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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon - "Buffy Season 8" Comic Book - Issue 12 - Forum.newsarama.com Interview

Thursday 6 March 2008, by Webmaster

Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit #12 this week. You might’ve heard.

Spoiler warnings ahead for Buffy the Vampire Slayer #12.

In the issue, Buffy, after suffering from pangs of guilt (anyone she loves is hurt) and loneliness, Buffy has sex with Satsu, one of the new Slayers who’d admitted previously that she is in love with her (in issue #3, it was Satsu’s kiss that awoke Buffy from a “Sleeping Beauty” spell – a kiss of true love).

That element of issue’s storyline (more in a minute) has been a sensation from places as far and wide as The New Your Times, ABC News and MTV.

So what’s it all about and why did it happen?

We sat down for a one on one with Joss Whedon to talk about the scene, the relationship, and the larger series.

Newsarama: To start with, before we get into the specifics of issue #12, let’s talk about some of the generalities of the Buffy itself. Media tie-in comics have a tough time in the market these days, and here you are a year in with Buffy, still with a full head of steam. Did you think that it would be this way when you opted to bring Buffy to comics? Every issue hovers in the Top Ten for its release month, the collections are seeing very good numbers, and fans are digging it…

Joss Whedon: I always go in with that intention, so it doesn’t necessarily surprise me to have it happen. But yeah – it’s been a little bit bigger than I expected it was going to be, and I’m just thrilled. Thrilled for Dark Horse, because they’ve been behind it for a long while, and I’m thrilled for the business that somebody’s getting into the Top Ten bedsides the two titans. That doesn’t happen a lot. And we’ve also got a lot of people who’ve never read comic books are suddenly interested. That makes me extremely happy.

NRAMA: Just to clarify the comic book series versus the television series – does the series’ storyline, up to an including the events of issue #12, map to a bigger storyline that you’d originally envisioned had you chosen to stay on their air?

JW: Nope – there’s no connection. And remember, we weren’t cancelled. I ended the show because I was very, very sleepy. Sarah and I both said, “Look – our ideal is five, we may be called upon to go seven, but we are not going to peter out.” We were all grinding our gears, trying to do our best work, but it’s hard, and we knew it was time to end. We did talk about spin-offs – there was talk of a Faith spin-off, but we didn’t have Eliza, and it would’ve been really weird if Faith herself had never been on camera. So that I actively pursued, regardless. There was talk about a “Slayer School,” because we had new Slayers and stuff, but nothing really got off the ground. Ultimately, it was all just idle chatter.

So this – the comic series - came years later, and Dark Horse said they’d like to do post Season 7 stories, and I sort of went, “Gosh…those guys? It’s been a while, I wonder if I still remember how they….I can’t stop them from talking!” And so, it does follow from what came before, and has the right to call itself Season 8, but it’s totally not based on a Season 8 that we had planned out or anything like that.

NRAMA: So doing the comic book series was basically going back as “fresh” as you could possibly be to the characters?

JW: It was. The joy of that was that I had forgotten how much fun it was to write for these people, and it’s thanks to Georges that it is “these people” that I’m writing for. At the same time, it was “Year One” again. Because it’s a new medium, we were finding our footing. What do people really need from this story, this Season? Big action, romance, the likenesses? What was it that was really going to make it pop for the readers?

I look at the first trade and think it’s a swell yarn, and I knew where I was going and what is coming in the rest of the season, but I feel that there’s emotional depth that we really haven’t started to reach yet. Now, as we’re getting into the second year of the series, I feel that we’re really starting to dig and find those depths that we just dented in our “pilot.” We’re no longer just scratching the surface. It’s even more fun now.

NRAMA: In that regard – comparing the television season to the “season” you’re doing in comics, it sounds like its structured in a similar manner in that with the tv seasons, you took some time to introduce viewers to that year’s status quo, and then, after a good chunk of episodes, the momentum would start to build and the real threat started to come through and viewers could start to see the pieces being moved around to where they needed to be for the coming showdown…is that somewhat analogous to where you are now with Season Eight?

