Coming up this week on June 20th, Buffy the Vampire Slayer hits a major milestone when Season 12 kicks off in Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Reckoning #1 (of 4) from Dark Horse Comics. The series sees Joss Whedon return to writing duties alongside Christos Gage, Georges Jeanty powering through epic scenes in the art department with a decade of Buffyverse experience at work on pencils, and Karl Story bringing on the inks, with Dan Jackson on colors.
What makes this story particularly poignant and might leave readers with a hint of apprehension going into the tale is that this could be an equal or bigger “event” in the Buffyverse than even the finale to Season 8. Set about a year after Season 11, “The Reckoning” catches up with the gang as they’re about to face off against a new hoard of foes including Wolfram & Hart, a legion of demons, and Harth, a vampire from the future. Wait, the future? That’s right. They’re also going to be joined by Angel, Faith, Illyria, and Fray, a Slayer from the future. Fray brings some heavy tidings. The events that are about to play out, known as “The Reckoning”, spelled the end of Buffy and all the Slayers in her timeline. What could possibly avert a future already written?
Christos Gage and Georges Jeanty join us today to really dig into the workings of Season 12, and how they handled the emotions, as well as the challenges, of crafting “The Reckoning”.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Christos, how is your writing process different on this epic season with the return of Joss to more direct work on the series? How does your experience of developing the story change and what do you find fun about collaboration in writing?
Christos Gage: It hasn’t been hugely different, but there are differences. The traditional pre-season summit where we create a one-day writer’s room to figure out the big beats of the season usually included whoever could make it from the Whedon inner circle, like Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg or Andrew Chambliss. But this time it was just me and Joss. We probably focused a bit more on specifics than usual (facilitated by the fact that it was only four issues), including key bits of dialogue.
From there, I write the first draft of each script, then kick it over to Joss for any changes he wants to make. I’ve always loved collaborating…I co-write with my wife on virtually all my screenwriting work, and I’ve worked with other writers, like Dan Slott, in comics. In TV, of course, you’re always collaborating…that’s what the writers’ room is. The great thing about collaborating is that you have other brains working on the story, solving problems and coming up with great stuff…and bouncing off each other to come up with things you never would have alone. Working alone is fine too, it’s just a more solitary experience and you never know if you’re totally off the rails until someone else reads it.
HMS: At this point, has your view of Buffy as a character changed over time as she, in turn, changes through new experiences and adventures? If you had to describe her mentality and perspective in “The Reckoning”, what would that entail?
CG: People change, and Buffy has too, though who she is at her core has always stayed basically the same. It’s been a year since our last series, a year of relative quiet in terms of demon apocalypses. In the sliding timeline of the comics, Buffy is thirty years old. As a lot of us do at that age (because Buffy has always been about life stages many of us go through, with a supernatural spin) she is taking stock of her life and evaluating where she wants to go from here. For a long time, I think she was just trying to survive from one moment to the next, but now she’s coming to grips with the fact that she might be around a while and evaluating what she wants that to be like. Then, of course, she comes face to face with the knowledge of the Reckoning – which to Fray, the Slayer from the future, is ancient history – a big battle in which Buffy disappeared forever, and all the Slayers with her. I’m deliberately being a bit vague because I don’t want to give anything away, but her perspective on the relationships with the people she cares about is front and center throughout all of this.
HMS: Working with so many characters, and on an even more action-packed scale than usual, what challenges did you face putting this series together, and how did you resolve them? (If that’s not too spoilery a question!)
CG: The biggest challenge was finding room to do all the things we had in mind, which sometimes meant we had to cut bits we would’ve liked to do, and other times left it in and hoped Georges didn’t hunt us down and kill us! Poor Georges. The fact that we know how brilliant he is made us be very mean to him…casts of thousands on every page…and he’s doing an amazing job with it, of course. At the end of the day, though, it was about the characters, so when there was a choice between big action spectacle and an important character beat, the character beat won out, and I think that was the right choice. Besides, we’ll never top the cosmic scale of Season 8, and we didn’t even want to try. The epic scale of this particular series is because of what it means for the characters…they’re up against a moment that history already says will happen, when Buffy and all Slayers will disappear forever! We’ll get into what that means for all of them and how they choose to confront it.
