Angel Revisited: Creators Talk Comics Adaptations

Over the years, IDW Publishing has had much success with the comics license to Joss Whedon's television vampire Angel. Two of their most popular Angel series, "Spike: Shadow Puppets" and "Angel: After the Fall," are direct follow-ups to "Angel" episodes "Smile Time" and "Not Fade Away," respectively. So it should come as no surprise that IDW would commission Scott Tipton ("Angel: Auld Lang Syne") to write comic book adaptations of both episodes. CBR News sat down with Tipton and "Angel: Not Fade Away" artist Stephen Mooney to talk about translating episodes of the fan-favorite TV series for the comics medium.

Both episodes in question took place in "Angel's" fifth and final season. Originally written by Ben Edlund ("The Tick"), "Smile Time" features a "Sesame Street"-like children's television show also called "Smile Time." Its creator, we learn, struck a deal with a demon to ensure the show's success, and henceforth the puppet stars were replaced by demons intent on draining the life force of "Smile Time's" young fanbase. When Angel and his cohorts attempted to shut down production on the soul-sucking series, the demons transformed Angel himself into --to quote Spike -- "a wee little puppet man," leaving Angel to reclaim his inhumanity and defeat the plush demons.

"Spike: Shadow Puppets," written by "Angel: After the Fall" scribe Brian Lynch, chronicled a battle between the other vampire with a soul, Spike, and "Smile Time's" Japanese affiliate, which saw Spike transformed into a puppet as well.

"Not Fade Away" was co-written by Jeffrey Bell and "Angel" creator Joss Whedon, and was the final episode of "Angel's" final season. Angel and company had agreed to take over the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart, an evil law firm and long-time foil for our intrepid heroes. The true power behind Wolfram & Hart was a group of ancient demons now referred to as the Senior Partners. Residing in a Hell Dimension far beyond our mortal plane, the Senior Partners relied on their earthbound agents to exercise their will on our planet, most notably the Circle of the Black Thorn, a secret cabal of some of the world's most influential figures, human and demon alike.

Angel managed to dupe its members into allowing him admittance into the Circle of the Black Thorn, and armed with the knowledge of the Black Thorn's inner circle, he and his allies instigated a night of the long knives against its members. Considered by most to be a suicide mission, and an almost certainly futile one, Angel and company did succeed in assassinating each and every member of the Circle of the Black Thorn, but not before sustaining a few casualties of their own: Wesley Wyndam-Pryce had died and Charles Gunn had sustained mortal injuries. A fading Gunn met up with Angel, Spike and Illyria at the rendezvous point in a Los Angeles alley, where the full brunt of the Senior Partners' wrath was bearing down upon them in the form of a nigh endless army of blood-thirsty demons.

The TV series ended with our remaining heroes unflinchingly charging headlong into certain death.

It was actually on the strength of Brian Lynch's first foray into the Angel-verse, "Spike: Asylum," that Whedon hand-picked the writer to pen the sequel to "Not Fade Away," "Angel: After the Fall," which chronicled the adventures of our surviving heroes in a Los Angeles now plunged into Hell.

A sticky subject among Whedon fans is the question of which Angel stories are canon and which are not. When it comes to IDW's Angel comics, Tipton said it's his understanding that the Whedon co-scripted "After the Fall" is in fact canon. "I'd like to say that my stories in 'Auld Lang Syne' are canon, because I wrote them," Tipton told CBR, only half-kidding. "It doesn't go against anything that's been the episodes or in the comic so far."

Stephen Mooney, who is a die-hard fan of the "Angel" TV series, and provided alternate covers for Tipton's "Auld Lang Syne," agreed the Tipton-penned books did not violate any established continuity. "It was well structured that way, there were no red flags coming up," Mooney affirmed.

Tipton, who also writes **Star Trek** comics for IDW, admitted he was a big fan of both Angel series himself, and understands where continuity-obsessed fans are coming from. "I love these characters, and I love these universes, so I understand that kind of need to really, 'Does it fit, where does it fit, does it count?'" That said, Tipton's own personal philosophy on the issue, whether it be for licensed or original properties, is that if he doesn't like a story, it didn't happen.

"That's my attitude to a lot of comics," Mooney quipped.

"Exactly," Tipton agreed. "If you ask me, the Blue Beetle's alive and well."

Tipton said his approach to adapting "Angel" episodes varies with the particular project. "For 'Smile Time,' since it was more of a fun, light-hearted story, I felt it had more room to add some stuff in there, so there are a couple of new scenes in the 'Smile Time' adaptation," Tipton explained. "I think for 'Smile Time,' part of the idea was to write a companion piece for 'Shadow Puppets' because that was so popular. And we're looking for new ways to service this Angel audience which has been growing in comics now."

Tipton said that he and IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall are old-school comics guys with fond memories for projects like Marvel's six-issue "Star Wars" adaptation, and felt that that affinity also prompted the "Angel" adaptations.

