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Brett Matthews - "Serenity : Better Days" Comic Book - Ign.com Interview

Monday 10 March 2008, by Webmaster

Even if you’ve never watched an episode of the short-lived science fiction series Firefly, the glut of shirts bearing the slogan "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now" is ample proof of the show’s cult classic status. The series ran for a mere 11 episodes before being canceled. A few years later, creator Joss Whedon direct a theatrical follow-up called Serenity. It didn’t necessarily shatter the Star Wars series’ box office records, but it managed to dazzle Whedon’s many fans and attract more than a few new followers.

In 2005 Dark Horse released a tie-in mini-series called Serenity: Those Left Behind. Written by Whedon and Brett Matthews and illustrated by Will Conrad, the book was a bona fide hit for the publisher. The series was finally collected in a hardcover last year, and now Dark Horse is set to release the first issue of a new mini-series, Serenity: Better Days, by the same creative team next week. Sensing an opening, we tackled Matthews to find out everything we could about the prequel story. While he was reluctant to give out too many details, Matthews did clue us in on what to expect from the story as well as how the Firefly/Serenity fanbase has evolved over the years.

Warning – there are one or two fairly major spoilers for the movie Serenity in this interview.

IGN Comics: What appeals to you about Firefly and Serenity as a writer?

Brett Matthews: The characters, I think, are what most appeal to me as a writer. Beyond that, the many fans and just the world Joss has created. I love the merging of genres in the series. But Serenity always comes back to the characters and the ensemble nature of the show. Other things might get you in the door, but that characters are what keep you there.

IGN Comics: You worked as a writer on Firefly while it was on the air. How would you compare writing comics set in this universe as opposed to television episodes?

Matthews: They’re two different media, obviously. Even though they’re two entirely different forms of writing, the show is the book and the book is the show. That’s the great part about it. They really are very similar. Occasionally things are a little bigger in scope with the comic because we can do anything. We’ve tried to make the stories a little larger in that sense. At the same time, all the character interaction still spins out of the same place. When it comes to Firefly I think it’s actually a very fine line, and intentionally so. I think that’s what makes the books worth reading.

IGN Comics: Does that mean you look at both mini-series as being full-fledged, legitimate episodes of the show?

Matthews: I don’t know if episodes is quite the right word. But yeah, I do look at the comics as stories that happen within the Firefly universe. The show is the book is the movie. The comics are things that happen along the way. I certainly accept them as canon, at any rate. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it at all. [laughs]

IGN Comics: What’s the premise behind Serenity: Better Days?

Matthews: I’m not really a big "reveal the plot" type of guy since I like to think that’s why people buy the book. That said, the central premise behind this story is what happens when a job goes right for the Serenity crew. We’re all so used to things going wrong for these guys, so what if something went right, or what if something went wrong, but in their favor? You’d think that would be easier, but as we’ll see it brings its own set of complications. In some ways it’s even harder. This is sort of an interesting approach to the story, and it shows some different sides of the crew members we’re not used to seeing. We’ll be learning some new things about them in this story.

IGN Comics: I hesitate to use the word, but is there going to be an actual "villain" in this story like we saw in Those Left Behind, or is this more a case where the crew is their own worst enemy?

Matthews: I don’t think there are ever really villains on the show in the normal sense. So no, there won’t be one in this story. It’s more the situation they find themselves in. At the same time, there’s a lot going on around our guys, as always, and they’re certainly being pursued. Things are never simple, and actually a lot of things criss-cross and come together. It’s the situation they find themselves in and the sort of inner turmoil that brings. But there are guys chasing them, and it’s Serenity, so they’re always struggling to scrape by. It’s a little of all those things.

IGN Comics: Where does Better Days fit in chronologically with the other stories?

Matthews: Between the show and the movie. It takes place during the Firefly days for sure. It could be any one of the episodes that happened along the way, and it’s certainly taking place before the timeline of the movie. That also places it before the previous mini-series, Those Left Behind, since that led directly into the movie. That’s what it was meant to do.

IGN Comics: So that means the entire crew from the show is in the comic again?

Matthews: Yes, absolutely. That’s a big part of the reason why we do it this way, because we love those people. That’s one of the joys of writing the comic book – that Wash is still alive and Inara is still walking around the ship. I really enjoy playing with those guys again and bouncing them off each other. So, yes, the gang’s all there, as they say.

IGN Comics: Are there any characters you would say stand out in this story, or have you been trying to strike a balance between each one?

Matthews: You always try to give everybody their moment for sure. It’s tough, though. It’s a very large cast, and sometimes it’s difficult. That said, I think we did a pretty good job giving everybody a little bit of the spotlight. On the other hand, I think this comic is particularly interesting as a Mal, Zoey, and Wash story. It’s a little more of them and that particular dynamic than perhaps you get normally.

