Q&A: “SERENITY ROSE” Creator, Aaron AlexovichBooks/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Svetlana Fedotov
SERENITY ROSE is the kind of comic weird kids grow up on. Full of one-of-a-kind characters, goofy situations, and heaping helpings of magic and mayhem, SERENITY ROSE has helped open up the comic world for readers who’d usually shy away from delving into the more constricted universes of bigger companies. With its ten year anniversary at hand, creator Aaron Alexovich hopped on Kickstarter to fund a collected, hardcover edition of the past decade and met with overwhelming success. Following the launch of SERENITY ROSE: 10 AWKWARD YEARS, Alexovich spoke with FANGORIA, attempting to explain his work and what has kept moving him forward through all of the ups and downs.
FANGORIA: SERENITY ROSE has been a part of your life for ten years. What keeps you coming back?
AARON ALEXOVICH: Stubbornness, probably! I have a really hard time letting things go, even when it might be a good idea. The first comic was published in 2003, but SERENITY’s actually been a part of me for like 15, 16 years—ever since I started drawing her for animation assignments in college. So we’ve put in a lot of time together. You can still see some of the shorts I made with her on YouTube, in fact. One of them scored me a job on the INVADER ZIM cartoon a million years ago, which was pretty cool.
From the beginning, Serenity was always more or less ME, at least in the sense that she thinks and talks the way I do. Not so much in the “flying” or “conjuring carnivorous ponies out of ectoplasm” sense, but psychologically, in that we’re both super-shy, quiet, artsy, easily made uncomfortable, that kind of thing. Drawing Serenity was a way of giving myself a voice back in the days when I didn’t feel I had one, and it isn’t easy to give that kind of thing up. But I’ve grown a lot while working on Sera’s story, and she’s grown along with me, and this felt like a sweet place to leave her for a while. If the last page of 10 AWKWARD YEARS ends up being the final SERENITY ROSE page ever, it’s a nice way to go out.
The first story was called “Working Through the Negativity,” and I think we’ve both done a lot of that. Spoiler alert. Time to try some new stuff!
FANG: How do you feel about the work being considered “pop goth,” a work that’s more steered toward the lighter, goofier side of goth culture and aimed at teen readers?
ALEXOVICH: Oh, I don’t know. I guess I don’t really care what people call my style, as long as they’re reading. I’ve called it worse things myself. When the comic first came out, I used to call my style “spookycute,” but now I don’t know… That sounds kind of disposable, doesn’t it? Like something you make just to slap on t-shirts for a quick buck. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with a quick buck, but like I said, SERENITY ROSE is just super personal to me, so I always wanted her to be a little more than just a cute little critter on a handbag. When I’m writing, I’m usually struggling for a kind of “SANDMAN mixed with GHOST WORLD” tone, but the way I draw is maybe too goofy for that. I like to tell myself that people can appreciate it on different levels if they want to, but who knows? It’s fun to make, anyway. You have to have fun with what you’re making, right?
I think the thing that appeals to me about that “pop goth” feel is the way it plays with that line between cutesy and horrifying. It’s a really fine line sometimes. I mean, you look at Tim Burton’s old films, or paintings by Mark Ryden or Camille Rose Garcia, and you see such a great mix of adorable and unsettling. I love it. Being in the worlds they create is such a neat, off-center feeling… There should be a word for that feeling. Maybe the Germans have one? And I get into that same mental state when I see a really brilliant horror comedy. EVIL DEAD 2 was just this massive moment for me when I first saw it. That movie is genuinely hilarious, but also genuinely disturbing when it wants to be. The little stop-motion dance scene where his girlfriend is wiggling around with her own severed head… God, how can you be laughing and developing emotional scars at the same time?
But I guess there’s something honest about that, isn’t there? I mean, life is both hilarious and awful, and the line isn’t always 100% clear. It’s everything all at once. Why not have fun with that?
FANG: Instead of going with standard witch/fantasy lore, you created original backgrounds for your creatures. What made you decide to make your own over-arching mythology?
ALEXOVICH: Oh man, world building is the best! I could do that all day. It’s actually a real problem trying not to go too far with that stuff. You can end up constructing a whole elaborate universe full of dense, fake history and complicated relationships and new organisms and rules and whatever, and then you forget to tell a clean story in there. It’s like you created all this homework for people.
It’s fun to explore but—in comics, at least—a nice, simple story is probably the best way to carry your characters through all the exploring. It gives the audience a good, sturdy rope to hold onto while you’re chucking all the weirdness at them.
I’m not sure I’ve learned that lesson myself yet, but all those words I just said sound pretty good.
