Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Rupert Giles has had one hell of a life. He was a bad boy that went by the name of “Ripper” in his 20s, and later in his adulthood, he helped save the world on multiple occasions as the mentor of Buffy Summers. Then he died, but death isn’t permanent in the Buffyverse. He was resurrected by his friends, and instead of returning to his old self, he was stuck in his pre-pubescent body with his middle-aged mind. Now Giles is a teenager, and it’s time for him to do what teens do: go to high school. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Giles is a four-issue miniseries debuting on February 28 that enrolls Giles in an inner-city public school to investigate the mysterious disappearance of teachers, and Buffy creator Joss Whedon is teaming up with writer Erika Alexander, artist Jon Lam, and colorist Dan Jackson to explore this new phase in Giles’ life.
BTVS: Giles is also a return to high school for the Buffy franchise, which goes back to its roots with this new series while exploring a very different educational environment. “Sunnydale was, apart from being on a hellmouth, a pretty privileged place,” says Whedon. “Giles has never really dealt with the public school system as it exists for most kids. He’s never been to the city. Giles has always had the advantage of being a part of the system that educated him. He was taught to be a watcher in a family of watchers. His education was, in the grand British public school tradition, both expansive and parochial. In-depth views of tiny portions of the world. Of course, he walked over the awkward hormonal coals of adolescence—but now he knows more, and expects better of himself. His once-more 15-year-old body, however, is oblivious to his wisdom/cynicism/impatience.”
Whedon had a similar background as Giles, with his mother and her friends teaching at his school before he was sent to a 600-year-old British boys’ boarding school. He wanted to look at a different school experience with this new series, and he knew he would need some outside help. “I wanted to tell a story about education, class, and race in America,” says Whedon. “Given my Gilesian resume, I wasn’t about to attempt it alone. Erika is so smart, knowledgeable and engaging, she made the story her own even as we first discussed it. I knew she could reach the characters and their history in a way I couldn’t, yet still give Giles a place in this new (for him) world. She doesn’t disappoint.”
Erika Alexander is best known as an actress, appearing in TV shows like The Cosby Show and Living Single in the ’90s and working consistently ever since. (More recent gigs include series like Beyond and Bosch and a role in this year’s hit film, Get Out). “As a teenager, I grew up working in television so, ironically, I did not get a chance to watch much television,” says Alexander. “But my little sister, Myeashea, who’s a cultural anthropologist, and Whedon-mega-fan, went gaga for the series. When I told her I was working on a Dark Horse collaboration with Joss Whedon, a Rupert Giles spinoff, she went bananas. She told me everything I needed to know and more. I learned about the original Buffy series, but what I discovered was the pride of place it had in the zeitgeist of many young women and their sense of personal empowerment. These issues are very important to me. I knew then that it would be a good fit. And I am thrilled to be asked to be a part of it.”
A new setting means a new cast of characters, and Giles’ experience as a high school librarian gives him a different perspective than other students. “Giles will meet characters he’s familiar with,” says Alexander. “Characters loafing around at any high school: shy girls, bullies, crazy principals, mysterious janitors, loony students posing as a teachers’ aides, as well as a few surprises. But the most important character he’ll meet is himself. A version of himself he thought, hoped, he left long ago, will be there to greet him. And that Giles gives our Giles anxiety.”
“It’s terrific to be carving out a new space in the Buffyverse,” says Alexander. “It’s crazy cool to be entrusted with Joss’ signature series and Giles, a fan favorite. It’s also a little frightening and gives me some anxiety! Of course, I want to impress my publisher and editor, Freddye Miller at Dark Horse and the fantastic fans. But I want Joss to be happy and able to recognize his creation, as rendered, and realized in collaboration with my voice. That’s tricky stuff because Joss is a complex artist, storyteller and filmmaker. He’s also hella busy! He’s building scaffolding in record speed, while I hurry along trying to keep up with the pace of the towers construction and pick out the drapes.”
“Luckily for me, creating and writing my own comic, Concrete Park, with my genius partner, Tony Puryear, is a master class for this kind of high wire act,” says Alexander. “That said, co-writing is tough. Tony is a killer screenwriter and story man, who taught himself to illustrate comics. What you see in Concrete Park is our first time at it. We were proud of it but had problems finding the right publisher. Thankfully, Mike Richardson at Dark Horse, the Clive Davis of indie comics, recognized that we had something and gave us a shot. And now we’re on our 3rd volume, Concrete Park: Rock Steady. Except for our Dark Horse editor, Philip Simone, Tony and I are a two-man band and it made us up our game. It also gave me a front seat, and the responsibility, to have to come through for our creation. If it sucks, we only have ourselves to blame. But if it’s good, we have the world that gave us our personal diplomas in Hard Knocks University, icons like Mike Richardson and Joss Whedon, and my lovely mama to thank for it all.”
Whedon and Alexander’s story comes to life courtesy of artist Jon Lam, who showed a skill for drawing lively, fantastic school settings with his striking issue of Gotham Academy: Second Semester last year. “I feel that the tones for Gotham Academy and Giles have some similarities in that they involve supernatural elements centered around young adults, learning or relearning who they are as people and how they will face new incoming challenges,” says Lam. “That being said, I feel that in Gotham Academy, since there were uniforms, a lot of the character’s costumes were very similar, and in Giles everyone goes to a public school, so the outfits are a lot more personalized, which also adds another layer of challenge in design.
“For Giles, I think this is the first time I’ve been working on characters that have diverse body types,” says Lam. “It’s a new challenge that I’ve been having a lot of fun with. I think it’s also important to represent people of all sizes and backgrounds, especially in such a great universe.”
As a long-time fan of the Buffy franchise, Lam considers BTVS: Giles a dream project, and he’s thrilled to be working with Whedon and Alexander to expand this property. “It’s a huge honor to work with such talent,” says Lam. “It’s been surreal getting to put my stamp on something so great as the Buffyverse. The characters in this universe have inspired my imagination for years and I hope to contribute more designs and art to this fantastic world.”