With his historical fiction miniseries "The Order of the Forge" kicking off in April, and a new story arc in "Angel & Faith" starting up this month, writer Victor Gischler has a lot of big things coming up. In "Forge," Gischler marries his ability to work on licensed properties, like his stints in the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" universe, with his reputation for creating edgier fare, as found in his creator-owned work like "Clown Fatale," or "Kiss Me Satan."
In a conversation with CBR News, the prolific and award-winning writer spoke about creating what may be a historically inaccurate but completely awesome version of George Washington for "The Order of the Forge," fleshing out the story with Washington's compatriots Ben Franklin and Paul Revere, and melding real world facts with historical folklore and magic. Plus, Gischler takes us for a look ahead into the Buffyverse with his and artist Will Conrad's latest "Angel & Faith" arc which finds the titular characters reunited in London, along with a few other familiar faces.
CBR News: "Order of the Forge," your new series, focuses on a young George Washington, but in this version of history, he's using mystical powers to battle zombies.
Victor Gischler: Yeah, it's being billed as a story about the George Washington you didn't know. It's kind of an alternate history. Fairly early in the first issue, he encounters a magical Indian totem pole and he lashes out at it in anger. The result is that he's cursed/left with some powers from it. And then we go from there.
Is this a total rewrite of American history, or is it presented more as an untold story that can maybe fit in with the events that we're familiar with?
I get the feeling that it's a little bit of both. It's the untold secret history, but also a secret history.
Just to make things clear, I should say that this is not a creator-owned project. It's a story that was given to me to flesh out. I get the feeling from the licensors that it's evolving, we're seeing where it takes us. We have a good solid idea of these three issues; they're all already scripted, so that story is set, but as to where they fit into a larger universe? It's a little bit alternate history and a little bit hidden history.
Right, it's based on an idea from Donn D. Berdahl, and Andy Briggs, who also wrote a treatment of it. Did you with them on this? How much of the comic is coming from you?
The main story, the main idea, that all comes from them. I am working with them, but sort of through the editor. I'll ask my editor, Dan Chabon, some questions. "OK, what about this? Do you want me to take it in this direction? Does this sound like a good idea?" He'll check with the guys and get back to me. So I am working with them, but it's through the editor, which is kind of how it's supposed to be, anyway.
They did send me a pretty lengthy, detailed treatment, and one of the things, as we went from that treatment to the comic, is that they wanted to take what was happening in the treatment and twist it a little edgier for what we were going to do in the comic. Which I think is why they thought I would be a good pick as writer, because they've seen some of my work that is rated-R stuff. A lot of my creator-owned stuff is a little edgier. They wanted to take it in that direction, and I helped them do that.
Another thing is that the treatment was pretty elaborate. One of the things that I was tasked to do was to try and figure out how that could gracefully fit into three issues. I tried to identify the core elements, the most exciting elements, of what they were doing and put them together in a way that fit into three issues.
That explains why they sought you out to be involved in the project, but what was it about their pitch that persuaded you to get on board?
They're creative guys, and they had some very intriguing ideas that I liked. They recognized that I have the ability to take what they have done and put it into comics. I was completely respectful of what they had supplied as far as the treatment and the ideas, and for their part, they were very cool about letting me run with it. That's my sweet spot as a writer. When I'm writing my own stuff, obviously, I get to do whatever I want. When I'm writing other people's stuff, I can sometimes feel a little paralyzed because I know I'm playing with other people's toys. But they didn't make me feel like that at all. They made me feel like, "Here's what we want, we think you're the guy to do it, so run with it." I felt totally comfortable, and as a writer, that attracted me to the project quite a bit.
I've already done all three of the scripts, and they had notes, but they were not overbearing, there were not huge problems. It was all good suggestions and things that were not hard to implement. I never felt like it was a drag, or that I was stuck writing someone else's idea when I'd rather be doing my own creator-owned stuff. It wasn't anything like that at all. It wasn't a harsh experience at all.
How much actual history is the story itself steeped in? Did you do a lot of research, or does "Forge" go far afield of what we learned in high school?
I think that if you have a "School House Rock" knowledge of history, you're going to see that in there, and also see where we depart from that. There was a lot of Google-style research, but honestly, a lot of that was 1700s women's underwear. Which is in no way sexy at all, by the way, in case you're wondering about 1700s underwear.
I remember communicating back and forth with the artist, asking, how much do we want these historical characters to look like themselves and how much do we want them to look like cool comic book heroes? We definitely leaned towards making it fun. It's a fun adventure; it's not an educational tool. Whenever we had to choose between two things, we would go for what was fun or what was cool.
