Have Dinner with Joss Whedon, Help a Good Cause

Writer Joss Whedon's depiction of strong leading ladies is well known to his fans. His breakout television series "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is evidence of that and continues in the monthly "Buffy" comic from Dark Horse. While Whedon's fictional worlds wow and amaze his fans monthly, it's his work in the real world Whedon hopes his fans will embrace next.

Whedon has joined with Dark Horse Comics and eBay to offer fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a private dinner with him at Comic-Con International in San Diego next month. Beginning on July 2nd and running through July 12th, fans will have a chance to bid on seats at his table. There will be additional offerings as well, including signed editions of Dark Horse's upcoming "Serenity" hardcover collection. Full details can be at www.ebay.com/josswhedon.

Proceeds from the auction will benefit Equality Now. Founded in 1992, Equality Now works to protect and promote the human rights of women around the world, mobilizing action to stop human rights abuses against women.

Tuesday morning, CBR News caught up with Whedon to learn more details about the auction and the dinner, his work with Equality Now and to get some answers about what's to come in "Buffy."

First off, Joss, how did you begin working with Equality Now?

Well, I love the phrase "working with them" because they're in the trenches doing so much and I'm just like, "Hey, you guys are cool!" Seriously, one of the founders of Equality Now was a student of my mother's and a dear friend, so I've known about it since its inception. She used to work at Amnesty International and Equality Now is built upon the same sort of methodology. So, whenever I've been able to help out a little bit I have. When the Browncoats asked if there was a group or charity I was interested in, I pointed them towards Equality Now and since then we've raised 10s of thousands dollars over and over again and it's been amazing.

I see the Browncoats raised over $60,000 through screenings of "Serenity" last year.

Yeah, it's really terrific and it helps get people get aware of a good cause. They're not huge, they don't have a giant press machine. The fact that my working with them is news tells you something about their size.

Have you ever done something like this before, where you've auctioned yourself off for a dinner or lunch?

I've auctioned myself off obviously for sex, but nothing this civilized.

Oh, so how'd the sex auction go?

Uhhh, nobody bid. [laughs] That is of course my terror that no one will bid on this and I'll be sitting lonely at my table telling the violinist, "Play 'Moon River' again."

Oh, I doubt that'll happen.

Yeah, I don't think violinists can play "Moon River." [laughs]

Do you have a plan or agenda for this dinner? Obviously you're going to let the winners of this auction ask you questions about your work.

This is something I've been thinking of for a long time, to have an experience you don't commonly get to have with fans where it is just a give and take, like "What are you interested in" and let's talk about that because I have opinions on everything. [laughs] Ask me anything, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to answer everything. "42! What's the next question?" [laughs] Yeah, it really is supposed to be a back and forth, a get to know you dinner. So, if people want to talk about their obsessions, great. If they want to hear about mine, great. I'm sure there's some overlap there.

Yeah, we have a really nice restaurant picked out. We're not just going Drive-Thru, we're actually going to sit in McDonalds. Ahh, wait, I'm not saying which McDonalds!

[laughs] Now, I hear issue #5 of "Buffy," an issue with a stand-alone story, ties in some way with your work with Equality Now, at least thematically.

Well, it doesn't officially tie-in. The thing is everything I do ties-in with Equality Now in the sense that Equality Now is about taking a look at the world and the gender injustices and inequality and trying to very actively and specifically do certain things. For instance, I just got an e-mail from Jessica Neuwirth, who runs Equality Now, saying they had just stopped a couple from being stoned to death. They had 24 hours notice that these people, who have been in jail for 11 years, were about to be executed and they managed to put pressure on the government and NATO to make it stop. That kind of looking at the world and the extraordinary panoply of injustices, moving on one and choosing one, it's kind of what the Slayer army is all about, in that sense of they're addressing problems all over the world. Now, obviously mine is a fantasy and I realize that, and this issue is about one slayer who has a particularly difficult task, but it actually is a very personal story in a weird way. It's not about what it's about, exactly - it's kind of a metaphor, something new I'm trying! I can't really explain it because if you explain it before people read it I think the experience isn't as pure, but yeah it works on a political level because pretty much the scenario that Buffy is working under does, but it's also very personal.

Now, as I understand it we'll see stand alone issues every fifth issue of the series, right?

Yeah, the basic structure of the season is going to be a four-issue arc, then a standalone, and so forth. It's great for me because it allows me to pop-in from time to time. I did issue #10, which is the one featuring the contest winner from the MySpace contest. It was a joy to write. In fact it was such a joy to write that I was three pages over the normal length. I could have really used a couple more pages, but I couldn't do that to poor Scott [Allie, "Buffy" editor].

