Buffy, Buffy Comics, adaptations & portraiture: roundtable!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Horse, Season ten 2014


Buffy Season ten, Rebekah Isaacs, Dark Horse Comics, 2014

We get previews and alerts and review pdfs in our inboxes, and we don’t go full-interest on every one. (This is behind the scenes stuff, hold tight.) We don’t discuss everything, either, not by a long way; usually we each take a hold of what looks interesting to us, and occasionally one of our editing staff will flag something as particularly worth considering. But having a WWAC internal-mail conversation on the tail of a set of preview scans: that’s unusual.

But that’s Buffy, right?

Portraiture is fascinating to me, and portraiture in comics is a world of its own. If a series is a spin-off of a live action property, odds are the target audience is gonna know what these characters are “supposed” to look like. We get het up about film casting when so-and-so doesn’t look like they always did; whether it’s worth pursuing or not, the initial but that’s not the face I’m used to is at least understandable. The grandma/auntie stereotype floats about crying “my, how you’ve grown!” Change is affecting.

Sons of Anarchy #3, Damian Couceiro, Boom! Studios, 2013

So it’s a tough sell, maybe, asking the public to buy illustrated versions of their favourite TV stars. I remember being impressed in passing with some of Georges Jeanty’s earlier Buffy work, and Twitter seemed to agree with that. I just read the Sons of Anarchy mini and I feel pretty good about my decision to do that without watching the show, because while a cursory wiki reccy (and, obviously, the layperson’s knowledge of Ron Perlman’s face) shows Damian Couceiro has a pretty solid understanding of the cast’s physicality, one or two panels rev’d their engines at me. All “little bit more photo-ref than maybe was wise over here!”. I don’t want to be able to recognise that.

Rebekah Isaacs’ Buffy previews showed up, and my head came up. That’s good stuff. That looks like really good stuff. It brought on a little conversation for us, that developed into a mini roundtable, that we’re sharing here with you.

Claire: That is some fantastic & sustained portraiture on Buffy herself! Impressive!

Megan P: The covers have always been great but I fucking hate these comics. *Red Lanterns out*

Claire: Oh, to be sure. Or rather, they don’t really exist for me. Buffy was on TV, and Buffy finished. The requirements of long-term canon are starting to wear on me; I don’t want to keep going, but “reality” says that some corner of my mind has to acknowledge that things are still happening. I want peace~

Wendy: The covers keep trying to trick me into going back, but after S8, I was skeptical, even after Joss apologized for it. I barely made it through S9.

Megan P: I think I read a bit of S9 but it was a mistake.

Claire: “Even after Joss apologized for it;” whaaa?

Wendy: Somewhere in the last trade, I think, he says something about getting carried away with the medium and doing lots of stuff, and promised that the next volume would take things back to the basics. Which, I see, is exactly what Buffy says at the beginning of S10.

It wasn’t exactly an apology, but I pretended it was in order to justify reading S9. I tapped out when Willow showed up, morphed into a hipster. Because apparently Willow is no longer capable of having her own personality. And Buffy remains a petulant creature, now living on someone’s couch.

Megan B: Lots of Buffy comics hating here! I wouldn’t disagree with criticism, but I will say that a lot of people were missing out on the fantastic Angel & Faith. Don’t let the mediocrity of the Buffy book stop you from checking it out!

Kristi: As a diehard Buffy fan, collecting the trades rather than the getting the issues regularly, I definitely didn’t care for S8. I felt that a lot of the struggles, beyond it being such a lousy concept for a season, came from trying to find that Buffy banter that the show had. That said, I’ve only moderately been into S9. I still haven’t even finished the TPB that came out in October (the title of which will elude me until I get home from work). The Spike and Willow TPBs were okay but nothing to write home about.

But Angel & Faith is quite incredible. I hated Angel and this series has made me a believer in a way the shows never could.

Okay, let’s get formal. Have you watched Buffy? During which period of your life? What did it mean to you?

