At 5:30pm this past Friday, I was gearing up for my final panel of my first day at New York Comic Con 2013 — my first ever pop culture convention, and an experience that by the end of day one had admittedly left me drained and sore-footed (my Wonder Woman Converse, while thematically perfect for the occasion, had begun to chafe by midday). Regardless, I dutifully limped to join my fellow geeks on the already considerably sized line to wait out the hour until the Whedonverse panel was to start. As a girl who hates waiting, and even more so waiting in lines that don’t move, Comic Con provided me with some serious culture shock (the following day, I proceeded to wait two and a half hours in line for two consecutive panels in the main auditorium, neither of which I managed to make it into) — so it should bear some weight when I say I would have stood (okay, sat) in line for this particular panel ten times over. It was that satisfying for me as a longtime fan of Joss Whedon in general, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show in particular, to not only see the faces of those at the forefront of the creative teams currently working to bring Whedon’s creations to life in the comic book format, but also to hear firsthand the number of juicy tidbits they dropped regarding the upcoming seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel & Faith (which, for those not in the know, takes place in the Buffy universe), and Serenity (the comic book spinoff of Whedon’s short-lived cult favorite Firefly and its motion picture sequel).
The announcement of an upcoming six issue Serenity miniseries kicked off the panel. The series will be called Leaves on the Wind, which of course conjures to mind a certain fan-favorite character from the movie and TV series; unfortunately, the title is most likely an homage rather than a presage of the character’s presence in the new storyline, as the miniseries begins after the events of Serenity the movie. Dark Horse Editor in Chief Scott Allie explained that he gave Joss the opportunity to opt into a full length Serenity series, but that Whedon declined, feeling that the miniseries format worked best with his vision — especially in light of the considerable creative resources the Dark Horse team was already expending with the current Whedonverse monthly series. Allie intimated that a full Serenity series might have stretched the team too far.
The transition of the entire creative team from Angel & Faith Season 9 to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 (and vice versa, as the Buffy creative team will be taking up the helm on Angel & Faith) was also announced. Allie explained that the Angel creative team voiced a major preference to stay together regardless of which story they were placed on — which goes to show the chemistry between those involved in Dark Horse’s various Whedonverse projects. (That camaraderie was on full display at the panel: in between turns speaking, the participants bantered amongst themselves, and at the question of a woman in full Kaylee regalia, Rebekka Isaacs piped up that she had just been remarking on the cosplayer’s resemblance to the television series’ Kaylee. I also later befriended an exhibitor pal of Jeanty’s who noted that, while the Dark Horse team members aren’t BFFs, they have certainly been known to hang out together.) However, that’s not to suggest the Dark Horse team didn’t grow attached to their respective projects as well: Jeanty half-jokingly remarked that Isaacs taking up the torch drawing for Buffy “kinda feels like someone else is going out with my girlfriend.” The covers for the first issues of the upcoming seasons of Buffy and Angel & Faith were revealed to the panel audience, along with a variant cover for each (which will interlock to reveal a larger scene). “We really extended ourselves to have a huge story with Season 9, and in some ways we’re doing something even bigger with Season 10,” Allie teased.
On the switch to drawing for Serenity, Georges Jeanty divulged that he had the most difficulty with what Joss Whedon has previously termed Firefly‘s “ninth character”: the ship Serenity itself. Jeanty revealed that while penciling the sketches, he works off of schematics of the ship from the television series — which, he noted half-jokingly to Allie, “is why I’m late some of the time.” Rebekah Isaacs, who drew Buffy Season 9, described moving from Buffy to Angel & Faith as like starting back at square one. “I feel like I learned to draw through this series [Buffy],” she explained. With Angel & Faith “I’m learning how to draw all of these new characters… And the tone is so different, too, just as the shows were different.” In fact, while Angel & Faith, like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television spinoff Angel, has always been a little darker than its Buffyverse counterpart, Allie disclosed that “we’re going in a[n even] slightly darker direction with Angel & Faith this year… There’s a little bit more of a noir darkness to it” — although, as he was sure to mention, it will still be infused with the signature Whedon sense of humor. It sounds like Dark Horse is gearing up for a season of Angel & Faith more in keeping with the tone of the television series — and with Zak Whedon’s involvement as writer of the upcoming Serenity miniseries (which Allie described as “the first time I felt like the show was really back”), it’s shaping up to be a good year for fans who crossed over to the comics from the television corner of the Whedonverse. Jane Espenson, who (along with Jeanty) worked on the Buffy TV show, has no current plans to write for Buffy Season 10, but she did reveal her presence (along with Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander on the show) at the recent summit meeting about the upcoming season. This mention of Espenson’s and Brendon’s presence, along with Joss Whedon’s surprise visit midway through that meeting (he “kinda helped tighten the screws at that point,” Allie explained), titillatingly highlighted the enduring strength of the relationship between the show and the comics — even as the last episode of Buffy aired over a decade ago.
The Q&A section of the panel included a number of delightful cosplay “cameos” — including one Drusilla, doll in hand, who voiced her question in a chillingly accurate rendition of the Cockney accent Juliet Landau adopted for the part on Buffy, as well as a silver-haired Spike, whose inquiry as to the character’s limited role in Buffy Season 9 prompted Allie to divulge that “we didn’t have a great plan for spike in Season 9” (which was why the vampire with a soul got his own miniseries to flesh out his storyline). To the delight of fangirls in the crowd, Allie reticently offered this tidbit on Spike’s larger role in Buffy Season 10: “Dare I say, we’re gonna make Spike fans kinda happy.” I may have screamed. Loudly.
“…You gotta fall in love with moments, not movies.”
Of course, as a die-hard Whedon fan and a writer myself, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from the best — who had learned from the King of Geeks himself — and stood up to inquire as to the most valuable storytelling tips the team had gleaned while working on Whedon comics and, where applicable, with Joss Whedon himself. Unfortunately Espenson had to excuse herself just before my question, but Jeanty waxed poetic (and you can bet this fangirl was ready to burst out of her skin in excitement — in between scrawling down as many verbatim tidbits as I could physically record): “The guy would enlighten you in a weird way when you don’t expect it,” he reminisced on working with Joss on the TV series. He recalled a particular instance where Whedon divulged to him, “I don’t know what I’m trying to say.” This resonated with Jeanty, who realized that all of Joss’s storytelling hinges on morality, and in that moment “he [Joss] was trying to figure out what that morality play was in the script we were doing.” He summarized Joss’s storytelling approach in two parts: figuring out the desired scenes, and then locating the morality play behind them. This because, as Allie recalled the genius once remarking to him, “You know, you gotta fall in love with moments, not movies.” In other words, whether or not a story works depends not on the narrative twists themselves, but on whether the emotional weight of that twist for the characters comes through.
It’s safe to say the Dark Horse team has a handle on Whedonesque storytelling, and fans have much to look forward to from Dark Horse over the next year. Allie concluded the panel by reading a short note from absent Angel & Faith Season 9 and Buffy Season 10 writer Christos Gage, who vowed, “I take the responsibility [of writing these characters] very seriously… I promise I’ll bust my ass to give you the stories you deserve.” Oh, and “if anyone asks — I’m going to write Spike differently than I did in Angel & Faith.” The panel couldn’t have been more satisfying unless Whedon himself showed up. Which, sadly, he didn’t, but there’s always hope for next time.