JW: Well, Season Eight will run 40 issues, but yeah – you pegged it pretty well, because it’s issue #21 when things start to reveal themselves and the tide really starts turning. We do a lot of set up and a lot of exploring and we’re having a lot of fun, and then, with issue #21, things will change. And they change in a manner that I think will surprise people, and then they’ll say, “Oh, of course.” And then, yeah – things start gaining momentum, and the slide begins. It all builds like a season though – here’s the ending, here’s the big moments, and let’s play. It’s like executive producing a tv show.

NRAMA: Let’s talk about how the characters are being handled in the comics compared to how you handled them in the television show. It might just be my wonky perception, but it seems that the steps that you and the writers are taking with them in the comics are bigger than the amount of development we’d see with them in a television season. Is there a difference in the development of the characters?

JW: Things do move at a different speed in a comic than on television – they’re both slower and faster. Obviously, the comic is monthly, not weekly, and as someone has pointed out, four issues of a comic – an arc, is almost like an episode of the series. At the same time, you can also make leaps. Every season started three months after the end of the last season. First, it was due to school and the school year being an arc, but now we’re in the world of comics, so we can’t tie events in the storyline to the calendar year as we could when we’d start the television season near September with the school year starting. Honestly, we can’t say it’s winter in a story, because you’re just not sure of when the story will be published – your artist could hit a glitch, something could go wrong with the script…that kind of strict, temporal identification we used to have is gone.

You can also take bigger leaps in comics – let’s check in with these guys after this big event has happened, for instance. Issue #12 is a good example of that. It’s not a huge event in my mind, but at the same time, rather than spending every minute getting a specific point, you can just kind of drop in and do the “and here’s where we are now. Questions? Comments?”

In the comic, you throw in bits of information and bits about people – where they are and how they’re changing…you leave holes. You have to, because if you try to explain everyone all the time like you can in a tv show, you can’t do it unless you had a weekly book, and I’m not interested in doing a weekly book that much.

NRAMA: So the differences seen in character development are likely due to the differences in the medium as much as anything else?

JW: Right. Probably.

NRAMA: Going back to your comment about the season being 40 issues long, given the difference in media, has everything pretty much stayed as it was in your original grand plan for Season Eight, or, given that you’re in comics and fully in charge, you shifted and added, since you don’t have a whole television production and episodes in various stages of production at any given time?

JW: Well, we are producing everything all at once. I was writing issue #17 while Drew was writing issue #13, for instance. You hop about. You’re always hopping about. I’m working with the people who are going to be doing the next arc after mine, which is after Drew’s, because I’ve got different artists, which will allow Georges to leap frog over an arc and get started on another arc. So, it does have that feel that’s similar to showruning. Everything is going on all the time, and you just have to make sure that everything that happens informs what happens after, and it does so after it and not before, because it can get very confusing otherwise.

NRAMA: Speaking of working with different writers and that process…when the season was originally announced, it was compared to essentially, how the show was produced. Has that stayed consistent through the first year? The writers take their cues from you and work in concert?

JW: It’s similar to the way it was, but I’m trying to allow more for the writers to bring their obsessions and what joneses them about the series, and give them a chance to comment on it. I’ve got guys doing full arcs; I’ve got a run coming up where each issue is done by an individual writer with standalone issues that are all part of a greater arc, looking at it from five different viewpoints.

So there’s a little more leeway for them, but I’m still reading every script, going over every story. Drew and I broke down his story pretty much together, for instance, and his scripts are amazing, which makes my life easier. And I’m trading e-mails with the people who are coming after. Literally, in one of these arcs, we have a “world” situation…who do you want to write about? That’s sort of how I’ve approached it – as long as they keep the arc on track, or I can come in and keep it on track in between, then I’m happy. It boils down to me asking the writers what gives them a happy, because Georges can draw it. It’s different for everybody, and that keeps things fresh, and at the end of the day, it’s my job to make sure it’s fresh, but not incoherent.

For the one where we are doing five different writers, Georges is drawing them all, and we’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t feel like “Tales of the Slayers.” That story has to have a dramatic drive and a coherence that will, like in the series, increase as it gets closer to the end.

