Elston Gunn caught up with “Angel: After The Fall” writer Brian Lynch just in time for issue three, which hits shelves Wednesday.
I'm 11 kinds of excited about Lynch's writing on this new “Angel” series, but the interview was all Elston’s idea:
Hello. Elston Gunn here. Please note: There Will Be Spoilers.
Movies and television have sporadically married comedy with horror to creative effect ever since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein. (And before then, too. ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY, anyone?) It could be the high levels of tension and release that often make the two go hand-in-hand so well. Sometimes the only antidote to fear and hopelessness is laughter. Throw in some action sequences with many-a butt being kicked and you can really have some fun with it. And if, say, a much-loved TV show that incorporated those elements of comedy, horror and action ceased to be on the air, then maybe it could continue its genre crossbreeding in another medium.
Which brings us, of course, to BUFFY & ANGEL.
Four years after the action dramedy horror series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER aired its seventh and final season, Dark Horse Comics, under the guiding hand of creator Joss Whedon, began the continuation of the series, publishing canonical issues and bringing "season eight," as it were, to life. Now, it's ANGEL's turn. Over four years after our leading vampire with a soul was last seen caught between an apocalypitc rock and a hellish hard place, Whedon has decided to officially continue his story as well via ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL, a new comic series circulated by IDW Publishing. Whedon handpicked writer Brian Lynch (SPIKE: ASYLUM; SPIKE: SHADOW PUPPETS, upcoming movie THE SIMS) to serve as his plot co-conspirator, script author and lunch buddy, while Franco Urro was chosen to handle art duties. A lifelong comedy horror fan himself, Lynch, in addition to exploring the Buffyverse and writing several movie & television projects, also has the zombie frat comedy mini-series EVERYBODY'S DEAD hitting shelves soon, with art by Dave Crosland, courtesy of IDW.
Issue three of ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL hits stands today. Lynch took time to answer some questions for AICN.
[Elston Gunn]: In our last Q&A you joked, "My hope is, Joss Whedon reads it and says 'this is so good I hereby declare it takes place after ANGEL and we are making this the SPIKE movie' and then takes me out to lunch and asks me to go look at handbags for his wife’s birthday. I think that will probably happen. Keep in mind, I’m an optimist." That piece went up on a Monday and your SPIKE: ASYLUM comic came out that Wednesday. You actually ran into Whedon that Tuesday, correct? What happened and which handbag did you go with?
[Brian Lynch]: I did run into Joss the day before SPIKE: ASYLUM came out. I live in Hollywood and, as a general rule, never bother any celebrities when they’re out, even if I’m a fan. But with the book coming out the next day, I thought it was a “now or never” opportunity. Turns out it was. Joss picked up the book and dug it and it got him to thinking about continuing the ANGEL story.
Since then, I bother every celebrity I meet and tell them about SPIKE: ASYLUM. Tara Reid looked at me kinda odd. She may have been doped up.
As for the handbags… Joss is more of a fannypack kinda guy. It’s true, he walks around with a fannypack full of gumdrops. When he’s happy with someone, they get one. When he’s not, he motions like he’s going to give them one, and then shakes his head “no.”
[EG]: Was SPIKE: SHADOW PUPPETS already finished before you started AFTER THE FALL? Did Whedon have any input for that one? That must have been a dream come true for you as well. Your NEXT MUPPET MOVIE script is still... *sigh*... a missed opportunity for the folks with money & Muppets.
[BL]: Thank you for your kind words about the Muppets. I don’t think I’m done with them yet. I tell myself I’ve moved on, but I got married in December and our wedding cake topper was Kermit and Miss Piggy, so they still mean a lot to me.
SPIKE: SHADOW PUPPETS was being written while I was (A) outlining the plot for ANGEL:AFTER THE FALL and (B) writing the PUSS IN BOOTS movie for Dreamworks. It was a full workload, and I accidentally wrote a line in PUSS IN BOOTS where Puss whips out a stake instead of a sword. True story. I caught it before I sent it into Katzenberg, luckily.
