Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing My Hero

Picture this.

I'm in the fifth grade. My friend David Ayllon is over my house, and he pulls out this VHS tape with a label that reads "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He tells me how great it is and that I'd love it. Truth be told, I didn't want to watch. It wasn't Goosebumps, so it wasn't for me. I don't know what followed my refusal to watch, whether it be a rock/paper/scissors match or an all out brawl, but David won over TV rights and he played my first ever Buffy episode.

"The Witch."

I liked it, despite it's non-Goosebumpsness and the fact that I probably didn't get half of the jokes. I thought Buffy and Cordelia were super pretty (I was a fifth grade romantic) and the horror angle spoke to the R. L. Stine fan in me. I sought out the show and started watching it weekly. I followed the adventures of Buffy, Cordy, Willow, Xander, Giles, and a certain vampire with a soul named Angel.

I remember the first two season finales. I remember worrying that the show wouldn't come back. I remember my devastation when I found out that I had to start taking karate on Tuesday nights and would have to miss out on Buffy. Fucking karate.

Time passed.

When I got to college and started having money of my own, I eventually remembered how much I liked Buffy. And I was working on a sequence of vampire novels of my own (The Continuity, which is a story that takes up roughly 75% of my brain), so I counted watching Buffy as research. Sure. Right.

book on shelves next to some familiar folks

Anyway, I watched the DVDs and instantly fell back in love, but this time it wasn't because of the pretty girls and the creepy monsters. The writing was amazing, the dialogue was the best I'd ever heard on television, and the characters were so human... even when they weren't human. I picked up the Angel DVDs when I finished the third season of Buffy so I could watch their stories unfold simultaneously. I was afraid that Angel, like many spin-offs, wouldn't be able to live up to the crazy high bar that Buffy set, but I shouldn't have counted the ol' broodster out. If there's one thing that guy does, it's the impossible. Angel was just as good as Buffy--better in some ways, as well. It was a different show with a different cast and different themes. I loved it the way that people are supposed to love other people. I knew these people. The characters were my friends and I watched their stories when I was feeling down. Which was a lot around that time, as my grandmother was in the process of dying when I first watched the Angel DVDs. She watched the first season and a half with me, though I'm not sure how much she understood at that point. I remember she called Angel a "fink" when he splashed the actress with blood in the Season One episode "Eternity." I miss her.

I love Buffy with every bit of me, and I do think that it's the best television series of all time, but by the fifth season of Angel, I knew that these were the characters that had my heart. Scott Tipton described it best in his recent (and excellent) retrospect of his work on Angel: "Angel's dedication, Gunn's bullheaded courage, Wesley's longing, Fred's innocence, Illyria's confidence, Spike's heart."* I saw myself in all of these parts of these characters. The thing about Angel was that Joss Whedon and the other wonderful writers were never afraid to dig into these characters and show how they can be as awful and evil as they could be beautiful and heroic. It was a dark, twisted, complex show that made me strive to be a better writer.

Fast forward a bit. I could go on and on, but I don't want to bore you.

Around the time Brian Lynch was chosen to officially continue Angel's story in his After the Fall arc, I decided that I was very, very envious of this man. I didn't know it before I read his first issue, but I realized that I wanted to write these characters more than anyone else. When I watched the DVDs, the show was done. The writers weren't talking about Angel anymore, for the most part. But Brian? Brian was on the forums like any fan, talking, geeking out, being a human being. A super nice one, at that, but the point is, I realized that, as inconceivable as it was, it was my number one dream to pen an Angel comic.

Of course, it was impossible. And I didn't mind that. Brian Lynch was doing a better job than I could've done, and just talking with him online made my experience as a fan twice as powerful. The show meant a lot to me, but Brian's accessibility, kindness, and friendship elevated my Angel love to new heights.

Angel: Yearbook cover art by David Messina with colors by ScarletGothica

When After the Fall was coming to an end, an Angel artist named Stephen Mooney posted a blog entry about wanting to draw a Wesley/Illyria miniseries set in the fifth season of the show. Brian was busy, and he needed a writer. That was all I needed. I threw on a couple of Angel episodes for background noise and started writing a proposal and a first issue for a miniseries called Angel: Whosoever You Be. I'll post the document for that sometime next week, because I'm actually really proud of it. To this day, it's one of my favorite things that I've written. Thankfully, and surprisingly, Mooney responded to me the next day. I remember what he said, verbatim: "Alright Pat! I'm not going to lie to you... I like it. I'll get back with proper thoughts once I've finished today's page." Long story short, Mooney was great about it. It just turned out that Angel was IDW's top selling book, and it was too big of a first step for a completely unheard of writer to jump onto that book. The whole situation astonished me, because I didn't even know Mooney but the dude took the time to read my story, give me notes, compliment me, and reach out to the higher ups about doing the book. I was beyond humbled.

Mooney drew this for me at NYCC.

