horrible at whatever it is you’re trying to do, so get better.”
Look out for more of Don Mancha III and Anubisazp on the first issue of New Reader Magazine, coming out in March 2018.