After its seven seasons on television, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has garnered quite the following in the gay community. Even now, almost 10 years after its final television episode aired, it is a source of strength for countless young GLBT men and women going through the hellish tribulations known as high school. Those who are older can still relate to its “high school as hell” metaphor.
Not only does Buffy portray one of the most realistic lesbian relationships in television with its pairing of Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay, it also accurately paints the coming out process as Willow embraces her attraction to the same sex and reveals her relationship with Tara to her friends. Buffy herself also serves as a source of empowerment for many young men and women dealing with the stresses of high school: bullying, sexuality, drug abuse and the ever-present desire to fit in and be normal.
Still, for a show so progressive in its thinking, the characters have had such an impact on young gay men and women are all female or heterosexual. For the young gay male, there is not a character he can truly relate to.
In the Dark Horse Comics continuation of the series, now halfway through its Season Nine, veteran Buffy scribes Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg have returned to the series that launched their careers and have introduced its first gay male character. Out & About Newspaper sat down with the two writers to discuss “Billy” and the potential for his reappearance in the confirmed Season Ten.
O&AN: When it was first announced you two were creating a new gay male character, the Buffy, comics and GLBT communities became abuzz with all kinds of speculation: Who he could be? What he would bring to the cast? Would he be a love-interest for the sexually-ambiguous Andrew Wells? Would Andrew finally be coming out? With the hints that he will have a new way of slaying vampires, what can you tell me about the new character appearing in your arc in issues 14 and 15? Where did he come from? How is going to play into the story?
Jane Espenson: I’m thrilled to hear that we caused such astir! He comes from somewhere in California, and he is going to play into the story [of the new world without magic] in an awesome way. Really, there’s not much we can say yet about him, except that … well … really … there are two new characters.
O&AN: Whose idea was it to introduce this new character? And why a gay male when the Buffy-verse already had such a strong GLBT presence in Willow?
JE: I’ve been working on my own online comedy called Husbands (husbandstheseries.com), and as I was doing that it struck me that Buffy’s message is bigger than just telling girls they can triumph. So many young men got through difficult high school years while drawing strength from Buffy, and it felt to me as though there was something there that deserved to be brought into the story on the page. Willow’s journey is equally important, but it’s a different journey. If you’re going to take on a rainbow, all the stripes are worth taking seriously. I think I brought the idea to Drew, but it’s possible he was working toward this idea on his own via his own path.
Drew Z. Greenberg: Jane’s absolutely right, she brought up the idea first. I will say, back when we were working on “Buffy” (the TV show), I used to joke often about how, given enough time, I was determined to introduce a gay demon fighter, to which Jane would always respond (with perfect deadpan timing): why would someone want to fight gay demons? But the truth is, I always hoped we’d have the chance to introduce a regular gay character into the mix. When the show ended, I assumed the opportunity had passed. The comics gave us another bite at the apple, and Jane’s commitment and determination made the possibility real. When Joss said yes, I was thrilled. The wish had become reality.
And if I might add, this is one of the most remarkable things about having someone like Jane Espenson in the world: her empathy, her ability to see past her own experience and tell stories from the distinct points of view of others, all combined with her fierce drive and passion to tell those stories…it all comes together to make her a great ally. She’s doing all this amazing work on behalf of LGBT people. We’re very lucky to have her on our side. Seriously, if she wasn’t, she’d be terrifying. And she has allowed me to influence her taste in drinks to such an extent that I now always have someone to share my Malibu and Coke with me when the opportunity arises, so there’s also that.
O&AN: What inspired the midseason introduction rather than near the beginning with the rest of the new characters?
DG: I’m glad he gets a chance to shine in his own origin story. Truly, Joss and Andrew have done such a great job charting the entire arc for season nine; I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find out where our particular two-part story would fall within the context of the season. I think it’ll be a fun ride for the readers.
JE: We get to see some of his story before he intersects with “Buffy,” so he’s not discovered in place like the others. These issues are his introduction.
O&AN: If things play out as they have in previous seasons of Buffy and Angel, characters introduced at midseason points are usually upgraded to regular cast member status the following season. Are there plans to do this with the newbie in season 10? Or will his story be limited to this arc/this season?
JE and DG: Season 10?!?!
DG: As my boss at “Warehouse 13,” Jack Kenny, often says when asked these types of questions: "I just got very, very tired."
JE: I don’t even know if there are talks yet about the content of season 10! I can’t speak to that, but I love this character and would hope he’d continue for a long time.
O&AN: I’m assuming much “Billy”’s introduction transpired at the writers’ summit Joss held at the end of Season Eight. I can only imagine the intense geek out I would experience had I been there with all my favorite writers in one room! (I admit it! I’m a fan!) What can you tell me about that gathering?
JE: Well, it was pretty geeky in the best way. We met at Joss’s house, and he laid out the big picture [SPOILER ALERT]: pregnancy scare, etc…. And we all gasped and exclaimed! It was like story hour. And there is nothing better than listening to Joss tell a story!
DG: There were some really delicious mini pickles!
O&AN: You both participated in the NOH8 campaign with the old Mutant Enemy [production studio] gang, which has raised awareness around anti-GLBT bullying and gay rights. Since the severity of bullying seems to be on the rise, do either of you have any ideas or suggestions on a solution to that problem?
JE: I’m no expert. I don’t have a solution. I do think there has been a big shift in the last few years, in which speech that used to feel quite ordinary to most listeners now sounds unacceptable and hateful. That seems to have happened just because people got more education about reality. That education comes through a lot of different paths: what people are taught in school, what they see and read, what their parents and friends say, and what they see as positive examples. The part of that I can help with is mostly the "what they see and read" part, so I’m doing my best to make sure that I’m spreading positive messages.
O&AN: Thank you, guys, so much! Because of your influences, Buffy Summers will always be my hero. But depending on how things go in your upcoming arc, she might have some close competition.
DG: Buffy was – and is – my hero, too. So you have great taste!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season nine from Dark Horse Comics is available now at GLBT-friendly Comix City Too! in Madison or at your local comic books shop. Issue number 14, tentatively titled “Billy the Vampire Slayer,” comes out Wednesday, Oct. 10.