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Serenity : The Shepherd’s TaleZack Whedon - "Serenity : The Shepherd’s Tale" Comic Book - Portlandmercury.com Interview
Wednesday 1 December 2010, by Webmaster
Maybe you read my book piece about the Zack Whedon meet and greet, Firefly screening with Q&A tonight. No? Here. Are you as excited as I am?
Hosted by a whole cadre of nerds (Things from Another World, Dark Horse Comics, Bridge City Comics, Excalibur Comics, and the PDX Browncoats), tonight they’re screening the last episode of Firefly, "Objects in Space," for free at the Hollywood Theatre (free, as in bring a can/box of food for the Oregon Food Bank). Afterward there’ll be a Q&A with Zack Whedon and Chris Samnee, who are celebrating the release of their new entry into Browncoat universe, the comic book Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale all about the mysterious Shepherd Book. (Can’t make it? Ask questions via Skype.) Join Whedon and Samnee across the street at Things from Another World for a bit of drinking, mingling, and book signing.
Screening: 6:30 pm, Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy
Signing: 8:30 pm, Things from Another World, 4133 NE Sandy
See ya there!
BONUS: Hit the jump for the complete Zack Whedon interview, where we delve into Terminator comic books!
UPDATE: Check out Cort and Fatboy’s uber-show with Mr. Whedon.
MERCURY: I heard you’re crazy busy right now.
ZACK WHEDON: Yeah, I’m sort of all over the place. I’m in New York right now. I’m going to Los Angeles tomorrow for 24 hours, and then I’m coming back to New York. Then I’m going to Portland, so it’s a little bit crazy.
You’ve done a great job of taking beloved characters, like from Terminator and Firefly, and giving them further lives in comic book form. Do you feel comfortable working with characters that weren’t originally yours?
It’s very exciting. It’s a challenge, you know, and you don’t want to screw it up because people know all these characters already. It’s a little bit intimidating in that regard, I guess. But working in television, you sort of need that skill to write in other people’s voices, so it’s something that I’ve had practice at, working on shows that were created by people other than me and characters that were dreamed up by people other than me. As intimidating and challenging as it is, it’s also a lot of fun. Being a fan of these different universes, it’s a joy to create something for that world.
Has there been any special pressure because you’re working with your brother’s characters?
There’s been pressure, but it’s all been self-inflicted. Being close to him, I’m especially careful with those characters. I don’t want to steer them in the wrong direction or anything like that. He cares deeply about all of them, and I wanted to treat it with the same care he does. I think I did that, and he’s been happy with the Serenity comics that I’ve done. So it’s gone well.
What was the backstory with The Shepherd’s Tale? How come that took so long to come out?
I don’t really know. I guess Joss dreamed it up several years ago and [Dark Horse] just never hired a writer to do it. As far as I know, they were looking for someone because Joss didn’t have time to do it himself. About a year ago now, Joss asked me if I’d like to do it and I agreed. Because of my other work, I did it a little bit at a time over the course of six months, or seven months. It was a really slow process. Before I even got involved there had been years of stalling on it and then when I did get involved I was doing the Terminator comics and I was writing for Rubicon. I could only work on it five or six pages at a time, so it took me a long time to get it done. It all worked out—it’s finally out and I’m very happy with it.
Did you feel constrained by the shortness of the book? It’s always a challenge in comic books because you have to work in the space allotted. So you have to make really tough decisions about losing stuff and editing yourself down. [The Shepherd’s Tale] does move very quickly. I think you could have told that same story over many more pages, but the story would’ve been the same, except we would’ve spent more time in each of the vignettes. For me, one of the joys of comics is when you read through the Shepherd comic book you can tear through it really quickly, but if you go back you can take your time with it. The art is so beautiful. And because I had to make really tough decisions about what I kept and what I lost, I really feel like every panel feels essential so you can really take your time with it and get immersed in it.
You wrote in the afterword that Joss gave you an outline to work from—how detailed was that? [MILD SPOILERS AHEAD]
He described the events that took place. It was pretty detailed in terms of “Then we cut back to Book and now he’s an Alliance officer and he has some big thing that goes terribly wrong.” So the major events were all in there, but how they worked I had to flesh out myself. It’s a tough question to answer. I guess, it was somewhat detailed… I don’t know [laughs]. Maybe I could show it to the world at some point. It was something that he dictated years ago and forwarded to me and I just went from there, basically.
I interviewed you way back in 2008 about Dr. Horrible and the web comic you wrote about Captain Hammer. I think it was your first foray in to comic book writing. How have things changed since then?