Joss didn’t have any input on SHADOW PUPPETS, but something he said inspired a small part of it. He told me he liked the character of Betta George (the telepathic fish) from SPIKE: ASYLUM, and wanted to find a place for him in AFTER THE FALL. Problem is, Betta George died in ASYLUM, so I orchestrated his return in PUPPETS. I also sent Joss the cover with Spike facing off against a hundred puppet ninjas and he dug it. That was nice.
[EG]: Nonetheless, I know you are a huge fan of Whedon's work and now you get to see “Plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch” in print. It’s one thing for him to admire what you’ve done with his characters, but genuinely collaborating with him, continuing a story you loved as an ANGEL devotee, has to be quite something else completely.
[BL]: It is very, very bizarre, in the best way possible. To be able to continue my favorite show ever, it’s mind-blowing. I try not to think about it, though I did rewrite the first issue of ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL six or seven times before I sent it into IDW. And then when I got the art back, I rewrote it again. Since then, I think I found my groove and just try to make it enjoyable for the reader, for Joss, and for Tara Reid.
[EG]: You have obviously been privy to specific plans they had for season six - for example, there was a rumor Oz might return - and, as a writer, I would imagine you had fantasized where the show could've gone. Once these ideas are brought to the table, how does the collaboration between the two of you specifically work before you're off and running on your own? How many issues do you plot out in advance and does a specific amount of issues denote a "season?"
[BL]: I spent a few months outlining the run with Joss and now I’m cruising through what we’ve cooked up. It was basically emailing back and forth, spit-balling and editing.
The entire story is plotted out, and it’s a doozy. I don’t look at this one as a season, more like a year-plus epic movie. Not “epic movie” as in that crappy, crappy EPIC MOVIE. Angel will not be hanging out with Willy Wonka and Paris Hilton.
[EG]: In the first two issues of AFTER THE FALL, I like that most of the ANGEL characters have returned immediately and we're not being subjected to a long dragged-out tease, wondering when someone is going to show up. You can instantly get into the story. Was that a conscious choice?
[BL]: The story dictated it, but there are some faces we haven’t seen yet. Issue four, for instance, features the return of two favorites that haven’t been in the book yet. Well, one is popular, the other has his own little cult following. The FIRST NIGHT storyline (starting in issue six) deals with the first night LA was sent to hell and it features yet ANOTHER old friend. Someone that will make a lot of people really happy.
[EG]: Was there anything about the series you were not crazy about that you get to develop, refine or discard altogether?
[BL]: Not really. I wanted to end issue one a different way, only because the revelation that Gunn had become a vampire was a storyline that had been spoiled years before on the internet, but again, the story is king so we kept it. Luckily, I think we still surprised people.
I also wanted to have a soundchip in every comic that played the theme when you opened it, but IDW Publishing told me to stop being stupid.
[EG]: So, L.A. is in hell, some characters are dead, others alive, some undead, but Angel seems more cavalier about it than his usual brooding self.
[BL]: Well, he was brooding for the first couple of pages in the first issue, but Wesley gave him a pep talk that kicked Angel in the ass, so we’re beginning the story at a point where Angel is trying to climb back in the saddle. Of course, Wesley is working for Wolfram & Hart, Angel doesn’t know if his intentions are noble, so there’s that. And Angel will always be brooding, I wouldn’t take that away from him, he likes to brood. If he stopped brooding, he’d probably start brooding about how he doesn’t brood anymore. It’s a whole wicked circle.
[EG]: I know you don't want to spoil anything, but what kinds of themes and ideas are you going to explore and how much of it carries over from season five or the series as a whole? Where are you taking it?
[BL]: In season five, Angel joined Wolfram & Hart, the most evil corporation on this or any plane of existence. He had every intention of using their resources and channeling them for the greater good.
