Interview: Scott Allie on Serenity, Buffy and the Joss Whedon Universe
Dark Horse Comics editor Scott Allie has an enviable career. As an editor, he’s had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest talents working in comics today. Creators such as Mike Mignola and Joss Whedon are just two of the many superstars he collaborates with on a daily basis.
Over the years, he’s also found time to write a couple comics himself, including Sick Smiles and The Devil’s Footprints. Most recently, Allie’s been hard at work with Mike Mignola on Hellboy and its spin-offs, editing Buffy: Season Eight and also working on another new miniseries based on a different Joss Whedon creation: Serenity: Better Days.
With issue #1 of Serenity: Better Days hitting comic book stores last Wednesday, ComicMix caught up with Allie to get the latest info on the new comic, what’s happening with Buffy: Season Eight, the fan’s reaction to the recent Season Eight revelation and how he collaborates with creators like Mike Mignola and Joss Whedon
COMICMIX: Scott, thanks for talking with us. How you doing?
SCOTT ALLIE: Good, busy.
CMix: For those who don’t know, tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started in comics and at Dark Horse?
SA: I had a job at a literary magazine that paid really well, and it allowed me to set up a self-publishing project back in 1993 and 1994. I did a horror comic called Sick Smiles, and otherwise jazzed around for a while.
I was living in Portland, and doing Sick Smiles caused me to run into a lot of the Dark Horse people. I ran out of money right around the time they were looking for a new assistant editor, so I took the job.
CMix: Did you read comics as a kid? If so, what were your favorites?
SA: I didn’t read a lot of comics as a kid. I remember having an issue of Star Wars and an issue of Man-Thing. I came across some horror comics at a young age.
I loved Spider-man, but purely from the cartoon, the older one with the great theme song. I started writing stories really young, and by fifth grade I’d started drawing stories.
I’d make little books, 20 pages or so, with one drawing and a couple word balloons per page. That was my first foray into comics, I think. They were monster mashes–a combination of Godzilla and Frankenstein, everything I’d see on the "Creature Double Feature" on Channel 56 out of Boston.
I wouldn’t start reading comics on a regular basis until I was about thirteen, when a friend gave me a copy of Frank Miller’s Wolverine miniseries.
CMix: When did you realize you wanted to have a career in comics? Or that you could?
SA: I think in college. I was torn between majoring in literature or fine art, and my sort of mentor, this guy named Robert Smart, encouraged me to combine them to create my own major, design my own curriculum, and major in comics.
That was the first time I started thinking about turning my official focus toward comics. They’d been my passion for a while, but I didn’t see them being remotely practical as far as something to do.
CMix: Once you were working at Dark Horse, what projects did you work on? Was there one in particular that really "made" your career?
SA: Yeah, Hellboy. I got assigned to Hellboy within a couple months of starting, and Mike and I bonded instantly, deeply.
It remains the most significant relationship in my career.
CMix: How did your association with Joss Whedon begin?
SA: Another editor had had the idea to do Buffy comics, but he quit before we got them started. Joined the carnival, I think. I was looking for a new challenge, loved monsters … and had not seen Buffy the show.
I asked to edit the comic, and Dark Horse was happy to give it to me. So I started on Buffy with my eyes sort of closed. It took me some time to really grasp the show, because at first I had no access to Joss.
I was dealing with people on the periphery of what he does, and seeing the show through their eyes. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t grasp what it was all about sooner.
But I started to figure it out, after working with Doug Petrie on a comic, and then Jane Espenson. And I sort of think that they acted as trial runs for Joss. I think they had a good experience, and told Joss as much.
He was as much a comics fan as Doug, and much more so than Jane. I think my first interactions directly with him had to do with Angel. We wanted to start an Angel comic, and he wanted to talk about how we’d do it, so I flew down (to LA) and we met for a couple days.
And that led to him pitching a comic for him to write, and that became Fray. And then we were genuinely working together.
CMix: There had already been a Buffy comic book series before, so why do another one? What’s different this time around?
SA: Joss. The first one, he wasn’t really involved. Very little. Whatever influence he had on the old series was only indirect, because I was working with him on Fray, and learning how to do his thing that way.
Also, before it was a licensed side project to a successful TV show. Now it’s the true successor of the show, the continuation of the storyline. Basically, everything’s different.
CMix: When Buffy: Season Eight first came out, it was very successful, correct? Before the first issue hit, did you think it would be?
SA: We knew it would be huge, but we didn’t know how huge.
CMix: Is it the most successful title Dark Horse has?
SA: Right now, yeah.
CMix: When working with someone like Joss, who has a very clear vision, how do you work with him as an editor? Do you offer suggestions, comments? Explain the process a bit.
