Artist Georges Jeanty introduced himself to an enthusiastically raucous Comic-Con International crowd as the artist behind Dark Horse's successful "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" sat down to spend an hour discussing his work.
Jeanty spoke of his first time as an SDCC "invited guest -- which really sounds fancy" and his obligation to come up with his own content for the panel. While he had considered simply speaking about his art, he realized that he wasn't certain the show would feature Buffy-themed panels, so he decided to share his own experiences of working on the book with creator, Joss Whedon.
Inviting the audience to come up with their own questions, Jeanty said, "I've officially finished 'Season 9' [of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'], so my part of it is officially all set and done, and I can probably answer most questions... I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I personally feel anything in 'Season 8' is fair play… What we can do is delve. I'm not the man -- obviously, because Joss Whedon's the man -- but I'm the man next to the man, and sometimes that's actually a very good position to be in."
Sharing his own history and path to the book, Jeanty said, "I've been in the business about 20 years. I came up the right way; I loved comics as a kid, I came up through the ranks of independent comics, worked at Marvel for a few years… I look at me here, the swag, as some people say, and I do feel like I've earned it. Your just desserts are just that. I still look at those guys who just get picked up and think, 'I hate you. I had to work for 20 years to get here!'"
For a while, Jeanty took time out to test out the waters as an actor, but found that his detail-oriented approach to acting made him more interested in the craft than the credibility. He deliberated over whether this detour delayed his eventual success in comic books, but later realized that his appreciation of characters' journeys and motivations was a useful asset.
Jeanty's decision to remain in comics paid off when he was chosen to illustrate Dark Horse's canonical Buffy comic, a gig he's held since 2007. "I was working for Wildstorm doing an independent book… and I get an email from… Scott Allie. He had actually been editing 'Buffy' before it had any official weight… He emails me saying, 'I don't know you, but I'm an editor at Dark Horse, don't know if you know who Joss Whedon is…'"
At this point, Jeanty took a quick tangent to explain that from when Buffy went off the air in 2003 until 2007, Whedon had been thinking, "I just can't let this go. This girl keeps calling me back." Hence the decision to continue her story in the comic, which the character's creator previously had nothing to do with, outside of writing some short pieces in the "Tales of the Slayers" and "Tales of the Vampires," which Jeanty highly recommended.
Returning to his own origin story, Jeanty continued. "I get the email, and Scott is going, '[Joss] really loves your work and wants you to do this thing we're putting together and continue the show.' Me being automatically cynical -- I do get people now and again calling up, and of course, when people are courting you, when someone wants you to do something, they're going to put in everything they can, they want to make sure you say 'Yes!' So I typed him back a very nice letter saying, 'Thank you very much, it's kind of an interesting tack you're using by saying that Joss wants me to do it, but I'm sure Joss doesn't know who the hell I am -- but I appreciate your effort!'" Allie's response was emphatically that Whedon specifically did want him to work on the project. Jeanty, still assuming that this was still some sort of negotiation tactic, jokingly replied, "If Joss wants me so bad, why don't you have Joss come and tell me that."
The artist immediately doubted whether he should have sent this response, or whether they would know he was joking, but the next email Jeanty received was directly from Joss Whedon, confirming everything Allie had said. "Talk about humble pie. I wrote an email back saying, 'Hi Mr. Whedon -- I am so sorry… I would love to work with this 'Buffy.' I love the Buffy, I think the Buffy is great.' I had never watched an episode of 'Buffy' in my life… But of course, I'm not going to tell Joss that! What am I, crazy? I'm not gonna lose this job, I just got it! I did say yes, 'I'm very familiar with it!'"
Laughing at his own mistake, Jeanty recalled telling Whedon, 'I'm not as familiar with the TV show as I am with the movie. I really like the movie, I thought the movie is really good.'" The crowd groaned along with Jeanty as he squirmed over his faux pas, then compounded it by suggesting to Whedon, 'You know what would be cool, Joss? You should have had Kristy Swanson come on the TV show like, Buffy's long lost sister. That would have been so cool!'" At this point, Whedon began to realize that Jeanty had never watched the show. "From there, I agreed and everything is good and they give me seasons six and seven [of the television series]. I loved it so much, I had to go back and watch, for my own edification, seasons one through five.