Oh, I'm sure Dark Horse would bend over backwards to accommodate you, if need be.

They always have. They've been extraordinary, including working on and helping fund this Equality Now auction. Dark Horse has jumped through hoops for me and Scott and I have become e-mail buddies to the point where my wife is asking questions. [laughs] I don't like to abuse that, though. It was just an example of how I can't stop Buffy and Willow talking. I love them so much!

Why is doing something like this with Equality Now important to you personally?

Because Equality Now represents, I think, in a very pure sense, the mission I've always had with my fiction - they do it in a different way than I do - to highlight the absolute crippling and absurd inequality between the sexes. That doesn't mean just the differences between men and women, but there is so much misogyny and injustice and there's so much that women just aren't afforded. In my world, it's the chance to be a hero and that was something I was looking for in fiction so I set about deliberately to make that a part of what I was doing.

I'm always looking for the funny because you want people to show up, but gender studies was my unofficial minor in college when I was studying film. Everybody's lecture was always about what they were obsessed with and that was mine, how women were presented, what roles they have and how they function in mythic narrative and stuff like that. So, it just absolutely made sense to work with this organization, which takes Amnesty's International's view of preserving human rights and introducing them in countries where they haven't figured them out yet and to take that with a gender based slant because things are so much worse for women in every country than they are for men.

As we close things up here, we've got to get some Buffy questions in or else some of the CBR regulars will kill me, so here we go. At one of the recent conventions, Brian K. Vaughan said that if Joss killed any of his Runaways, he would turn Giles into a goat when it came time to write his Buffy issues, so…

Spoiler alert! You just spoiled the whole goat arc! [laughs]

Uh oh!

Look, if he has a good reason and a good payoff, I have no problem turning him into a goat.

[laughs] Of course, you'd have to kill someone in "Runaways" in order for this all to take place.

Well, I've decided to step up. He challenged me, I wasn't going to kill anybody, I was just going to pull off a few limbs, but now I'm going for death. Maybe I'll do a poll to see who people want me to kill the most, then I'll kill someone else. Wait, I'll kill Robin! [laughs] It's weird. It'll be a big cross-over event.

OK, so Brian's first issue stars Faith and is a four part story. How has Faith changed since we last saw her?

It's a very Faith centric story, so it steps a little to the left of the main story, although that's a part of it, it folds into it, but it really is Faith's story. Where we find her is not really in a great place. Because she's so hard core and always has been, she's been doing some of the nastier jobs and it's starting to grate a bit. Brian writes Faith beautifully - her patter and her attitudes are spot on and with Georges Jeanty drawing her, it's Faith-a-licious.

How's Buffy taken the General's revelation that members of the human race have declared war on her and her friends and associates?

Oh, they laugh and laugh and that's it!

Since the next story arc is Faith's and dealing with the next huge thing, we don't spend a lot of time exploring how she feels about that, she's just trying to figure out what exactly they have up their sleeve more than reacting to it emotionally. At the end of the day there's this cult - and I should mention because people have been getting it wrong that it's not the American military. There is a military wing involved, but it's more global and shady than that, so this is not a book about hating the Army or anything like that. But, after the Faith thing, Buffy will be dealing with it on a lot of levels, asking who it is that really hates her. I don't think she really believes the entire human race is out to get her, but some things are going to happen that are going to make things, well, what's that word I love? Worse.

It appears from the end of issue #4 that Buffy has access to some of Willow's magical abilities? How does it work? Is Buffy casting spells? Or is Willow actually casting spells through Buffy?

In that instance the idea was simply that Willow had given Buffy a little hit so that in case something did happen, because they knew they were up against Amy, she gave her a little protective mojo. It's not something I plan to repeat that often because it could get too convenient and that's sort of what separates the two of them. However, as we did in episode 21 of season four, making that connection between them really highlights the strength of their friendship, so I like doing that.

Wrapping up, Joss, have you heard from any of the cast of the show about the book? Are they reading it and have they given you any thoughts on it?

I just saw Aly yesterday and Tom Lenk brought her some issues. None of the cast are really aware of it and, generally speaking, you don't want to show the actors it because they'll just go, "Hey, that's not my nose!" Aly was like, "I guess that's an OK picture of me, but I seem kind of big!" And Tom said, "That's Dawn, you ninny!" [laughs] But, no, I haven't really heard anyone's opinion about it and [whispers] that's probably best! They are being beautifully rendered; don't get me wrong, I wish someone would draw me looking that hot.

Thanks, Joss.

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