SA: I offer suggestions, but the whole job with something like this, with anything I edit, in general, is to try to successfully execute the vision of the person behind it. I edited the Conan stuff for a while. The vision there was a cocktail of Robert E. Howard, Frank Frazetta, and Kurt Busiek.
With all things Hellboy, it’s Mignola. With Buffy and Serenity, it’s Joss. Joss is one of my favorite writers. Very, very seldom have I had to make script suggestions to him. But we both go over the art, and we both give notes. We pick artists.
As editor on this book, I don’t have much to do in the way of scripts, except hounding about deadlines. But the rest of the job is just like any other book, except that I have someone I’m bouncing everything off, or who is bouncing things off me. We sort of co-edit, I guess.
Although I get to handle all the tedious parts. But in everything, it’s about trying to faithfully execute his vision.
CMix: Now that other writers besides Joss are writing Season Eight, how does that process work? Are they going from a clear outline by Joss or do they have more freedom?
SA: I don’t know that he writes an outline, but they talk it all over in great detail. They’re all people with whom Joss has close relationships. They’re all people he brings to the table. All the writers.
So, Joss and Brian and Joss and Drew worked out their stories face to face, over dinners or meetings or what have you, with me up here in Portland doing my thing.
I don’t think there were outlines—it’s more like the writers’ room at the show, I think. The first thing I see is a finished script, a draft that’s already been approved by Joss. That’s as much as I can tell you about that process.
CMix: Who first brought up the idea of Buffy’s girlfriend in issue #12? Was that something you expected to happen or was it a bit of a surprise?
SA: I think that came from those get-togethers with Drew and Joss. Well, the Satsu seed had been planted back in the first four issues, but I didn’t know at that time where it would go.
Buffy and Satsu getting between the sheets came as a surprise, but the surprise was nearly a year ago now. This stuff is plotted out pretty far, so I knew about this liaison about a year ago. And I was pretty surprised, sure.
CMix: There was some speculation, mostly around the Internet, that Buffy’s new girlfriend was just a stunt to help promote Drew Goddard’s work on the book and as a tie-in to promote his movie Cloverfield. Any credence to that?
SA: What do you think? You’ve read Joss’s stuff for how long? Is that the sort of respect he has for his characters? His writers? Besides, the tie-in to Cloverfield is Dawn stomping Tokyo a la Godzilla. Why aren’t people making fun of us for that?
CMix: So Buffy’s relationship with Satsu was a natural evolution of her character? Perhaps due to all her doomed relationships with men in the past, starting with her father?
SA: Well, I don’t think she went to Satsu because she gave up on men. But I think given her history, and given the fact that she was living in the biggest sorority house in the world, with the only man around her long-overlooked friend Xander, I think she followed the muse.
Once again she decided to get involved with someone who was in love with her who was maybe not a realistic romantic option for her. Had Satsu not expressed her interest in Buffy, I don’t think Buffy would have pursued it, though.
CMix: This development was probably quite a surprise to most fans. What’s the reaction been so far? Any angry emails or phone calls?
SA: Oh yeah, mostly either positive or negative. Llittle neutrality. As I suspected, we got a lot of people who liked it, who understood it as a big moment for Buffy, but not one that completely redefines her as a woman or anything.
My favorite reactions were from people who were just mad at her for once again taking lightly the emotions of another person—regardless of that person’s gender. I think those people understand her the best.
On the other hand … I just got a note a little while ago from a guy saying he was not going to be reading the book anymore. One of the things people say: You’ve already been down this road with Willow, there’s no reason to do it again.
That’s the sort of argument we get from people insisting they’re not homophobic. Are they not upset about Xander having hooked up with Anya, when Joss had already gone down the road of a human falling in love with a demon?
Or is it only gay relationships that need to be limited to one per series? I don’t think we’ve gotten angry phone calls, but a variety of angry emails. Some angry posts to various message boards.
I can’t read message boards anymore …
CMix: Now that this "event" is out of the bag, any plans for other big surprise twists like it?
… Come on, its just us here, you can tell me?
SA: Nope. It’s all gonna be by the numbers from here on out. We don’t want to upset any more people.
CMix: I’ve heard that a story arc in Season Eight also ties in with the Fray miniseries from a couple years ago? Something about "the death of magic"? Can you tell us a bit about that?
SA: Joss’s next writing stint on Season Eight is on issues #16-19, and features a crossover with Fray, which involves time travel. As we saw in Fray, a couple years ago, something happens, sometime in our future, where a Slayer and her mystical allies do something.
Then later there are no more Slayers called for hundreds of years, and there’s basically no magic in the world. The Fray series also introduced the scythe, which later popped up in the TV show, and now inSeason Eight.
Many of those connections will become more clear in the new arc.
CMix: In most cases, a season of a TV show is 22 episodes. Is the plan for Buffy: Season Eight to go 22 issues or will you do more?
