Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Interview

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SCOTT ALLIE
Conducted by Shiai Mata

SCOTT ALLIE

"It Would Have Been Crazy to Expect This"

Scott Allie is, as James Thurber might say, the man in the catbird seat. The tremendous success of the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic series has helped give independent publisher Dark Horse a genuine place in the top ten sales charts routinely dominated by industry heavyweights DC and Marvel. Oh, and as Senior Managing Editor for the company, he’s got a few other successes to his credit as well, such as Star Wars, Sin City, 300, Hellboy, The Mask, Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, Usagi Yojimbo, and more than a few characters who have become household names to varying degrees.

Yeah, Scott is sitting pretty alright.

And as might be expected, he’s also a very, very busy man. Which is why his graciousness in doing this interview (conducted in the wake of the maddening, exhilarating, and absolutely exhausting San Diego Comic Con, no less) is so greatly appreciated. It turns out that despite the 25 hour demands on is 24 hour days, he likes to talk about Buffy.

Scott Allie is a true gentleman, as you’re about to discover now….

SlayerLit: How about telling us a bit about you, including how you got into the funny pages?

Scott Allie: I didn't really read comics as a little kid. My friend Joey Winter got me into them in junior high. He called them "mags," and he pushed Frank Miller's Daredevil on me. Frank's work got me into comics; his Batman got me to start reading DC Comics, which ultimately led me to abandon Marvel; and his Sin City got me to abandon superheroes, and to focus on independents, like Dark Horse.

SL: Both as an editor and a writer, you seem to be associated quite often with horror. Is that your personal preference, or is that just how things happened?

SA: Oh, it's my preference. I was a Stephen King buff since elementary school, my favorite movies are the smarter horror films out there. I published my own comics before getting the job at Dark Horse, and they were horror-themed. And the reason I asked to work on Buffy in the first place was the word vampires in the title. I gotta admit to being initially disappointed to realize that it wasn't really all about the monsters.

SL: In addition to helming the current in-continuity Buffy comic, you also edited the original, non-canonical series. That series was launched in 1998, not terribly long after the television show debuted, and before the character had really achieved the kind of iconic status she assumed. What interested Dark Horse in picking up the character at that time, and were you of the opinion then that Buffy would still be kicking a decade later?

SA: Well, we knew Buffy was catching the zeitgeist, that the character was hugely significant. Former DH editor Jamie Rich was the one who brought it to our attention, but once he did, we all saw the potential. It was clear by 1998 that Joss was doing something that resonated with people, and something that owed a great deal to comics. So it seemed like a good bet.

SL: How much input did Fox and Mutant Enemy have on what you wanted to do in the comics?

SA: As much as they wanted, which was not a lot. Everyone was pretty hands off. Fox became more hands off as I developed a relationship with Joss, even though he remained pretty removed from the monthly comics title back in those days.

SL: What sort of restrictions did you have in certain areas of the book, such as, for instance, portraying the relationship between Willow and Tara?

SA: As far as Willow and Tara go, we were pretty much only limited in staying true to the show. Joss dealt with all that with a lot of taste, and we followed suit. We weren't gonna get prurient with that. Also, we weren't gonna shatter taboos before he could, although we were probably more free to do so. Most other things also followed the guidelines of the show. There was never a temptation to do the R-rated Buffy that Joss could not do on TV. If Joss had been free to do R-rated material, I don't think he would have. I don't think that was appropriate for Buffy. I think we had a little more freedom with violence, and maybe a little more freedom with sexuality, but we only ever pushed it by small degrees. There were the occasional shots that suggested nudity, like Buffy taking off a shirt in silhouette, or the covers of STAKE TO THE HEART, where she was naked but carefully concealed. Oh, and there's an upcoming Jo Chen cover that pushes the same nudity barrier. Something you couldn't pay those actresses to Ddo on TV, even though nothing is really shown. But none of this was that much the point of what we were doing, or are doing now.

SL: Is there any story or character development which you would have liked to have done, but for whatever reason it couldn’t be done?

SA: We were restricted by time and space. I would have liked to have done more with Giles. I love his character. I'd like to write him. And we of course could never take the character to places the show did not. The old comic was very much limited as a secondary story, secondary to the show. So you can't reveal that Giles is actually a member of the Stones. The comic had to ever be subservient to what the TV show was doing, or what it might do. Now it's not. Now we can do whatever we want, and it's all official.

SL: The television show never really explored how Dawn fit into the timeline retroactively, but Dark Horse attempted to rework Buffy’s history a bit with the “False Memories” storyline. Were you and writers Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe free to choose which established events you were going to insert Dawn into, and where there any you weren’t allowed to tinker with?

