"Buffy" creator Joss Whedon may not have been at Dark Horse Comics' "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" panel at WonderCon in Anaheim, but his presence was very much felt. Dark Horse's director of public relations, Jeremy Atkins, introduced panelists Christos Gage (writer of "Angel & Faith"), Jane Espenson ("Buffy" TV writer and occasional "Buffy" comics writer), Georges Jeanty (longtime "Buffy" artist) and Andrew Chambliss (ongoing writer of the "Buffy" comic book), and all four repeatedly invoked Whedon's name when talking about the driving force behind the "Buffy" comic books.
Atkins projected slides of recent "Buffy" artwork as he talked to the panelists and Gage and Chambliss gave the crowd updates on where their respective storylines stand as Season 9 of "Buffy" comes to a close. "It won't be the very last issue of the season when you find out whether or not [Angel and Faith] succeed at resurrecting Giles," Gage promised. Chambliss said Buffy has "spent a lot of the season kind of coming to terms with what she did to the seed." In the final arc, "It's all starting to come home for Buffy in a personal way."
Espenson talked about the story she's working on for issue #25 of "Dark Horse Presents" featuring her Billy the Vampire Slayer character. "I love that character, and it was great to see what he's doing now," she said. The story will have "both adventure aspects and relationship aspects," Espenson said. "It doesn't just fold Billy in without comment, but it doesn't make it all about his gayness."
Atkins asked each panelist about their background with Buffy before coming to work on the comics. "I had never seen 'Buffy' or 'Angel,'" Gage said. His introduction to Whedon's work came via the "Astonishing X-Men" series Whedon wrote for Marvel Comics. "To me it was the best X-Men I had read since the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era," the writer said. After getting hired by Dark Horse, Gage dove into the "Buffy" and "Angel" TV series. "I watched all the shows and just became a total fan," he said. He and his wife just finished watching Whedon's "Firefly," which drew plenty of cheers, and he mentioned having "Dollhouse" queued up next.
"I never watched the show before I got the job," Jeanty said. He was only set to draw the first four or five issues of the "Season 8" series, but Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie took him aside and said, "Trust me, this is bigger than you think," and he's now been on the series for nearly five years, and is a fan of the characters.
"I was definitely a fan before," said Chambliss, who worked with Whedon as a writer on "Dollhouse," alongside other frequent Whedon collaborators Espenson and Tim Minear. "I would always come home from work and rewatch stuff so I would know what they were referring to" in the writers' room, he said.
Atkins asked about the way the original show has stood the test of time. "I think it's the human universality that Joss brings to all his characters," Gage said. "I think in 50 years or 100 years when everyone is going to school on the internet, 'Buffy' will still speak to people."
Espenson said she was used to young women telling her how much the show meant to them, but that there have been just as many young men saying the same thing. "This show had a message for young people that went beyond even what we thought it was saying," she said.
"This could easily be Willow's show or Xander's show or Spike's show," Jeanty said. "There are so many characters that people have fallen in love with. I run into so many people that say they don't even like Buffy, but they love the show. I think if it was just Buffy for seven years, we wouldn't be talking about it for this long."
The panel then took up the topic of the final arc in each book. Gage reiterated that readers would find out soon whether Angel and Faith had succeeded in resurrecting Giles. Beyond that, "There will be big fighting. That's about all I can say."
For Espenson's "Dark Horse Presents" story, "You're going to learn a little something about zompires, and you're going to learn it from a very unexpected source," she said.
Chambliss revealed that the title of his final arc is "The Core," which "refers to the coming together of the core group of the Scoobies, but it also refers to the locale of the big showdown," he said. "We'll be going down to the middle of the Earth."
From there, the panel moved into questions from fans, who, Atkins noted, had far more to ask than he did. The first wanted to know about the possibility of crossover with another Whedon property, "Cabin in the Woods," which the panel dismissed, although Jeanty did suggest he might draw a character wearing a "Cabin in the Woods" T-shirt.
A fan asked about the planned "Drusilla" miniseries written by actress Juliet Landau, which was postponed indefinitely. "As I understand, Juliet got cast in a bunch of things at once," Gage said.
"We would still really like to do more Drusilla, and we would like to do more with Juliet," Atkins said, but it depends on her schedule. "It turns out that actresses are really busy."
Asked to describe their final arc in a single word, Chambliss chose "friends," Jeanty picked "loss," Espenson used "epic," and Gage said he couldn't boil his arc down to a single word, but did reveal the title: "What You Want, Not What You Need."
The next question was about the creative freedom the writers had from Whedon to expand on the universe he created. "He's really involved," Chambliss said, but "when he hears a good idea, he wants to do it. It's not about where it came from."
Gage said certain big developments, like Whistler's origin story and the season ending of "Angel & Faith," had to be run by Whedon early on, but other things he would catch later when reading scripts. Gage mentioned the way he originally wrote Giles' father, which Whedon thought was too close to Wesley's father, and so Gage went back and changed the relationship so that instead of seeing his father as a cold authoritarian, Giles experienced more of a generation gap. "It's all about what makes the best story in the end," Gage said.
A fan asked about the possibility of an animated movie adapted from season eight or season nine, along the lines of DC's direct-to-video animated movies. Jeanty pointed out that the motion comics were available on DVD, although he was frustrated with how they turned out. "I just wish they would've asked me, because there were so many little things in the artwork that I could have gotten so much better," he said.
The next question was about how "Buffy" had changed their lives. "I think it's affected everything else that I've written since seeing it," Gage said, with Espenson and Chambliss in agreement. They all said their writing had been informed by Whedon's style since seeing his shows or working with him. "It's that approach that it's all about the people," Gage said.
"'Buffy' has allowed me to travel," Jeanty said, citing his appearances at "Buffy" conventions around the world. "I have been to all these cool places that I never would have gone if it weren't for 'Buffy.'"
Asked about the possibility of more "Dollhouse" comic books from Dark Horse, Atkins said that the original "Dollhouse" miniseries sold well, and that while there are no "Dollhouse" series in the works at the moment, "I can safely say that I don't think we're done with those characters." He noted that all of Whedon's titles sell well. "We could have a 'Serenity' ongoing and sell shit tons of it every month," he said, but "we really want to have Joss involved." That said, there will be a new "Serenity" miniseries later this year.
The final question was about the hardest part of working on season nine for each of the panelists. Both Gage and Chambliss said that writing their first arc was the hardest. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I am going to totally screw this up,' or, 'What if he hates it?'" Gage said.
For Chambliss, it was taking over the ongoing series after Whedon wrote the first issue. "It was really intimidating to pick that up."
"The hardest thing for me artistically was doing the arc with Oz in Tibet [during Season 8]," Jeanty said. The arc, written by Espenson, had a huge number of characters from the show, and even new characters with photo references such as Oz' wife, whom Espenson wanted to look like "Dollhouse" actress Dichen Lachman. "It's one thing to have to draw somebody and have their photo reference," Jeanty said. "It's another thing to draw seven of them on every page."
Stay tuned to CBR News for more coverage of all the "Buffy" Season 9 titles.