Rise Like a Slayer: A Chat With Buffy the Vampire Slayer Writer Jordie Bellaire

Rise Like a Slayer: A Chat With Buffy the Vampire Slayer Writer Jordie Bellaire

Once more, with feeling, The Chosen One returns! Buffy Summers has returned to her high school roots and the continuity of the beloved Joss Whedon series has been reset to its origins in high school, with the transfer of the license to BOOM! Studios. Shortly after the debut issue—you can check out our review here—I

Once more, with feeling, The Chosen One returns! Buffy Summers has returned to her high school roots and the continuity of the beloved Joss Whedon series has been reset to its origins in high school, with the transfer of the license to BOOM! Studios. Shortly after the debut issue—you can check out our review here—I had the chance to chat with series writer Jordie Bellaire at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting about what fans can expect from the series, her level of fandom, and what the 1990s GenX slayer means to a 2019 audience.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

So, let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: how big of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan are you? Now your cat is named Buffy, so I figure you’re a bit of a fan?

I’m a massive fan of Buffy. I’m absolutely in love with Buffy. I started watching it in college. My roommate, Mallory Wyman, actually helped me finish it out at the end, so I got to cry and fall off the couch in that last episode and was held in the arms of a friend. It means a lot to me, just because it’s a show about being a woman, and also it’s a show that I got to share with my closest friend. Massive Buffy fan. And of course, yes, my cat.

This is a brand new launch for the property at BOOM! Studios. What can readers expect for the first arc in the new series?

The first arc is going to follow in the footsteps of a lot of Whedonverse fans. It’s going to follow upbeat comedy, good times, friendship, and also harrowing, horrible sadness. So I am hoping that the first arc is going to have some surprises that readers aren’t going to be expecting, because we are following a different story than we would be from the original series, and in that way we get to tell new heartbreaking stories, hopefully.

What level of conversation were you in with Joss as you prepared to kick off the new comic?

Well, Jeanine, my editor, Jeanine Schaefer, she’s actually the one that’s handling the liaison stuff between Joss and I. I haven’t actually had any direct conversations with Joss. But Jeanine says that he’s been very enthusiastic and very kind about the material, and as she says he’s given us his blessing after we’ve been able to answer certain questions that he had, in particular to certain plot details. After we answered those questions, he was like, “Game on. Do what you’re gonna do.”

Obviously, with the series, we’re going back to the beginning with Buffy in high school, but it’s not an origin story of her time as a slayer. We haven’t seen in this first issue, the rise of the Slayer. Actually, we jump right in: she goes to take her 15-minute break at her fast food job, and there she is, slayin’ some demons. Why choose to start at this point in Buffy’s history, instead of going all the way back to the beginning, to her discovery that she was a Slayer?

I feel that origin stories as a whole, they’re so ingrained in us, and I think, being a big Spider-Man fan—”great power comes with great responsibility”—is tired out. It’s been done to death, and I didn’t want our retread of Buffy—and I say retread, it’s not a retread; it is new—I didn’t want us to go through those motions because people know the origins of Buffy. And new readers can pick it up quickly, because we don’t have to hold their hands through it. I think we’ve been given enough, do you know what I mean?

Yeah, with Spider-Man, you have me thinking of the Tom Holland movies where there is no Spider-Man origin stories in those movies. We jump right in. He’s already Spider-Man.

So, ‘90s nostalgia is having a moment, and so is ‘80s nostalgia for that matter. Everything is getting a reboot. And a good reboot, in my opinion, is one that pays homage to the original character and the nostalgia of the era, but updates it for the current time. How are you bringing Buffy into the 21st century while retaining what made her such an iconic 1990s Gen X character?

I think a lot of that is already happening anyway, because, like you said, the ‘90s are coming back anyway. I sort of feel like it’s ingrained. I think that us being in the ‘90s, it feels like it’s come full circle, so I feel like a lot of those things, even something small like the fashion and the music choices, I feel like that’s already there. So in a very shallow way you’re going to see the ‘90s in the books. But I also think that the ‘90s was a really progressive time. I think we still have a lot of work to do as a society. In the ‘90s, women were fierce, people were getting out and embracing their LGBTQ side, people were just getting out there, and so I feel like we’re still in that place now. So I feel like Buffy’s just going to balance between how it was, but kicking it up to that tenth or eleventh notch that it is now. Does that make sense?

Yes, absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about your artist on this series. 

Dan Mora!

What does he bring in his artwork that elevates and enhances your script?

Dan is a wizard. I think that’s the best way to put it. I feel that Dan Mora, the moment I see his art come in—I just saw his art for issue two—he brings such an energy and a kinetic, just intensity in all the likenesses are super dead on while being simplistic. He makes it look so easy to draw all these very difficult celebrity likenesses, and you immediately feel like you’re in the Buffyverse because of his attention to detail, the backgrounds, everything.

When I read the first issue last night I was like, “Wow, you got Sarah Michelle Gellar right from that era.”

He killed it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer character sketches by Dan More (BOOM! Studios)

Now there’s a little bit of fourth wall breaking with this debut. And we know every series does it. Sometimes they are very subtle about it, like Wic+Div, sometimes they’re not so subtle about it, like Deadpool. Is this something we’ll see in future issues? Is this something you want to do in future issues?

I feel like if it happens, it’s maybe just a conscious nod, I think, to the fans and to people who love Buffy, you know, like, we’re all here together. So, I don’t know how often we might embrace that, but we definitely want to let readers know, hey we see you, we know what you’re all about, and we’re all in it for the same ride, the same reasons.