"I immersed myself in it over two weeks, which I know now isn't a big deal, but there wasn't Netflix in my day, when I was trying to watch all these episodes. I learned a very interesting thing about me, because we all are fans now -- and I really am! I could hold my own against anyone here! You notice … some episodes will take you emotionally and they will wreck you. There were a couple of times where I actually had to watch another episode, just so I didn't have the previous episode as the last episode in my head!"
Jeanty acknowledged that his initial lack of awareness of the Buffy phenomenon might have been a good thing, since it helped him to be less intimidated by the scripts he was receiving from Whedon. "Joss was a dream. Very unassuming. He could be that guy at a party and you're not going, 'Oh,my God! That's superstar Joss Whedon!' You're going, 'Isn't that a friend of my dad's? That guy looks familiar.'"
Looking back at the completed "Season 8," Jeanty said, "We learned from that. Just to give you some perspective, when I stared 'Season 8,' I honestly thought it was just going to be that four issue arc… It never was intended to be forty issues, nobody realized what we had at the time. I think Joss really just said, 'I've got all this stuff inside me -- I want to get it out. I don't have a finite issue number.' So it went from four issues, to twelve issues, to twenty-five issues and then, finally, we'd been doing this for three years and we probably should end this sometime… 'Season 9,' structurally, is a lot different than 'Season 8.' We learned a lot. No one knew where we were going at the time, and we figured it out as we progressed, so 'Season 9' benefited." Jeanty pointed to the miniseries spinoff titles starring Willow and Spike, which would have been part of the main run in "Season 9," but it was realized that the overall arc could move faster if the spinoffs ran concurrently and not distract from the main story.
Telling a few stories from his experiences on "Season 8," Jeanty spoke of his own reactions to the scripts as he was receiving them. For example, he was surprised when Buffy slept with a woman, and asked Whedon for some clarification on what that would mean for the character. Whedon's approach seemed to him to be, if he could convince Jeanty that something made sense, it would be easier to convince readers. In this instance, Whedon described the experimental phase that many people go through. "[Buffy's] not gay… She's of college age. When you're in college, these things happen. You experiment, and sometimes these things happen because you aren't exactly sure. Dawn was in college, Willow had gone off to find more magic and Buffy was leading all these slayers that she had command over. She's just so lonely and there hasn't been a man -- of course she still thinks about Angel, she still thinks about Spike. She meets with this girl Satsu, who Buffy actually thinks is so cool. She idolizes this girl in a subtle way, only to come find out that Satsu is very attracted to her. That's what Buffy's attraction was, that someone so cool could have feelings for her. She sort of gave into this, 'I know you want me so I'm sort of going go into it…' I thought, I can kind of get it. My only debate was that, I said to Joss, 'I have a friend that I've been friends with for 20 years now, and I've never once looked at that guy and said, 'I've got to have you!' But I went with it." Jeanty laughed at the story, jokingly calling it "the first time that [Joss] and I came to blows."
Documenting the next great conflict he had on the book, Jeanty emotionally remembered when he learned of Giles' imminent demise. "That was another time when I said, 'You're going to have to convince me of this, because I'm not going to do this book unless you convince me that Giles has to die.' I'm sure everybody here loves Giles. This was [Buffy's] surrogate father, this was a guy who just wanted her to do well and be her potential, even though she was a constant f-up. As much as we love Buffy, Buffy never even read the book! If somebody held up a book and says, 'All the answers you've ever wanted to know about your situation are in your book,' wouldn't you have footnotes in there? You'd have highlighters, you would have this book read back and forth, this would be the bible to you. I mean, come on?! He was such a source of love. And sure enough, [Whedon] said, 'I can give you the official answer and I can give you the emotional answer. Officially, Giles has outlived his usefulness. I hate to say that, because obviously I love the character as well. Emotionally, Buffy has grown past Giles. She doesn't need a Watcher anymore, she doesn't need what he can offer and there is no better way to give a character a signature than to kill him.' That one, I got.
"I don't know if anyone could see it, but the intention there was that Giles is killed in the same way that Jenny Calender is killed, by Angel, of course, and by the snapping of the neck," Jenty continued. "I actually mirrored that, if you look at the comic and the scene in Season 2… There was that parallel that we really wanted to establish."
An audience member asked if this idea was his idea or Whedon's. Jeanty replied that the story was the writer's, but visually it was his idea to frame it and subtly and subliminally echo Calendar's death scene.
