A Mind Interrupted: Robin Balzer's "Buffy" Story

Almost a year ago, when MySpace Comic Books first launched, the Web venture teamed up with Dark Horse to give one lucky fan the chance to appear in an issue of Joss Whedon's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8." Fans were asked to submit a short essay detailing how "Buffy" had impacted their lives, and thousands of devotees rose to the challenge. Ten months later, after careful deliberation by Dark Horse and Whedon himself, Robin Balzer was declared the winner, and her role in "Buffy: Season 8" #10 turned out to be larger than anyone expected. CBR News sat down with "Buffy: Season 8" editor Scott Allie and Myspace Comic Books Marketing and Content Manager Sam Humphries to get the post-game on the contest.

Humphries had been in talks with Dark Horse about a number of possible MySpace Comic Books promotions, and the first issue of "Buffy: Season 8" just happened to hit stores around the same time as the Myspace Comic Books launch. "It was a perfect opportunity for us to do something big together," Sam Humphries told CBR News.

"The response was overwhelming," Humphries continued. "Not just the number of submissions, but you could see the heart and soul in every entry. We were all so moved by the winning entry - a true testament to the power of how one creative vision can change lives."

Scott Allie, too, was well aware the "Buffy" franchise had left an indelible mark on thousands of fans worldwide, and this contest was an opportunity to acknowledge that. "I approached Joss about it sort of cautiously, because I think asking to stick a contest winner into a comic that's being written with some seriousness and integrity is a tall order," Allie told CBR News. "But I figured if the winner were a woman, it'd be the easiest thing in the world to just pop her into a shot of a dozen or so Slayers."

Sure enough, the winner of the contest did turn out to be a woman. A woman named Robin, who, sadly, was incapable of writing her essay for herself. The winning essay was written by Robin's husband, Jerrod Balzer, on Robin's behalf. Jerrod wrote that he and his wife discovered "Buffy" around the same time as Robin was beginning to succumb to schizophrenia.

"Our growing love for the show as each season came out [on DVD] gave something for my wife to focus on and look forward to during those first dark and confusing years," Jerrod Balzer recalled. The married couple quickly discovered "Angel" and "Firefly," and Jerrod said his wife found role models in characters like Drusilla and River, both of whom suffer from mental disorders. Even though Robin is now completely disabled from her illness, the Whedonverse posters that line her walls continue to keep her focused in her moments of coherence. "I know it would mean the world to my wife, Robin, if she could see herself with Buffy in a comic."

Everyone assumed that in all likelihood, the contest winner would have a cameo appearance in the background of a single panel of the "Buffy" issue in question, but Whedon was so moved by Robin's story that he beefed up her role considerably. In "Buffy: Season 8" #10, the title character and Willow seek the counsel of a member of the demon elite, a walker between worlds whose very presence on Earth creates an unstable reality field. In deference to the cataclysmic danger such fields represent, Willow explains that every unstable reality field is assigned a minder. This particular field is minded by an enigmatic, dark-haired woman named Robin. But hers is an unenviable task, for to mind an unstable reality is to contain it, and minders' own minds quickly ceased to function like those of ordinary people.

"Joss liked what he read, and he saw how it had more to do with the Buffy story than simply a fan loving the show," said Scott Allie. "So Robin became a larger part of a story that he was already cooking up, about Buffy and Willow. He saw how Robin's story complemented the girls'."

Allie, assistant editor Katie Moody, and a few other Dark Horse staffers narrowed down the thousands of entries to a more manageable fifty finalists, and presented those to Whedon for the final judging. Whedon was so genuinely moved by those 50 entries that he asked for more time to consider even more entries. Whedon ultimately selected Jerrod Balzer's essay from the several hundred entries that he personally reviewed.

The tremendous outpouring of responses to the "Buffy" contest really drove home how passionate Whedon's fans are about his work. "It reminded me that by working on this book, I'm contributing to something that people care passionately about," remarked Allie. "Something that has genuinely, undeniably, made a difference in some people's lives."

And as one of the leading promotions for "Buffy: Season 8," Allie acknowledges that the MySpace Comic Books contest was one of many factors contributing to the series' success. For fans that enjoyed the "Buffy" contest, MySpace's Sam Humphries assures there are more where that came from. "We strive to connect our members with their favorite books and creators, and this contest is a great example of that," Humphries said. "We set the bar pretty high, and there is definitely more to come, so stay tuned."

In Scott Allie's mind, one of the most important things about the "Buffy" contest was that it in no way compromised the integrity of Joss' work. "I don't think anyone could say we shoehorned Robin into the comic," Allie said. "Robin enriched the comic. She became integral to it, rather than being tacked on. Who saw that coming?"

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