Area 51: The Helix Project Interview

Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr Interviewee: Trevor Fernandes-Lenkiewicz I had the privilege to interview Trevor Fernandez-Lenkiewicz, the writer and creator of Area 51: The Helix Project, a comic series that has […]

Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr

Interviewee: Trevor Fernandes-Lenkiewicz

I had the privilege to interview Trevor Fernandez-Lenkiewicz, the writer and creator of Area 51: The Helix Project, a comic series that has all four issues successfully backed on kickstarter. The series focuses on Kent, a half-breed child that has been in hiding for 15 years since the brutal death of his extraterrestrial father, who up until that time, lived amongst humanity as one of them. That is until one fateful day, Kent’s father saves a human child while at the risk of exposing his true self, leading to his death, and triggering a series of events that shape Kent’s life forever. After all these years, someone has come into contact with Kent, offering to revive his father. 

  1.   What started your journey into comics? How did that impact your development as a creator?

TF:  I feel like my journey into comics was something of a different story compared to most. A few years ago, I began uploading review content on YouTube and as time passed, my style of content continued to become more and more analytical—I was trained via my studies in college to think and process like a scientist, so I think that’s exactly what I did as my review style evolved. That same methodology led me to researching the technical language and applications of writing and art within the medium, which eventually landed me interviews with creators I admired, who would sometimes acknowledge the credibility in my approach. That really only served to stoke the fire, because if people I admired believed that I could do it, who was I to say no? Eventually the comics criticism/discussion content brought me to a Marvel panel at NYCC 2019 and the rest was history. I asked Marvel’s EIC, C.B. Cebulski a question that caught his attention and afterward he and I had a discussion where he’d asked if I’d ever considered working in comics. Then came the holy grail moment where he gave me his business card and suggested that I apply to work for the House of Ideas. Fast forward to March of 2020: I have an interview with two editors, Annalise & Lauren. A week later, the world went on lockdown. I was heartbroken. As the months of quarantine slid by, I decided pandemic be damned, did research to not only hone my intended craft of writing and editing, but also studied up on manufacturing, design, merchandising, etc… and eventually took my first ever concept to Kickstarter. Here we are a year and a half later, nearing our fifth—a follow up to the four successful campaigns prior.

  1. How did the concept of Area 51: The Helix Project come into being? What inspired you to make this the first project to develop for your publication Pocket Watch Press?

TF: Area 51: The Helix Project really came out of me following the most common piece of advice I’d ever received from writers whose work I enjoyed: “Write what you know.” Tens of thousands of dollars in college told me that I knew a little bit about molecular biology, so I had my genre and an idea of the subject matter. Then, it really came down to discerning what type of comic I felt was missing from the current landscape: spoilers, I was a bit hot on the idea of a Martian Manhunter comic, but DC wasn’t going to just hand it over to some no-name. Quick aside: this isn’t at all to say that the story reads anything like a Martian Manhunter tale, however, I knew that the premise of a shapeshifting alien presented a lot of versatility when it comes to the foundational elements of the story. Most intrinsically tied to the concept of a shapeshifting alien was the theme of identity, and as someone looking to unmask himself as a scientist and repackage as a writer, it felt pure.

  1. What were some of the challenges during the development of this series? What made Kickstarter the best platform to fund this book?

TF: The blessing and the curse of comics is that, more often than not, your idea is filtered through several different people before it sees the light of day. As that may imply, there are a lot of collaborative kinks that often need to be worked out among the creative team, often resulting in everyone learning how to be the best version of themselves in order to serve the common goal of distilling the script into the best thing it can possibly be. To that same end, if you do it right, the final product will be significantly greater than the sum of its parts. Another challenge, particularly in being the writer of the series, is that it was my responsibility to fund the production of the series and pay my team a fair compensation for their talents—which, might I add, is NOT easy. Five issues in, and it’s still a constant concern despite the overwhelming success of our previous campaigns. With respect to that, my options were quite slim on raising funds for the book with no notoriety whatsoever. Once I saw big names like Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy, and others take to crowdfunding platforms, I felt an air of legitimacy arising for creators that followed in their footsteps, and hence, Kickstarter it was.

  1. For this series, you’re working with a talented crew of artists such as Marcelo Salaza (illustrator), Marcio Freire (colorist), and Taylor Esposito (Letterer), all of whom are seasoned creatives within the comics industry. What was the process like working with the entire creative team? 

TF: Collaborating with this team has taught me SO MUCH about both the collaborative nature of the business and how I work within it. On my end, I can attest to learning how to be more efficient and precise with my descriptive language in order to make everyone else’s job a little easier. Ultimately though, each collaborative relationship is slightly different. Working with the new series artist, Sam, presented an entirely different brand of collaboration than what it was like with Marcelo for issue #1-4. That said, both were huge learning experiences and taught me how to shift what I do in order to get the best out of my collaborators. After working with Sam for a few weeks I realized that the script that I’d originally written for Marcelo wasn’t allowing Sam as much as the space to be Sam, so I rewrote the entire last have of the issue and added an extra four pages in order to let some moments breathe a little bit better—visually speaking.

  1. How did that impact your craftsmanship as a writer?

TF: I guess I answered this partially in my last response, but I think that it’s the responsibility of the writer to be a little bit more flexible than they expect. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to shelf your ideas, but figure out how they’ll be best interpreted by your art team and package them in a way that allows for them to have the most spiritual understanding of what you’re attempting to put on the page. All in all, despite writing full script method there’s always a disclaimer at the top of them from me to the team, and it is this: 

 “I don’t want you to feel overly beholden to the visual directions; they’re just a blueprint. Ultimately, they should give you an idea of what I want to go for emotionally, atmospherically, etc… If you have an idea that diverges from the visual direction in a way that you think adds to the work, please feel free to turn in both layouts and let’s talk it out! I definitely want to take advantage of your expertise because you’re going to be processing things way more fluently in the visual language of the story.” 

