WC14: Inside Dark Horse's "Whedonversity" with "Buffy" and "Serenity"

It's Easter Sunday at WonderCon in Anaheim, California, and Dark Horse Comics wrapped up their programming slate with a "Whedonversity" panel, focused on the latest in-canon continuations of Joss Whedon's beloved TV shows: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10," "Angel & Faith Season 10" and "Serenity: Leaves on the Wind."

In attendance: "Buffy Season 10" writer Christos Gage, and the "Serenity: Leaves on the Wind" creative team of writer Zack Whedon and artist Georges Jeanty. (Unless otherwise noted, "Whedon" in this panel report will refer to Zack Whedon.)

Panel moderator Brian Walton (editor of Nerdist) began the panel by asking the participants how big of "Buffy" fans they were when the show was on -- both Gage and Jeanty said they didn't watch it when it aired, and became fans upon being involved in the comics. "I was in an episode," Whedon added. "I played a bald, homeless teen in the season three premiere."

Answering how he approached season 10, Gage said, "Something new and interesting is happening to vampires," and that he didn't feel the need to depart too drastically from the previous volume. "Fans seemed to enjoy what was going on. It was more, 'What do we want to do that we think is going to be cool?'"

For "Serenity," Whedon said he had a conversation with his brother Joss about directions to take the book, and that he's planting seeds for a follow-up after the "Leaves on the Wind" miniseries wraps. "I made a deliberate effort with the sixth issues to close things off, but to also tee a lot of things up so that another writer could take it and run with it. I don't know who that would be, but I hope somebody does it."

Speaking more on "Buffy Season 10," "The core Scoobys haven't really all been together for an extended season since season six of the show," Gage said, adding that it was "really exciting" to bring them back together. Gage said it was all Joss's idea to put Giles in the body of his 12-year-old self.

Gage said that Nicholas Brendon -- Xander himself, and a Season 10 contributor -- was at the Season 10 creative summit, and suggested, "We have to make sure that Giles has a real problem with raging boners all the time." Gage said that Season 10 will include a major set-piece devised by Brendon.

Jeanty discussed bringing authenticity to illustrating the Whedonverse. "When I was doing 'Buffy,' I was always referring to a particular episode, or making sure 'Buffy' was in my head."

Asked about the reaction the panel has received from the famously passionate Joss Whedon fans, Jeanty joked, "I think the biggest disappointment is that Spike and Angel aren't gay lovers in reality. I remember a lot of fan fiction going in that direction." Gage said he didn't know what "shipping" was before he wrote "Angel & Faith" -- and that he explained it to Brendon, and informed him of Xander/Spike shippers.

"This is really my first opportunity to engage with the fans since the 'Serenity' comic came out, so I don't really know if people are pissed off or not," Whedon said.

First fan question asked what the panel thought of Dawn. Jeanty said he doesn't necessarily understand the negativity to the character. "I ended up really liking Dawn. Her maturity in Season 8 and 9, to me, has vindicated anything she was before." Gage said he likes Xander and Dawn as a couple, but clarified, "that dosn't mean I'm not going to do terrible things to them as couple."

"I always liked Dawn," Whedon said. "I thought that it was brilliant that the show came back, and suddenly there was a character there that everybody was acting like was there always. I hadn't seen that on television, and haven't seen that since."

An audience member asked if "Leaves on the Wind" will continue past issue #6, and Whedon, who has a full schedule writing for TV, again indicated that he'd like for another writer to continue where he leaves off -- suggesting it was unlikely there will be more "Serenity" written by him in the near future. Whedon also said that he made the conscious decision to not incorporate cursing in Chinese into the comic, since he felt it didn't work in a comic like it did in live action.

Whedon was asked to comment on his experience working on "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog." "The whole thing was a lot of fun," he said, adding that it was a bigger production than he originally anticipated. "It was a ton of fun to write. It was so goofy, and we got to be so ridiculous. Before then I had been working for David Milch on 'Deadwood' and 'John From Cincinnati,' and there's not a lot of goofiness there. To be able to be so absurd with the writing and the comedy was just so refreshing."

A fan asked if Dawn will continue Xander's unlucky streak, and be revealed as an evil demon. Gage said she's not a demon, but there will be complications in their relationship.

Will there be character-focused one-shots or miniseries as part of "Buffy" season 10? "As I understand it, there are no plans for ancillary miniseries this time around," Gage said. "Instead we are extending the seasons -- last time around they were 25 issues, now they're 30." Dark Horse publicist Aub Driver pointed out that Spike actor James Marsters is writing a "Spike" original graphic novel out in July.

Whedon on the differences between writing TV and comics: "In an issue of the comics, I'm trying to cram a lot of story into a much smaller space. We're covering a lot of ground really quickly, and that can be a challenge, but also a lot of fun." He also enjoys the lack of budget restraints. "If I can think of it, I can make it happen. It's liberating in that regard."

Gage added that one of the great things about writing for actors is when you can be a little subtler, and Jeanty and "Buffy" artist Rebekah Isaacs both have the ability to capture that element in a comic book.

Asked about dealing with fan reaction, Gage said he's usually so far ahead, that he doesn't really have the ability to adjust to account for fan reaction -- and being too concerned with how the story will be received would weaken the final product. Gage said for the most part, "even when [fans are] unhappy with something, they come at it from a respectful way."

For the final question of the panel, Gage was asked to describe "Buffy Season 10" in three words. He chose "Family" and "growing up," saying that by "family" he means "the people you choose to be your family." "We got them all back together, and this is not the time to do the alien invasion storyline" -- it's time to explore why they relate to each other, he said, and what makes it work.

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