Andrew Chambliss Dishes About Writing Buffy & Dollhouse Comics

Buffy Season 9 ComicsWhen Dark Horse Comics launched Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 in 2007, it was a game changer for comics–and television–that’s still impacting the entertainment industry today. A direct continuation of the hit television show, executive produced (and sometimes written) by series creator Joss Whedon, Buffy Season 8 was a quantum leap forward for licensed comics and as popular (and as polarizing) as the original show.

Buffy Season 8 was big. Huge! Not only did it swell far beyond its projected 25 issues (topping out at issue #40) and feature 10 different writers, but it cast Buffy as a leader of an immense slayer army, facing off against cosmic foes, ending with a gigantic climax that featured an earth-shattering reunion, a monumental death, and, oh yeah, the destruction of a mystical seed that got rid of most of the magic on Earth. You know those comic book events that promise to “Change everything forever?” Buffy Season 8 actually did it–in spades.

So Buffy Season 9 is a different animal. Smaller. More human sized. Buffy’s on her own once again, fighting baddies while trying to balance the rest of her life–and figure out her tangled relationships with her loved ones. When she’s not avoiding the subject, of course (the more things change . . . ). Plus, this time out she’s in the hands of just two writers: after Whedon penned the first issue, he handed the reins to Dollhouse writer Andrew Chambliss.

We chatted with Chambliss about Buffy and Dollhouse: Epitaphs, which concludes November 9, as part of Dark Horse Month–read on for his insights into Buffy, Alpha, and more! Plus, check out our four-page preview of Buffy Season 9 #3 and a three-page preview for Dollhouse: Epitaphs #5.

SPOILER ALERT! CONTAINS SPOILERS! What was your experience like, writing for the Dollhouse TV series?

Dollhouse Epitaphs ComicsAndrew Chambliss: Writing for Dollhouse was a dream job. First off, I was lucky enough to get to work for Joss on a show whose premise thrilled every part of my geeky brain. Secondly, I got to work with a bunch of other really talented writers, many of whom I’m still good friends with and have worked with since (Jed and Mo, Craft and Fain, Steve DeKnight, just to name a few). Aside from the short-lived Bionic Woman, Dollhouse was my first television writing gig and I couldn’t think of a better group of writers to learn from. How did that lead to writing Buffy Season 9?

AC: I was writing the Dollhouse miniseries with Jed and Maurissa, and we were halfway through scripting that run when I got an e-mail from Joss. He said he had heard good things about my work on the Dollhouse book and wondered if I’d be interested in working on Buffy Season 9 with him. It took me all of about two minutes to write back with a resounding yes, and before I knew it I was going to a Buffy writers summit at Joss’ house so we could brainstorm ideas for the season with Dark Horse and other Whedonverse writers. Were you familiar with the Buffy TV show and Season 8 comics before you took the job?

AC: I’d always been a Buffy fan and was very familiar with the show. I had read some of Season 8 while I was working at Dollhouse, but I got pretty busy on the show and working on other projects so I got a bit behind on my reading. Within a couple days of getting the e-mail from Joss asking me to work on Season 9, I caught up on Season 8 and cracked open my Buffy boxed set so I could immerse myself in the show again. Even now that I’m caught up, I still re-read Season 8 and I’m always re-watching the TV series–just to keep myself in that world and keep the characters’ voices fresh in my head.

Buffy Season 9 #3 Page Buffy’s in a really interesting place right now: during Season 8 she was the big leader who everyone respected, with a giant army at her command. Is it anticlimactic for her to be on her own, working as a waitress by day and patrolling by night?

AC: I don’t think it’s anti-climactic for Buffy to go from being a general with an army at her command to a waitress who patrols the city at night. In a way, I think that’s the fun of Season 9. It’s what makes it interesting. Buffy was so used to being able to focus entirely on the mission that she got pretty rusty at all those other pesky things that come along with life. When she’s juggling a job, roommates, and Slaying, it’s not as easy as turning to Satsu or Kennedy and ask them to take care of it. She’s got to figure out how to do both. And that’s what’s exciting for me about Season 9. I think it’s what a lot of people in their 20s end up having to figure out when they get out of school and realize they’re adults who have to balance family, work, friends, paying the bills, etc. Now imagine throwing patrolling into the mix on top of all that other stuff. Buffy’s disappointed a lot of people in her life: most of the “Slayerettes” hate her, her relationship with Willow is strained, and Xander and Dawn are distancing themselves from the “Scooby gang” for a more normal life. Buffy seems to be plugging along and avoiding dealing with this–how long can she keep it up?