There are Easter eggs in this issue I’m sure for longtime fans of the show, or perhaps even fans of the Buffy comics that preceded this particular reboot. But is this also a series that’s jump on friendly for some of us like myself who may have been casual Buffy watcher and not as invested?

Yeah, I would like to think so. I’m really hoping that we’re making it interesting and exciting enough for new readers to come on, so that they don’t have to know the whole history, because again, all the characters that we’re playing with—you don’t even have to know their history to enjoy them, because we’re telling a new story. However, as Jeanine Schaefer, my editor, puts it, there’s going to be a lot what she calls dramatic irony, especially in regards to some of these character arcs that they’re going to really be so different and alternate from what original readers and fans might know, so that both sides will get a new experience really, all together.

And with our luck, reading the comic may lead people down the primrose path of discovering the TV show. Hey Netflix, if you haven’t put Buffy on…

I know right!

In one word—and you can explain why you choose this word—what does Buffy mean to you?

Awwww, that’s such a good question! Friendship. I don’t want to get emotional, but again, because of my time watching it with Mallory, which was the best year of my life, living with Mallory and getting really close to my friend. I think Buffy is a show that is about no matter what everyone goes through and how hard things are, they all stick together. And those character arcs they go through massive changes. They hate each other. They tear each other apart. They even kill each other. And then they’re all still friends. I just think it’s beautiful. I love that it’s a story about the endurance of friendship, to me.

So, you are known for another series that does focus on strong, powerful women, and that’s Redlands over at Image Comics. These are witches that do not shy away from challenging the patriarchy. What impact have you seen and do you expect to see from both Buffy and Redlands as we are progressing into this #MeToo era, where women are becoming more and more and more empowered to stand up to anyone and everyone? 

A severed hand crawls through writhing tentacles on the cover of Redlands #1 (Image Comics, August 2017)

I don’t know that my books will have a direct impact. I would love if it inspired young women to also get out and be angry, and also young men to stand up for what they believe in and tell other people they’re out of line or whatever. But I genuinely feel like, because of the #MeToo movement, and people like me who started as a colorist and now am writing a large book at BOOM! which is a massive opportunity, and that I got to make Redlands. Women are not afraid to stand up anymore, and I think that’s exciting. So, hopefully when women see me doing it, again, starting as a colorist, hopefully, more people who start in production,  like letterers and colorists. I hope more women and more people feel more encouraged to get out there and tell really truthful stories about their journey about who they are and about the things that they’ve had to endure.

You started in this industry as a colorist. You created #ColoristAppreciationDay to let comics readers and the rest of the comics industry know that colorists are important too. How has color work influenced your script writing, or vice versa?

In a massive way because I think a lot about film and photography when I write, and I think Dan is really able to channel that, as well as our colorist, Raul. There’s a new sequence that we just did, a nightmare sequence where both of them killed it, because I think we’re all thinking on the same page. We all have the same films in our pocket. So color is definitely for me just an appreciation for film and art, and I just bring that to my scripts as best I can.

Is it hard to cede control of doing your colors on Buffy to someone else?

No, not at all. For me, it makes the job more pleasurable, because I like writing and coloring Redlands, but at the end of the day, it takes writing away, which feels like a pleasure, and then I’m doing my job. Because writing is still so new to me. So on Buffy, I feel like I’m doing such a pleasure, and now I don’t have to color it, so it just gets to feel like a pleasure the whole time.

I will say though when I got those Dan Mora lines, I so badly wanted to color it. So bad. But I’m very happy with Raul’s work. I think he’s amazing. He’s killing it.

Now, your body of work has gone a variety of genres. You’ve done the supernatural with Buffy. You’ve done The Dead Hand also with Image, which is a little Cold War-era espionage. Which is your favorite to write, to color, and then to read as a fan?

I really like writing horror. Straight up horror and character-driven drama is my jam. I like to make people suffer, but I like everyone to be happy about it, if that makes sense. And then, I really enjoy coloring things that have magic and fantasy. I’ll color anything though. I really do love the challenges. But I like getting, like, pink smoke and diamonds and shiny things. I don’t know. I’m a colorist. I have a weird love for shiny things. Your eye is to the art first.

The things I like to read. I like reading thrillers, dark books, crime books. One of my favorite books is Black Hammer. I only just read it; it’s amazing. But the thing I love about Black Hammer is that it’s such a soft-spoken book with massive themes. It just looks like a bunch of people talking, and that’s what Jeff [Lemire] is best at, just building these characters moments and these universes. You feel like you’re in it and it’s my jam to read, I love it. Also, if you haven’t read his Royal City, which just concluded, it follows that thread. He’s so good at that.

And he’s also like you, a writer and an artist—a colorist.

He’s amazing.

So, you like thrillers. Any comics that you’re reading when you have those precious few minutes?

Black Hammer. I was so mad when I finished the second volume recently. I was like where’s the rest? Oh my god, there’s no more right now!

It’s being optioned for television.

I know, and I’m excited for that, but I want more of the comics.

Anything else we can expect from you this year? Obviously you have Buffy, and you have Redlands that are both taking up your time. Any other projects that you’re in a place that you can talk about right now?

Right now, it’s a secret, but I will say that I’ve been approached for more writing. I will say that. That’s the most exciting thing to me. Hopefully, if those things pan out the way they will, I’ll hopefully have some interesting books coming out this fall and early next year. I’m really excited about it.

What message do you have for Buffy fans, now that this franchise has been relaunched?

I hope that you like it. Stick with it for a bit. I know that it’s new, but it’s also going to be familiar. And we’re going to tell you new stories that are really going to make you happy, and also break your heart, because that’s what we really want, right? We want to be challenged, and I really want to challenge readers, while also still making us feel cozy and comfortable.

Kate Kosturski
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