Every once in a while a series sneaks up on you and blows you away. In 2013, that series for me has been Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn’s “Alex + Ada” at Image Comics. A book I originally had not intended to even purchase, when I flipped through it at my local comic book shop, I couldn’t resist it. It looked fantastic, and when I read it, I fell in love immediately. With the release of the second issue, I was hooked even more, and this finite series promises to just get better and better throughout its run.
Today, I have a conversation I recently had with Vaughn and Luna about this book, the future world it takes place in, the characters, and much more. Thanks to Jonathan and Sarah for chatting with me, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, definitely do. You won’t regret it.
Let’s start with the simple stuff: where did this idea come from, and what made it a story you both felt you needed to tell?
Jonathan: I’ve wanted to create a futuristic sci-fi story for a very long time. And I tend to lean toward drama, so I came up with a simple idea of a young man falling in love with a female android. I brought this concept to my writer-friend Sarah Vaughn and it became much more elaborate after talking with her and breaking down the story over a few months.
Jonathan, you’ve previously been predominantly known for working with your brother. What made you want to tell this story with Sarah rather than Joshua, and what appealed to you about working with Jonathan, Sarah?bes
Jonathan: Joshua and I wanted to create our own separate books. I was looking for a co-writer and Sarah had helped me quite a bit on my fairy-tale picture book, Star Bright and the Looking Glass. I had a natural feeling to work with her. We met and I pitched ALEX + ADA to her.
Sarah: I’ve always wanted to create comics, so this is really a dream come true. But I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I hadn’t loved the idea. One of the biggest requirements I had was that there be substantial female characters in the book, and that Ada specifically be more than just eye-candy to orbit around Alex’s story. Jon and I were on the same page from the start about that.
When it comes to crafting an issue, how do the two of you develop the story and the script? What’s the process for an average issue?
Sarah: We talk. Talk talk talk. The story is already laid out, we know where it’s going, so each issue builds on top of that foundation. From the basic plot, we lay down the skeleton of the issue’s script, and I write. Then we talk some more. And then I revise, and Jon will make suggestions, or we’ll discuss any issues. It’s a very collaborative process. We each get inspired or come up with new ideas on our own, but we both agree on anything that goes in the book.
I know you’ve worked with them in the past Jonathan, but what made Image the ideal home for this book?
Jonathan: Ever since I was reading Image Comics in the 90s as a kid, I’ve had a natural inclination to publish with them. The ability to create your own work, the freedom, keeping the rights. It’s a great publisher to create comics with. And they’re even stronger now than when I started working with them ten years ago.
The tricky thing in a story like this is making a reader care about someone who, in at least one significant way, isn’t real, yet by the end of the second issue I was actively rooting for Alex to not send Ada back. How does that aspect change your approach to the story, and how do you go about making someone like Ada feel like more than just a robot?
Sarah: The goal with Ada is to try to exude a tenderness without making her cartoony or removing her robot-ness completely. She has her limitations, which I think is vital to any character. No one would care if she was too perfect.Continued below
Alex is a really interesting character because, in many ways, he’s so defeated he almost seems less human than the willing to do anything Ada. He’s reserved and a wallflower, at least now, and someone looking for something to spark his life. For the two of you, what makes Alex such an interesting lead, and how much of a look into what got him to where he’s at are we going to see?
Sarah: We wanted a guy who wasn’t dazzled by technology or completely afraid of it, either. There’s a really murky time period when you’re getting over heartache that everyone deals with differently. Alex happens to close in on himself. We’ll be addressing that more, for sure.
It seems like the robot world has a certain level of stigma to it, both in terms of companions like Ada, and ones who fill other roles in this world. Alex himself approaches her with much trepidation. Is that tied to events of the past, or is his case more his lack of comfort with being involved with someone not human?
Sarah: It’s a bit of both. After an event like the Nexaware massacre, everyone is a little anxious about intelligent technology. On top of that, androids are amazing, but you’re perceived as a bit of a perv and a loser if you’d rather have a robot over a human. Alex has both sides to struggle with.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the usage of subtle movements and expressions in the art to tell story rather than meaty dialogue or exposition. Was that a decision from the start to dial back dialogue and completely avoid narration to use the art in this book as a way to really convey character moments and story elements?
Sarah: Absolutely. Everything that’s in the book is consciously chosen. Dialogue, speed, silence and stillness; it’s all very deliberate. Sometimes dialogue and exposition are necessary, especially when quiet people are living within a dramatic world, but hopefully we keep the balance by also showing how dramatic quiet life can be. One of my absolute favorite pages so far is page 9 of issue 1. Jon did such a great job conveying loneliness. It doesn’t need to be explained with words.
One of the coolest concepts of this comic is Prime Wave, the telepathic-ish communication implant people use in this time. Where did that idea come from, and does it have more to it than just being a communication tool? I think it’s brilliant.
Jonathan: In figuring out what advancements the book has from what amazing technology we already have today, we thought the smartphone would be a pain in the butt to carry around. We wondered, what if the smartphone was in our heads and took commands from our brain waves? We’re already seeing technology that is moving toward this. It just makes sense. The question is, would everyone use it subdermally? Even not everyone in the book does. Also, issue 3 is going to introduce a feature of Prime Wave that will apply to a big theme of the book.
A lot of the tech that exists in this book isn’t really revolutionary in terms of changing life; it seems to almost just be filled with efficiency tools, namely the greatest invention ever in the flying robot waiter who brings Alex coffee. How fun is it to develop ideas like that, and was there a certain cap on how far you wanted to push the technology in this story?
Jonathan: Robots and A.I. will basically make our lives more convenient. We are and will be seeing this more in our real world. Humans prefer not to exert more energy than they have to.
Creating this world is such a blast. And, yes, we almost introduced some crazy tech, which we may still use, but it hasn’t applied to the story as of yet. So, in that sense, there is a cap.
In the comic marketplace, books like this are pretty rare, but a good comic is a good comic, and this is a great one. How do you feel readers are connecting with it, and what has the response been like so far?Continued below
Sarah: Aw, thanks! The response has been amazing, so far. I’m so grateful. We had no idea if people would go for the pace or the tone, we only knew that it’s what we wanted to do. It’s a huge relief that the first two issues have been well received, but I’m not going to be comfortable until the last issue is out.
Jonathan: The reaction has been a very pleasant surprise. Much thanks to the fans and retailers for their support. I can’t thank them enough.
I love that this is a finite series, and I honestly wish more comics approached their story with an end in mind. What made you decide that out the gate, and what are you looking to tackle as we move further into the series?
Sarah: I’m very partial to finite series, myself. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to be part of Alex + Ada. We only want the story to affect the length. As far as tackling goes, we’re going to be expanding on what it means to be an android and an android owner, and what it means to be “real.” The next few issues pick up a lot of momentum into the heart of the story. I can’t wait!