Area 51: The Helix Project is a story about identity. Where Kent, a young alien living isolated and alone, has to deal with his past demons confronting self-actualized and harrowing truths about the true nature of who he is… and the government that wants to find him. It’s a tale about perceptions regarding who we are versus whom we’re meant… and the journey uncovering the various secrets in between.
We talked with Trevor about his now-finished series along with thoughts about the comic medium. Below, is an abridged version of our interview, but for the full conversation feel free to click on the podcast link below or check out TheWorkprint podcast. We also wrote about the ‘Area 51: The Helix Project’ cover reveals earlier this month as well.
First, can you share with us your comics journey? What made you want to pivot from researcher to youtube reviewer, and then finally, to creating your own comic?
“I got into comics late having started reading around 16-17, which usually seems to be when most people take their break. But it was Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls with Greg Cappulo that got me. In college, i didn’t have many friends into comics, so I started a Youtube channel and was desperate to talk with people about it. I definitely felt that in order to be a decent reviewer, i should know something about the technical development of the medium. So, I researched craft and was fortunate to interview a couple people I admire.
I was asked a couple times (by guests) why I wasn’t making comics. I didn’t have an answer. Then in 2019, I was at the press panel for Marvel with Chris Claremont and Marvel Editor-in-Chief, C.B. Cebulski. I had a chat with C.B. after that, who thanked me for my good questions, then asked if I had ever considered working in comics… Which I hadn’t even thought about until the E.I.C. of Marvel just asked…
It sent me home thinking about what I wanted in life. I was studying molecular and cellular biology at UCONN. Eventually, I decided to tack on a late English degree to see if I had it in me. Then, in March 2020, I interviewed for an editorial internship at Marvel, which just so happened to be the month that the apocalypse hit the US. The week I was interviewing, was the week hand sanitizer and toilet paper were selling out everywhere!
I got a call a week later with some interest. Then two weeks later, they responded that they couldn’t do anything given the pandemic, which dragged on until the end of the year. I went into a pit of self pity, but decided that I didn’t want to ask someone for permission to pursue something I’m passionate about… and went for it.
January will hit two years since that first issue came out. This marks the sixth and final book in the series and now I’m actively working on 3 other projects outside of that.”
Tell Us, What is ‘Area 51: The Helix Project’ about?
“It’s a sci-fi thriller. In short, its a story about a boy of two worlds driven to excavate the trauma of his past after being confronted by a mysterious letter that puts his father’s murder into question. This journey drops him into the jaws of a cold war genetics conspiracy, forcing him to face a ghost of his past, as it questions everything he thought he knew about himself, and ultimately, what it means to be human.
“It’s a personal story about reconciling identity, memory, and loss…”
Writing this story. I had no idea who i was, thinking that I was gonna spend the next 10 years in academia working for a Ph.D. But then I saw a potential to indulge myself creatively and it’s where a lot of this came from. So I took the advice of people I admired and wrote what I knew. I knew a lot about molecular biology and genetics.”
You feature a lot of details regarding labs in this comic so was an scientific background influential in the script?
“So my primary focus in school was protein pathways and human molecular genetics. In the earlier issues, as the government is working out how to transplant the extraterrestrial properties of alien DNA onto soldiers, they talk a lot about how genetics interact with the immune system. How they’re attempting to circumvent the body’s immune responses when manipulating DNA. All of that stuff about leukocyte antigens were things I’d learned and played around with on a basic level in lab.
Committing to doing hard science fiction for me meant making it feel real. The lighting, metals, and fleshy textures: I wanted it all to be emotionally and personally pure. It was something I wanted to push toward as a lot of my favorite writers took the time to do research. So a lot of this was double-checking that the memories were correct, and honestly… it was a lot of fun! One of my favorite things about reading a Batman comic was giving the narrative voice of the writer credibility to me. So that’s what I went for.”
Let’s talk about your team. What’s it been like working with them in the collaborative process?
“So for the first 4 issues, i worked with an artist from Brazil named Marcelo Salaza but ended up parting ways. From the beginning, we had the same colorist in Marcio Luis Freire, whose work has a real aptitude for texture and palette, so much that, we even had him run a secret variant for issue 5. Marcio is a tremendous talent. If I’m ever in a pinch for crunch he can pull it off with no corners cuts.
On letters, is Taylor Esposito, who’s an industry gold stand. Taylor just took home a Ringo Award this year. I was grateful that he was kind enough to hear me out as his letters definitely add more to what we’re trying to do.
Then there’s Adrian Bonilla, our cover artist. I think we’re around the same age but to have seen how far he’s developed? Right now, that guy can compete with any cover artist in the industry and he’s still under 30! His ability to verbalize pieces of art cements his knowledge in a big way and his cracking away on issue 6’s covers right now is just bonkers.
