Joss Whedon Interview

Joss Whedon is best known as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He? also written or co-written scripts for films including Alien Resurrection Titan A.E., and the original Toy Story This month he sets his sights on comics with Fray from Dark Horse. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Whedon about

Westfield: What can you tell us about Fray?

Joss Whedon: It’s a slayer story, but one that’s not connected at all to the Buffy mythos, except that it’s about a slayer. I wanted to do a futuristic, slightly sci-fi adventure, but I didn’t want to create a whole new universe. I wanted to stay sort of in the world that I had already created, so I had some of the groundwork already laid. At one point, I had thought about doing a story about Faith, but then we brought Faith back to be on Angel, so I can’t really interfere with that myth. I thought if I go a few hundred years into the future, I probably won’t step on any toes. Then I can do whatever I want in the series and I can have fun with the comic.

Westfield: Who are some of the major characters in Fray?

Whedon: The major character would be Melaka Fray, she’s the heroine. She’s the slayer, although she has no idea of this at first. She is a professional thief who works for a guy named Gunther who is, among other things, a big fish. In the future, there’s a lot of mutations out there. She’s confronted by UrKonn, who’s an extremely powerful demon, early on. But her nemesis, the vampire that she first met up with when she was younger, is called Icarus. He’s a particular bad-ass. He’s in the mix a lot. There’s her sister, Erin Fray, who’s a cop. They have a very contentious relationship because Melaka’s a crook. They have very different reactions to the crappy lives they’ve had. Those are the major players, except that Icarus is working for a higher being that we don’t meet for a while.

The other thing is that, not only has there not been a slayer called for a couple hundred years in this, there hasn’t been any vampires or demons or magic of any kind in the world. Vampires are reoccurring, and nobody even knows what they’re called. When Fray’s first told that she has to fight vampires, she doesn’t know what the word means. They don’t even have them in legends, so it’s all a whole new world for her. It takes place in Manhattan, which they call Haddyn, because everything’s sort of shortened. Manhattan is exactly as it is now, only more so. They just kept building straight up.

Westfield: Why did you decide to do Fray as a comic?

Whedon: Because there’s no way on God’s green earth I could afford to do it any other way. There’s a bunch of flying cars in it. I wanted to do a comic. I love comics. I’ve read them my whole life. I’ve always wanted to write one. I thought about this story and thought, “instead of creating a whole new world, I can just do this and maybe it’ll be self contained and it can be a little journey into comics.” I had hoped just to do a couple issues of something, then it ballooned into an 8-part story because I can never shut up.

Westfield: How much work did you do on creating this new version of the world before you actually started working on the comics and what were some of the influences you drew on?

Whedon: In terms of creating the world, we kept it pretty simple. Artist Karl Moline looked a lot at the movies Blade Runner and Fifth Element because those are both urbanization gone mad. Stylistically, those were obviously influences, just in terms of creating the world. I didn’t spend a lot of time coming up with a brilliant vision of the future. I wanted to keep it simple. My excuse is always, and it’s the same thing I did in Alien Resurrection, for the rich people, for the normal people, for the people who actually live inside the law; yes, computers have changed everything and everyone is young and beautiful, and it’s a whole new world and there’s all sorts of ramifications. But if you’re poor, nothing has really changed. Especially if you’re crooked. That gets me out of having to actually imagine a lot of things because I’m not the sci-fi visionary that some people are, although it would be fun to get into a world like that. I wanted to tell a pretty basic story. I just wanted to have that scope, that feel. I love stuff in the future.

Westfield: How is writing Fray similar or different to what you do when you write for TV or films?

Whedon: It’s surprisingly both, actually. It’s similar in that you’re looking the big moments, you’re looking for the big emotions, and you’re constantly saying “these guys are overacting.” It’s different in the sense that you have to choose a still picture that will convey what usually you would have movement to convey. When you’re taking off in the air or landing, which one is the one you need to show? How much do need to convey visually? How much can you do in one panel? That’s different and pretty exciting just because it’s new.

Westfield: How did you feel when you first saw Karl Moline’s art for Fray?

Whedon: I love it. I’m pretty blown away by it. We’ve definitely gone back and forth on a couple of things, conceptual things. There’re certain things that I stress that he doesn’t. We’re feeling each other out in that sense. But I think his pencils are really lovely. His character stuff is really beautifully detailed. I love Melaka. I love the look of the world. It’s very dynamic. I’m pretty thrilled. I just got the colored pages for the first issue and I’ve been just giggling like a school girl.