Buffy Season 9 #3 Page 2AC: If it were up to Buffy, I think she’d be more than happy to avoid dealing with all the fallout from the events in Season 8. Usually life is just easier when you let things coast by. But that doesn’t mean Buffy’s friends (not to mention enemies) are going to let her to continue to pretend like the world hasn’t changed. Buffy’s got a wake up call coming very soon, and it’s going to be a big surprise to her.

By issue #4 or #5, it’s going to be pretty clear to Buffy that she can’t avoid this stuff any longer. However, the one person she’s not going to avoid dealing with is Willow. With everything Buffy’s going through early in the season, Buffy needs her best friend, and she knows the only way to make that happen is to set things right with Willow. Of course, the one thing that will make Willow happy is regaining her ability to use magic, so mending thing between Buffy and Willow isn’t going to be the easiest thing in the world. At the end of Buffy Season 9 #2 (spoiler alert!) Buffy meets up with a mysterious individual who can turn vampires back into (dead) humans. As a longtime Whedon fan, I automatically think this isn’t as good as it looks on the surface. Am I right?

AC: Severin’s power to turn vampires into dead corpses is definitely loaded with surprises. I don’t want to give them all away, but I will say that the thing that really intrigues me about his power is how, on the micro-level, it mimics what the seed did to the world. Severin’s power isn’t about adding magic to anything; instead it’s another instance where magic is getting sucked from the world–in this case, it’s affecting vampires who up until now seemed to be somewhat unaffected by the destruction of the seed.

Buffy Season 9 #3 Page Everything about Season 8 was big, but Season 9 is more a return to the roots of the TV show. What elements are you focusing on?

AC: The focus of the season is really on the characters. For Buffy, it’s really about her coming to terms with what it means to be living a normal life and being a Slayer. She didn’t die saving the world and she never really thought about how she would live a life beyond that. What kind of job can you keep when you’re up patrolling all night? How do you break that news to your roommates? These are the kind of questions that remind me of some of the coolest arcs on the TV series, so these are the types of questions we’re going to ask this season.

The other thing that’s a big focus of the season is rebuilding Buffy’s family. With everything that happened with the destruction of the seed (Slayers turning on Buffy, Willow giving her the cold shoulder, Dawn and Xander starting a normal life), Buffy’s trying to figure out how her friendships work again. Who’s going to be there as a friend? And who’s going to be there as a Scooby? Will the old gang stay intact as some characters try to have normal lives? So far, it seems everyone (except Willow) would welcome a more “normal life”–Xander and Dawn are already moving in that direction, and Buffy jokes that she’d be fine with being “put out of a job.” Do you think ANY of these characters can really go back?

Buffy Season 9 #3 Page 4AC: I don’t think any of these characters, short of having their memories erased, can ever truly go back to being normal. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try to settle into normal lives. Some of the characters are going to be more successful at building regular lives than others–and that’s definitely going to lead to conflict as those with normal lives try to maintain friendships with those who are still immersed in the supernatural. We’re already seeing it a little bit in issue #2 when Xander and Dawn don’t quite understand why Buffy didn’t just try to work things out with the police. And we’re going to see more of this conflict as Buffy makes alliances with some of the new characters we’ve introduced so far in the season. Can you hint at any future developments with Buffy Season 9?

AC: Pretty soon, Buffy is going to realize that she and Willow need to repair their friendship, and Buffy’s going to accept the fact that it might mean letting Willow go off on her own for a little while. Buffy’s also going to realize that there’s a new kind of vampire that’s being sired because the seed was destroyed. This is going to lead to an interesting relationship with the SFPD, once Buffy figures out a way to no longer be a fugitive . . . I re-read Dollhouse #1-4 last night, and I’ve got to say–it’s really, really interesting! How is writing this affecting your perceptions of identity and personal autonomy?

AC: One of the things that always fascinated me on Dollhouse was the question of how much a personality is affected by your personal history, your physical biology, your neurochemistry, etc. If I put my brain into someone else’s body, would I still be me? Or would I be fundamentally changed by being in another body? Likewise, if someone else’s brain was put in my body, would parts of me shine through? Or would their physiology take control?

