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INTERVIEW: Benson & Kuhn Go Back to the ‘90s with Clueless Comic Book

by  in Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Benson & Kuhn Go Back to the ‘90s with Clueless Comic Book

Clueless is back — in comic book form.

BOOM! Studios surprised fans this past March with the announcement of an original graphic novel based on Amy Heckerling’s 1995 classic teen comedy Clueless, specifically telling the first official follow-up since the TV show that ran from 1996 to 1999. Titled Clueless: Senior Year, the book revisits Cher, Dionne and Tai, and tells the story of, you guessed it, their senior year of high school; picking up where the movie left off.

RELATED: Clueless Comic Book Adaptation Lands at BOOM! Studios

Clueless: Senior Year is written by Amber Benson (a writer/actor best known for her role as Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who actually auditioned for a role in Clueless) and Sarah Kuhn, the author of Heroine Complex. Together with artist Siobhan Keenan and colorist Shan Murphy, they were tasked to replicate the very distinct mid-’90s world of Clueless, while pushing the characters into new territory.

With Senior Year now in comic book stores, CBR talked in-depth with Benson and Kuhn about why Clueless has stood the test of time, nailing that ’90s slang, what makes comics the right medium for the story and whether a follow-up is possible — or even a good idea.

Clueless: Senior Year cover by Natacha Bustos.

CBR: Sarah, Amber, what are your thoughts on the enduring nature of Clueless? There were a lot of high school comedies in the ’90s, and Clueless stands above them. Wanted to get your thoughts why — other than it being a better movie than the rest of them — as to how this movie stands the test of time so much that there’s a comic books coming out 22 years later.

Sarah Kuhn: I think one thing is that it is based on a very timeless story by Jane Austen. I think that the story of Emma resonates over many years, and many decades, and especially to many women. I think that character is very special, because she definitely goes about things very single-mindedly, but she always has a good heart. She always has good intentions. She really is trying to help her friends, even though sometimes it may not seem like it. I think the movie was such a great modern version of that, that also had its own language. I think we are in agreement that everything Amy Heckerling wrote was super-brilliant and still stands the test of time.

It was a great modern version of that journey; a woman who is really trying to help her friends, thinks that she knows best, has her world upended a little bit, and then comes back around and does the right thing and grows as a person anyway. I think that’s a timeless story, and it was put into really great, modern context by Amy Heckerling — and of course with all the iconic catchphrases, outfits and little extras that make a story like that fun.

Amber Benson: Amy Heckling directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High — she didn’t write it, but she directed it. I think she just has a finger on the pulse of what kids are feeling and thinking. She understands that there’s a depth to teenagers that sometimes we forget about. We just expect teenagers to be shallow and overly dramatic — I think she understands that, yes, all of that applies to being a teenager, but there’s also a lot of truth to what teenagers feel and think. She’s really good at curating that. I think you see it in Clueless with the specificity of each of the characters — they’re so well-defined. There’s always somebody in the film that you can connect to. “Oh, I’m that person.” “I’m kind of like Cher, but then I take this other piece of Dionne…” You can just find something in each of the characters that you connect to, or there’s a specific character that you connect to. I think that’s a really difficult thing to do, and Amy Heckerling just kind of nailed it with Clueless.

You have to look at the actors, too. Brittany Murphy, Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash — these women really embodied those characters, and very much brought them to life in a very real way. We don’t just think of Cher as Cher, we think of Alicia as Cher. I think it was such a great collaborative effort, and I think that’s why it endures — it’s so specific to a time and place, the characters are so well drawn. It’s almost like they took a moment in time and put it in amber — I know that’s lame to reference my own name — but in a million years, you’ll be able to take the digital file and see the distilled ’90s in this movie.

Kuhn:: It’s a movie we can point to as something where every single element of it works, down to the song choices.

Given all of that, and like you said, how distinct these performances are, how distinct the movie is, and how it has existed effectively frozen in time for 22 years — how was the the experience of taking the characters and setting and specific 1995-ness of it all, and moving it forward, and putting new words in their mouths?

Benson: It was kind of a blast from the past, a return to being a teenager or early 20something. I don’t like to think about the clothing choices I made in 1995, but I would say that they’re in there in the movie. [Laughs] It felt like being a kid again, and for me, it was just so much to revisit that time in my life, and to think about the kind of person I was, and to get to curate and steer these characters in the direction that I think is fun and interesting, but also stays true to the film, hopefully, and stays true to what these characters are.

Part of the fun of it was doing it with Sarah, and with an amazing editorial group. We had so many awesome people working on this book with us. We all enjoyed being transported back to that time. Shannon [Watters], our editor, sent us this amazing compendium of sayings and phrases from that time, to make sure that we stayed true to the dialogue of the time. Sarah and I worked very hard — Sarah has a better ear for it than I do. Every time I would mess up, I’m like, “Sarah will fix it! Sarah will make it sound better!” [Laughs]

The phrase “toe-up”? Oh my god, when I saw that, I was like, “I remember people saying that!” Did we really say that? But we did.

Kuhn:: Yeah, that’s from the movie, too — “That girl is toe-up.” It’s one of the best parts of the movie. [Laughs] I will say that I don’t regret any of my fashion choices from the ’90s. I’m all about the return of chokers, the return of baby doll dresses with big boots.

It was fun to revisit that time. For both Amber and I, the ’90s were a special time in our lives. I think that what made it fun was that it wasn’t just pure nostalgia. In revisiting both the movie and coming up with this new story, I think we both really got into the idea that both of them are about young women are at an important point in their lives, and have to make some decisions. I think both of us can really relate to that — I think most people can. It was fun to be able to revisit that era, but also hopefully tell this story that is relevant to any time period.

Just on the nostalgia tip, I know that we enjoyed coming up with the song choices — we have this series of mix tapes throughout the book that are curated by different [characters], so it was fun to think about, what would this person put on a mix tape versus this other person. Obviously, Dionne and Josh have very different musical tastes and they would pick different songs. [Laughs] Then just going down deep Internet rabbit holes about things like, “What would be the right reference to the Spice Girls that’s actually correct for the year it’s in? Were they still together? Was Ginger still there?” That kind of thing was very fun for both of us.

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