Westfield: Do you have any plans for Fray past this mini-series?

Whedon: We’re doing a book, Tales of the Slayers, a one-shot that me and a bunch of the writers from the show are doing, that will encompass a lot of different slayers in stories and there will be a short Fray story in that. Beyond that, I have no immediate plans. But if people really respond and they’re like “hey, we want a Fray book,” certainly it would be open. The story will be self-contained, but I’m not going to blow up the world at the end of it.

Westfield: You’re also working on an Angel comic that’s coming out soon. Can you tell us anything about that?

Whedon: Brett Matthews, who is on my staff and who has spent hours and hours talking comic books and films with me, we both went to the same college, studied film at the same place; we’re both comic book freaks. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Angel book and what we thought we should do with it. He said, “why don’t we just do that?” And we called editor Scott Allie and said, “Can we write a couple?” And Scott’s like, “ok.” That’s one of the things I love about Dark Horse, they’re really nice about everything. What we’ve been trying to do is get the Angel book to be more of a comic book. The template was so locked to the show that it was starting to feel a little stale because a TV show is not a comic book. Let’s have the character with the big, long tail. Let’s have the two-story Jack Kirby monster. Let’s have this guy swoop from the shadows in an alley in the dark of night and save somebody, not unlike that guy with the cape. Let’s accentuate that. Let’s make it a real bigger than life comic book. Give it some of that sexy feel. So we came up with a four-part story arc. Brett’s doing most of the heavy lifting. We’ve been bringing the story together, and I’ve been working dialog on him, but in terms of laying it out, it’s mostly his. I think it’s going well. It’s fun. Some very cool pencils from Mel Rubi.

Westfield: Can you say anything more about the Tales of the Slayers book?

Whedon: We don’t have a date for it, but we talked about this when we were shooting the ‘70s flashback of Spike killing a slayer on a subway. I said to Doug Petrie, who’s one of my writers and who’s written some of the Buffy comics and is, like me, a comic book nut, “God. We should do a compendium of stories of slayers throughout history.” And he was like “I get to do the ‘70s slayer on the subway.” He’s actually doing it with Gene Colan. There was so much of the original Blade and Tomb of Dracula in that whole sequence. We were so into that. We pitched that to Scott and he was all over it and it turned out that practically my entire staff wanted to do it. They all picked an era and we talked about length and I’m doing three little pieces in it myself. It’s a different artist for every piece and we’re getting some really exciting people to draw it. Luckily, a little more contained than this eight-issue monster.

Westfield: Can you mention any of the other artists who are working on it?

Whedon: Karl’s going to do, obviously, the Fray story for me. I think Tim Sale is going to do one of my pieces, which I’m just freaking out about. Craig Russell is doing something, and, like I said, Gene. I’m not sure who else at this point. We’re still fairly early in the process. But cool guys. [NOTE: editor Scott Allie says we can add Ted Naifeh and Steve Lieber to the list of artists working on the book.]

Westfield: Is there anything you’d care to share about what we can look forward to on the Buffy and Angel TV series?

Whedon: Lots o’ fun. [laughter] Hey, I’m not wrong. Both shows are gearing up for season finales of just insane adventure. The last four episodes of both shows just kick into enormous high gear. It’s gonna be really fun, really hard to shoot, really expensive, and I’ll be really tired afterwards. [laughter] Hopefully, things will wrap up emotionally as well as adventuresomely.

Westfield: Do you plot out the story arc for the entire year before you start doing anything?

Whedon: Actually, we plotted out the story arc for this year before last year. It was in the third year that we figured out what we wanted to do for the next two years. So, yes. We plot it out leaving room for disasters or fortuitous occasions. Anything could change. Basically, we plot it ahead always, because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going anywhere.

Westfield: With that in mind, do you have an eventual end in mind for Buffy?

Whedon: No, I really don’t. I end every year as though it’s the last year, just in case, so that you don’t feel that sense of “but there was all that left unresolved.” Instead of doing cliffhangers, I like to leave every year with a sense of closure. But no, I don’t see any end in sight. I’ve already got plenty of extraordinary ideas for next year.