SA: Yeah, no one got in our way on that. By then they really trusted me. The people at Fox that were approving the stuff knew that I was in closer contact with Joss than they were, and they gave us a lot of room because of that. The thing with False Memories was that it was presented as false. So what we did didn't have the potential to upset "real" continuity. When we went back to "year one" for Buffy, the months between leaving L.A. and starting in Sunnydale, and stuck Dawn in those stories, that meddled more with continuity, but again, we had freedom, because they figured Joss would never go there. We'll see. I hope we flashback to some of that at some point. Although plans call for the story just to keep moving forward, ever forward ...

SL: Just in terms of the original comic book, which spanned Buffy’s seven seasons on television, did you as an editor feel that the characters and story possibilities worked better in the high school years, or the college era?

SA: They meant more to me in high school. They spoke to my high-school experience more specifically than they did my college experience.

SL: Do you have a personal preference among the characters?

SA: Giles. Anya. I should say Kennedy, that'd be funny.

SL: You did something unique in that you invited two of the show’s actors, James Marsters and Amber Benson, to co-write stories specific to their characters. Were you happy with the results, and would you have liked other performers from the show to try their hand at writing as well?

SA; Those were Chris Golden's ideas. Yeah, that was good. The actors did well with Chris. I know that James and Amber had writing ambitions, so that made it a kind of good idea. If other actors had similar ambitions, it would have been good, but not just if it were a gimmick. I talked to Tony Head about doing something at one point, but it never came together. I would've liked that.

SL: When the TV series came to a close, Dark Horse opted to carry on with the comics, although the storyline shifted to Buffy’s pre-Sunnydale period. Although those stories were well-received, I’m assuming commercially they didn’t fare well, as the series was cancelled in 2004. Do you think Buffy’s comic book run had simply reached its natural end at the time, or in retrospect, do you think there was something you could have done to revitalize the book and keep it going?

SA: You may be right about all that, but what I remember is that when the show reached Season Seven, that's when we shifted to the "year one" storyline. We did it because the storyline on the monthly had caught up with the continuity of the TV show, and we realized we could not actually do a story completely contemporary to the show. So suddenly we'd written ourselves into a corner, and wanted to get away from weekly continuity. So we ran into the past. When the show ended, sales suffered a little, but the bigger issue was that we'd finished Year One, and needed to figure something else out. All the way back then, I talked to Joss about doing a post-Season Seven story. I wanted him to simply give me an outline or a general direction for where to go next. That would not have been Season Eight, that would have just been some comics set after the final season with his seal of approval on them. I think when we canceled the book, I was imagining we'd get it back up and running again in a matter of months. But Serenity and other things came first, and it took longer. So the goal was always to revitalize the book and get it going again. I just never thought it would take so long—or that the results would be so good.

SL: Moving into the present, Dark Horse is enjoying quite a bit of success with the new BtVS series. When this new project first began rolling, I recall some naysayers arguing that a comic book about a show no longer on the air wouldn’t appeal to most readers. How satisfying is it to have a huge hit on your hands, and did you dare dream the new series would ever do so well?

SA: When Joss said he was gonna write it, we knew it was gonna be huge. We did not expect this. It would have been crazy to expect this. But yeah, it's very gratifying.

SL: Just between you and me, how big of a pain in the keister is that prima donna hack, Whedon? Do you feel more like his wetnurse than his editor?

SA: He's got a tin ear for dialogue, but he's coming along.

SL: In all seriousness, what’s it like being the editor of a book where the writer is the ‘executive producer’? Does that mean his vision always trumps, or is he willing to discuss developments with you and others and build a creative consensus?

SA: We discuss everything. He's much more open to my feedback than I expected. The thing is, back when he was totally removed from the comics, I felt my job was to try to execute his vision, as best as I could understand it, in the comics. That's the best Buffy can be. Just as with the Conan comics, I try to execute Robert E. Howard's vision. That should be the job when you're overseeing the continuation of someone else's storyline. Now, instead of trying to divine Joss's vision from the stars, I get to work it out with him directly. He's open to my input, to Georges's, Brian Vaughan's, Jo Chen's, my art director. But ultimately all we want Buffy to be is the best version of his idea we can make it. I have a very specific approach to storytelling, to comics, which is all my own. On some of my books, I apply it very strictly. On others, like this, I adapt it to complement the ideas of the guy I'm working with. It's no compromise to bend my vision to Joss's ... on this book.

SL: Have you suggested any plot ideas for the book, or otherwise given him a “wish list” of things you’d really like to see happen?

SA: Not much. I remember there was one thing I suggested, and I was surprised he went for it. Maybe a couple things. That's a natural side effect of doing this stuff. We talk and email sort of a lot, so ideas shoot back and forth. If I cough something up, by the time it gets to the page, he's made it his own. I don't mean that in a bad way. That's what collaboration is, a lot of the time. It's synthesis. You can't pull your own ideas back out once they're in there.

