Though he's gearing up for big screen glory with a certain Avenging superteam, Joss Whedon is nearing the goal line of the comic book project closest to his heart: Dark Horse's canonical "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8." After a series of twists and turns that have stretched over the past three years, the series has reached its final arc.
To help prepare fans for the hit series' impending finale, CBR is back with an all-new installment of BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8 - a monthly column featuring interviews with the creators and staff behind the creation of Buffy's last two stories highlighting the questions being answered, the characters thrown into crisis, and the future of the entire Buffy franchise. This week, "Buffy" artist Georges Jeanty stops by for the first time to dig into issue #38 – part three of the "Last Gleaming" arc – from the final fate of Xander and Dawn to his theories on monster drawing and making the comic work as the TV show does! Read on for his in depth thoughts!
CBR News: Before we dig into the specifics of the issue, I wanted to talk a bit to you about the whole "Buffy" journey. Did it feel like this project grew to a bigger thing than you'd expected?
Georges Jeanty: Oh yeah. When I started this initially, I thought it was going to be about four or five issues, and that would be the end of it. Then I thought it was going to be 12 issues and then 20 issues. So this project has been growing more and more as I've been doing it. I could have never imagined 40 issue had you told me that at the beginning of this.
There have been a lot of new pieces of the mythology from monster stuff to the cast changes that have carried through the whole run. How tapped in were you to the bigger mysteries like the reveal of Twilight? Were you working in a vacuum on some of this stuff?
[Laughs] There was a little bit of a sense of working in a vacuum, but I do think that's what's great about working with Joss – he's so giving. Even working on something that is so much his own, talking to a lot of the writers I know he's so giving to them as to creating what they want to do and lending their history to this mythology. Most of the writers he's worked with who had worked on the show as well, but the two in particular that come to mind are Brad Meltzer and Brian K. Vaughan who weren't on the show and were essentially Buffy fans who got the opportunity to write arcs. Joss gave them some very important plots to do, and essentially they came up with a lot of it. They pitched to Joss, and if he thought it was cool, he said, "Yeah. Do it." So I think it's very open of Joss to give his mythology to everybody and not just say, "This is my syllabus. You have to stick to it."
The one thing he did have up front was that Twilight is Angel, and yeah...that was tough. Imagine having to keep a secret for four years. [Laughs] That was at the very beginning, and we had to go, "This is something that won't pay off until 2010, and here we are sitting in 2006." With everything else, there was a general overview, but once the writer came on, he was free to roam as he please. I know Drew Goddard is a huge Godzilla fan, so he got to do the arc where Dawn is still a giant in Japan and, of course, has to go up against Mecha-Dawn. That was something he introduced, so it was whatever they wanted to do to make themselves more comfortable with the writing assignment. I don't know who else besides Joss would do that.
There's been a real consistency not just in terms of the cartooning of your art but also in the pacing and visual layouts on the page. Has that been something you've worked with Scott to keep in check as you've gone from writer to writer?
Well, as much as people probably don't believe it, even when Joss isn't writing the story it does say on there that he's Executive Producing. And all of the scripts I've gotten have either been a third or a second draft that have had to go through Joss. He'll take the draft and read it and give notes back and forth. So I think the tone of "Buffy" throughout all of these Season 8 issues has really been with Joss, and he's been there to keep that integrity. And I think really with any book that you see in comics, if you've got a familiarity there – which may be the writer or the artists – I think people tend to feel more comfortable with it. It does have what you said – that normalcy, that thing where you can see it every month and be sort of drawn to it because it's the same as it was last month. Joss was really big on having a main artist on the book because he did want that familiarity month after month. Obviously, it wasn't every month, but more often than not, I got to do the issues. Essentially, you learn what you should and shouldn't do, so even when you do get a new writer you understand what the pacing or the "look" of the book should be. And I can't take any of the credit for being the continuing artist because I really thought I'd only be on for four issues. They were really adamant about saying, "We want a defined look for this book, and we think having one artist for it will help that."
Getting into the issue itself, we've got the reintroduction of Angel's monster/baby universe here, which Scott noted last week you had to draw back in BKV's arc on the book. Tell me about the creation of this character in terms of the specific myths Joss and the writers drew on for you to design.
That – I'm not sure of the exact name, but I believe it is either a griffen or a gyphon. It's a lion with the wings of a bird, and that from way back in Vaughan's arc was already mapped out. I think it was Joss who wanted it as an insert knowing he would come back to it eventually. He addressed that to Brian who just said, "This is what Joss wanted, so I'll put that in there. And it'll pay off at some point." Obviously, it's never shown up in any of the "Angel" series or the "Buffy" series, so I don't know how long Joss has had it in his head or if he just created it for Season 8, but a lot of people have speculated – if you watch the show, there are these entities called "The Powers That Be" – and some speculate that this lion is a new personification of that.
