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By Kate O’Hare

Tuesday 1 April 2003, by Webmaster

Soon a sight will spark joy in the hearts of many "Angel" fans — and it’s not Buffy and Angel kissing.

OK, that would work, too, but the more imminent thrill is the return of Skip.

During the first season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in 1997, the appearance of David Boreanaz as the soulful vampire Angel caused a fan furor. Although current fans of his self-titled spinoff on The WB Network might scratch their heads at those early episodes and ask, "Who’s the skinny kid in the shiny suit?" the dark, broody bloodsucker was an instant sensation.

That phenomenon remained unequaled in the "Buffy" -verse until an "Angel" episode called "That Vision Thing" aired in October 2001. Angel descended into a demonic prison to free an inmate and confronted the demon Skip (David Denman), a towering edifice of iridescent plating, horns and spikes (and an inexplicable horse-hitching ring hanging from his chin).

"I’m Skip," he said, extending a horny hand and engaging Angel in a deadpan tête-à-tête before they squared off. Skip lost, but Angel made sure he was alive before leaving.

The Internet immediately lit up with praise for the affable hellspawn.

"People are insane for Skip," said then-executive producer David Greenwalt at the time. "Not since Angel appeared on ’Buffy’ have I seen people go wild for a character like this."

Skip returned for two more episodes last season: "Birthday" and the season-closer "Tomorrow," in which he functioned as a spirit guide for Angel cohort Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), whose psychic visions help the vampire’s crew fight evil in Los Angeles. In Skip’s last appearance, he offered Cordelia the chance to become a higher being, which she did.

On Wednesday, April 2, Skip returns to "Angel" in "Inside Out," an episode in which Angel seeks out Skip for answers about Cordelia’s recent evil behavior, her pregnancy and many other things.

"It’s probably the best episode so far," Denman says. "You find out what Skip’s all about and where he’s from."

Skip is the joint creation of Denman, special-effects-makeup artist Robert Hall of Almost Human (which also does makeup effects for "Buffy" and Greenwalt’s new show, ABC’s "Miracles") and writer Jeffrey Bell, who penned the first Skip scene.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, two-thirds of that trio settles down over Girl Scout cookies at Hall’s Culver City, Calif., creature shop — where decapitated heads on pikes line the entranceway — to discuss bringing Skip to life.

"Skipster is back!" says Denman, a tall, handsome guy who is fresh off the set of Tim Burton’s "Big Fish," in which he co-stars with Ewan McGregor.

"Jeff described Skip enough for us to get a cool feeling about what he could look like," Hall says, "but he wasn’t really restrictive. He was just, ’A demon steps out of the shadows. He’s the same color as the wall.’ We looked at it from the standpoint of, what hadn’t been seen before?"

"We wanted to make him kind of biomechanical and kind of organic."

Hall says he didn’t think Skip was anything special at first. "Some things you slave over for weeks and weeks, and we did this character in less than a week. We bashed it together. And he was originally named Bob."

"Skip was a tribute to one of the producers, Skip Schoolnik," Denman recalls. "The writing was great. Where else would you have a demon that’s not going to be a ..." he affects a booming voice, "demon guy! He could be a regular Joe."

"It was a series of cool, happy accidents," Hall says. "We went so totally extreme with the design, and David went so deadpan with the dialogue, and Jeff went so out there with the scene, that it all came together, accidentally."

Even on the "Angel" sets at the Paramount lot, the haunt of many "Star Trek" aliens, Skip causes a stir. "Everybody stays away from me," Denman says. "I hit people with the back spike when I’m turning around. Trying to go to the bathroom is really exciting. But the best is when you’re walking through the lot."

"It was raining on the set, and I was far away from the trailers, and somebody said, ’Just go into my office. It’s right around the corner.’ I walked in, and there was a board meeting. They went, ’Gasp!’ I said, ’I’m sorry. I was told to go to this office ... .’ It’s great."

Recently, Internet fans of "Buffy" and "Angel" threw their last party, where writers, cast and crew mingled with admirers in Hollywood and raised money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Hall brought along people costumed as several creatures from both shows, along with the actors (out of makeup) who played them. "Out of all the things we’ve done for those shows," Hall says, "more people want to take pictures with Skip than anyone."

At one point, the demons came up on stage. "They went down the line, every character, and it was, ’Yay, yay,’ and then it was Skip," Denman recalls.

"They roared," Hall remarks.

"It was wild," Denman says. "My wife was like, ’Oh, my God. You’ve got to be kidding me.’"

With "Buffy" ending this season (the fate of "Angel" remains undecided at press time), some of the fan speculation about spinoffs surrounds that show’s bleached-blond British vampire, Spike (James Marsters).

Hall suggests, "How about this, a buddy-cop movie with Skip and Spike? Whaddaya think, buddy cop? He’s the token demon."

"He’s the token demon!" echoes Denman with a laugh.

"It’s perfect," Hall says.