Finally, joining us for interiors and covers for issues 4-6 is Samuel Iwunze. He’s so good and improved so much of our visualization of the comic since issue 5. It’s so great it made me re-edit issue 5 just to play into his strengths, as I was ready to lean into his way. It’s just, seeing what he’s able to do in this emotional combustion chamber of an issue told me so much about his abilities as an artist.
Honestly, learning from the team on this first projection has been an invaluable experience to me. When I came out the gate one of my biggest intentions was to make sure nobody could look at this comic book and think less of it in comparison to something from a major company. I think we succeeded.”
It shows! The art team is incredible. Quickly, can you tell me what’s something you think most people don’t understand is difficult about making a comic?
“I guess, speaking from the writer’s stand point, I can see why some writers overwrite their script. I think that having to pull yourself back and be moderate in doing it is one of the harder things about being a writer.
I was fortunate to come into this as a very critical reviewer. Knowing that I hated when writers overwrote was a little easier going into it, but there was still moments of this poetic monologue i wanted to keep on the page even when it didn’t fit. Moments realizing that this wasn’t that character’s voice… it was mine. So finding that balance without going too far and being floral for the sake of showing off was important.
It’s about being temperate in your own editing process. Rereading your stuff before it goes to anybody and finding that balance between what should be there.
Ultimately, I have to be sure that what’s written enriches what’s in the comic. Comics communicate much visually. There’s a rhythmic value to it. There’s a lot of musicality to how much or how little, to the text, aside from how well-written it’ll be.”
I’d like to hear your thoughts about the comic medium today. What are some things you find nitpicky as a creator regarding how to craft comics?
“Well, most dialogue in comics today is awful. I love comics, obviously, and if you could see, I have several bookshelves of graphic novels around me. But most comic book writers have no clue how to write dialogue for comics. Some just don’t know how to differentiate from cinema or television. Not only do you need to have the fluidity of dialogue, but also, you need to be able to deliver the same information in less space. Whereas time in cinema, is a lot more forgiving.
I think modern comics writers give the reader too much information, give absolutely nothing, or just write in really chunky dialogue that doesn’t give the impression people talk this way. You have to do it where it feels authentic and doesn’t feel like a stop and go.”
Much of Area 51: The Helix Project is about Kent accepting his identity as an alien along with the trauma of loss. What does identity mean to you in the comic?
“A part of it is that I was in a fluid transitional period of my life. I had no idea who I wanted to be anymore. Then that NYCC happened and it seemed like life was going to change until the Pandemic happened and life changed for everyone in the planet.
There was this beautiful confluence at the time. I was going to school for molecular genetics, then I moved into science fiction, integrating it as a tool using DNA and shapeshifting aliens. At the end of the day, this comic is a genre story but I wanted to share it in a way I thought anyone could be related to. At some point, everyone struggles to figure out who they want to be in the context of the world they relate in.
Like, I got into Superman as a young adult and it took me much later to appreciate that character. In this case, Superman’s story would be different if he didn’t look like that image American society was beholden to: this chiseled white dude with a golden smile.
“I wanted to make this character, Kent… vulnerable.”
There was a couple things I wanted to explore about myself. This story is about how you reconcile identity with loss. Memories and perceptions of people and how they change from what you remember, then as you get older, begin to question. Was this person how I remember them? Because they changed, does that undermine the memory of them?
In issues 5-6, there’s this part I always talk about regarding Kent having to face a ghost in his past. I was going though something where I had a family member whom I’d grown up with, who was kind of deteriorating in his old age. I had nothing but fond memories of him as a kid. I remember hearing about him later in life where he was just doing things that were representations of him losing his mind and becoming incontinent. I wanted to wrestle with that a little in the story because i was questioning myself with how to proceed forward.
Do I let this person, their aging brain, affect these fond memories of them? Or do I be stern and let them be who they are now and the repercussions of that… You kind of use art as a way to translate, relate, and process… “
What’s one thing you want readers to take away from Area 51: the helix project?
“That everything and everyone in this world is trying to tell you something about yourself and your understanding of the world. That in the end of the day, in order to feel satiated, you have to seek it out yourself. These things will not come to you. You have to look for it to get an organic understanding of the world.
I feel like people tend to accept their identity on a silver platter. In order to find yourself in the world today, you have to put in some effort… but that’s how you come out of these things with a stronger and firmer you. “
Finally, where can most people find you online? More importantly. How can they support the comic?
“Facebook and Instagram on Pocketwatch Press. Twitter at PWatchPress. If you want the prelaunch page of the Kickstarter is also up to notify you when it’ll go live. This campaign will have all the issues available for you and you will also have a bunch of opportunities to take part in things I’d never be able to offer: to get drawn into the book. You can be a producer of the series and be memorialized in the book with a credit. There’s also prints, and merchandise exclusive to Kickstarter backers.”