There are certain things artists love to draw and some artists hate to draw. A lion or mythological creatures...is that something that fits into your wheelhouse?
I'm like an actor. When an actor goes into a job, they say "We need somebody shorter" or "We need somebody taller" or "We need somebody fatter." And an actor will say, "I can do that! I can play taller or fatter or whatever!" I'm the type of artist who says, "Whatever you need is my challenge to do because I'm an artist." But in terms of preferences, I must admit that we came to an issue where Jane Espenson came on, and there was a lot of military stuff, and I just don't think I'm very good at guns and soldiers and tanks. There was a little trepidation on my part in doing those issues, but I don't think there'd ever be a time where I'd go, "No! I'm not doing it!" But it probably did take me longer for those issues because I wasn't as comfortable drawing what I'd do normally.
I tend to do feel more comfortable with the cityscapes and the basic character pieces. A lot of what I've done in this book is to try and pace and set the scenes of the characters when there's nothing going on. Like with page two here, if there's a fight then that's an easy thing to stage. You can dialogue around it. But hypothetically when you put two characters together in a room talking about whatever drama Buffy normally talks about, that's a little harder because you have to make it interesting.
Looking at page six, we've got some hoards of monsters attacking the kids. Scott Allie and I have talked about how it seems you've grown into loving doing some of the monster work in this book.
No, actually. [Laughs] I don't mind doing it, but I've never felt my strength to be with monsters. A lot of what you see if me looking through other books of artists I appreciate and feel can draw monsters a whole lot better than I, and I'll take what they have done and tweak it here and there. I'm a big fan of form following function, so depending on what that monster or scene needs to do, I'll probably design a monster around it. If it needs to be more of a biped, I'll start with two legs, or if it's just a monster in the background that needs to be big and menacing, it might be more gelatinous in its mass. I draw for what the scene offers instead of "I love this cool monster and that cool monster." That's probably another thing that took me a while to do. This story had SO many monsters in it that I didn't shy away from it, but it did take them a while to get them all down.
The other thing about this page in particular is that it's the start of the Xander and Dawn thread for the issue that seems to be important in this last arc. In "Buffy," people focus on the character work. It must be harder to keep not just these guys on model but also convey all that emotion, which has typically been carried by actors doing their thing.
It's funny. I'm finishing up the last issue right now, and I'm just starting to feel like "Damn, I'm kind of getting good at these faces." [Laughter] That has been an arduous process. It's been a labor of love, don't get me wrong, but I usually tell people that whenever I do a "Buffy" page as opposed to a superhero page, it probably takes me about 20% more time to do because of the faces. These are people who actually exist. And the people who are reading the book may not be artists, but God knows everyone is a critic. They'll know when a character doesn't look like someone or if you're way off the mark on something. So I have labored long and hard over expressions and faces and trying to capture that feel of the TV show. Because let's be honest, as much as this is a comic, people are reading it to get that old feeling they got out of the TV show.
The next page has a great example of something I didn't know was you at first, but you draw a lot of the sound effect lettering yourself, right?
Sometimes. It depends on what it is and how appropriate or maybe how tricky I think it might be. If I want it done a certain way or behind the characters, then yeah.
Well, it's another example of something I've spoken with the other creators about, which is how much you guys embrace the "comic booky" nature of the project here.
It's funny because that's something Joss was very adamant about when we started off. At the beginning, I had some serious concerns because he had picked me, and I still don't know why. I said, "Look, my career is one where you can go back to the very beginning, and you'd never go 'Oh yeah, he does photorealism very well.'" But Joss said, "That's just it. I want this book not to be a carbon copy. I don't want you to trace photographs." He said it to me so easily when he said, "I want Buffy to look like Buffy and not necessarily like Sarah Michelle Gellar." Just in saying that, he put it into perspective for me in that while I try to emulate the characters, I'm not a slave to what their features are. As a result, "Buffy" is very much a comic book, but you can still get out the presence and the essence of who that character is.
Part of this arc is very much about who Buffy has become over the course of this story and the whole franchise. When you came into this, were you a big fan of the show, and do you draw scenes like this one feeling the weight of all that character development?
No, actually. That's another funny thing where why I was chosen, I'll never know. Before this project, I had never watched an episode of "Buffy" in my life. I was aware of the TV show, but more out of pop culture. So obviously over the four years, I got educated very quickly. I consider myself a fan now, but not at the beginning. And when you watch the show, a large part of the show is melodrama, and I think a large part of why you watch that show and love it is to see these characters talk to each other about how they feel and how they feel about each other. When I do come to a scene like this – and thankfully there have been many over the course of the series – where it's just them sitting and talking, that's where I think I try to be more like the show more often than not. It's something where this is going to have an emotional impact if nothing else. And if I can get that across to you – when all that's sitting in front of me is the written word – visually, then I think I've done my job. I always invite criticism, and I tell people to let me know if I've done something write or wrong. I am a professional, but I'm also drawing this from the perspective of a fan as well.