SL: Does Joss provide a full script, or does he submit a plot outline to artist Georges Jeanty, and then writes out the dialogue once the art is complete (otherwise known as the Marvel Method)?

SA: He's full script. It's the way to go. Occasionally he tweaks dialogue after seeing the script, but usually it's spot on the first time.

SL: Speaking of Georges, he’s proven to be a real find. Given Joss’s direct involvement in the book, you probably could have gotten any number of well-established artists to jump on board. Was it instinct that told you that Georges would be a great match for Joss?

SA: You know, this weekend Joss said something about Georges being my find, but I could have sworn he was Joss's. Again, synthesis. It doesn't matter. I did not realize how right Georges would be for the book, that's for sure. His acting is incredibly sophisticated. He's not just drawing their faces right, he's drawing their gestures, their postures, their clothing. And he's got the perfect touch for taking the cuteness of the show, the bounciness of it, and drawing it, going just slightly cartoony when it calls for it. His design sense is impeccable, and there are things he does with page layout that I generally do not like when other people do them, but he pulls off perfectly. He's given the book a visual identity that perfectly matches the narrative identity. I just thought he had a nice superhero style that could adapt to something more realistic.

SL: The characters in the book bear a very strong resemblance to the actors. Do the actors have the power to approve their likenesses?

SA: Some do, some don't. Some are easier than others. It's real boring. In the old days, it prevented us from using a couple really good artists. So far no such obstacles on Season Eight.

SL: Let’s play What If… for a moment. With the success of carrying on Buffy into its eighth season, is there any other television property you’d most like to revive with a canonical comic series of its own?

SA: The Prisoner. Twin Peaks.

SL: What are some of the inherent creative difficulties of dealing with licensed properties?

SA: Well, none of these are affecting Buffy, but there can be problems getting stories approved by people who don't understand stories. Or getting permissions, getting materials, getting the basic necessities of doing the book. Fox and Lucasfilm are generally real great about this, because in my opinion they invented this sort of licensing, and know how to do it inside out. But other licensors can be impossible. It can be real miserable. There are studios who I'll avoid working with to the point that if someone comes to offer us a series, I'll ask who licenses it, and if I don't like the answer, I'll back off right there. Few properties would be worth the hassles that some of these studios can cause.

SL: You’ve managed to talk Joss into bringing Buffy back as a comic. Any hope for a return of FRAY?

SA: Yep.

SL: IDW Publishing picked up the Angel comics license, and Joss recently announced he’ll oversee a Season Six comic run over there. Any chance of a Buffy/Angel crossover?

SA: Joss liked the work of one of their writers, and he helped that guy hammer out a story line, but it's not Season Six–and he said that specifically in a panel this weekend at San Diego. We're not calling ours Season Eight just because it follows the end of the show. We're calling it that because Joss is running it the way he ran the show, and he's working mostly with the writers he used on TV. This is the continuation of the TV show. He gave IDW a great springboard for a story, but it's not of the scope of what we're doing.

SL: Speaking of Angel, how available is that character…as well as Spike, Cordelia and Wesley, all BtVS alums…for the Buffy series now? The two vampires with souls made a Buffy sandwich in a memorable dream sequence early on, but can you use them, at least in flashbacks, in speaking roles? Or would that have to be approved by IDW?

SA: We can use whoever we need to, but we're not gonna step on IDW's toes. Anymore than that would be telling.

SL: What do you perceive to be Buffy’s target audience today?

SA: The living human race.

SL: A new Giles project tentatively titled “Ripper” has been announced for the BBC. Would you like to see a solo Giles story of some sort done by Dark Horse?

SA: Yes. I love the character. I think it's inevitable. If not in Season Eight, maybe Season Nine.

SL: Chris Golden and Tom Sniegoski did a Giles one-shot (“Beyond the Pale”) which I felt delved much deeper into an almost Lovecraftian horror than the regular Buffy book would (or could). Is that horror trend something you would have liked to have explored more in the regular book at the time?

SA: Not really. Sort of, but to do too much of that would not really be Buffy. I don't think I understood that when we did that oneshot, but I came to really get it later. I can do that stuff elsewhere. I have a lot of outlets for that sort of thing.

SL: Any truth to the rumors that Dark Horse was/is considering a Buffy mini-series based on the “big foot” cartoon style of the unproduced Buffy animated series, or a Manga Buffy?

SA: I'm sure absolutely everything you could dream up about Buffy is being considered by someone at Dark Horse. We talked at length, some time ago, about a comic based on the Buffy cartoon, but it never happened. None of the above are part of my plans with Joss, and those are the only plans I'm thinking about.