I kept reading Angel as different writers took the reigns. I reviewed most of the books on my site and kept fostering my relationships with the writers and the artists. I began to talk to Scott Tipton every day, who I added because I was a fan of his work. We quickly became friends, because it turns out he's not just a talented writer... he's an awesome dude. Franco Urru, whose art I outright loved from After the Fall, graciously designed me a tattoo for no charge. I began to love the people behind Angel as much as I loved the characters.

My Franco Urru tattoo design

And then, it was announced that Dark Horse was going to be taking the Angel license, effective late 2011. Hm. Now, try to understand my first thought. It was presumptuous, selfish, and... well, mostly those two, but still. My first thought was "Fuck. Now I'll never write the book."

As it happens, though, I found salvation at NYCC. I spent most of that convention at the IDW booth, chatting with the people I'd been fostering relationships with. Brian couldn't make it out, but I talked with Chris Ryall, Scott Tipton, Mooney, and David Messina. And then I met three people I'd never met before: David Tischman, Mariah Huehner, and Dan Roth.

Angel: Yearbook cover art by Jenny Frison

I had scheduled an interview with Tisch and Mariah, but so did Buffyfest, and honestly they're way bigger in the fandom than my Buffyverse Comic Reviews site ever was. They got first dibs. Which is good, because as I was waiting around, Dan Roth of Buffyfest fame told me he was pitching stories for IDW's last book, Angel: Yearbook, a collection of short stories by all the folks who worked on Angel in the past.

"Whoa," I said, almost instantly salivating. "Think Mariah would let me pitch?"

Well, after my interview, I found out the answer to that. Yep. Mariah was happy to hear that I wanted to submit stories, but I didn't let myself get excited. I mean, putting myself in her shoes, I imagine it would be awkward to give a flat out "no" to a guy who you just spent half an hour with geeking out about Angel in an interview. But luckily for me, she was serious. I pitched her an Angel: Yearbook story about Gunn and Illyria, which she eventually decided was too similar in tone to Brian Lynch's piece. Which, hey, I take that as a compliment. Brian's my favorite writer, so if I even came close to that tone...
This is my original Angel: Yearbook proposal. It's a full script, because I figured it would be better to show the whole idea as it was so smart. I should've done it the traditional way from the jump, because when I started listing little ideas for possible stories, the brain juices got all... well, juicy. I still like this story, though, and I hope you do too. (I way way way prefer my final YB story, though.)

Anyway, I pitched more stories, she picked one, and things were a go. I asked if Stephen Mooney could do the art for my piece, because that seemed right. I can't see it any other way. Mooney's art is brilliant, and I always dreamed of working with the dude since he posted that blog entry. Mooney agreed and he turned out what I believe are the best two pages he's done... and I'm biased, yes, but also just look at these pages, aren't they perfect? The dude is a master of his craft.

So there it is. I was able to add to the legacy of one of the most iconic characters in all of genre fiction. I even squeezed a Spike line in there, because who doesn't want to write for Spike? I played in the Whedon sandbox, even if it was only for a few moments. It was a dream come true, made only better by the fact that I worked with Stephen Mooney on the story. And our tale, Angel: My Only Friend, appears next to stories by Brian Lynch, Scott Tipton, Chris Ryall, Franco Urru, Peter David, David Messina, Elena Casagrande, Dan Roth, and Jeff Mariotte... some of which I'm friends with, and all of which I'm fans of.

Angel: Yearbook cover art by Nick Runge

And something else cool? Fans are talking about my story the same way I talked about the comics when they came out. One of my favorite comments was posted by Mossome on Whedonesque: "Your story was so fun. The voices we're spot on (which is sometimes lacking in comic books). I love Angel's snarky remarks to the demon he killed. And the reference to the City of Angel's pun. Well done. : )"

Is it weird that I'm a bit (read as: very) moved by that?

So here's the cheesy end: I had a big, ridiculous, impossible-to-achieve dream. I wanted to write for Angel, a story and a character that changed my life. And hell, I don't know why I ever doubted it. Angel is all about looking the impossible in the eye and saying, "Hey, you see how the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against me? Well, so do I, but I don't care, because I'm going to try anyway. And I'm going to fucking win." Only, well, not fucking, because, you know... censors and s#*t.

So I guess I have to think of a new so-big-it's-impossible-to-achieve dream. Hm. Yeah. Yeah, I like that.

I kinda want to write Supergirl. Time to go to work.


A panel from Angel: My Only Friend

PS: Thank you thank you thank you to everyone at IDW, particularly Chris Ryall and Mariah Huehner. I was about to list a whole bunch of reasons why I'm thanking, but I reckon you know.

Also, these are some pretty cool links.

*Scott Tipton gives a retrospect on his Angel work. It's moving, funny in parts, and... well, kind of just like the Angel books he helmed. Clicky.

This gives me a happy. Buffyfest interviewed me and Dan Roth. Click here for that. It was a blast.

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