Here we get some military stuff!
I know! [Laughter]
There is a lot of verisimilitude to this arc as we shift from spaceships to underground caverns to this outdoor wasteland. How do you approach designing the pages differently to get something like the final effect here with this sun-swept background?
Usually you do want to separate things out. Like you said, the previous scene was all done dark, and that's intentional because it's underground and in caves, but once Xander and Dawn come up on top you do want the impression that they're not down in that anymore. The sun was written into the script here because this whole scene and the rest of the series rests a lot on the setting sun to further this metaphor that the story comes together at twilight – hahaha – which is the name of the entity or character or whatever you'll find out next issue about "What is Twilight?" I think that Joss also wanted to have that visually brought forth not just as a metaphor but also the cast approaching that twilight hour as the climax is coming.
And the next page gives you a chance to dig back into that Xander/Dawn drama in giving them each half of the page to really kind of exist each in their own kind of anguish. How did that visual come about?
For that page, I hate to say it, but that's the way it was laid out in the script. I had very little to do with how it was done. I might have changed the perspective a little bit, but essentially, that's how I got it. That was the herring – that Dawn was going to die or something would happen – and at the end of this scene, you're still left with that. Knowing Joss, we'll come back to this scene later and see Dawn dead on the table to realize that we hadn't known this whole time we were seeing her last moments instead of just her in a whole lot of pain.
And it's another example of how the "acting" was very important for you to pull off.
There is that. If you want to get technical with it, it wasn't described as "Panel 2: Xander holds his mouth" or "In Panel 4 he does this." It was said in the script that in panel 6 he turns to the general and confronts him, but it wasn't said that Dawn had her arm over her face because she was in anguish. Those are the little details that I think any good artist tends to put in a book as his contribution. It's how the scene plays and how you as an artist move your actors in that scene that show the testament of a really good artist, or consequently a really bad artist. Some artists feel if it's not in the written word, they can't put it on paper, but I tend to look at what I'm doing as if I'm directing and thinking "What would these actors be doing even if they don't have a line in that sentence?"
The final page of the issue brings two things to mind. First, we've been dealing with Buffy's powers a lot in this arc, and in Brad's arc it was a lot of fun superhero stuff. Here, we instead get a much more sobering take on what's at stake as Buffy's powers start to fluctuate.
Right. And it's funny too because when I first got acquainted with Buffy, I was taken aback by how violent it was. I'm not trying to be PC or anything here, but I am really against violence against women in that sense. So when I saw the first few episodes I saw, because I didn't know how strong she was, I was struck by how often this poor girl gets hit by men or by creatures or whatever. It struck me with this defense mechanism that we as human beings have to go, "Oh this poor little, defenseless thing is getting hurt." In doing this particular scene, I really wanted to bring that home. Here we'd seen Buffy on par with Superman, and now as the story progresses you're finding that Angel has become stronger because he really hits Buffy hard. I tried to illustrate that on the left side of the page as the panel breaks as well. I wanted to get that feeling, and this was a case where I drew in the sound effect too. I didn't want it to necessarily get in the way of the art, but I wanted that sound of him punching her to echo in your head.
I was really taken by how violent that act of hitting a woman is, which is maybe my upbringing, but it's something I don't particularly like. So in panel 4 when you get a close-up of Buffy, it doesn't say in the script that she's bleeding. But I just thought, "Okay, if she got hit that hard and Angel is tipping the balance, this girl is going to have a lot of blood on her face." It's those little things when you act it out that makes an artist bring to the paper.
And the second element of this page is this creepy glint in Angel's eye which I can't tell is sinister or vacant. What were you trying to impress upon the reader with that last panel?
That's just it. I don't think I knew because a lot of this is all in Joss' head, and some of it doesn't make it out to me until the next script. So I knew that Angel was possessed in some way by the end of the issue, but I didn't know if he was malicious or vacant. It's funny that you mention the eyes because at the get-go when I got to this page, I didn't want to color them in like they're regular eyes. I knew that if you wanted to register any change in the character, that would come through in the eyes. So I left them as white, round ovals and told Scott "However you want to do the eyes is your prerogative, but whatever happened to Angel should come through in the eyes." Because whatever it is that people are going to get out of this – it's Angelus, it's Twilight, whatever – it was going to come from the eyes. That's what I did intentionally while having more black in the panel to illustrate those eyes stronger.
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8" #38 is on sale now. And tune in next month for more of CBR's BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8!