SL: Concurrent with Dark Horse’s run with the comic has been Simon & Schuster’s series of BtVS and AtS novels. A rare example of the two publishers working parallel with one another was when DH did the TALES OF THE SLAYERS graphic novel at the same time S&S released the first TALES OF THE SLAYER anthology. Were there other attempts to work together, and what brought about the TALES effort?

SA: With TALES OF THE SLAYERS, I think we both just had the same idea at the same time. Rather, we had had the idea for a long time without doing anything about it. I'd had the idea early on, and was shot down by approvals people telling me Joss wouldn't want to take the focus off Buffy. Later, it was Joss who suggested TALES OF THE SLAYERS to me. This was after we'd gotten FRAY up and running. Lisa Clancy was running Buffy at Pocket, and she and I were talking, so we decided to do twin books concurrently.

The only other attempt to get the licensors working together came later, and failed. When Joss told me that Season Seven would be the end, I got the other licensors together to talk about how we could rally our efforts, and kick the property into the future. I wanted to do something like what Star Wars did with Shadows of the Empire, a unified effort that would show fans that the characters were gonna live on in a meaningful way. That meeting was torpedoed by one licensor who was a real prick to me, and flat-out said that nothing I could get together would be of any interest to him, and that he was better off doing his projects without me. His negativity took the wind out of everyone's sails, and the meeting fell apart. Of course, he was the first guy to contact us when Season Eight took off.

SL: Can we look forward to any limited series or one-shots in addition to the ongoing BtVS book?

SA: No such plans. We're trying to make Season Eight as good as we can, so all our best stuff is going into that.

SL: Christopher Golden reworked Whedon’s original script for the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER motion picture for the comics (as “The Origin”). Was it Joss’s idea to ‘salvage’ his script that way, or did you approach him about doing it?

SA: It was not Joss's idea. Back then I did not have direct access to Joss. It was Golden's idea, and I approached Fox, and I don't even know if they ran it by Joss. I don't want to ask, we're getting along so nicely these days ...

SL: I know that a lot of interviewers are pestering you for details of what to expect in upcoming issues of BtVS, and I just want you to know I’m not going to ask you anything like that. All I would like to know is every single thing that’s going to happen in the final issue.

SA: Sometime between now and the end Buffy cries. Like, really, really hard.

SL: Does the “Antique” story in TALES OF THE VAMPIRES (which established that Xander, post-S8, was in the thrall of Dracula for nearly a year) fit into the new continuity, or can we just write it off now as perhaps Andrew’s version of an event that didn’t happen quite…that…way?

SA: I think we'll find out soon.

SL: You’re not only Buffy’s comic book editor, but you can also boast of having written for her in the novels as well. How is it you came to author “The Ghosts of Slayers Past” and “Alone” (for TALES OF THE SLAYER volumes II and IV, respectively)?

SA: Nepotism. I had a hand in getting the Tales of the Slayers thing put together in the first place, and had good contact with Pocket. So they asked me to pitch, and they said they liked the first one I came up with, so they asked me to do another. I was fun. I think I'm better suited to writing comics.

SL: The first BUFFY OMNIBUS was released this summer, and the second one will hit stands soon. Are there plans to include this new series in a future such collection, or will the individual storylines be collected as trade paperbacks, as the original series first was?

SA: Season Eight will eventually be collected in a total of about eight trade paperbacks. Maybe someday those trades will get the Omnibus treatment, but not for a very long time. The Omnibus program is a new thing, we're still figuring a lot of it out.

SL: As a reader, what comics do you most enjoy? And is there a particular artist or writer you’d most like to work with sometime?

SA: Ex Machina's my favorite right now. Alan Moore is the guy I most want to work with. I'd like to work with Darwyn Cooke, Jason Aaron, Bruce Timm ... I dunno. I get to work with a lot of my favorite guys. If my schedule were suddenly empty, and I needed to line up some new stuff, the first people I'd call would be Joss, Mignola, Alan Moore, Josh Dysart, Kurt Busiek, P Craig Russell, Gerard Way ... mostly guys I'm working with, or have worked with.

SL: Beyond Buffy, what can we look forward to seeing from Scott Allie?

SA: Piles of Hellboy comics, and some more stuff I'm writing. DEVIL'S FOOTPRINTS II, my most Joss-influenced thing, comes out sometime next year. I have a couple other creator-owned things in the works, and a big work-for-hire gig I'm excited about, which I don't think we've announced yet. I learn a lot working with Joss. Am excited to put more of that into practice.

SL: Scott, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with SlayerLit!

DarkHorse.com

ScottAllie.com

Special thanks to Jeremy Atkins at Dark Horse.