Graphically Speaking: An Interview with Jane Espenson
At this year’s New York Comic Con, I was lucky enough to interview prolific television writer Jane Espenson. Jane has had a long career having written on shows such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Dinosaurs,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Battlestar Galactica” and that’s still just a drop in the bucket. She is widely recognized as a soldier in the Joss Whedon Army of Scribes (my term, TM suckers), having written on all of his shows since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She currently writes for ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” and co-created the original web series “Husbands” with Brad Bell. Jane was gracious with her time and I managed to get through a conversation with her without getting nerd vomit all over myself. But man was it close. Slight SPOILERS ahead.
Me: You wrote an episode of “Game of Thrones” last year. Can you tell us about the process of adapting George R.R. Martin’s voice for the screen?
Jane Espenson: Well, I was a hired gun. David [Benioff] and D.B. [Weiss, the showrunners] brought me in and said “Lucky you, you get to write the one with the golden crown! Your chunk of the book goes from this page to that page.” They had broken it down into the scenes they had wanted in the episode, which I had to adapt to fit TV. It meant making it shorter, more concise and driven toward a single theme, pulling the very best from the page. It was really a joy.
So…Billy the Vampire Slayer!
[Enthusastic] Yeah! [Laughs]
That sounded cool. The slayers get their own Batman, in that he doesn’t have powers, but he’s still part of the team. My immediate thought was of Xander.
Well it’s out now, so you can buy a copy and see. The fact is, Xander could have called himself a slayer, but he doesn’t think of himself as a slayer. He doesn’t identify as a slayer. Here [Billy] is a boy that says “I choose. I wasn’t Chosen, but I choose. I like Buffy and I want to be a slayer.” I don’t think Xander wanted that. Also, vampires have changed. In season 9, we have what are called “zompires,” which are not as sneaky and plan-y. They’re a different breed. So Billy has a strong watcher named “Cute Devon,” and they have the tools to get the job done.
When will we see more of Billy?
Issue 15 is the second issue of the Billy arc. Drew Greenberg [another current Buffy writer] wrote the story together. I wrote issue 14 and he wrote issue 15. Whether or not Billy sticks around after that, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Well, it IS the Joss Whedon universe. Who knows what could happen?
That’s right. Anyone can die.
Where did the term “flobotinum” come from?
It was a word that was used in “Buffy” before I got there. It meant the “magical, mystical thing” for that given episode. But I have a feeling that predates it. I thought it came from “flogiston,” the term from early physics, which turned out to be disproven. But I guess that’s wrong. Who knows?
You’ve been writing in the Joss Whedon universe for over a decade. How do you still motivate yourself to keep telling these stories?
Because the characters keep changing. That’s one of the wonderful things Joss does and one of the great things about the [Buffy] comic book universe. We can take the characters forward through time, so now Dawn and Xander are involved and very committed. There are new emotional journeys for the characters to go on. You never run out of story, similar to “Once Upon a Time,” where the circumstances of the characters change, forcing the characters into new emotional places. Always story.
Speaking of “Once Upon A Time,” my girlfriend’s family watches it and they say “bring back the Huntsman.”
Of course they do. The Huntsman was lovely and beautiful [Laughs].
Can I ask you a ridiculous question?
In Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck says “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of being forgotten.” In the present, we have a Starbucks on every corner. Please tell me I’m reading too much into that.
Wow…there was no conscious attempt to connect Starbuck to the ubiquity of Starbucks. But that name will not be soon forgotten, so I guess she’s alright.
Thanks. That was unbelievably nerdy of me.
To this day, we mourn “Firefly.” Joss Whedon even said he still has stories to tell in that universe. Do you?
I wrote a short story that had to do with Kaylee and Wash [“What Holds Us Down”] trapped on a disabled ship, which Kaylee has to fix with no help while they’re being hunted. I absolutely loved it. I wrote it to be internal, so it wouldn’t be a great episode, but it made a great short story. But something like that where Kaylee has to do something awesome and mechanical under terrible timed pressure and isolation. I like that a lot.
Anything new coming out with your web series, “Husbands?”
Not only is “Husbands” a series, but we’re also doing a digital comic book. It starts October 24th. People can find out about it on the Dark Horse site or at the Love Husbands site.
I was wrong. Nerd vomit was everywhere. But hey, it was awesome. For the premiere of the “Husbands” digital comic book, check out the Dark Horse website (www.darkhorse.com) or the Love Husbands website (www.lovehusbands.com) this Wednesday October 24th. For more of Billy, check out Buffy the Vampire Slayer #15 on November 14th from the good folks at Dark Horse Comics. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneEspenson and “Husbands” @TeamHusbands.Bookmark at:
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