Asking if Giles had been aware that he was going to die when he did, an audience member managed to tap into a question which Jeanty himself had debated. "If you read the story… Xander is just about to go out and do something… he is waiting for a chance to see if he can do something to stop Angel or stop the egg. He's about to go, when Giles taps him on the shoulder. Had Giles never been there, would Giles have gone out and got his neck snapped? Very interesting question -- nobody has ever been able to tell me yes or no."
In response to the question about what it is in Jeanty's art which originally attracted Joss to working on Buffy, the artist admitted that he doesn't know. " I always forget to ask! 'What were you looking at when you saw me and said, "I've gotta have it!"? Where he got that I can do likenesses, I have no idea."
From the audience came the statement that "Moments of badassery are what makes Whedon great… but one of the great moments of 'Season 8' is when Dracula triumphs in Japan." Jeanty enthusiastically agreed. "It was so cool -- that could be a movie! Drew Goddard was the writer on that, a writer on 'Buffy.' But Drew was most excited about that whole story because he got to write a Mecha-Dawn! He loves Godzilla -- as you know, he wrote the movie 'Cloverfield.' This is a guy who has priorities."
Moving on to talk about the plot device of Twilight in "Season 8," Jeanty admitted, "I knew who Twilight was from the beginning. That was the hardest secret I've ever had to keep. I had to keep that secret for three or four years. Can you imagine keeping a secret for that long? In my personal life, that is the longest secret I have ever kept."
The artist went on to explain the name of Twilight, something which caused a bit of a stir amongst fans as the series of vampire books with the same name were adapted into movies during the time "Season 8" was being published. "That word was written in the script a year and half before the movie came out, so whatever that phenomenon that 'Twilight' [the movie] became had not happened yet. Joss has a sense of humor about the books because, let's get real, there are so many parallels to 'Buffy,' it's not even funny. I can only assume that's why he called the bad guy Twilight. Yes, I think that was intentional. For the last 'Twilight' film, there was a sheet poster of Bella and the little wolf boy and Dracula of them, and Joss came up and said, 'For the next cover, let's do that poster, but with Buffy Spike and Angel.'"
Asked for his favorite character, Jeanty exclaimed, "I love that Faith! You know Buffy, everybody knows Buffy, but when I started watching the episodes and saw Faith, I thought, 'Who is this girl? She is badass, misunderstood, all that!' I was totally, totally into Faith, and that four issue arc [in 'Season 8']? That was written by Brian K Vaughan who was never a 'Buffy' writer. He's a comic writer, but he found the voice. Joss and I looked at each other once and he said, 'I'm scared,' the guy was so good!"
Wishing he had more time to talk, Jeanty quickly squeezed in his thoughts about the infamous pregnancy scare Buffy experienced in "Season 9." "That was such a big thing. I get so many people debating me, saying that if Buffy was the Buffy-bot at the time, then it really wasn't Buffy who was pregnant and it really wasn't Buffy who made that decision, which I dispute! Buffy's consciousness was in that robot, so therefore, whatever the Buffy-bot was thinking, Buffy was thinking. Buffy made the conscious effort to have an abortion. She was actually going to do this, she was not ready [to have a child]. To anyone who thinks that she impulsively did this, she didn't. She called up Robin Wood [who's mother was a slayer]… and through that whole issue, he really says that his mother 'wasn't the best mother in the world. She would take me out slaying.' And she makes that conscious effort. I would've let that ferment for at least two or three issues, but the very next issue we find out that she is a Buffy-bot. Her consciousness was in the Buffy-bot, so if anyone ever questions whether it was Buffy's conscious decision to get an abortion, Joss has actually said that, so it has come down from on high."
Teasing the audience about the imminent ending of "Season 9," Jeanty promised, "It is a huge ending." He made an enigmatic statement about Illyria, who should be dead now that her powers are gone, but somehow isn't. "Whatever her true form is, she was there when magic started, so she is relevant and helps the Scoobies. I will tell you, this ending is so good. Right up until the last page, of Issue 25, you're going to be asking, 'OK, so what is that?'… I can only tell you that the last shot is of Buffy and Willow and they have a very big dilemma.
"I've always felt, when reading Joss' scripts, that this guy is actually writing a love letter to this girl," Jeanty concluded. "In that, I don't think he could ever let her go. They're talking about 'Season 10,' and he has said, 'I could go on forever with this -- but it doesn't necessarily have to be Buffy we're going on with.'"