CCI XTRA: Joss Whedon on "Buffy" and Beyond

On Saturday evening at this year's Comic-Con International, Dark Horse editor Scott Allie took the stage to introduce Joss Whedon to the packed Ballroom 20 in San Diego. Whedon emerged to a standing ovation, which continued for so long that his fist half-dozen attempts to open his mouth were drowned out.

Whedon kicked off the discussion by giving props to Scott Allie, who he thanked not only for being his "editor and co-conspirator" on the "Buffy" comic, but also for facilitating things like the previous night's charity auction for Equality Now, an organization that protects and promotes the human rights of women around the world. All throughout July, fans could bid on eBay for the chance to have a private dinner with Whedon.

"Dark Horse has become a huge part of my life," Whedon said, pointing out his t-shirt, an original by artist Fabio Moon, promoting his new Dark Horse project, "Sugarshock," the writer's first original comics work, the first installment of which is available for free on MySpace Dark Horse Presents. "Sugarshock" marks the beginning of a paradigm shift for Whedon in comics. With his runs on "Astonishing X-Men" and "Runaways" winding down, the writer plans to take a break from monthly superhero comics and focus on creator-owned work. That said, Whedon promised that his runs on both Marvel books would go out with a bang, not a whimper.

Next up, the audience was treated to a trailer for the "Serenity" Collector's Edition DVD, after which Whedon held up a copy of the yet-to-be-released DVD, to the dismay of jealous fans.

Then Whedon posed a question to himself: What have I done for you lately? "Well, I wrote the 'Wonder Woman' movie," Whedon said, with more than a hint of irony in his tone.

As for his horror film "Goners," Whedon said the script was still in rewrites, but the project is "starting to look extremely good." And rather than bemoan the studio notes he's had to sit through, Whedon admitted that most of their concerns were right on the money.

Whedon then announced a new horror film he's going to be writing with Drew Goddard, entitled "Cabin in the Woods." Whedon characterized it as the "horror film to end all horror films, literally."

Additionally, while Whedon couldn't say anything for certain, he did say there's a good possibility that next year there would be some movement on his long-in-limbo film project "Ripper." The deal is not yet set, but there's a good chance it will take the form of a 90-minute BBC project.

What possessed Whedon to try and keep so many balls in the air at once? "I'm getting sick and tired of not entertaining you guys enough," Whedon said. As a result, the writer plans on doing smaller projects that he can do quickly and on a smaller scale. "I have a lot of really creepy things in the back of my brain. I need to get them out."

Next up, the Q&A. One fan asked Whedon if Oz would be making an appearance in the "Buffy" comic. "I can't tell you when, but you don't have to ask 'if,'" Whedon answered.

As to the future of his comics work, Whedon admitted he's come to the end of what he and his wife have been calling his "Mary Marvel midlife crisis." That said, he can't bring himself to stop writing the "Buffy" comic. "It's like a drug," the writer said. On that front, Whedon said he hasn't had to give writer Brian K. Vaughan a great deal of notes on his upcoming arc on "Buffy: Season 8," because "he's one of the best writers in comics." After BKV's run is done, Whedon is writing two one-shot issues, to be followed by an arc by Drew Goddard.

When asked where he gets his ideas, Whedon said, "Everything. When you're a writer, it's just a great big funnel. Everything you see is something you want to express."

The next question was about world-building. Whedon admitted that nearly everything he's done has had a world, but that it's the character that dictates the world and not the other way around. If anything, "the universe happens so fast, I have trouble finding the easy narrative flow," Whedon said.

With the announcement that Kevin Smith will be directing an episode of the "Heroes" spin-off "Origins," and that "Heroes" creator Tim Kring has a short list of big-name writers and actors he wants to see participate, one fan asked if Whedon would consider helming an "Origins" episode himself. "It would be a privilege, enormous fun," Whedon said. "But it's not something I have time to do."

With so many irons on the fire, one fan asked how Whedon stays focused. Whedon said some days it was easier than others. The father of two admitted that his young children were sometimes an obstacle to keeping focused, but that unlike every other child he's ever met, his kids are "awesome."

Whedon says his lack of focus was particularly cataclysmic while he was writing his draft of the "Wonder Woman" screenplay, and that when writer's block hits, it's best to jump to another project where the words are flowing more readily. "The 'must' is not to be argued with," Whedon said.

Whedon then took a moment to tell the audience about a pet project he's been working on for some time: "I'm composing the score for a short film, a ballet starring Summer Glau." The film is called "The Serving Girl," and Whedon is reportedly in talks with a "great choreographer."

When asked about the future of "Fray," the short-lived but fan-favorite Dark Horse comic written by Whedon back in 2001 and set in the future of the Buffy-verse, Whedon said he'd absolutely be returning to that world. "Not sure if I was supposed to say that," Whedon told the crowd. "But I did."

Whedon then spoke to IDW's upcoming "Angel: After the Fall," written by Brian Lynch. It was after reading Lynch's "Spike: Asylum" that Whedon was struck with how completely the writer had captured his characters' voices. "It's a maxiseries, 12 issues, not continuing indefinitely as 'Buffy' seems to be," Whedon said. Then the writer teased, "I have an ending for ["Buffy"] Season 8, but I know what happens in Season 9."

Since "Angel" was cancelled prematurely --so far as Whedon and company were concerned-- he'd always had ideas for the show's life beyond season 5. "Angel: After the Fall" is "somewhat derived from what might have been season 6," Whedon said. It shows what happens after the battle of Wolfram and Hart, and since a comic doesn't have the same budgetary restrictions as a TV series, Whedon assured fans, "What happened was really bad."

When asked what has been his favorite character to write for, Whedon admitted that can change on a day-to-day basis, but at present it's Illyria. After seeing Amy Acker's brilliant portrayal of Lady Capulet in a performance of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," Whedon became aware of the actress' untapped potential. And, in keeping with tradition, Whedon decided the only way to help her was to kill her. He fondly recalls work-shopping the character with Amy and her fellow "Angel" star Alexis Denisof, and made it a point to write most of the character's dialogue himself.

One fan asked Whedon about his never-to-be-seen "Wonder Woman" script, which sent the writer into convulsions. The question: Was Diana more of a goddess, or a strong female human with extraordinary powers? "She was an Amazon," Whedon said. "Not a goddess, per se, but definitely more than a human." The idea behind his script was that "someone that strong is weaker than everybody else because they don't understand how hard it is for the rest of us."

Another fan asked if there would be more musicals in the writer's future. Whedon says he wants to write another musical more than anything. "But I'm deliberately keeping it at arm's length, because they take up too much time," Whedon said. "It will happen, I'm just not sure when."

There's an old axiom that writers have to be willing to "kill their babies," and no one adheres to that more than Joss Whedon. One fan asked if the writer had any regrets about the decision to kill a character off. "Not so much," Whedon said, with the coda that he does sometimes wonder about Tara. That said, Whedon had intended to bring Tara back in a seventh season episode of "Buffy," but it never came together. There was to be an episode in which Buffy was granted one wish, and the wish was going to be for Tara to be alive again. "It could have been one of our signature moments."

Whedon ended the discussion with a sincere thank-you to everyone in the audience. "It's been a rough couple of years, because I assume I've been forgotten," Whedon said. "And them I come here. Your support means everything."

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