But it's not completely devoid from actual history! One of the things about the American Revolution that is in there is that a lot of people were loyal to England. It wasn't like every man, woman and child just hated England; it wasn't like that. This is a younger George Washington, and he's not thinking American Revolution at this point in history. He's thinking, "The king's my guy, and England's cool." He's coming from that point of view.
George Washington is the main figure in the book, but Ben Franklin and Paul Revere are also involved. Are their personalities developed from whole cloth, or did you take aspects from historical knowledge and legends?
A little bit of both. Benjamin Franklin I remember reading up on. He was like a wild man; he was a party guy, so I used that a little bit. Oh, and Ben Franklin, of course, is known for his inventions. That's a big thing in the book.
For Washington -- this wasn't my idea, this was from the licensors -- but it's kind of a fun thing. We all know the story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. His father asked if he had chopped down the cherry tree, and he said, "I cannot tell a lie. Yes I did." George Washington has this legendary honesty, and the licensors made, without spoilers or anything, they made a really cool thing out of that, which I ran with for three issues. That's a personality trait that's not necessarily historical fact as much as it is historical legend and folklore -- a lot of people say that there wasn't even a cherry tree. We took sort of an everyman knowledge of Benjamin Franklin and an everyman knowledge of George Washington and went with that and capitalized on that.
And Paul Revere, obviously, his ride is what he's famous for. So what he does in the book is very much related to this really cool horse named Guillotine. He's kind of the horse guy. It sounds dumb, but trust me, it's cool! We tried to take these nuggets of what these characters are known for and extrapolate them for our purposes.
The art in "The Order of the Forge" is done by Tazio Bettin, who also did "Sally of the Wasteland" with you for Titan. What has it been like working with him on this?
When "The Order of the Forge" came around, I was talking with the editor, Dan Chabon, about who the artist might be. I said, "Look, I'm just wrapping up something with this artist, and I'm real comfortable with him, and I like him." I'm not his agent or anything, but I put in a word for him. We sent some samples, and I guess Dan liked him, and I guess the licensors liked him, and of course I did, too!
I was already comfortable working with Tazio. That's important to me, because I want the artist to feel like they can email me and say, "This is not working," or if something is a good idea or not. We can just be on the same page. It was like a bonus for me that I got to work with Tazio again, because I liked working with him before.
Shifting gears to another licensed comic you write, the "Lost & Found" storyline just came to an end in "Angel & Faith" #10, so there's a new story starting up in February. Where are we headed in 2015?
Angel and Faith have been apart for a while. Angel is sheriff of Magic Town, and he feels responsible because he had a hand in creating this place with its own specific problems. Faith has just separated from Giles, and she's feeling like she's got to go find her own way in the world and everything. So she kind of just takes off to do some self-discovery.
That was the first couple of arcs, but now, with this next arc, circumstances bring Faith back to London. We finally have Angel and Faith together in "Angel & Faith!" It's not that Faith is going to automatically fall back on old ways. She's not just going to show up and say, "Okay, I'm back, let's be Angel & Faith again and do the stuff that we usually do." I mean, she's still trying to be an individual and be her own person and decide what she's going to do with her life. But she is back in London, and she does see Angel again, and there are some other familiar faces that pop up.
I think the arc is called "United," so we're living up to that name, bringing the team back together again. It might not fit together exactly like it did before, because we want to respect Faith's growth and things that have happened. But we have our cast, at least for a while, back in the same location.
Speaking of familiar faces, it looks like fan-favorite characters Fred and Illyria are showing up soon.
I am going to say this... [Laughs] If it's spoilery, then it's a spoiler, but it's probably not. It might be infuriatingly vague. There were some loose ends from last season, so we want to kind of start weaving in those elements in the next arc. And maybe we don't solve everything, but we get some chess pieces back onto the board and start addressing these loose ends.
That sounds vague, but promising.
Whenever I do an interview, I should just write down a whole bunch of stuff like that to have ready.
You know how it is with comics, you're always working ahead a little bit. I'm actually working on the next arc after "United." It's three issues, so it's a shorter story, and it's Faith-heavier than previous arcs. I try to give Faith and Angel equal time, but I feel like maybe Faith needs a little bit more time, so I'm working on that in the three-parter.
"The Order of the Forge" debuts from Dark Horse on April 29. "Angel & Faith: Season 10" #11 arrives on February 4.