NRAMA: Speaking of the art for a second – I’ve followed Georges since his earliest work, but with Buffy, it seems like he’s…found himself again, or refined his style in a way no one was expecting…

JW: That’s an absolute truth. I was talking to Scott [Allie, editor] for a long, long while about who we could get on the book, and I was reading American Way, and I realized that was exactly the look I was looking for. And when we asked, Georges said that he really wanted to do a licensed book with likenesses. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. The important thing to me was to get somebody who could approximate faces, but get a comic book artist. Get somebody who draws a dynamic panel so it doesn’t feel like an adaptation. I feel like we’re seeing some of his tightest work ever, so the comic book guy in me is happy every day, and the Buffy fan in me is happy every day. Originally, I thought I was going to have to settle on one or ther other, but as soon as he started, Scott and I looked at each other and said, “Must. Make. Him. Stay.”

That’s why I kidnapped his family.

NRAMA: Let’s move on to the arc that Drew started in this week’s #12. Originally, when you picked him to write an arc, he was Drew Goddard not “Cloverfield’s Drew Goddard…

JW: [laughs] That’s right.

NRAMA: But before Cloverfield, he was a Buffy writer on the series…

JW: Right – he was on both Buffy and Angel - the last years of both. He’s one of the best writers I’ve ever met, and he’s one of my best friends. So…not a lot of searching. Pretty much turned to my left and said, “Who?...Oh – this guy!” And of course, he’s incredibly busy, but even for those of us who are incredibility busy, Buffy is sometimes a little safety value – someplace where you can let your id play and then you can go back to your real job. That’s not to say that we don’t try our best, it’s just that it can actually be relaxing. It’s tough, but it’s relaxing.

And Drew – it’s like Georges. No explanation really needed. He’s a go-to guy.

NRAMA: With this story, there’s a large character step for Buffy here in that she takes another Slayer as a lover. Was that your plan originally, or something Drew included in his story?

JW: What it was is that I had introduced the character and the dynamic that one of the Slayers was in love with Buffy, and we went to the place that we often will of - it would be fun to see her dancing around it a little bit: “I am pretty lonely, she is pretty hot, and she really likes me. I trust her, we’re all out here, I’m an open-minded gal…and did I mention that she really likes me?”

We thought we could have a little fun playing with her thinking about that, and Drew took the point of view that it plays a lot better if is just happens.

NRAMA: And any thinking about it has to come after the fact…

JW: Right. Rather than just being coy about it, and the whole “will they/won’t they?” Just have it happen, and then have them be coy about it. Awkwardly, nakedly, coy. Have all the silly fun of the French farce where everyone runs into the room, and then have the genuine emotion of “Did I use this person? Did I manipulate this person?” And they’re both thinking that. They’re both wondering if they’re going to get hurt or if they’re going to hurt the other person, and whether or not they should have done it. Not due to any moral reason or anything. It’s not a huge life change for Buffy. She’s not gay. Sexuality is a spectrum. Many of us have experimented in our youth – that’s what youths are for.

So we knew it wasn’t going to be a giant character shift – it was just going to be nice fodder for Buffy to be going through something besides felling lonely and disconnected and having the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was nice for something nice to happen to her, and then for her to get kind of awkward about it.

Yeah – we liked the arena, and it was Drew who pushed for it just to happen. And I liked to not have to go “In the next issue…the kiss which proves she’s heterosexual!” like they do on tv. I like that it all just happened.

NRAMA: Which meant that there was not much build up to it in the issue or even in the series…

JW: Not really. When we decided that it was going to happen, and that there was going to be a standalone issue before it, I instantly went in and wrote the standalone story to tee everyone up so it wouldn’t be completely out of character. Anyone who read issue #11 would go, “Oh yeah – this could actually have happened,” not “Wow – these guys must be desperate….or desperately lonely.”

NRAMA: Speaking of that standalone issue and the purpose it served, do you feel almost a…responsibility for these types of moments, that you have to have a hand in them?

JW: Yeah – as I said, it’s my job to make it coherent, and to facilitate whatever people have planned, within the confines of whatever it is that I have planned. In this situation, it is my responsibility to fill in the cracks and make sure it all flows. I encourage people to go off on side tracks. But for #11, it just fell out that we had the extra issue in the line up, and started wondering if we needed one issue after the story, or one before Drew’s arc. Both the dictates of the artists’ schedule and the publishing ended up that it had to come before so it was a situation where I sat down with Drew and asked him what he needed. I knew what I planned to do, but we could work it out together so the one flowed into the other.

