Next up, we talk with editor and writer on the final series of Angel, Illyria, and Spike stories, Mariah Huehner. Over the last few years, she's become a stellar voice with the fans, always there to talk about what was happening behind the scenes. We dig a little deeper with her today, asking some of those questions she couldn't quite answer before the book was still running.
Buffyfest: You came in right after the Kelley Armstrong arc was done and a lot of fans were wondering, "Why didn't IDW just tap one of the Angel TV Series writers to work on the book?"
Mariah Huehner: I always like that question because there's no easy answer. We did, of course, approach some people from the show. But everyone was busy or, you know, working on Buffy. :} I'm not in any way knocking Buffy, of course. But we just didn't have the option of tapping someone from the show at the time. Plus, comics is a different medium than TV. Just because you love one doesn't mean you have any interest in the other.
Buffyfest: The other big question that got asked back then (and again, later) was, "Why not a fan writer?" It wasn't unknown that some fans had pitched for the book, that many fans write stories about these characters often. Was that ever considered?
MH: Well, no. And again, not as a knock to fans, the thing is, comics are a lot harder to write than most people realize. You need experienced writers in the medium to construct stories like this. Just loving the show isn't enough. You need to understand this specific form of storytelling, meet deadlines, and be confident you can handle a world of this size and cast this big. The truth is, all the writers we hired were also fans of the show.
Buffyfest: Right. Which brings us to the first set of stories you were editor on, those being written by Bill Willingham and Bill Williams. There was a lot of controversy concerning the characterization of many of the major players at that time, that Spike was acting strangely, that Angel was out of the book for too long. Looking back on it, do you still stand behind those stories? Is there anything you would have wanted to do differently?
MH: I do still stand behind those stories. We wouldn't have published them if we didn't think they were worth telling. I think I probably would have gotten Angel back into the action sooner, for instance. And been maybe a touch more obvious about Spike. But there were reasons for all of that, real story and character reasons, so it's not like anything was done arbitrarily. The argument that characters were acting OOC...that seems to come up no matter who is writing something. I've even seen that about stuff Joss has written. So we couldn't really worry about that too much. It's a bit subjective.
Buffyfest: Once Bill left, you and David took over to complete his arc and move into what would become the final story. How closely did you keep to Bill's original plan and how much was changed? When you were planning out those stories, did you take into account what fans were saying or is it too risky to play into what fans want?
MH: We kept some things and not others. We had to finish the arc up in a way that made sense so obviously certain plot and character points Bill had been building towards were there. But we also had to change some elements to set up the next arc which was something David and I developed on our own. We went in a very different direction with the last arc for obvious reasons. In terms of what fans were saying...that's a tough one. We certainly cared, you want people to enjoy the stories you're telling. But overall, no, we had to tell a story we felt was right for the characters and the kind of ending we thought Angel deserved. Not two fans want the same exact thing so you can't base stories on that.
Buffyfest: When in the process of writing did you find out that the license was reverting back to Dark Horse?
MH: I honestly don't remember. Probably around the time everyone else did. :}
Buffyfest: Did you have a longer narrative in mind originally?
MH: Yeah, David and I had a longer arc planned. It would have been more fleshed out, more detailed and weird.
Buffyfest: What would you like to have done, given more time? Anything in particular? Any other characters you would have liked to focus more on? Would you have wanted to bring in more original characters?
MH: Personally, I would've wanted more stuff with Illyria and her role in that future. We had to cut a lot of that to get Angel back to his present and I was sad to see it go. And I would have liked to do more with Wolfram & Hart, been able to get more into what was going on with them and their reappearance.
I don't think we would've added more new characters, though. That arc was more about the core group and Angel's relationship with Connor. But also about choices and fighting the good fight. We had to pace things very tightly in the last arc, and while I'm pleased with how it turned out, you always wish you had more time with everyone. More moments to let breathe, more character exploration.
Buffyfest: You became a pretty big presence in the IDW forums throughout your time writing and editing. Was it hard going from being a fan who could be critical of the show's narrative to being on the receiving end of that criticism? How did you deal with that shift, especially when you moved from editing to editing AND writing?
MH: Honestly, I really didn't mind any of the criticism unless it was because people were making huge assumptions about what we were doing. In general the IDW forum is constructive and spirited, but not mean. And you can't expect to write something in a world like this and not get criticized. You just can't make story choices based on that.
The transition from editing to co-writing was interesting. I've definitely been critical of some of the show's storylines so David and I would talk about the things we felt worked vs. what we didn't, mostly to avoid being repetitive or getting into narrative sinkholes.
I wanted to be accessible on the forums, though, because I could see how important these characters and stories were to the fans and I wanted to make sure they knew that we cared, too.
At core, I'm a fan of stories. I get emotional over ones I connect to, so I can completely relate to how people feel about this world. The only times that were a real challenge is when some people would insist that their interpretation was -the- interpretation. There's pretty much no such thing. I think there are interpretations that hold up better under analysis than others, but the truth is, if people believe something and feel it deeply, then it's true for them. And I'd rather the stories were layered enough to do that than not.
Buffyfest: And now we're at the end. This week will see the final IDW Angel comic, the Angel Yearbook. Tell us how that came about and what the goal was for these final stories.
The real goal was making it celebratory of Angel and his family.
Buffyfest: Final round up with the work you did on these stories, tell us: Thing you're most proud of, biggest challenge and, if you were to write a story about Angel 20 years from now, where do you think he'd be?
MH: Well, I'm personally most proud of Illyria: Haunted. That story means a lot to me. But I'm also really proud of working with David, Brian, and Bill. I'm proud of the way we ended things and the character moments along the way.
There were so many people who made Angel great. Working with Brian and Franco on Spike was lovely, I think the world of them both. Elena really breathed life into the final two arcs and her work on Illyria is incredible. Scott Tipton, who did so much with these characters, and proofed nearly every issue of the series which is something I don't think he gets credit for. David Messina, who started on these books and was always a joy to work with. Writers like Peter David & Jeff Mariotte who told some wonderful last tales in the Yearbook. Likewise, Stephen Mooney for his great sense of humor and dynamic art. Willingham, for seeing how complex this world could be and being unafraid to take story risks. Jenny Frison, for giving us the most wonderfully gorgeous covers. And last, David Tischman, who really understood the mix of humor, melancholy, and epic heroism of Angel and took the story where it needed to, to go out on a high note.
Biggest challenge: Letting go, I guess. It's extremely sad to see this end for us.
As for Angel in 20 years: Still fighting. I always see him in the alley, sword in hand, ready to face whatever comes next. I can't see him doing anything else.
Buffyfest: What's next for you?
MH: Well, I'm working on an adaption of Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice and David and I are doing the next True Blood story, True Blood: The French Quarter. Servant is this wonderfully rich tale that Anne wrote about a young Babylonian who becomes a kind of demon/ghost. It's really challenging but wonderful to work on. And David and I are having huge amounts of fun with this new True Blood series. We get to take Sookie, Bill, and Eric to New Orleans and they get into all kinds of trouble. So basically, I'm really busy. :}