Artist David Messina is penciling IDW's "Smile Time" adaptation, and Tipton was brimming with praise for his collaborator. "Messina is doing a great job getting a lot of expression out of the puppet, which is fun. Usually his style is more illustrative, so to see him really do something more cartoony is a lot of fun for me."

While Tipton felt he had leeway to add scenes to "Smile Time," he and Mooney both treated "Not Fade Away" with a bit more reverence. "With 'Not Fade Away,' this is like so many people's landmark episode, and every scene in this episode is powerful for certain people, because it's the last time we see so many of the characters," Tipton he explained.

Where both Tipton and Mooney took creative license was determining which moments from the episode to focus on. "I'm trying to not really add new stuff, but kind of zoom in on moments," Tipton said. Moments like Wesley's death, which Tipton found particularly tragic. "That script by Whedon and Bell is just a heartbreaker, so the challenge is finding a new way to translate it without taking away anything from it."

Outside of his alternate covers for "Auld Lang Syne," the "Not Fade Away" adaptation was Mooney's first opportunity to work with Tipton. The artist said his approach to adapting "Not Fade Away" differed markedly from that of breaking an original comic. Mooney's first inclination was to run wild in the background, drawing what's going on outside a window or in a drawer behind Angel's desk while the events of the episode unfolded, but Tipton reigned him in, ultimately convincing Mooney that in a lot of cases, it was "almost a crime" to deviate from way the material was presented in the actual episode.

That said, Mooney realized the adaptation was always going to be its own animal, so he tried not to watch the episode too many times beforehand. "Half the time I try to think of a different angle, like maybe I can draw over the shoulder of the character whose face we saw in the episode, so that we're turning it around 180 and seeing it from the opposite point of view, but 50% of the time I'm just going with the shot from the episode," Mooney explained.

With the case of an adaptation like "Not Fade Away," which has five seasons of television leading up to it, the creators are forced to assume that the readers are not coming into the series blind. "Usually I really go out of my way to make it so anything I do, somebody who knows nothing about the character can read it and enjoy it, but that's kind of a lost cause with this," Tipton admitted. "What I did do was, I added a 'Previously on "Angel''' page at least, to get things set up from where they were in that season. I'm assuming everyone knows the episode like the back of their hand."

One of the trickiest parts of adapting "Not Fade Away" was tackling the episode's frequent cutaways. "Angel will be talking about something, and boom, it's a flashback," Tipton said. "There's four separate stories going on, and they each get like 90 seconds at a time in the episode, and I'm like, 'That's a page and a half, what am I going to do?'"

Mooney said there were so many scene switches that he felt at times like he was changing scenes every page. "It's very coherent, it's not a mish-mash of stuff," Mooney said. "But it's definitely bam, bam, bam, which makes it satisfying I think, it'll feel like there's a lot in there."

The "Smile Time" and "Not Fade Away" adaptations are the only Angel projects on Tipton's horizon, but he hopes to get another opportunity to play in the Angel-verse in the not-too-distant future. "Lynch has been doing such a fantastic job with 'After the Fall,' it's hard to say, 'Get him out of there, give me that job,'" Tipton lamented.

But Tipton did have an opportunity to put his stamp on Lynch's "After the Fall." At Comic-Con the year before, Lynch invited the veteran "Angel" writer to contribute to one of the "After the Fall" storylines. The first issue of "After the Fall" did not pick up exactly where "Not Fade Away" left off: Lynch dropped us into the new status quo of the Hell-exiled Los Angeles. But fans were eventually made privy to the immediate aftermath of that fateful battle in the alleyway in a story called "First Night," and when Lynch invited Tipton to co-script the "First Night" story, Tipton jumped at the chance.

"The fact that he invited me in to play in that, I was really happy with that," Tipton said. "When we talked about it at Comic-Con, I hadn't realized how important that story was going to be to his whole thing."

Mooney just completed a stint on "After the Fall," filling in for regular artist Franco Urru. Mooney's last issue was #14, and the artist admitted that once Urru returned, he no longer had access to the scripts for the rest of the story arc.

"You're stuck in the audience now!" Tipton exclaimed with a laugh.

"I'm totally left out of the loop now, I don't even talk to Lynch anymore," Mooney said with mock bitterness. But in all earnestness, Mooney admitted to being a big fan of Lynch's work on "After the Fall." And Mooney was just as complimentary about Urru's contribution to the project. "I absolutely love [Urru's] stuff. There are people on message boards talking about me drawing issues he should be drawing, and I'm like, 'You're right!'"

After working on Angel projects for so long, Mooney is becoming an old hand at representing Joss Whedon's characters on the comics page. "I'm getting to the point where I can draw them fairly easily from the top of my head, which is nice, took me a long time to get there." Mooney's lost count of the number of female fans who have asked him to draw Spike sketches at comic conventions. And as much as Mooney enjoys the "Angel" adaptations, what he's really hoping to get the opportunity to work on more original Angel stories.

The first of three "Smile Time" issues hits stands on December 24, and "Not Fade Away" #1 of 3 is currently slated for release some time in April, 2009.

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