Saturday morning at New York Comic Con, Dark Horse Comics hosted “Once More With Feeling,” its panel dedicated to discussing future plans for the universe of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Panelists included Director of Public Relations Jeremy Atkins, Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie, comic/TV writer Jane Espenson, “Angel and Faith” artist Rebekah Isaacs and editor Sierra Hahn.
Allie first shared a cover by Steve Morris displaying a young Rupert Giles conjuring a demon alongside a young Ethan Rayne, a scene that calls back a story hinted at in the original Buffy TV series. A David Mack cover was shown from the Willow’s self-titled miniseries, wherein the character goes on an adventure to rediscover magic and further her personal growth. Other covers displayed an upcoming meeting between Buffy and Illyria and a fight with the villains of Season 9. For new readers who want a jumping-on point, a sampler of the Buffy universe is coming out in January and will bring folks up to speed on what’s happening in the different titles.
The panel then turned to Espenson and her new character Billy, a young man who has been adopted into the slayers. “We introduced Billy, who’s a 16-year-old kid who’s story is very much like that of girls we’ve seen in our show; going along, feeling like an outcast, feeling like there’s something special in me that’s nobody’s seeing. And then, instead of having a moment of calling, [Billy] has more of a moment of necessity of stepping up and decides to self-identify as a slayer. The mythology doesn’t allow for boy slayers, but this is what I want to be.
“When this was announced, there was a lot of positive reaction, but there were also some people going, ‘But the whole point of Buffy is female empowerment,’ and, ‘The whole point is that this is a mythology that is just for us and a biology-driven calling that’s just for us,'” Espenson continued. “And I get that, but I also know how many young men have come up to me and said what previously only young women had said to me, which is, ‘Buffy got me through high school. I identified with Buffy.’ There is a way in which Buffy was speaking to young, gay men that hasn’t been addressed. That feeling of being an outcast and being bullied and having something in you that you wanted to express and having a secret. All that stuff spoke to a population that we weren’t addressing with the population of our slayers.
“People have read the issue now and they’re going like, ‘Oh, I get him, I love him. I get his struggle.’ There’s no usurping going on. It’s more of as every group goes through and gets acceptance, they should put their hand out and help the next group through.”
“As far as the mythology goes, Billie wasn’t chosen, Billy chose,” Allie added. “Billy doesn’t have super powers, Billy is just rising to this challenge because he felt he needed to.”
Atkins asked what Espenson thought kept Buffy’s adventures and TV series relevant, to which she answered, “When high school stops being Hell, I think this will stop being relevant. Maybe. But there’s something so universal about it — about the underdog stepping up.”
“I didn’t really discover the show until just recently,” Isaacs admitted. “The things that always stick with me are the friendships. I think that’s always the core of Buffy stories. People who value each other for just who they are underneath the years, the clothing and style, the social groups. I like — especially in the beginning seasons — all these people who just couldn’t fit in anywhere else, and they all form this lasting bond.”
Hahn, on the other hand, is a longtime fan of the characters and original television series, having come to it from the time it debuted. “I was in high school and struggling through all these relationships — I still go back and watch all those shows over and over and over again. And even though I’m not in high school, the stories are still relevant to who I am now. And as I develop and grow as a person, the stories still resonate, no matter what age you are, and that really speaks to the writing and that world.
“I started watching Buffy when I was 17, I never imagined I would be in Joss Whedon’s living room helping to contribute to stories and ideas with all these people,” Hahn added. “‘Surreal’ is how I would describe it. And there was karaoke and lightsaber battles.”
“Turns out Joss Whedon’s living room is just as awesome as everyone thought it’d be,” Atkins joked, prompting laughter from the audience.
As the panel opened up to audience questions, a fan caused the panel to burst into laughter by asking for their least favorite episodes. Espenson said that although “Band Candy” was her first episode to write, she now looks back and sees many “mistakes.” Allie admitted “The Body” was a tough one to watch and Isaacs pointed to “Go Fish,” wherein Xander was seen sporting a Speedo swimsuit. As if on cue, Nicholas Brendon entered the room, causing cheers and pockets of standing ovations from the audience.
A young fan at the microphone said, “I’m 14 and I loved the show when I was growing up.” Brendon laughed, repeating, “When you were growing up?” The fan joined in laughter, then asked Jane and Nicholas, “What was your favorite show to act in and to write?”
“My favorite episode that I wrote might be ‘Superstar,’ with Jonathan,” Espenson replied. “That show was just fun to write. It was fun any time you got to sit down at the keyboard.”
After a moment’s consideration, Brendon said his favorite was “Once More with Feeling.” “But also, I really enjoyed playing Renfield, because it was so different. It was such a departure from Xander, and my favorite line with Xander was in that episode, which was, ‘This will not please the Master.’ But really, I’m so fortunate in that it’s so hard to pick.”
“People talk about, you take a job and you want two of three things to be good,” Espenson added. “You want the money, the people or the product to be good. And if you get two of those three, you’ve found yourself a dream job. And on ‘Buffy,’ it was all three. These are people that I will treasure forever that I met through ‘Buffy,’ enough money that I was able to do things like spend it on ‘Husbands’ now, so I could do dream projects from my heart, and the product is the reason we’re all here.”
At one point, the panel asked the audience which characters they would like to return to the Buffy universe who has not been seen for a while. The biggest answer seemed to be Anya, who met her end during the TV show.
“People are more excited about [‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’] now than when we were actually doing it, Brendon said, noting how packed the room was with fans. “I maybe did one or two conventions when I was actually on the show. I think it’s kind of one of those things that’s just built momentum. We should really thank Jane for that, because without her words, I wouldn’t be here right now. And Joss, too.”