When artist Karl Moline co-created futuristic vampire slayer Melaka Fray with Buffyverse kingpin Joss Whedon for the Dark Horse spinoff miniseries, "Fray: Future Slayer," in 2003, he hoped he would one day return to the character.
Moline's prayers were answered when Whedon reignited the franchise with the launch of the bestselling "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8" ongoing series last fall and decided to add Fray to the fray in a new Whedon-penned arc beginning in July's issue #16.
In this exclusive first interview regarding the new arc, Moline told CBR News that an in-continuity extension of the Buffy television series comic wasn't even on the radar in 2003, so this is not how he expected his creation to return. "I don't think they even knew that the Buffy series was coming to an end at that point," explained Moline. "Certainly, they didn't dream up us doing a Season 8 in comics. I think we always had in the back of our minds, that there were a lot more stories to tell with Fray and we sort of expected a sequel. And we may still get to do a sequel."
In "Fray: Future Slayer," it is revealed that some time in the 21st century, an apocalyptic battle between good and battle occurs, which wipes out all demons and magicks, although it is hinted that a lone slayer may have survived.
"I guess it just worked out with what Joss wanted to do with 'Buffy,'" Moline said. "And it does. The story is really about Buffy and her relationships and friends. Fray is a main character in it, but she is definitely second to Buffy. I think it's a Buffy story, more so than Fray story."
The Florida-based artist continued, "We had such a good time the first go-around, I think everybody involved was certainly open for some more Fray stories. I guess there was always sort of a silent understanding that we would do more. And here we are. And it's probably the most fun I've had since the last time we were all working together."
Moline said when the book's editor came a calling with the opportunity to return to the Buffyverse, it didn't take too long for him to sign up. "Scott Allie contacted me and said that Joss was coming back for another arc in the series and that it would be involving Fray and asked if I would be interested and I said, 'Of course.' I didn't have anything lined up for that time, so everything just happened to fall into place."
When Fray splashes and slashes for the first time in #16, Moline admits readers may see a slightly different take on the character than the one they last saw in 2003. A new and improved Fray, if you will."I like to think that I have grown a lot as an artist, so she has definitely changed," explained Moline. "I think I have sacrificed some of my original enthusiasm and maybe a little bit of heart for a lot more drawing understanding. I have definitely evolved as an artist for the better. I really feel like the world is a lot more complex this time around and I have a better grasp of who Fray is and the other characters involved. And I am having so much fun with the future stuff. It's really pretty exciting [pauses], yes, pretty exciting."
And while Fray has come easy to Moline in this incarnation, his first attempts at Buffy have been a bit more of a struggle. "I find with doing the Buffy stuff, there are a lot of likenesses between her and Fray. At the same time, it's definitely my weak point," offered an earnest Moline. "I am a lot more reserved on those pages because I have to be so careful. I can let go a lot more on the Fray work. It's coming from some unconscious place. But the Buffy stuff, it is more of a literal translation. It's sticking to reality more. I can really let go with the other stuff. Creatively, I don't have to stick to anything necessarily with Fray. It's coming from my imagination rather than seven years worth of actors."
But fear not, Buffy fans, you'll know Miss Summers when you see her. Eventually. "I am on the second issue now and I am just starting to understand her face a little bit," laughed Moline. "Hopefully by the fourth issue, people will be able to tell that it's her. I was doing okay and now, looking back on the first issue, I was missing a lot of things. So hopefully, it will keep improving to the point where she is immediately recognizable. In the first issue, I got close and it's definitely influenced by Sarah Michelle Gellar. I am trying to draw it like her but [laughs] I don't think I necessarily hit the mark, at least for the first issue."
Moline wasn't exactly sure what he could share about plot points and specific pages but did confirm Buffy and Fray share panels. "Oh yeah, definitely," said Moline. "I am not sure exactly what else I am allowed to say. I think I am definitely safe to say that the story occurs both in present day and in the futuristic landscape.
"There are going to be definite character evolutions that people will not expect and people will be thrilled, hopefully, by everything Joss hands them. Personally, I am thrilled getting these scripts. Just seeing the crazy stuff he comes up with is so much fun and I really think the audience is going to like this story a whole lot."
Moline added that while Buffy regulars like Willow, Dawn, Xander and Kennedy will be along for the ride in the run, so too will some familiar faces from the "Future Slayer" like Fray's older sister Erin and her ex-boss, the mutant fish, Gunther. "There will definitely be some surprise characters, a couple of curve balls during the arc," teased Moline.
The artist said because Joss Whedon is such a gifted storyteller and has such a mastery of pacing and dialogue, he makes a wonderful collaborator on big picture projects like the new Fray arc. "There is definitely a lot of give and take with Joss," said Moline. "It's through a filter. I mostly communicate with the editors. Joss is real busy but he always gives great feedback. I usually present the pages at the layout stage, so if there are any storytelling corrections, we have a good chance of nipping those in the bud.
"And when pages are finalized, he definitely gets the last say before they're passed on to the inker, which is great because Joss has such a wonderful aesthetic sense, as well as being an expert storyteller. Anything he wants to share with me, I am honored to try to work it into the art because I know it's always going to be good. And that's not always the experience in the creative field. You find that sometimes you have to struggle between opinions that you are kind of shaky on, so it's refreshing to have someone that is so on target, all of the time."
"Joss actually had a lot to do with how Fray was originally conceived," continued Moline. "It started with a pretty good description, not of her appearance so much but her personality. I gave a round of sketches from which he picked. 'I like this from here and this from this part.' And we sort of worked back and forth until we finally hammered out a design for Fray that he really liked. It came out of my pencil but there's definitely a lot of his vision that went into the character."
Despite runs on popular characters like Rogue and series like "The Loners" to his credit, Moline said Fray is still by far his most asked-for sketch request by fans and collectors at conventions and shows across North America. "Fray was my first real story; it was my first real recognition in the industry," he said. "And the first time I got to give birth doing this for a living. She's my first baby and I am proud to have Fray as something that I am identified with. I am not crying. It's definitely a great character.
"She is a very strong-willed, self-assured, dynamically-strong and agile character. She is always flipping around and doing things with a lot of grace and power and conviction. That's a lot for an artist to draw," explained Moline. "I have worked on some stories that were set in a very real world. And it was very bland where everyone was just walking around and talking.
"That can be good for that kind of story but I think it's a lot more fun to get to draw somebody who is doing a bicycle kick in midair and chopping somebody's head off," laughed Moline. "It's something you don't get to do nearly enough of working in comics.
"I don't think I could ever get tired of telling stories with Fray. If they offered me a sequel [to 'Future Slayer,'], I'd snatch it up in a second. I think there are more opportunities and who knows I may get to pop up here and there in 'Buffy' also. We'll see. I am having a very good working relationship with Dark Horse right now. And I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more projects under their flag."
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