SDCC: "Buffy Season 11" Welcomes Gage Back For Joss Whedon's Yearlong Epic

"Buffy The Vampire Slayer" will live on as her comic book adventures continue under the Dark Horse umbrella, though the iconic character's stories will head down a new track.

In advance of Comic-Con International in San Diego, the publisher revealed that its canonical continuation of the horror hit isn't ending once this year's "Season 10" wraps up. Returning for the next round will be the core creative team of writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Isaacs, but they'll be telling a much different story of Buffy Summers and the Scooby gang in "Season 11."

In talking with CBR News, Gage revealed that Joss Whedon and the Slayer braintrust have concocted a shorter, more epic tale for the next chapter of Buffy's life. "Season 11" is only slated to run for 12 issues, but as the writer says, the focus on character, apocalyptic action and general Buffy-ness are, as always, available in abundant supply.

CBR News: Obviously, it's kind of hard to talk about anything coming up when the big finale of "Season 10" has yet to arrive on shelves. This year's story definitely stuck to that stated intent of keeping the story personal like the show, but as Buffy and gang pull themselves together to face down Big Bad D'Hoffryn, how did you work to "level things up"? Did you look to any past finales for inspiration?

Christos Gage: No -- I didn't want to take the approach of, "Hey, that was cool in Season X, so let's do something like it." Or as Drew Goddard calls it, "Doing karaoke." It was more about what felt right for this season and where these characters are now. If there was an overall guiding principle, it was that, just as the season itself was character focused, I tried to make the finale that way too, even if there's also explosions and fire and blood raining from the sky.

While there have been a lot of new changes, characters and ideas introduced over the course of "Season 10," the core of the story revolved around the characters finding themselves while working to rewrite the rules of magic. How does the finale put a final spin on all the drama surrounding the "Vampyr" book and its effect on the world at large?

As you mentioned, I need to be careful of spoilers. But I have said before that, much in the same way the TV show took universal experiences most of us go through in our teens and added a supernatural spin, that's what we were trying to do this season, but with adulthood. It's about that scary point when you're really on your own for the first time, making crucial decisions about the rest of your life, and you have to sink or swim without any parents, teachers, Watchers or other authority figures involved, for better or worse. Many of our characters have been hesitant to take that step, or really commit to it, and the finale will be about them getting to the point where they have to "own it" -- the final arc's title.

Looking forward, the traditional first step on the road to a new season is a summit with Joss Whedon. Did you have an opportunity to get the ball rolling that way this year? Who came along, and what felt like a primary question that drove the next season?

Yes, we did -- it was actually in two parts this time. Joss and I met for dinner, where we talked in a broader sense about the things we wanted to think about for Season 11. Then we had the traditional day-long summit which included Joss, me, editor Freddye Miller, my wife and frequent writing partner Ruth, Season 9 writer Andrew Chambliss, former Buffy editor Sierra Hahn, and TV/travel writer Bob Harris. Without getting into anything too spoilery, we discussed trying something different for Season 11. Season 8 was big and cosmic in its scope, while Seasons 9 and 10 were more grounded. Joss felt it was time to get bigger again -- not the universe-spanning kind of bigness we saw in Season 8, but somewhere between that and the past couple seasons. At the same time, we decided to shorten the season from the 25 or 30 issues we've been doing to 12 -- sort of like an old-school comic book maxi-series, like "Crisis on Infinite Earths," or shorter-run cable TV shows like "The People vs. OJ Simpson," or the British model, where the season has a defined beginning, middle and end, and tells a specific story.

Content-wise, again being annoyingly vague, it's informed by some of the things going on in the world today. Joss talked about how, as a father, it seemed to him as if he had kids and suddenly the world went all to hell, with wars and environmental crises and so on, and he worries about what his children will have to face in the future. (Let me hasten to add that Buffy is not having kids this season. I don't have any, so I'd be the absolute wrong writer to do that!) That doesn't mean Buffy will be tackling climate change -- it's more something that's reflected in the tone and approach. While most past seasons have ended with a threatened apocalypse or calamity of some sort, this season begins with a disaster that our heroes fail to stop. And it just gets worse from there.

This is your second year leading the core Buffy book. While your "Angel & Faith" run certainly got your feet into this world, is there anything you felt you really learned doing "Season 10" that will have an effect on "Season 11"? Is there any part of this world you feel you've yet to explore?

Oh, sure. One thing I learned from Season 10 is that when you open the can of worms that is "the rules of magic," you end up covering a lot of beautiful art with lengthy exposition -- and it's a tricky juggling act to make sure you don't contradict your own rules, let alone those established over nine prior seasons! So while that's fun to do sometimes, we won't be doing it in Season 11 -- there'll be a lot less of what I call "Wikipedia stuff." The interesting thing about approaching Season 11 so differently is that I feel in a lot of ways like it's a new gig -- but one where I'm used to the characters and have a terrific creative rapport with my collaborators. So it's got some of the excitement (and nervousness) of a new job, without the growing pains that come with them. As for the Buffyverse, there are always parts of it left to explore -- it's a big Verse!

The other evolving part of the Buffyverse in its years as a comic has been that Joss and company have had their eyes on exploring what it's like for this character to be in a different phase of her life -- beyond high school or those awkward early 20s. What do you view as the position Buffy's in this season in terms of her long, crazy journey into "adulting"?

It's definitely on the spectrum of the journey to adulthood, but it's very focused. In Season 11, it's about when something really bad happens that affects you and everyone around you, and you have to deal with the fallout -- how it impacts you and those you love. It's also about Buffy facing a problem she can't solve just by punching or staking someone. Though it's pretty safe to say both those things will happen.

And for the rest of the cast, we had a lot of relationships started, broken and just downright twisted over the course of the last year. Who are some of the supporting Scoobies you're most excited to continue with in "Season 11" and why?

Spike will be going through some stuff, and I'm excited about what were doing with Willow. This season, we'll see that she's become a leader in the Wiccan community, and that's been very interesting, because it's something that's been a part of her character for a long time, but has never really been delved into. In terms of the storyline, that means when things go bad, she's not just trying to look out for herself and her friends. She has a whole community that needs her.

Artist Rebekah Isaacs is back for another round of collaboration. What's it like to be at the point where your working relationship is so well established on the book, and how do you view the big horror visual side of things knowing exactly what she can bring to the page?

Rebekah is definitely back, with a couple of planned guest-illustrated issues to help with the schedule, seeing as how she does both pencils and inks. And so are ace colorist Dan Jackson and Comicraft, happily.

You're right that Rebekah and I have been working together for a long time -- I want to say five years or so? We're at the point where I know very well how good she is with both creature design and character "acting." Her skill with facial expressions and body language means that I can write much like I would for living actors -- characters can be saying one thing and I can be confident that their face and body will be conveying a different emotion that the reader will get. To be honest, as a result of working together so long, I've probably gotten significantly lazier, especially with creature designs, which I tend to just give very broad strokes on (sometimes as little as "snake like" or "humanoid") and let her go to town, because what she comes up with is always so great!

At this point in time, what would you say you're most excited for about "Season 11" in terms or story, collaborators or Joss' whole world?

I think I'm most excited about the new "maxi-series" structure of the season, and the change-up in the scale of the story. That's also the scariest part, because we haven't done it before -- but the Whedonverse has never been about taking the easiest path, has it?

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