Instead, Angel found himself getting corrupted and distracted by Wolfram & Hart, and he took a stand. Not unlike Jerry Maguire, but with more biting and swords and a dragon. Whereas Jerry Maguire got Rene Zellweger and that freaky little kid out of it, Angel was forced to see the town he swore to protect go to hell. Now, he’s trying to make amends, not only with the town and with his former allies, but with himself.
Gunn being the antagonist of the story lends itself well to that. He’s a former friend who blames Angel for this terrible situation he finds himself in. The intriguing thing as a writer is that Gunn absolutely has a point. Who knows where Gunn would be without Angel; he might have been killed long before this, in fact, he probably would have. But from Gunn’s point of view, he believed in Angel and followed him and because of that, Gunn has become a vampire, the very thing he hates the most.
And in the upcoming months, you’ll see Gunn has even MORE of a reason to be angry. And, oh man, he does indeed get angry. He writes the nastiest of letters to Angel that are all “I am so miffed” and “thanks for the vampireness, you big tool.”
[EG]: After reading a lot of your work I can see your style in it as much as Whedon's, so it's not like you're simply a writer for hire. How much do you get to play with the dialogue, story structure and putting yourself into it?
[BL]: It’s important that the book “fits” with ANGEL seasons 1-5, or as I like to call them, “The Prequel to ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL.” I want fans of the TV series to read the books and immediately remember what they loved about the show.
Writing ANGEL or SPIKE is the same as writing THE NEXT MUPPET MOVIE or PUSS IN BOOTS in the sense that I didn’t create these worlds, but I do love them.
I’m just writing what I personally would want to happen next. And, in the case of ANGEL and PUSS IN BOOTS, I get to map it all out with the people who gave the characters life.
[EG]: Knowing you're a huge JUSTICE LEAGE AMERICA/INTERNATIONAL, the cover of issue five is great. Is it framed and on your wall yet?
[BL]: I don’t have that original art yet. I asked Franco, ooooh I hope he gives it to me. If not, I’ll just frame the finished comic cover. I do have the original art to Franco’s cover for SPIKE:ASYLUM # 1, with Spike in the straightjacket. That is sweet.
[EG]: You've mentioned having ANGEL episodes running in the background while writing SPIKE: ASYLUM. Do you still do that? How do you think it helps?
[BL]: I can recite the episodes word-for-word now, so I don’t have to do that as much. If a character I haven’t written is making their AFTER THE FALL debut, I will absolutely put their episodes in, to make sure I have the voice right. It definitely helps, yessir.
[EG]: What's the best advice Whedon has given you that you can apply not only to ANGEL buy anything else you write? For example, "Kill all happy couples."
[BL]: When I sent in my first list of ideas for AFTER THE FALL, he told me there was fun stuff and we could use some of it, but he thought I didn’t go far enough. And he was absolutely correct, I was so afraid of rocking the boat that I kept it very similar to the TV show. He told me to push it further, and if I went too far, he’d reel me back in.
That was the best advice he has given me, because since then, I’ve realized you’ve got to be fearless when writing this stuff: you may anger fans at first, you may incur their internet wrath, but at the end of the day, if you can tie it all in and make it work, they’ll come around.
[EG]: Let's talk about EVERYBODY'S DEAD, which IDW is putting out. This is more of a comedy than ANGEL. When I read the screenplay eight years ago it was hilarious and the first issue of the mini-series really delivers. Looking forward to the rest of it. Again, boom, here is our cast of characters, their personalities, let's get to the story. Why a comic?
[BL]: I’m glad you liked it, thanks again. I wrote EVERYBODY’S DEAD originally in college, with parts for all my friends, and filmed a bunch of it. Some of it wound up on campus TV, which was cool.
It’s basically about a bunch of friends who wake up one morning and discover that they’re the only ones in the state, and maybe the country (and mayhap the world) that survived an apocalypse. Everyone else has been turned into cannibalistic zombies who need to eat the living to retain their personalities, so our leads become a hot commodity.
