Karl Moline, the artist perhaps best known for his role in bringing Joss Whedon’s future Slayer "Fray" to life, returns to the Buffyverse with a tale of prophetic dreams and friendships on the edge of breaking. Moline, who also illustrated the "Time of Your Life" arc and a Willow one-shot during "Buffy Season 8" and more recently provided art for "BPRD: The Dead Remembered," joins series writer Andrew Chambliss for a single-issue story "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9" #5, coming in January from Dark Horse.
Following the events of Season 8, magic has been banished from the world and decisions that Buffy took to save the world have alienated her from the Slayer army and, more significantly, from her closest friends. In the early episodes of Season 9, Buffy has established herself in a new environment -- San Francisco -- and resumed patrolling for vampires, a role which has drawn increased scrutiny now that the bloodsuckers are revered as near-celebrities thanks to Harmony’s reality television program. Meanwhile, a new player called Severin is on the scene, who seems to kill vampires by reverting them to human form -- dead rather than undead.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Karl Moline about his latest engagement in Buffy’s world, as well as a look back at his contributions to the Slayer mythos.
Looking back to his work on "Fray," Moline said he worked with Whedon to create a future city based on a logical progression of architectural design and societal progress. "When I started working on the look of Fray's world, I remember Joss describing a desolate dirty future landscape, where all of the major cities in the world had grown up and out, becoming impossibly high and connecting with other cities, forming major mega-tropolises. I think he cited 'Blade Runner' as a specific source of inspiration," Moline told CBR. "I started there, and while there was some really interesting architecture in the film, a lot of the look of the movie comes from these very vague, hazy, smoggy shots where the breadth of civilization is suggested by lights alone. I found myself with only a little reference and making up the rest. So I just tried to put myself into the shoes of the city designers. If I were trying to expand a city without knocking down all of the existing buildings, how would I build? I found myself trying to create layers of architecture that became more technologically advanced as I moved vertically and I tried to tie all of the buildings together with walkways, etc., to lend structural support and keep them from all falling down."
Character design in "Fray" was also accomplished with Whedon's direct input, though Moline said there was even more discussion in this regard -- particularly with regard to the heroine's appearance. "With Fray it was more of a back and forth, collaborative effort. Joss started with a description of a tough as nails late teen who was both beautiful and modestly built. More of an athlete than a supermodel, as most comic heroines tend to be," the artist said. "I would supply some designs and he would come back with the qualities he liked or didn't and I would re-adjust again. After a few rounds, we had the beginning of the character, but truthfully, that initial jumping off point is a far cry from where she ended up. As I got to know her better and as my own talent evolved, so did she.
"As for Harth and Erin, they were just the initial impressions I had when I was presented with the characters," Moline added, referring to Fray's twin-brother-turned-vampire and the twins' older sister, respectively. "They popped in my head that way and that's how I drew them. I have come to realize that Harth pretty much looked exactly like me. I didn't mean for him to but that's how it is when you use yourself for a model long enough. I even wore those signature glasses for a while, years later.
After the "Fray" miniseries, Moline returned to the present-day Buffyverse in Season 8's "Time of Your Life" story arc, which also saw Buffy navigating Fray's future timeline and butting heads with the far-flung Slayer. CBR asked Moline whether the five-plus years that elapsed between the two assignments had changed his perception of what Fray's future should hold. "My ideas about the world hadn't really changed at all. I had longer to think things through and I had spent a bunch of years working on 'Route 666' for CrossGen Comics, which was based in 1960s America, so a lot of that design stuff had worked its way into the new Fray stories," he said. As to whether it was fulfilling to work with Buffy in the future environment he had created, Moline said, "I think I would enjoy drawing anybody or anything in that environment -- it's basically a living, breathing character all by itself and its personality is as wide and varied as my own."
Although he now has a full "Buffy" arc under his belt, as well as Willow and Riley one-shots plus shorts starring the vacuous vampire Harmony for "Dark Horse Presents" (not to mention non-Slayer titles like the aforementioned "Route 666," "BPRD" and more), Moline said that Fray remains his most requested sketch. "I think Joss did such a good job infusing her with class and sass that everyone wants to know her or be her," the artist said of the character's appeal. "Everyone who reads that book falls in love, me included, the same way they do for Joss' other characters. Basically we're all just falling in love with the man himself. I think there's a ton of his own heart in each story he creates."
Like his one-shots "Riley" and "Willow" during Season 8, Moline will be lending his skills to a one-issue story in "Buffy Season 9" #5. Moline told CBR that these shorter stories centered on a specific character allow him to "switch gears and learn someone new." "The way they look, the way they carry themselves is always very specific and figuring that stuff out is scary and fun at the same time," he said. "It's like going to a new school or working at a new job. The first few weeks are full of brand new emotions and experiences and your senses are all on high alert trying to take it all in. Willow was a little different since I had some time to play with that character in the 'Buffy' books and had already come to know and love her. I really enjoy drawing her as her face is such an interesting blend of awkward and beautiful simultaneously."
Buffy's environment and cast has changed a bit since "Time of Your Life" with the army of Slayers disbanded and even the core Scoobies keeping their distance from the series' lead. Though Season 9 has already introduced several new characters, such as Buffy's roommates and the mysterious un-vampirizing Severin, Moline said he's on more familiar ground for his issue and "only worked with the new characters long enough to exchange pleasantries." "My issue focuses more on Buffy and Willow," he said. The changed environs, however, did take some getting used to. "San Francisco is a really pretty city, very charismatic and very difficult to draw," Moline said. "With all of the immense hills, perspective drawing is a nightmare. I think with more time to get the feel of it, I could really come to love it, though. The small amount of exposure I had was enough to make me want to visit, at least."
Moline was coy about giving away details to issue #5's story, which follows the conclusion of Season 9's first arc, but teased that, "like every good story, nothing will ever be the same again." The story finds Buffy experiencing apparently prophetic dreams and visions that seem to suggest the magic-less world will soon grow even darker. "I actually feel very lucky that I was the one who got to draw this issue, as I think it will be a landmark in years to come," Moline told CBR.
With prophetic dreams suggesting forward-looking theme and Moline being so strongly associated with Fray, CBR News asked whether fans might expect the future Slayer to appear. "All I can say is that you should definitely expect the unexpected," the artist said. "There is a long-lost Slayer who comes back to say nothing at all, and Buffy's life will change forever.
"Cryptic enough? Good. I hope you enjoy it. I know I did."
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9" #5 is on sale January 11.