Dollhouse Epitaphs #5 Page 1It’s pretty heady stuff, but I suppose that was the point of Dollhouse. I do think a lot of these questions are a lot more present in my mind as I go about my daily life than they were before I worked on Dollhouse. Since this takes place before “Epitaph Two: Return,” you do have some limits as to where the story can go. Does it feel restrictive?

AC: We intentionally wrote “Epitaph Two: Return” in a way that left a lot of backstory unanswered. We wanted there to be a lot of blanks left to fill in case the series ever continued (either on TV or in comic form). Characters had undergone changes since “Epitaph Part One,” but we didn’t explain a lot of the how or why of these changes. That openness actually made it a lot of fun to write the Epitaphs miniseries because it meant we got to fill in those details. For instance, in the series finale, we never explained how it was that Alpha went from being the villain of the show to an unlikely ally. That gave Jed, Maurissa and I the space to create an arc for Alpha in the miniseries. It looked like Alpha was getting it together, but after his attempted imprinting, he’s back to killing–and making deals to justify it, like an addict. What’s it like writing for this very fractured, flawed character again?

AC: Writing Alpha is blast because he’s so unpredictable. Even when I sit down to write an Alpha scene, I’m often surprised with the direction a scene can take. The only time I actually got to write Alpha during the series was in “Epitaph Two,” so I can’t tell you how excited I was to get the chance to write for that character for an entire miniseries.

Dollhouse Epitaphs #5 Page I think my favorite part is the multiple Ivies and all of their issues and interactions. Was this a scenario that came up while you were working on the show?

AC: The multiple Ivies was something that Jed, Maurissa, and I came up with when we had a brainstorm dinner to talk about the miniseries. Ivy was always a fun character to write, so she seemed like the natural choice when we were trying to decide who to have inhabit the bodies of multiple characters. In a way, I think the multiple Ivies is an outgrowth of the Victor/Topher character from the TV show.

The idea of having two Ivies make out with one another is something I pitched way back on the show. Joss sent us home one night to think of the weirdest fantasies a Dollhouse client could ask for. I came in the next day and pitched the idea of a client hooking up with himself, and I just got blank stares from everyone. Apparently, that was a little too weird, even for Dollhouse–well, I guess not too weird for Dollhouse in comic book form. Are there any plans for future Dollhouse comics, after #5?

AC: Jed, Maurissa and I have spoken about ideas for a continuation to Epitaphs with Scott and Sierra. Right now it seems like the thing that’s limiting us is time. We’d all love to work together, but at the moment we’re all pretty busy and finding the time to all get together to break stories is a bit of a challenge. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Jed, Mo, and I have a strong connection to the Dollhouse characters and would love to explore what was going on with some of the characters we didn’t touch on in the miniseries. We’ve talked about a really cool idea for a Dominic/Adelle storyline, and we’d love to go back and explore Tony and Priya’s relationship. Scott Allie has said on several occasions that it’s much easier to make the shift from screenwriting to comics than from prose writing. How has the learning curve been for you?

Dollhouse Epitaphs #5 Page 3AC: I think that’s a fair assessment. TV and screenwriting is such a visual medium that it seems much closer to comics writing than any other kind. There was definitely a learning curve, but the Dark Horse team helped me through it (and continues to do so). I think the biggest challenge in going from screenwriting to comic writing is to think more like a writer/director than just a writer. In a TV or film script, there are lots of things that I would leave up to the director to fill in, but in comics I end up being much more specific. Have you gotten the comics bug? Do you think you’ll embark on some creator-owned comics in the future?

AC: I think I got the comics bug the first time I opened up the file that had the pencils for Dollhouse #1. There’s something really cool about seeing a talented artist create a world, especially something as crazy as the Dollhouse apocalypse. I would love to embark on some comics of my own, but that will probably have to wait until I’m further along with Buffy Season 9.

Our thanks to Chambliss for the stellar interview! You can find all of the Joss Whedon-related comics, graphic novels, statues, and more you crave right here at–and save 10-50%!




Are you enjoying Buffy Season 9? Are you hoping for more Dollhouse comics? Post your comments below!