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An interview with: Serena Valentino

By Christopher Brosnahan
You're missing out, you know.

If you're just reading mainstream comics, then you're missing some of the most interesting, different, diverse, and fun comics out there. There's a realm of fantasy, science fiction, down-to-earth-grittiness, or just plain weirdness that you're not being part of by sticking purely to the tights and capes brigade.

Now, I don't want you to think there's anything wrong with superhero comics. There isn't. However, limiting yourself to them would be like only ever eating one kind of food. Yes, it's your favourite, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing else, and you may find something that you like even more.

For those who already know who Serena Valentino is, feel free to skip my undoubtedly clumsy introduction to her, and go right to the first glimpse of green writing… that's the interview. For those who don't, let me explain who she is, and why you should be interested.

Serena Valentino has written two comic series of note, both of them fairly recent. She specialises in a weird, kooky gothic kind of style, mixed with an epic fantasy basis. Whether this be in Nightmares & Fairytales — the adventures of Anabelle the doll, who recounts her life, and those of her owners, and while doing so explains just exactly what happened in all those fairytales we heard as children — or GloomCookie — a funny, sexy, quirky, dark story of a girl called Lex and her friends, a couple of monsters, and Vincent Price — Serena has introduced us to some of the most accessible and memorable characters in a long time.

Serena's world is a dark one, but also filled with an innocence that allows characters to unashamedly use words like "squishy". There's a cuteness in there as well, and definitely a sexy edge, while still being something you could happily let older kids read. It's kind of like if Roald Dahl adopted the illegitimate offspring of Tim Burton and the Brothers Grimm, and made her wear a corset.

Serena herself is a very nice, open, funny person. She's willing to talk to her fans, and keeps them updated via her website and her journal. She has more titles coming out soon, which shall be touched upon in the interview.

I got into her writing via GloomCookie, which is a dark romance story, with some amusing stabs at Goths, but never nastily — which is lucky, since I'm somewhat goth myself. The fact that Vincent Price is a character hooked me as well, and the entire title drips with the same velvet that his voice was made from. After a while, I picked up Nightmares & Fairytales — or rather my girlfriend thrust them at me, screaming somewhat premenstrually at me to read them — and enjoyed the surreal dark and nasty nature. The whole idea is that these aren't nice stories… but they are attractive, for as Terence Fisher (of Hammer Studios) said, "Evil is attractive. That's its trump card."

Serena was kind enough to let me interview her virtually, and was courteous and patient while I fumbled my way through these questions.

CB: So firstly, and most importantly... how did you first discover Vincent Price?
SV: I can't remember a time Vincent Price's films were not a part of my life. My father is a big horror film fan, and from a young age I was exposed to all sorts of spooky films, Vincent Price was and is an all time favourite.

CB: And what's your favourite Vincent Price movie and why?
SV: How could I possibly pick my favourite? I can't. They're all good, in one way or another. Edward Scissorhands comes to mind, simply because of the sweetness of the character and it being his last film, exposing him to a whole new generation of fans — it's very touching to see him in that role. But again, I really can't pick a favourite per se… I really do love all his films. I've actually rented some of his earlier films, before he went the horror route, and he was amazing, very intense, maybe too intense for the "leading man" slot they had him in, but he was brilliant! He brought something special to all his films whether it was real horror or the more comical roles. I find Vincent Price very fascinating, his love for acting, his fearlessness in taking on the roles and characters he portrayed and the energy he put into them, his love for art and all he did to make art more accessible to the general public and he loved Pugs! Anyone who loves Pug Dogs is okay in my book.

CB: You have a background in theatre — it certainly fits in with the whole Grand-Guignol style of Nightmares & Fairytales. Do you think your theatre background helped you bring something unique to your work? Have you ever considered turning Nightmares & Fairytales into a play, or a TV series? If so, how, and if not, is there a specific reason?
SV: I feel my background in theatre has helped me with character development and being able to envision how a scene (or panel) should look. Writing is a bit like improvisational acting. It helps me to get in to my character's head. I think it really helps me find a voice for my characters and a vision for the series. I can see Nightmares as a television series on some kind of Horror Channel. Or perhaps one or more of the stories made into a live-action film.