I have to admit, I’m not as knowledgeable about standard fantasy tropes as I should be. I’ve read a lot about the history of witchcraft and the Inquisition, some ancient mythology and so on, and some of that pops up here and there in the book, but fantasy? Kind of iffy. No idea what the “right’ way to do ogres and goblins would be. But it’s more fun to me when people toss out the rules and make up their own weird fantasy things, anyway. Like PAN’S LABYRINTH. That movie is just a freakish hunk of Guillermo del Toro’s big, crazy brain and I loved it. So much personality in there. All the best art breaks open its creator’s skull and spills out their crazy brains for everyone to see.
FANG: You’ve also addressed a lot of sexuality issues in the comic be it straight, gay, or bi. Was it your intent to make any of these aspects of the characters an awareness type of thing, or is just part of who the characters are?
ALEXOVICH: Nah, Sera being gay wasn’t a conscious political choice or anything. It’s just one of those things where, once the thought popped into my head, it was like, “Well, of course.” I wish I could explain it better than that. Sera’s not a particularly sexualized character, so there’s certainly nothing lascivious or “Hey, fellas! Hot stuff in here!” about it. Again, the character’s basically me, so maybe that has something to do with it. Serenity’s always been deeply uncomfortable in her own skin, and knowing she has to come out of the closet at some point is just another thing that makes her all squirmy.
Gender issues are something I’ve always been curious about, though. The concept of “masculinity” is the thing that makes me all squirmy. Like Sera, I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school, and obviously that doesn’t exactly foster a healthy, open attitude toward sexuality and gender non-conformity. And my schools weren’t even particularly conservative. They always told us, like, “Adam & Eve was a fairy tale,” “all good people go to heaven,” “Jesus was a real hip dude,” etc. We had sex education classes with birth control info. And my parents are cool, open-minded people, too. It’s just that no matter what you do, when you’re Catholic you’re living under the weight of 2000 years of repressive sexual weirdness. It’s just there, all the time, no matter how cool you try to be. For some people it’s more comfortable to kick their shameful feelings into the fruit cellar, lock them in with the Deadites, and try not to think about it too much. That’s what Sera tried to do with the Dream Cave, and look what that got her.
FANG: You’ve turned to Kickstarter to help fund the SERENITY ROSE omnibus. Were you surprised at the amount of support you got? Do you feel it could be related to the rise in alternative, cartoon comics such as LUMBERJANES or the ADVENTURE TIME adaptations?
ALEXOVICH: Oh my God, the day I launched that Kickstarter was the craziest day of my life. My wife, Ami and I put a humongous amount of work into the campaign, and when I clicked “LAUNCH” at midnight on Halloween last year, I was just hoping it wouldn’t all be a big embarrassment. Like, let’s get at least 50 people to back this, right?
The next morning, Ami told me we were already 100% funded and I nearly passed out in the shower. It was just surreal. That Halloween was our 10th anniversary together. Ami dressed up like Svengoolie, and we headed off to Disneyland. The whole day felt like a hallucination. After a decade putting the comic out for basically no money and very little attention, to find out we had ten times more support than I dreamed really meant a lot. It was pretty emotional. I can’t thank everyone enough!
I definitely think there’s an “unseen world” within the comic industry. Seems like every other week a webcomic I’ve never heard of goes absolutely berserk on Kickstarter. It’s a great thing! It’s like there are all these little nodes all over the internet collecting fans without attracting any mainstream attention. But then every once in a while, they flare up and we can see them. There’s much more diversity in the webcomic and small press scenes, too. Sometimes I feel like the Next Big Thing is already happening right now and we don’t see it, because we’re all too busy screaming about Batman’s new underpants.
FANG: Will we be seeing more SERENITY ROSE in the future?
ALEXOVICH: Yeah, I think we’ll see more of Sera. There’s a lot more of her world to explore, that’s for sure. It’d be really interesting to check in with Serenity in her 30’s or 40’s, see how she’s changed and how Crestfallen has evolved. Yeah, I can definitely see revisiting that place. Maybe I could pop in for a short story every few years or so. The last one will have Sera in a robotic suit of armor wrestling Superman in front of a bunch of punks.
FANG: Anything we can expect to see coming out from you? Any other works?
ALEXOVICH: Well, I just ended a year doing character designs for a Disney show called RANDY CUNNINGHAM: 9TH GRADE NINJA. That was pretty sweet. Lots of crazy robots and monsters and crazy robot monsters. All the stuff you need. Oh! And one of my characters was voiced by Robert Englund! So I can check that one off the list.
Now that the day job is over, I’m just doing some freelance work and weighing all the options for my next massive project. I know I want it to be something of my own again, though. Probably something spooky. Almost certainly something monster-y. Very possibly funded through Kickstarter again. Hopefully this one won’t take another ten years!