The theme of the story has always been about that desire to belong when you’re young. A bunch of the leads in EVERYBODY’S DEAD have joined a fraternity, while others mock them for it, but at the same time seek people like them because they also want to belong. And then when the zombie thing occurs, the characters are truly outsiders because everyone else is one thing, and these nine or ten people are the other.
I’ve rewritten the script over a dozen times, turned it into a TV show, sold it as a movie (and then got the rights back). I’ve also written three sequels to it. And I keep coming back to it for the same reason: I want to see what happens to the characters next.
There’s the couple that has broken up and are JUST ABOUT to reconcile when the apocalypse occurs, there’s the guy who is actually kind of enjoying it, completely disconnecting from the reality of the situation. Yet another has to confront his Dad, who has been turned, and they try to reconcile despite the fact that the Dad wants to eat him and his friends.
After the success of ANGEL:AFTER THE FALL, I had a chance to do an original project and I always come back to EVERYBODY’S DEAD when I have free time. I saw it as an opportunity to finally being their story. If the first five issue limited series is well-received, we’ll get the chance to move these guys further. It goes in some great directions, and I hope people respond to it.
[EG]: Were you at all concerned the zombie craze had run its course?
[BL]: Absolutely, especially because Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD has cornered the market on zombie comics, but luckily, it’s a completely different tone. EVERYBODY’S DEAD is more of a potty-mouthed, gory GHOSTBUSTERS.
[EG]: You also wrote the story years before SHAUN OF THE DEAD. What inspired it?
[BL]: Late nights watching early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson movies. My goal originally was to have every kid in college keep EVERYBODY’S DEAD on their shelves and play drinking games with it. I guess they still can, but now that it’s a book, it’ll get harder to read as you get more and more drunk. Maybe we should do an oversized one for just that purpose, to help out if things get blurry.
And yes, SHAUN OF THE DEAD. When I saw the trailer I was annoyed because it was what I had been trying to do for years. And then I saw the actual movie and was relieved because (A) it was great (B) it wasn’t that similar to EVERYBODY’S DEAD. Only one scene in mine had to be changed because it was too close to SHAUN. I had a beat where the living had to act like zombies to get through a gaggle of them. That’s gone. Though in EVERYBODY’S DEAD, they were forced to eat human meat to keep up the charade.
[EG]: Did you actually know people like Nuk or Swee?
[BL]: Oh yeah. Nuk, for those who haven’t read the book yet (and that’s everybody), is kind of in a perpetual haze. Big six foot eight guy, 300 plus pounds. There was a guy in college who lived 23 hours of the day drunk or stoned. One time he got really drunk and BANGED on our door, my roommate and I let him in, he limped a few feet and then fell asleep on our floor.
It wasn’t until the next day when we woke up we noticed that his ankle had swollen to the size of a football. He twisted it the night before plunging down a giant hill, was too drunk to feel it, and promptly passed out not even knowing. We took him to the hospital.
The same guy needed to use the shower because a girl from another dorm wanted to hook up with him late one night, but he was so out of it he showered completely dressed.
I think, and I’m not bullshitting you, but I think he’s a teacher now.
As for Swee. Swee is a fraternity pledge and he’s always doing menial labor with a big smile on his face. There were absolutely people like this in college. One kid was pledging a fraternity and told me that the brothers filled his mouth full of twigs and dirt and then taped it shut. He had to keep it like that all night.
He also participated in a “hell night” which consisted of being taken out to the woods, getting twenty minutes to hide. If the brothers found him, they’d promptly beat the shit out of him and then give him another twenty minutes to hide. They found him, gave him another twenty minutes, and so on and so forth for two days. At the end of it, they said “you did it, you’re our friend now.” I asked him why he would put up with it, and he looked at me, deadly serious, and said “because at this college, if you’re not Greek, you’re nothing.” I felt bad for him.
Keep in mind, I pledged, too. Not the fraternity that did mouth-twigs or hell night. My best friend and I pledged a smaller fraternity, thinking we’d stop in a week or so when it got hard, but it never did. I think our fraternity was too lazy to think up anything cruel. Or they just didn’t want to go outside on cold New Jersey nights.