Now that I’ve written a handful of issues, the importance of having a finger on the pulse of my strengths and weaknesses has become more and more important. It not only informs when I can flex my creative muscles, but more importantly, when I can stretch my understanding of what I can do and learn how to sharpen my craft.

  1. The protagonist of this series, Kent, has been going through the ringer, having to confront childhood trauma, identity crisis and culture shock. What was it about those themes that drew you in when crafting Kent’s journey?

TF: Honestly, they just felt pure and easily relatable. Kent’s journey at its core is something that most, if not all, of us go through in our lives, and it is this: the world will try and tell you who to be. It will command your sense of self in a way that sometimes feels as if your choices are taken out of your hands completely. We all experience something like that, and while it may not always look the same between each of us, it will often have the same deafening effects. That’s the point in time where Kent—and you, and me—have to look the world back into its endless gaze and say “no.” Those elements of our personalities and behaviors that we grow up being told are out of line often informs what will differentiate us from the pack, giving us our roles within our communities, our social ecosystem, the world. Roles that ONLY we can fill. Like Kent, I had to take this journey to find myself under the gaze of the world that did its best to try and tell me who to be, and having written his story and worked through that problem with him, I know where my final destination is.

  1. With 4 issues in the can thus far, what should readers look forward to in issue 5? 

TF:  This next issue (#5) is BY FAR the best thing that myself and the team have managed to do. This installment is a real combustion chamber of emotion, drama, and action—bringing all of those things to an explosive head at the close of the chapter. Creatively speaking, myself and the new artist, Sam, are taking some big creative swings with how we’re delivering the story—so much so that we’ve added an extra four pages to the issue. We’ve got some visual sequences in this issue that I’m really really proud of; six of them being some of my favorites in the entire series. Sam and I have designed some compositions for pages that really put on display exactly why this story needed to be told through comics, and yet, carries a cinematic presence. When all’s said and done, between the story, artwork, and covers, this may end up being the readers’ favorite issue from the series as a whole.

  1. You’ve recently done some appearances at some conventions this year, promoting your book. What was that experience like, and what are the pros and cons of attending conventions? 

TF: It’s been a real rollercoaster starting Pocket Watch Press in the middle of the pandemic, so being able to get out into the world and meet the readership has been one of the greatest privileges of not only my career, but my adult life. It’s wild and hectic and crazy, but 110% worth it every time. That ability to connect with people through story is why I set out to start this career; being able to do so in person and share that is nothing short of incredible. As of typing this, we’ve traveled all across North America, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada out in the northwest to Orlando, Florida in the southeast, it’s been an immersive ride. The only downside, really, is being a one man show and having to not only be the creative force behind the curtain, but to be my marketing and logistics team on top of that. This burgeoning career has been a HUGE learning process for me, and this leg of the trip has been a real lesson in finding balance. I also believe—if I am to be completely honest—that some of the convention organizers are a bit out of touch. When you go to these shows, the expense just to be at the table and provide their conventions with things for their guests to see and do, is crippling for someone just starting out. 

 Comics are a really low profit business, especially when you’re printing low numbers like most indie creators. Because of that, I’ve noticed a real lack of indie comics talent in these artist alleys. More often than not you walk down the aisles and they’re full of folks selling crafts or art prints of known IP’s/characters, or other trinkets. As a disclaimer, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I think it illustrates that indie comic book creators simply cannot afford to be at these larger shows anymore, and that saddens me a bit. When it comes to the pros, they are innumerable when you get down to it. Just being there is a pleasure after being locked away at home for the last two years, but the impact of being able to connect in person and share that love of stories found within the comics pages is transcendental. There’s nothing that gets me more excited than when someone buys one or two issues one day, reads them when they get back to their hotel, and comes back the next day to grab the rest. It tells me that I’m doing something right and that I’m creating something that matters. At the end of the day, that’s the #1 thing I’ve set out to do.

  1. Are there any other projects that are in the pipeline that your readers should keep an eye out for?

TF:  We’re always cooking up something! The plan is to Kickstart our first Pocket Watch Press anthology at the top of the new year, featuring a host of short stories in different genres and a variety of artistic collaborators—familiar and new. The plan is to have each of our (hopefully) annual anthologies based on a numeral on the clock (pocket watch), starting with our first book, MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT: THE HOUR BETWEEN LIFE & DEATH. For this first one, there will be a loose storytelling theme of “perspective” consistent throughout each story, however, it’ll be examined from different angles in each story. The themes chosen for each collection will always relate to the time of day that they’re titled after, and for me, midnight brings to mind the evening clarity when you’ve had a moment of quiet to think about hours past, and more obviously, the transition from one day to another. From a story about immortal warlords, to futuristic businessmen, to supernatural murder mysteries, I think that the anthologies will have something for everyone.

  1. Lastly, I have to ask, do you think aliens are real? 

TF: Anything is possible. *winks to the camera*

Check out the Kickstarter campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thehelix/area-51-the-helix-project-5

Anthony Andujar Jr.

About Anthony Andujar Jr.

Anthony Andujar Jr. is an NYC cartoonist and lover of comics and music. So much so that it led him to writing comic book reviews in between it all.