CB: If someone did a movie of GloomCookie, who would you want to direct it other than Tim Burton?
SV: Well, Tim Burton would be ideal wouldn't he? I think he could really capture the feeling of GloomCookie. Though since I'm not allowed to pick Mr. Burton, I would say Peter Jackson. The reason: because I would love the chance to meet him and give him a big squish for making the Lord of the Rings films. That and I think he would be a good choice in the sense that he loves monsters, and would be able to envision a good way to include the special effects needed for the film, but not have that element take over the film completely. Though I can't imagine him wanting to do the GloomCookie movie, but a girl can dream.

CB: When is 1140 Rue Royale due out, and could you tell us a bit about it?
SV: There is no release date as of yet. 1140 Rue Royale is about an elderly woman and her young niece who move in to the infamous Madame Lalaurie's haunted mansion. Madame Lalaurie and her husband were run out of New Orleans for torturing their slaves. It is rumoured that the poor souls they tortured are still in 1140 Rue Royale, haunting it to this day. I was horrified when I heard what the Lalaurie's did to their slaves. Slavery is horrifying in its self, but the story I heard pushed my revulsion even further. I was so affected I decided to write a story about the victims, to give them voice and a means for revenge. So back to my point, an elderly woman and her niece move in to 1140 Rue Royale and learn the horrible truth of what happened in the mansion before they took up residence there. Crab Scrambly (Everything Can Be Beaten and The Thirtieth of Never) will be illustrating 1140 Rue Royale.

CB: What's this about a cookbook?
SV: Oh I love to cook. I've shared some of my recipes on my livejournal and it occurred to me I should write a Halloween Cook Book. I brought it up to my publisher and he thought it was a good idea. I want it to be a fun cookbook, with easy recipes for people who don't have a lot of time, but still want to cook up something yummy. I plan to have sections on Halloween party themes, like Spooky Tea Parties, Day of the Dead Dinners, Pumpkin Carving get-together and all sorts of other yumminess! And I also plan to share some of my favourite recipes that are good to eat no matter what time of the year it is.

CB: What was the origin of the word squishy?
SV: I don't know. It's just something I came up with. It seemed like something Lex would say. Same with oogie, icky and all the other silliness.

CB: How do you find working for Slave Labor Graphics? They seem like a very cool company. Is this the case, or are they actually all evil corporate beings who manage to cover themselves up well?
SV: They are a very cool company! SLG is amazing to work with. I'm really quite lucky to be working with such creative, hardworking, professional and supportive people. They really care about their creators and the product the put out. They are totally behind all their creators and they promote the hell out of our projects. They've been my little family for almost five years now.

CB: What was your favourite fairy-tale when you were little? And why?
SV: Gawd... I'm not good at the "favourite" questions. I'm not one to have favourites. When I was little... let me think... I think Sleeping Beauty was my favourite; I really loved the character Malificent. I wanted to look like her when I got older.

CB: How did you get into writing comics in the first place? What caused you to say, You know, I've just had a great idea... Goth fairytales!?
SV: Well, I don't think I ever said that. I'm never quite sure my ideas are all that great. In fact I never set out to write comics. It was thrust upon me, and I'm happy it did. I wrote the "Lex and Max" story and showed it to Ted and he thought it would make a good comic and luckily SLG agreed to publish us! After writing the first issue of GloomCookie I was hooked! I thought to myself, WOW, this is what I want to do when I grow up! (I think I was 28 or 29 at the time).

CB: The obligatory questions about your favourite movie?
SV: I love The Lord of the Rings films. Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast is another favourite and I really like Amadeus, Rebecca, and practically every classic film out there!

CB: Book?
SV: Another favourite question... eeeeekkk! Right now I am reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail and enjoying it quite a bit. For a long time my favourite book was Mists of Avalon and I still enjoy it to this day. I really love the Lemony Snicket books and the Weetzie Bat Books as well.

