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Goodbye, Crestfallen by Aaron Alexovich

Essay and Interview by John Seven

Ably walking that vast visual line between the horrific and the cuddly, Aaron Alexovich returns with his Serenity Rose character in “Goodbye, Crestfallen,” a series of considerable energy and remarkable graphic realization. 

Alexovich isn’t bound by the normal conventions of cartoon panels or word balloons and coloring — there is nothing sober in his story telling and this creates a situation where you can’t wait to see what he does with the next page. Alexovich’s story has the young witch Serenity Rose deals with the next phase of her life, moving on from the settlement of the Crestfallen Coven and onto England to apprentice  with a sorceress.
Alexovich’s most recent book was Kimmie66, a neat little science fiction adventure from Minx Books.

Goodbye, Crestfallen by Aaron Alexovich
Click a thumbnail to view comic.

Materials: I render out all my Serenity pages in mechanical pencil (HB and 2B) and Sharpie on plain white 8.5×11 computer paper.  It’s basically the dumbest, most time-consuming way of making comics ever invented, but it just looks “wrong” to me any other way.  There’s just something about the richness of the pencil textures…  You can really get some great, moody-looking stuff with it.

Interview with Aaron Alexovich:

Q: Why do you like to write teenagers?
A: It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I really don’t like writing about teenagers all that much, to be honest.  It seems like, for most people, high school is this big, dramatic, transformative thing that attaches itself to the front of your brain and never lets go, but it wasn’t anything like that for me.  For me it was just four dull, drama-free years of waiting for my real life to begin.   Those sort of “What next?” feelings obviously come up in Serenity Rose a lot, but Sera’s well out of high school at this point.  You certainly don’t have to be 15 to be unsure of yourself.
Mostly, I’m just interested in weird, confused outsiders…  age doesn’t really matter.  

Q: What interests you about goths?
A: It’s all about the look, I think.  100% aesthetics.  I think people (like me) who really dig their nails into the goth, punk, or even anime sensibilities are really just looking for ways to stuff a little more fantasy into the real world.  I mean, why just read stories about people with, y’know, 3-foot pink dreds hanging around in complicated steampunkified workrooms?  You can actually make that happen.  Everybody likes fantasy, horror, sci-fi, whatever., but what’s especially interesting about “gothy”-type people is that they’re perfectly happy to let that love spill out into the aesthetics of their real life.   I just find that humongously appealing.

As long as, y’know, they don’t literally think they’re vampires…

Q: Have you ever had any supernatural experiences?
A: No…  No supernatural experiences for me, sadly.
I do have a lot of horrible, horrible nightmares, though.  “Night terrors,” actually, which is this weird condition where your nightmares are potent enough to send you tearing out of bed screaming like a psychopath on a pretty regular basis.  (Your body is supposed to be paralyzed while you’re asleep, but…  it doesn’t always work out that way for everyone.)  One time I punched my hand through a window trying to escape whatever awful thing was chasing me in my brain.  Another time I barricaded the bedroom door.  My wife just loves it.
I guess I’m too intimately familiar with how deeply our brains can screw with us to put much stock in supernatural stuff.

Q: Your panel work is very inventive — who has influenced you in that realm and what kind of process do you go through when laying out a page?
A: Thank you for calling my pages inventive…  I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think I approach page design a little differently than most comic artists.  Most comic artists focus their attention primarily on silly little things like, y’know, clear visuals and concise storytelling.  Ridiculous stuff like that.  For me it’s mostly about mood…  I just keep working the pages until they feel right, until the emotion is where I want it, even if capturing that specific emotion winds up hurting the clarity of the storytelling.  Now, obviously a really brilliant artist like, say, Bill Watterson or Will Eisner or Mike MIgnola can get clarity and mood (in fact, that’s probably what makes them brilliant), but I’m nowhere near those guys.

As far as process…  I usually start out with two or three little thumbnail sketches, but it’s hard to really figure things out until I’m working at full size.  Most of the thinking happens in a big scribbly mess at regular comic size.

Q; When you originally did Serenity Rose, it was done in such a way that some readers thought Serenity was a real person — now that it’s well known that’s not the case, how has the experience changed as you work on the new strip?
A: I think most people knew Serenity wasn’t real from the very beginning (watching her trap a vampire inside a fat ectoplasmic pony probably helped).  A lot of people did think I was a woman, though, and some of them felt a little betrayed when the truth came out.  I still feel kind of bad about that…  People knew who I really was well before the first book was published, though, so that’s pretty far in the past.  It hasn’t really affected this new story.

I just try to focus on making Serenity feel like a real person, and ignore all the “men can’t write female characters” stuff.  That point of view is thankfully pretty rare, anyway…  Frankly, I think it’s more of a nasty little voice in the back of some paranoid male writers’ heads than a real complaint.  Anybody can write anything if they stop worrying so much and get to work.
It doesn’t appear like it’s going to be a clean break, though — Serenity’s having flashbacks or hallucinations . . . or both, mixed up together. And her friends are pretty angry with her. This is great stuff — action with a horror bent, good humor, some teen drama mixed together with flair.

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