It’s all about finding that balance, and I’m never entirely satisfied. You love these people and you want to spend more and more time with them until, at some point, you realize you’ve gone off on all these tangents. You do get a nice piece of every character this time around, which is definitely something.

IGN Comics: Both Serenity books are only three issues long in a time when it seems like almost every comic mini-series is five or six issues at least. Do you find the three issues to be enough to tell the stories you want?

Matthews: I think so. That’s definitely a big credit to Joss. We’re not trying to stretch anything out; we’re just trying to tell a story. I think the comic stylistically is a pretty old school approach to comic storytelling. There’s a lot of character – character interaction and character moments – and a lot of dialogue. That’s all in keeping with the tone of the show. It’s a format we’ve found that works.

At the same time, that’s not to say we couldn’t be telling longer or bigger tales. We just don’t want to make them longer for the sake of making them longer. So far this approach has worked for us. We don’t want the story to be too drawn out or decompressed. You’re getting a pretty good, slid chunk of story with each issue. That’s important to us, and it works.

IGN Comics: I can’t remember when Dark Horse first made the announcement exactly, but it seems like Better Days has been in the pipeline for a while. Did you guys have any problems getting the project off the ground?

Matthews: Nope. The process of making comics is just what it is. It’s actually gone very smoothly. When Dark Horse first announced the series, as companies often do, I’m sure they were all very excited that we were doing another one. The first book was very successful for them. The whole project has gone very smoothly, though, and we’re almost done wrapping up the art on issue #3. It looks great, and it’s coming together really nicely.

When we make these comics we want them to be really, really good, so we put in the time and effort it takes to make them that way. We just hope the readers agree with us. That’s the process, and it tends to find its own pace. We’re in a position, too, where we want to ship the issues consecutively, and now we can do that.

IGN Comics: Speaking of the art, the first mini-series had three different variant covers for each issue, which seemed to go over really well with the readers. Are you planning anything like that this time?

Matthews: I don’t think so. Not to my knowledge at least. Adam Hughes is doing all the covers this time around. Every cover forms one central image when they’re all pieced together. It’s another nice feature that you don’t see on your run-of-the-mill cover because they do form a tableau. At the same time, we’re not blowing out with 9 different variants all over again. In general that’s an idea I think we would recoil from.

With the roster of talent Joss was able to put together for the first mini-series it became a different story. Normally I might cringe at the idea, but I think it actually came together very nicely. It gave every character their moment and they all fit together with the uniformity of the white background. The way the artists approached each character was spectacular.

But it’s nothing we wanted to do again this time just for the sake of doing it. You try to do what’s best for the story and express the vision of the series. That’s what we’ve tried to do, and this new cover looks very cool. It’s a little bit different, but different from last time as well.

IGN Comics: I’ve read before that Joss Whedon had Firefly planned out to a seventh season before it was canceled. Do you know if any of his ideas have trickled down into the comics so far?

Matthews: I think yes and no. Movie storytelling is somewhat different, and the arc of a television show is definitely different from a self-contained story. Joss certainly sees the big picture, but I don’t think he’s necessarily telling stories that would have been in the show as comics instead. He’s more interested in what works in terms of a good comic book story for these characters. I’m sure certain ideas do come through and cross over. How many years later is it now and people are still talking about the show and we’re still always thinking about it.

All these character interactions and developments would have happened along the way in one form or another. If Firefly had continued on I’m sure we would eventually have done the episode where everything goes right for the crew. Off the cuff that seems like absolutely the sort of thing that would have happened on the show.

IGN Comics: Especially with a story like this, do you find it difficult to work within the confines of the show and the movie? Do you ever feel limited in the kinds of stories you can tell when you already know what happened before with Firefly and what will happen after with Serenity?

Matthews: No, and usually that’s what bothers me with prequels. You always tend to feel, "Well, if I already know how it ends..." But the tragedy of Firefly was that it was just taken away. The future was lost and it just sort of died this sad, premature death. Part of the joy of the comics is being able to reclaim some of what was lost along the way and occupy that time period where there’s still a lot of room to play in.

There’s some space between the show and the movie, and no doubt there are more adventures and downright ****ty situations the crew ended up in that were never shown. Getting to explore those stories is what makes the comics really cool. It doesn’t prove to be a problem at all. It’s actually nice that these stories have a place and that they fit. Within that place I think we have a lot of room to do what we want to do.

IGN Comics: Dark Horse is about to release Better Days, and a few months ago there was a new special edition DVD of Serenity put out. Do you get the feeling that there may be a resurgence in popularity of the series?

Matthews: Well, that’s kind of the amazing thing about Firefly. I don’t know what the opposite word of resurgence is, but there’s just never been a lull. I don’t know how something resurges when it’s always been so damn alive and kicking. The fans of the show are fans in a profound sort of way that I’ve never experienced or seen. It’s been really great that way. If anyone mentions a resurgence I just ask them where they’ve been. Firefly has always been there, and it’s always had that whole other life. Better Days is just a part of that.