CB: Comic book that you don't write?
SV: Hands down, Love and Rockets is my favourite comic. Though I do think Tommy Kovac's Autumn will be my newest favourite! It has not yet been released, but from what I've seen so far, I think it might be the most divine thing I've seen in a long time. It's mysterious, lovely, and breathtakingly beautiful. Check it out at tommykovac.com.

CB: Play?
SV: Arsenic and Old Lace was the favourite production I was a part of.

CB: Lex is a fairly unique character, but she's also (I swear) an ex-girlfriend of mine. Do you know a girl called Laura from Yorkshire in England, and did you base this character on her? Or is she (and I admit it's far more likely) somewhat autobiographical?
SV: No I don't know Laura. Actually I get letters from all over asking if I based the characters on them and their friends. I love how people seem to be able to identify with the GloomCookies. Lex is loosely based on me. She of course has become her own entity, but she and I share some experiences.

CB: Your work seems to be highly popular with female comic book fans, which is a readership that most companies tend to neglect. Do you deliberately strive for this?
SV: No. However I'm very pleased woman are drawn to my comics. It's rather flattering to hear that someone who's never read a comic decided to pick mine up, and it's encouraged them to read other comics as well. It's nice to see more ladies reading comics in general. I do have my share of male readers, and that makes me happy too! I just write stories I would like to read, and hope others will enjoy them too.

CB: Have you/would you consider working for either of The Big Two?
SV: I've been told I should submit to Vertigo, but I've found a very happy home with SLG Publishing. I plan to take all my ideas to SLG first — I feel really blessed to be working with SLG and my loyalties are with them. That's not to say if one of The Big Two asked me to come on board and write an existing title, I wouldn't at least consider it, and possibly do it — as long as it didn't interfere with my other projects I have going. I don't know, maybe it would be cool to write Catwoman or something along those lines, but I think it's best for me to focus on my own projects.

CB: I know you have very strongly held beliefs on sex education and same sex marriages. Are there any causes you'd like to plug, or any websites that you feel people may like to look at?
SV: Gawd! You really asked for it... I don't want to come off all soap-boxy... but you asked, so here goes:

The Human Rights Campaign and Million for Marriage — "Working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights."

My personal Defend Equality page. A page dedicated to making sure discrimination is not written in to our Constitution.

SaveRoe.com — a site dedicated to making sure woman have the right to choose — regardless of Bush's attempts to take those choices away from us.

Rock the Vote! Register to vote! We need to make sure Bush is not re-elected for another term.

MichaelMoore.com — He has great anti-war links.

That will do for now.

CB: Finally, in forty years time, which of your own work would you show to your grandchildren?
SV: I would show them issue 5 of Nightmares & Fairytales. Though I don't really plan to have children.

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Super Happy Bonus Fun Special Preview, courtesy of the lovely Serena Valentino.

I'm writing a new comic series called Enchanted that will be illustrated by Benjamin Roman and published by Slave Labor Graphics and should be released by the end of this year.

Enchanted is about a young woman named Bella. Bella's fate is already written. But she chooses to live in her own world, surrounded by books and oddities, hiding from her destiny in her aunt's dusty, old, French Quarter Curio-book shop — preferring to read about faeries, ghosts and mystical creatures and avoiding the day she will have to venture out in the world and be confronted by such monsters. That is until her aunt gives her a little nudge out the door, sending her off to be the unwilling guardian of young twins, a girl and a boy, named Kitty and Julian: children who have mysterious fates of their own, who need Bella's protection so they can fulfill their own destiny.

It will be Bella's task to use her knowledge and gifts to reveal the mystery behind Kitty and Julian's future, and to keep them safe from harm's way.

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Thanks once again to Serena for the interview. More interviews are lined up, so keep an eye out. Meanwhile, go to the Slave Labor Graphics website, and pick up some of Serena's works, or keep an eye out in your local comic shop.

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