HMS: Georges, do you feel that your art style working in the Buffyverse has evolved over time? If so, what changes do you think have come about in your approach to characters and art methods?
Georges Jeanty: I have been involved with the Buffyverse since 2007 going back to Season 8, and given that much time I would think any artist worth his salt would grow and mature artistically. I look at a lot of season 8 and cringe thinking how much better I could do it today, 10 years later. But that is a sign of growth. I wish that extended to the character likeness. I still struggle to this day on some of those characters. Drawing Buffy herself has gotten a lot easier, I will say. My approach with these characters is the same. I always try and draw an issue as if it were an episode from the show. A lot of the ‘directing ‘. I try and have it infused with how the show was filmed, only with a bigger budget.
HMS: When working with a number of characters at once, and really focusing in on action scenes, do you have any strategies for making sure readers can follow all the beats easily while keeping the pace up?
GJ: This is always a difficult thing for me because there are so many characters. I remember talking to George Perez one year because he’s always been well-known for drawing books with multiple characters in them. He said he would write down all the characters that were supposed to be on the page, or in that scene, and then check them off as he would draw them. Now, at any given time, I’m not drawing as many characters as George, but I have written the names of the characters in the page gutters if it starts getting to 8 or 10 characters on a page, and I want to make sure I’m not leaving anyone out. I try and have everyone wear something different, so the reader can follow, if not the character likeness, then what he or she is wearing. Some cases are no-brainers like Spike’s leather trench coat, but then that can get confusing when Angel is also wearing a leather jacket and it’s a scene from afar. Keeping the pace up is all about storytelling. That holds true regardless of the subject matter. As a storyteller, it is paramount that I focus on keeping the reader engaged and make the action easy to follow.
HMS: Can you tease what have been some of your favorite elements to draw in “The Reckoning” in a non-spoilery way? A particular character or moment?
GJ: Some of my favorite moments of Season 12, which I was totally unprepared for, were the scenes in the future with Fray. I’m a huge sci-fi fan and I seldom get to draw future-scapes, so it was a blast to make up elements I thought would survive the future. While I struggled with drawing all the characters, it was also sentimental to have all the characters that I’ve drawn at one time or another for the last 10 years come back for the final round. I’m always a sucker for the character moments and while they’re brief this time around, there are many.
HMS: What do you guys think reader reaction is going to be like for “The Reckoning”? How might the outcome of this series effect the Buffyverse as a whole?
Christos Gage: I have no idea, I just hope they like it. I know there will be things that make some people furious, and hopefully other things people will like. As for how the outcome will affect the Buffyverse, that’s why we make the books…you gotta read ‘em to find out!
Georges Jeanty: I’m not sure what reader reaction will be this time around. With previous seasons, it was always a given that something was going to happen and it might have been something you don’t like, but at least there was going to be another season, but this time things are coming to an end and we all know with Joss, when things are coming to an end, no one is safe.
Truth be told, I’m a little frightened…
HMS: What do you find continues to make this world and these characters so appealing to work with?
CG: The characters themselves. How memorable they are and how real they feel. Even the supporting characters…I could write Harmony and Clem all day. The world is awesome, but it’s the characters that make it live. Also, how much the readers care about it. I’ve been approached a lot at cons by parents who watched the show growing up and now share it with their teenage kids, and that’s really moving to see.
GJ: One word. Heart. There is so much heart with this series in general that I feel when people read an issue or watch an episode they are already being fueled with a huge helping of heart. Even if you’ve been away from this world for a while. As soon as you read something in the Buffyverse all that heart comes racing back and puts you in that mood you are when you first fell in love with this series. These characters are so distinctive and familiar that it’s impossible not to associate with them. And regardless, if you stick around long enough this world creeps under your skin and ends up touching your… heart.
Thanks to Christos Gage and Georges Jeanty for taking part in this epic interview that’s only fitting for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Reckoning, which arrives for #1 in shops on Wednesday, June 20th!