Yeah, that was the first comic I ever wrote. I’m still learning a lot every time I do it. Learning about the pitfalls of the medium and what not to do and what works and what doesn’t. It’s been a lot of fun. With the Terminator stuff I got to tell a story over a longer period of time, and that taught me a lot. That’s a totally different discipline than writing something that is contained in eight pages. So it’s been great. I feel like I’m slowly taking on larger things. I hope to do a lot more of it in the future.
Are you going to write for the Buffy comics?
I don’t think I am going to write for Buffy. I love Buffy with all my heart, but I’m hoping I’ll be too busy to, that I’ll be working on some original stuff of my own. I hope to be occupied by that. You were talking about how I’ve been writing other people’s characters a lot and that’s true. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m anxious to try doing something of my own and stretch.
What are you working on?
It’s so in the very preliminary stages. I’ve just sent off a messy rough idea to the editor at Dark Horse I work with, talking about the story that I want to do. It’s so early that I don’t want to talk about it. I’m very excited to do that. I’m hoping that it will take up a lot of time.
I love your original character, Ben, in the Terminator books.
I’m really happy with how Ben turned out. It was a lot of fun being able to create someone for the Terminator comics. There’s a lot more freedom when you can create someone’s voice. I love that character. I’m satisfied with how he ends up after the last issue of Terminator: 1984, which comes out very soon [November 24]. I think that he’s a guy who because of the horrific nature of his life is perpetually looking forward, because to look back is too painful. That sort of defines him—he’s always forward moving and an optimist. He doesn’t dwell on the tragedies of his life. I think that holds through the books. He ends up in a really nice place.
He’s got a great knack for pointing out the weird little things about the Terminator story, like John Connor giving Kyle Reese his mother’s photo. Creepy.
In starting to write that first one, I was trying to figure out where in the timeline it was and if Kyle had received that already. If we were going to see him receive it? What does that tell us? With time travel, everything gets really complicated really fast. I decided to address it that way with, with him reacting somewhat on the outside it to it as someone would, which is to think that it’s very strange. I’m particularly proud of that moment. As a Terminator fan, in Terminator 2 I was always wondering why Cyberdyne only had the arm and the chip, when the whole thing was in the factory at the end of the first movie. So I know that’s a tiny, goofy, little nit-picky thing to think about, but I had the opportunity to address that so I did, which was fun.
In both The Shepherd’s Tale and your Terminator books, there’s such a nice resonance of the original works while giving readers new, interesting details. What was your philosophy about echoing the original stories?
Shepherd’s Tale: Joss did the outline, so in terms of story he covered a lot of that. I definitely wanted the tone to be right and everything, for it to feel a part of that universe. There’s that moment on the ship that’s sort of like an episode of Firefly, but getting deep into Book’s past it feels like a departure from the show, a little bit, but still a part of that universe. With Terminator, I did a lot of thinking about what has gone wrong with Terminator. I think the latter movies have… I don’t know… haven’t been as good… didn’t live up to those first two. I was trying to think about why. So that factored into how I told the story, certainly in the second three issues of 1984. I wanted those to feel like the first two movies, and I think that it does. In 1984, I also wanted to get some of… both of those first two movies are quintessentially Los Angeles movies and I wanted to incorporate those visuals, which [artist] Andy Macdonald did very well. I was really happy with how that turned out. I think one of the reasons that the fourth Terminator movie doesn’t work as well as the other ones is because, essentially, the structure of those first movies is the same—one person is sent to attack and one person sent to protect. And go! That’s it. I’m not saying that every movie sequel has to be the same as the original, but the fourth movie was such a departure that I don’t think it really felt like a Terminator movie. It was a little convoluted. That was something I realized midway through writing the Terminator series, because when there are many, many Terminators, they become less scary. The thing that’s terrifying about a Terminator is that you can’t kill it, it never ever stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. So you have to sort of know that Terminator, to be able to identify it and to fear it. So when there’s just a sea of them, it takes away that horror element.
It implies you need more than one to kill people.
Exactly. With 1984 I tried to get back to the one machine that won’t stop sort of construction.
Are there plans for any more Terminator books?
No, there aren’t, but there’s room for more. It’s kind of open-ended, so… there could be more.
So what’s the plan for the Portland event. I hear there will be a Q&A after the Firefly episode, then a meet and greet at the comic book shop.
We’ll taking questions from the audience and via Skype. Then we’re going to go across the street for a signing, and drinking and hanging out.