Artist Chris Samnee didn't realize it at the time, but he had a major impact on the creation of Dark Horse's ongoing "Angel & Faith" comic -- part of the publisher's expanded "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 9" world.
Samnee had worked with writer Christos Gage on 2010's "Area 10" graphic novel from Vertigo, and, as Editor Scott Allie explained, "In a way, it's Samnee that led me to Gage. I've been a fan of Samnee's for a long time, and that got me reading 'Area 10.'"
The editor was so impressed by the OGN that he hired Gage to write "Angel & Faith," and the trio come full circle with May's issue #10 where artist rejoins writer for a special one-off story that plays with some up until now unknown parts of the "Buffy" universe -- including characters and ideas from the never produced "Ripper" spinoff show.
"I was already on Samnee to get him to do that 'Serenity' graphic novel last year, so the idea of pulling him on here was a real natural one. I'm a big believer in the idea that certain teams just work. The sum is greater than the parts," Allie said. "I think the two Chrises did incredible work together on that one graphic novel, so putting them back together here is personally exciting to me. When I like a book as much as I liked 'Area 10,' I do everything I can to work with the creators, and to work with both together is especially exciting."
Getting the band back together did, however, prove something of a challenge. Gage explained that he'd been hoping for the team-up from day one of the series. "From the first day, when I was talking to Scott about the book and how Rebekah [Isaacs] is doing both pencils and inks, we had the idea that every fifth issue would be a one-and-done story by a guest artist. And I think one of first names I brought up to work with was Chris. I had a fabulous time on 'Area 10,' and the chance to get even more out there with him and the supernatural stuff -- the demons and the monsters -- got me really excited. What I've seen of his work on this is just beautiful. I'm psyched to do this. Rebekah is a dream collaborator, but I get to have my cake and eat it, too, because every fifth issue, I get to work with another amazing artist."
As Samnee recalled, "I've been really busy. Marvel's been keeping me busy, and I've got ad work on the side -- it's always something. So I never really got a chance to do anything with Scott after 'Shepherd's Tale' except a short little thing for 'USA Today.' He asked me if I could do an issue of 'Angel & Faith' and get back together with Gage, and I thought, 'There's no way!' But at the same time, I couldn't say no. So he gave me a deadline that was really far out, because Chris and Rebekah were so far ahead, I had plenty of time to get this done. To get the chance to work with guys I love and characters I'm crazy about, I couldn't pass it up."
Allie noted, "The script for #10 is amazing. It's a great, dramatic beast, but it's also got parts that are laugh out loud. I got a hold of Samnee and said, 'You've got to do this.' We gave him the script, and that's when he committed. I imagined him doing it as I was reading. Of all the stories in this arc, this one is right up his alley."
The artist said that working on "Angel & Faith" specifically is an assignment tailor made for him since, "I actually kind of prefer 'Angel' to 'Buffy.' My wife got me watching 'Buffy' when we first started dating, and 'Angel' was on at the time. I watched the first episode, and I was like 'This is Batman! It's way better!' So I got into that show a whole lot faster."
Of the issue the two worked on together, Gage told CBR, "We've got a couple of new characters that are actually new characters given to us by Joss from the 'Ripper' TV show that he was trying to set up on the BBC for a time. That didn't work out for a variety of reasons, so Joss said, 'Let's take some elements of that, and you can feel free to us them with Angel and Faith.' These characters have been a tremendous amount of fun to write. They have a link to Giles."
"They're catty British gals from olden times," Samnee said of the new cast members. "Rebekah had drawn them in a portrait on one of the walls in the first few issues. It's from Giles' library, and the image is really small, but it gave me a jumping-off point. I went with that, and then the cover artist for my issue did his take on it. My take is a mish-mash of those two, and I wanted to give them each their own look. They play off each other in that they are so similar, but I wanted to differentiate between the two -- I don't think Joss had ever said, 'They look like such and such.' I just wanted to build on what Rebekah had done."
The franchises requisite monsters and demons will also be on full display under the artist's pen. "There's a whole lot of that in this issue," Samnee said. "Chris would just say, 'Draw a snot monster in this panel,' or, 'Here's a guy with a battle axe,' or, ' Here's a huge fat guy.' I got to stretch a lot of muscles that I don't get to use everyday with superhero comics. I draw a whole lot of guys in tights, but I don't get a lot of monsters or to create new things. There were some pages here where I took my brush out and started designing characters on the page as I went. It was really fun to see how far I could push things. It's still a little bit like the 'monster of the week' stories on 'Angel' and 'Buffy,' but there weren't any budget concerns."
Another hallmark of the TV show was its penchant for slightly off-kilter one-off stories, something Gage is very aware of when crafting his special fifth-issue tales. "I do like the idea that sometimes a change of tone -- like they'd do in the show with, say, Harmony in Season 5 of 'Angel' -- can make it very funny," Gage said. "But the flashback to Giles is also pretty poignant. It's a key moment in Giles' life as a boy. Hopefully, it'll be one of those issues that makes you laugh and cry at the same time."
"I get a kick out of being able to push emotions a bit and not just draw sad men in tights," Samnee laughed, as Allie added, "One of the things I love about Joss' work is the way that when he did an episode that felt like a lark or a little silly, it would feel goofy, but you'd realize that that goofy element was there specifically to do something that he couldn't have done in any other way. I think Harmony showing up in issue #5 the way that she did was a silly detour where she got the opportunity to say something to Angel that he really needed to hear. And nobody could have said that but her. But in a way, that issue could have fallen anywhere in Season 9, whereas #10 is something that has to happen at this moment. It's a bit of a turning point in Season 9. It pushes the big story along in a way that #5 didn't, and aside from these two characters from the 'Ripper' show, there are little game changers that it's nice for Chris to be able to do with Samnee."
Ultimately, Samnee is happy to have made the time to take on this one-off issue as the "Angel & Faith" experience is teaching him a lot. "I don't have one particular page or moment I love. It's the whole story," he said. "I've been having a great time working with Chris again, and I've actually loved working with Rebekah. She has a great sense of design, and her costumes are really 'real world.' I know it's silly to think of clothing as being real world, but a lot of comics artists today don't think about a character's personality and how that affects what they'd wear. Rebeka's issue come around mine, and I didn't just want to draw people in t-shirts and then have her issues look like they were in a different universe. We've been bouncing ideas back and forth, and that's been a really experience for me. I've never worked with another artist since I pencil and ink. I'm kind of a one man show until it gets sent to the colorist, so this has been a fun change of pace."