One of the contemporary comic industry's most touching and moving stories is coming to an end this week. Alex + Ada, a smooth and somber book by Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna, is a quiet gem that isn't even remotely concerned with fights or superhuman stuff. For the past year and a half, Vaughn and Luna have been crafting a tale about love and all its discontents through the eyes of a man and his robot.
In Alex + Ada's futuristic world, people have robots that do everything for them — the super-advanced androids cook breakfast, wash dishes, make plans, entertain guests, and, yes, some are even made for sex. Alex, a broken and undetermined young man, begins an intimate relationship with one of these androids and eventually contemplates giving it the gift of sentience.
Yes, it's a little weird. But it's also beautiful.
The book has leaned into its sci-fi strangeness, asking all the obvious questions about the ethics and logistics of sexing a robot. But it has also explored the fragility of life and the importance of love, and all the aching moments in between.
I caught up with Alex + Ada's creators to talk about the story, its romance, and what it feels like to end something you love so dearly.
Alex Abad-Santos: I'm pretty sad about the end of Alex + Ada, but in terms of the story, I also realize that now is a good time to wrap things up. How are you feeling about it?
Jonathan Luna: I’m very proud of it. I’m happy that I’ve successfully completed another series. And I miss Alex and Ada, as characters.
Sarah Vaughn: I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to complete the series. I didn’t want to leave the characters. There are an infinite number of roads you can take when you write a story. We explored a lot of different paths in the beginning, but we wrote the ending we wanted. Fingers crossed readers enjoy it, too.
AAS: When you first set out to create Alex + Ada, did you know going in how many issues you wanted to write?
SV: Kind of. In the beginning, we plotted out for 12, but it became really clear early on that the story would move too quickly that way. So we spent more time in some areas, slowed things down in others, and came up with our final number of 15. As an example, issues four and five were originally one issue, but the speed really didn’t serve Ada’s journey well. Jon’s cover concept for five turned on a lightbulb for me. I loved the issue five cover, and I wanted the pages to match the intimacy and energy. So we slowed down issue five to really spend time with Ada once she was unlocked.
In some ways, I wanted the comic to be even longer and slower, but the pace I envisioned was so interminable it would be like watching paint dry. That’s just not entertainment.
AAS: What kind of story did you want to tell with Alex + Ada? Do you think you achieved it?
JL: Personally, I wanted to accomplish at least three things. One, to tell a moving love story. Two, to explore what it could be like to have a relationship with an android. Three, to provoke thought. I hope we achieved all of those. It appears we did, from the reactions I’ve seen.
SV: I really wanted to explore a romantic relationship in a way that felt sincere. And from the start, I wanted the comic series to have an end in sight. I also wanted to tell a more quiet story. We didn’t want them to save the world. We just wanted to explore two people living simple lives in a world that made that very difficult.
AAS: When I read Alex + Ada, I can't help but think of the allegory to the fight for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. Was this part of the plan? Am I reading too much into it?
SV: You’re not reading too much into it. But we drew from many civil rights issues. We looked at history as well as current events, and how society and those with privilege react when marginalized groups try to gain equality.
AAS: Alex + Ada focuses on a love story. That's not usually what people think of when they think of comic books. What's the fan feedback been like? What's it like working with Image, a company that really loves to tell "different" stories?
JL: Most of the feedback has been on Twitter and on Facebook. Everyone has been so supportive and sweet. It appears that many are enjoying it, and that makes me very happy. A lot of people just want more. I think that’s a good sign. As for Image, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to create what I want to create. It’s simple, fair, and rewarding.
SV: Fan feedback has been lovely. It’s always exciting to get messages on Twitter and emails. Cons [conventions] have been great, too, in meeting people who like the book. I think a lot of people enjoy love stories, and we aren’t shy that Alex + Ada is one. Alex + Ada is my first published comic, so I don’t have much to base it on, but I really appreciate the creative freedom with Image.
AAS: What does it feel like to end a comic book series?
SV: It’s emotionally bittersweet. I’m so glad it’s complete, but I also miss it. You hold a lot of tension while you work on a book. Though I’m still writing and working on other projects, it’s quite an adjustment to not have to work on Alex + Ada anymore.
JL: I agree. It’s always sad, but rewarding.
AAS: Who's the bigger sap, Jonathan or Sarah?
JL: I don’t know. I can be quite a sappy sap. There’ve been a few moments in the story that made Sarah and me both verklempt. But there were other times where I wanted something in the book and Sarah thought it was too sappy. Though it still may have made it into the book, in the end.
SV: Ha! Yes, there were a couple cheesy moments that I finally agreed to, after some persuasion. It’s a co-creatorship, and I eventually saw that they served the story. Comics are a visual medium. And we don’t have thoughts or inner captions in Alex + Ada, so you need to show emotion and expression to relay information. There were other times, though, that I put my foot down. So I’d probably say Jon is the bigger sap.
AAS: What are you working on next?
SV: I’m marinating a few ideas for the future. Presently, I’m writing a Regency England romance comic called Ruined that’s running in the digital monthly anthology magazine Fresh Romance. Sarah Winifred Searle is the amazing artist, with Ryan Ferrier on letters. You can read it on Comixology or on Rosy Press’s website.
JL: I’ll be working on a new series in the near future. Can’t say more than that right now.
Alex + Ada's final issue is available as a digital comic and in stores.