Claire: I watched throughout my secondary school experience, and it meant a big ol’ deal. The Buffyspeak sticks around but the attachment doesn’t so much; I don’t retain any urge to watch the show, I don’t recall any of the characters with particular tenderness. Although I regret how much I didn’t appreciate Anya at the time. Folly of youth. I can remember “how it felt then,” but it doesn’t feel that way now. Buffy… I’ve moved on. The most interesting thing about Buffy for me now is the almost complete lack of critical thinking I did during my original watching period. I was a different person! A way crappier one.

Wendy: I came late to Buffy, in my mid-twenties, not understanding this whole fandom thing. But when I finally did figure it out, I fell hard and binge watched every episode I could to catch up. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved the bonds they shared. I loved that they went through as much pain as they did happiness. Episodes like “Conversations with Dead People” and “The Body” rocked me because of how well done they were. And the sixth season that everyone hated resonated with me because I could empathize with Buffy’s feelings.

Megan P: I watched Buffy at exactly the time you’re meant to watch it: during high school and university. Buffy and I grew up together. I loved the show and cried at all the appropriate moments, but it didn’t hook into the dark side of my brain. I have lots of fond memories and have even written Buffy fic (yup, yup), but perhaps because I was watching so many other shows with female leads at the time, it didn’t stand out in that respect. It’s not a feminist milestone–for me–and it wasn’t a formative experience in terms of my own creative writing and criticism. That said, it’s still special to me. Not least because BtVS gave me Buffy, who remains my favourite character of the bunch.

Jamie: I watched it first run, from right before Oz showed up, all the way to the end. I can’t say it held any great deep meaning for me. It was nice to have a genre show with a female lead who didn’t need rescued all the time. And a brainiac sidekick.

Kristi: I caught Buffy in my mid-twenties, after a superfan made me watch the entire series over a summer. I was hooked. Part of it was the nostalgia. Buffy Summers and I are the same age so we experienced a lot of things at the same times. Her 1998 was my 1998 so there were a lot of things I could relate to in my own life, even though I was experiencing hers many years later. Anya became an instant favorite, trying to navigate humanity and adulthood with delightful awkwardness. I related to her so hard because, at 24, I was navigating adulthood with delightful awkwardness.

Have you touched the comics at all? Why (/not)?

Claire: I saw a few scans, but I just wasn’t interested. It was sort of disappointing to discover that I didn’t care about where Andrew was, or that Oz was married, or what Faith was doing, but, can’t change it.

Wendy: I followed through with season eight of the comics because I was still in Buffy fandom mode. I collected all the trades, but halfway through the season, I had grown frustrated with the story and how crazy it was getting. It lost focus and just started to get silly. Joss Whedon recognized that things got out of hand and wrote: “If you’ve read [Volume 8: Twilight], you’ve got a sense of where we’re heading for Season 9. Back, a bit, to the everyday trials that made Buffy more than a superhero. That made her us. I was so excited to finally have an unlimited budget that I wanted to make the book an epic, but I realized along the way that the things I loved the best were the things you loved the best: the peeps. The down-to-earth, recognizable people. And Mecha-Dawn.”

Accepting this sort of apology, I tried to keep going with season nine, but eventually realized that my time with Buffy was over.

Megan P: I read all of Season Eight and a bit of Season Nine. I also read Angel: After the Fall. And I hated all of it. Hated it. HATE. The above Joss Whedon quote is telling. I’ve always believed that Joss was a writer who needed a budget and practical constraints. He’s used to working to a certain scale, and without it, working on a bigger stage, his ideas lose focus and his favourite tactics have his actors spinning in circles. He was meant for the stage, I’m telling you. Think about Avengers, where the script is at its best when its narrowed (conversation, one on one confrontation), not when it’s letting loose. He’s not a writer whose skills are particularly suited to writing epics, or world-spanning adventures. Joss at his best is the domestic set against the epic; the quiet in the chaos.