[EG]: For a lot of the characters which could be extremely stereotyped you provide some likeability and empathy, though not at the expense of a good joke. I'd think people like Campbell, Kirsten and Doug could come off as real assholes in lesser fare... or in real life.
[BL]: The challenge is taking characters that in any other horror movie or comic would usually be zombie fodder (specifically, fraternity guys) and making you root for them. I think it helps that the fraternity isn’t your typical blonde haired/blue eyed young Hitler Youth frat. There’s not a William Zabka among them, they’re a bunch of outcasts.
[EG]: How do you think it's different from everything else you've done?
[BL]: Most of the screenwriting I’ve done has been for family movies, so it’s quite a bit different. Whereas Puss in Boots swordfights and goes on merry adventures, the characters in EVERYBODY’S DEAD sit around play xbox 360 until there’s a zombie on their property, pause the game, make fun of the zombie, behead the zombie, tell the pledge to clean up the zombie’s remains, head back inside, and resume their game.
As for how EVERYBODY’S DEAD differs from my other comic work, it’s funnier and gorier than ANGEL and SPIKE. It’s similar in that, if I’ve done my job correctly, you care a great deal about these people trying to survive this huge supernatural ordeal. There’s a lot of fun character interaction and growth in between beheadings.
Also, my partner on the book, superartist Dave Crosland, is really helping the book find it’s own niche. Despite the fact that there are corpses and murder and cannibalism, it’s a big, bright book. It’s almost a feel-good zombie book, if that’s possible. I would be surprised if people don’t laugh out loud a lot during each issue. With the book, not at it. Though if they want to laugh at a comic, that’s totally fine.
[EG]: When is it coming out? Are most comic shops carrying it?
[BL]: It’s scheduled for release in March. It doesn’t have a built-in fanbase, so stores might not stock it unless readers go in and specifically ask them. So please, if you want a copy, make sure your store knows about it.
You can also pre-order it, at a discount no less, here.
[EG]: What is it about the horror comedy genre that makes it interesting for you? There's not a lot of it out there, but it's growing.
[BL]: I think there’s nothing better than a character who looks evil square in the face and makes fun of it. When I was younger, I was scared to death of any horror movie, and if there was a character who wasn’t afraid, in fact, who made fun of the situation, I wanted to be like him.
It all started with Venkman in GHOSTBUSTERS. The big demon hands ripping through Dana’s chair and grabbing her freaked me out, I wanted to leave the theater. When Zuhl finally appeared, with those creepy red eyes and smoker’s voice, I was scared crapless. But Bill Murray stepped up and insulted her. That was a revelation to little 10 year old me, “you don’t have to be scared of monsters, you can totally mock them.” And I do, let me tell you, I mock the living shit outta any monsters I see. Oh, do they cry.
[EG]: Since you're a working screenwriter obviously the strike has ceased some work for you right now. Have the comics been a welcome outlet for you in the meantime? What else are you working on?
[BL]: It’s a very strange coincidence that all this comic work is coming during the strike. Luckily, ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL and EVERYBODY’S DEAD were both in motion before it happened. I’m actually surprised that more screenwriters aren’t running to comic books. I want to see Wes Anderson tackle Aquaman. Can comic books have soundtracks? If not, Anderson could just write in what obscure 60’s British song I should be listening to while I’m reading. Or Diablo Cody on Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman could make a pop culture reference about Wonder Woman and the universe would implode.
I’m digressing, sorry.
I was fortunate enough to be working with Fox on a TV show I developed right when the strike began. Hour long, X-FILES kinda deal, only funnier. That’s dead in the water for the time being, which is frustrating. PUSS IN BOOTS was cruising along quite nicely, too. It’ll be fine, though, it all work out soon. And if not, EVERYBODY’S DEAD 2 and ANGEL: AFTER THE AFTER THE FALL are up next.