Jonathan Luna’s returning to comics. Jonathan and his brother Joshua Luna joined forces to create books like “Ultra,” “Girls” and “The Sword,” and went on a brief hiatus from monthly comics. During the break, he learned to paint — a skill he used to create his fantasy story book “Star Bright and the Looking Glass.” Now he’s ready to get back into the traditional comics game along with co-writer Sarah Vaughn (“Sparkshooter”), Image Comics and their new sci-fi/romance comic book, “Alex + Ada.”
A 12-issue, future-set series, “Alex + Ada” follows the title character, Alex, as his life is flipped upside down with the unexpected delivery of a lifelike X5 android known as Ada. Though it might have been the last thing in the world he wanted, Alex finds himself entering into a unique, potentially romantic, relationship with his new robo-pal.
CBR News spoke with Luna and Vaughn about their upcoming series, and the duo discussed digging deep into the futuristic technology, developing the story together and the burgeoning relationship between the title characters.
CBR News: Jonathan, you took a bit of a break from comics after “The Sword” wrapped up. What made “Alex + Ada” the right book to return with?
Jonathan Luna: Yes, I took a couple years off — one to do photography and another to learn how to paint traditionally, then I worked on “Star Bright and the Looking Glass,” a fairy-tale picture book. With “Star Bright,” I was putting so much work into one image to represent many events that were going on. I really began to miss comics as a medium — telling stories with more images, beat by beat.
“Alex + Ada” involves grounded sci-fi/fantasy, drama, and gender themes which I naturally lean toward. I have a long to-do list for books, but I’ve been wanting to do this kind of sci-fi for a very long time.
How did the two of you come to work together on “Alex + Ada?” What is your collaboration process like?
Luna: Sarah and I are very good friends and she’s been into writing and drawing comics — especially romance comics — since her youth. When I was working on “Star Bright and the Looking Glass,” my fairy-tale picture book which I released last November, she was a great deal of help with the writing.Â Afterwards, I decided to return to comics and wanted to work with a writer again — Joshua and I have been working on our own separate projects. I had the concept about a young man who falls in love with a female android. Over the course of some weeks, the idea of working with Sarah kept popping into my head. Being comfortable with the people I work with is such a necessity for me, and I feel very comfortable with Sarah. So, I asked her, and she was immediately on board.
Sarah Vaughn: After Jon told me the initial concept, my thought immediately was, “Well, what about the android?” There’s another side to that story. There were so many possibilities, and the more I thought about the idea, the more I got excited about it. We haven’t stopped talking since.
The collaboration process involves a huge amount of communication, making sure we’re both on the same page. We’ve gotten to a pretty streamlined system where we go over everything we want to say, what needs to happen, specifics we need to make sure are addressed. I write, we discuss, I write again, Jon draws, we discuss, Jon draws again. It’s a lot of back and forth. Every now and then we’re able to get together over spiked milkshakes. That really should happen more often.
Luna: I pitched “Alex + Ada” to Sarah over amazing burgers and adult milkshakes. Â It was an awesome first meeting. Â We talked all night about the project.
What can you tell us about Alex? What’s he up to before Ada shows up?
Vaughn: Alex is a nine-to-fiver living a normal life, who happens to be completely surrounded by technology. His everyday struggles before “Alex + Ada” begin are very similar to our own.
It sounds like the X5 robots can do quite a bit, but what are they actually programmed to do?
Vaughn: X5s are the most advanced and realistic androids on the market, programmed to be companions, however that means for their owners. The only limitations at this point are legal ones.
Legal limitations? What kind of legal limitations are there in this world when it comes to the androids?
Vaughn: The idea of artificial intelligence and superintelligence is a very exciting and frightening idea. There are so many ethical issues it raises. We fear the unknown, so it’s only natural to think we’d try to protect ourselves.
The solicit text says that an X5 is the last thing Alex wanted. Why is that?
Luna: Alex is in a specific place in the first issue.
Vaughn: Can’t give away too many spoilers!
The world of “Alex + Ada” is set in a future with realistic looking, superintelligent androids. What other futuristic technology can readers look forward to seeing?
Luna: Holograms. Lots and lots of holograms. They make my life, as an artist, a living hell.
Seriously though, there’s a few advances we’ve discussed, and we’ll use them as long as it applies to the story. It’s very exciting to work with these futuristic elements. I’ve never created a book like this before and it’s reinvigorating.
Sarah, you mentioned wanting to look at things from the android’s perspective. How does that play out in the narrative?
Vaughn: Ada’s journey is vital to the story. The title is “Alex + Ada,” after all. Both characters are equally important.
Since you’re both artists, do you both sketch out concepts while plotting?
Vaughn: Yes, but minimally. I’ve been dealing with a long stretch of repetitive stress injury, which has limited my drawing. My sketches to Jon have been glorified stick figures, so for the most part I send him reference photos. If there’s something small that I just can’t explain in words or if I can’t find the right photo, I’ll draw, but I try to avoid it as much as possible.
What kind of research into general scientific processes to help build the world of “Alex + Ada?”
Luna: We’ve been doing as much research as we can on the subject matter. As a writer, you have to be careful and try to have balance with research.Â Doing too much of it can be extremely time-consuming and prevent you from getting any actual work done, and getting too technical can be limiting.
Vaughn: It’s like a black hole. I spent a couple days researching how dogs respond to robots, which took me to synthetic vs. natural pheromones, which then went to the importance of smell in human attraction. You get sucked in for what might be relevant for only two panels.
What kind of gender issues play into the series and how do you use the framework of a sci-fi story to explore them?
Vaughn: I would say gender in Alex + Ada is more of a subject than an issue. The exploration in the story is about humans and robots, though gender can’t help but play a role, especially in a story about a relationship. Men and women are different, there’s no denying it.
As the series begins, how much of it is set in stone? Has the entire 12-issue run already been plotted out, or is there a little wiggle room?
Luna: We did plot out the entire series. But every detail hasn’t been worked out. I like to leave room to play with. It gets boring if we knew exactly where everything was going. It’s nice to have surprises of our own.
To see how human-robot relationships are explored more fully, check out “Alex + Ada” from Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaugh and Image Comics on November 6.