Claire: Exemplified in Toy Story? I don’t know how much script influence he had as a team member there, but “the domestic set against the epic”–spot on thematically. And what a classic!

Jamie: Think I read an issue or two of the first couple. Then there were noises about Xander & Dawn as a ship and I went “nope.”

Kristi: I didn’t collect the comics as they were coming out, opting instead to read them as the trades came out. I got through Season 8 and was pretty horrified by the result. It didn’t feel like a real Buffy story. Like a Twilight Zone universe that had characters with these names and histories but aren’t actually them. Pod people, perhaps. Season 9 has been infinitely better, though I haven’t finished the trades that came out in October 2013 and haven’t picked up the ones that came out this month. I fear that I’m losing interest because the foundation from Season 8 is still in place. The bright spot has been in Angel & Faith, which is such an interesting, compelling story. I wish I’d liked the Spike and Willow miniseries more but neither grabbed me.

Did you ever read Buffy comics before they became the main canon of the franchise?

Claire: I read a couple of cartoony one-shots, and had an A4 hardback annual-style collection of a mini-series about Willow, Tara and Dawn having an adventure with a scary house and some fairies, I think? The art was pretty nice there, as I recall, but the story didn’t do much. At that point the comics were outside of canon by necessity; they couldn’t disrupt the show or they’d negate themselves. Different times!

Kristi: I didn’t when they were actively being made but I picked up the big Tales collection a few years ago. There were some cool stories in there and I liked looking into the mythology of the series a little more.

How do you feel about transferring the main thrust of a series to a different medium? Do you have strong feelings? Do you consider it a jumping point?

Claire: My brain doesn’t fully acknowledge the comics as “real” canon because of the change in medium, which I think is weird and possibly interesting in the right context. It’s useful, because I did like having Buffy “finished” in a jar at the back of my mind. I do wonder if anyone new to the show came in at the comics, and how they found a) reading season eight onwards, plus b) going back to the television series after that. Body language in comics isn’t always 100% representational of body language in live-action (see: Bill & Ted comics by Evan Dorkin. Great, but sorta wrong-feeling–because he hadn’t seen the films and wasn’t adapting the Reeves/Winter characters, but providing a different interpretation of the same script they worked from) and I’d like to hear how that affected anyone’s investment.

Wendy: I like the idea, especially with shows that might not have been able to tell their full story on screen. But it is important to have good writers and artists who can capture the nuances of the characters and their interactions. Joss Whedon’s stories, such as Buffy, Firefly, and Angel, have been okay with this, but have been very hit or miss overall in terms of the stories being told. In some cases (The Sheperd’s Tale–grumblegrumblegrumble), the misses have been very big, with the writers seeming not to have even bothered to view the source material.

Megan P: I’m not sure that a medium change need be a deal-breaker. Sin City is an example of a clever transition from comic to film that makes use of the best of each medium, and comments on how their respective pulpy tropes interact and diverge. But on the other hand, most adaptations are lazy lazy lazy, with no time spent on the difficult work of adaptation and translation. Because film-to-book (or comic) adaptations are so quick and commonplace, it’s rare to see effort spent on doing it right–making a story live in two or more mediums–and of course that’s the case. Why spend time and money on thinking through body language, pacing, and the core elements of the story’s universe, when you can churn out more plot and have it on shelves in time for some big promotion? The Buffy comics weren’t meant to tie into a larger cross-promotion, but they weren’t exactly a thoughtful project either.

Jamie: I don’t mind something media-hopping from TV to comics, if it continues the story in the usual way. It isn’t considered weird for stuff to media-hop the other way. Hollywood’s been mining comics and video games for movie fodder since the 80s. Since most of the stuff coming off TV and onto comics has been Whedonverse or Cartoon Network, I don’t have much more of an opinion. It seems like they are having a hard time finding creative teams to make the transition work smoothly and believably.

What are your answers? Where are your favourite live-to-comics adaptations? How much does illustration support or barricade your engagement in those?

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money