And that’s part of the fun. I like doing that. When an episode would come up short, and we needed new scenes to fit it in, I’d love to get in there and get something working as it goes – it was like white water rafting.

NRAMA: Also with this arc, you’re expanding the world with other characters and sects of vampires that Buffy and the Slayers get to deal with. When it comes to expanding the mythology of the Buffyverse – is that being made up as you go along or are you pulling, again, form a larger grand vision? I think fans always want to think that creators have notebook after notebook of plans and species and organization of the fictional universes in which they work, but that’s not always the case….

JW: [laughs] That would be referencing writers with a work ethic. I believe very firmly that if you know where you’re going emotionally, everything else is up for grabs. I also believe that the best thing that you can do, and I’ve been doing it a lot with the comic book, is to open a door and then not go into the room. Don’t even know what’s in the room. You need the process to tell you. People are responding to this and not that. This character really popped. This writer had a great idea.

For example, in episode 10, I wrote about Willow’s mystical walkabout, and we saw a little glimpse of something that looked very intense. Where’s Willow been? Clearly she was doing something very funky.

NRAMA: So where was she?

JW: I can’t tell you exactly, partially because I don’t want to give it away, and partially because I didn’t map it all out. I opened the door and I know what I wanted form it in terms of what she brings back with her, and how we can use it, but here’s a door and it will be a wonderful story…later. Even creating the term “thricewise” and putting that out there…I have no idea what that is, but I liked the word. And I like that things are expanding – the underground kingdom of issue #5, for example.

But I firmly believe it’s wonderful and necessary to throw out little references to extraordinary things or creatures that you haven’t quote figured out yet. They’ll come when you need them. Besides – if you absolutely figure out everything, what’s the writer get to do, and where’s the fun, really. It feels ossified. Again, this applies only to things of circumstance – places and creatures and things like that. It doesn’t apply to the characters and their emotional arcs and the meaning of things.

I dislike shows that are all “what’s the next plot twist? what’s the next plot twist? what’s the next plot twist? what’s the next plot twist?” So I’m very pedantic about mapping out what the characters are going through, but…expanding the world, I’m doing it with some irresponsibility now, and coming back later.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up, let’s pull back to look at the big picture again. Production-wise, are the rest of the Season’s writers locked in at this point?

JW: Pretty much. I have one segment that is not yet assigned, but apart from that, there’s Drew, then comes me, then five different writers on that one arc, the unassigned arc, and then we’re into the last ten, and that will be by Brad Meltzer (on the first arc) and then me (on the last arc).

NRAMA: And the five standalone writers?

JW: At this point, it looks like it will be Jane Espenson, Drew Greenburg, Doug Petrie, Steve DeKnight, and Jim Krueger. Four Buffy writers, and a great comic book writer.

NRAMA: The obvious last question – this is Season Eight, so there’s a Season Nine in the offing as well ?

JW: Oh yeah – I’m totally up for Season Nine. It’s very different from Season Eight, and it’s loads of fun. I’m itching to get to it…there’s so much cool stuff in it, which, unlike with a tv show, Season Nine will be years from now. So yes, there is a Season Nine. Unless of course sales plummet, in which case, there’s a one shot.

NRAMA: Clearly, Buffy’s had this boomerang effect with you over the span of your professional career. Do you see it as something that you’ll ever be able to quit or write the final sentence?

JW: Apparently not. I’m interested in all the exciting new things that are happening, but there she is, at my side. And I’m pretty okay with that.

I created her 20 years ago when I first got out of college. It took me a long time to write the screenplay, and then, obviously, a long time to see the screenplay turn into a movie, and then a longer time for a movie to turn into a series. It’s been with me all the time. I like her. I like her world, and I’m not tired of it. I’m always going to be excited about my new stuff, and always will be, but she’s an old friend. I don’t have a lot of those.

NRAMA: It’s something that goes back to what you were saying…Buffy is easy to write in a way – it’s going home again?

JW: Absolutely. More than I realized when I started.