SA: It’s gonna be 40 issues. Comics ain’t TV shows. There’s not as much room for story in a single comic as in an issue of a TV show, so we just needed a bit more room.
CMix: If this is Season Eight, how many "seasons" do you see Buffy going? Will there be a Season Nine, Ten or more?
SA: We’ve already got Season Nine worked out—no thoughts on Season Ten yet. That’s a ways off.
CMix: Once those are done (or as they’re going on), any plans to spin-off or do stories about some of the other characters like you’re doing with Serenity: Better Days? For example, will we ever see a Willow mini-series or one about Giles in his early "Ripper" days?
SA: We’ve talked about it, but nothing so far. We’ve kicked some stuff around, just for fun, making conversation, and while kicking it around, it might stick. But nothing has stuck yet.
CMix: Turning to Serenity, when did the idea for Serenity: Better Days cross your desk and how did it develop from there?
SA: After the first one, it was always something we were talking about. The plan was always to use the same team, but without the cover gimmick.
Joss came up with another cover gimmick, which he pitched to Adam Hughes, and that’s how we wound up with one artist doing all three covers.
CMIx: At the moment, Serenity: Better Days is just going to be three issues, correct? Any plans for it to continue beyond that?
SA: Better Days is three issues. But before too long we hope to do a series devoted to Shepherd Book and his backstory.
CMix: Will we also see other comics about the individual characters and their backstories? How about one dealing with Mal and Zoe when they were in the war? Serenity: Browncoats perhaps? Or one about Jayne and his misspent youth as the son of oppressive religious fundamentalists?
SA: Next series, Jayne’s gay. Just joking. But Serenity: Browncoats has a nice ring to it … Hmmmm … you heard it here first, kids.
CMix: Basically, what story is being told in Serenity: Better Days? It’s a prequel to the feature film, correct?
SA: Yep, prequel to the feature film. It tells of a heist that actually goes well for once for the crew, and the pressures of dealing with success.
CMix: Has the first issue of Better Days been as well-received as Season Eight was?
SA: Well, this is the second Serenity series, so it doesn’t have the newness that Season Eight has had.Season Eight is sort of bigger news, because it’s the official continuation of the TV show, a TV show that went out on top, and that’s never been done before.
When we first did the Serenity comic, that was a very big deal, our biggest seller of the year, but it wasn’t quite Season Eight. It was a rare example of the creator of a TV show writing his own comic, but it wasn’t being billed as the official continuation.
So there are differences—there are things that make Season Eight totally unique, which have led to a tremendous reaction from fans. Way before Satsu ever woke up next to Buffy.
CMix: For those who don’t quite understand how licensing works, please explain why Buffy and Serenity are Dark Horse comics and Angel: After the Fall isn’t — even though they are all characters created by Joss Whedon?
SA: We don’t own any of these things, nor does Joss—Fox owns Buffy and Angel, and Universal ownsSerenity. And they can lease out their property to whoever they want.
We license Buffy and Serenity, but now IDW licenses Angel. We licensed Angel for a while, and we let it go, which I regret.
CMix: Does the deal with Universal have any effect on what you do with the comics properties? Will we see more Dark Horse comics made into movies? Or more Universal films made into comics?
SA: It will lead to more films made from our comics, but it doesn’t really effect what comics we’ll publish. Movie studios are complex companies, in which each division sort of works as a separate company.
The people we license comics from, like Serenity, are very different from the people we make movies with, like Hellboy.
CMix: You also write comics as well. Which do you prefer, writing or editing?
SA: I prefer writing, but editing comes easier.
CMix: Any thought about writing comics full-time?
SA: No. To make a career as a writer in comics, you generally have to slog away at writing books likeSuperboy or X-Factor or what have you, and I have no interest in doing that.
I didn’t want to do that grind when I was younger, and I sure don’t now that I have a wife and kid. Assuming I have the talent for it, I’d still be coming in sort of as the new guy.
I am gonna be writing Solomon Kane for Dark Horse this year–that character really excites me. I can really get behind Solomon Kane. But there aren’t a lot of characters like that in comics.
I want to write Solomon Kane, and I want to write The Devil’s Footprints, and a few other weird little projects of my own, but I don’t want to have to worry about where the rent money’s coming from.
CMix: What other projects are you working on at the moment? Are you still working with Mike Mignola for example?
SA: Mike still represents a huge amount of my work load, especially with the movie coming this year. I’ve got a book called Umbrella Academy with Gerard Way and Rex Mundi with Arvid Nelson. Joss, Gerard, Mike, and Arvid keep me pretty busy.
Then I have a few other things, a little further out, to keep me busy. Oh, including Myspace Dark Horse Presents, where we did Joss’s Sugarshock.
Yeah, I do a lot of stuff, come to think of it.
CMix: Scott, thanks again for talking with us.
SA: No problem.