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IDW: The Final Angel Arc - Tischman and Huehner Talk

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With Angel set to start its transition from IDW to Dark Horse, there are sure to be big things in motion for everybody's favorite vampire with a soul. To find out what's in store, we at Broken Frontier sat down with David Tischman and Mariah Huehner, respectively the writer and editor of the final story arc of IDW's run on Angel. Tischman and Huehner have a long history of telling tales about the bloodsucking undead, and so Angel is bound to have one hell of a send-off from IDW. So sit back and relax as we discuss the popularity of vampire fiction, writing about the undead, and of course, all things Angel.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You've worked with vampire characters several times in the past in Angel: Barbary Coast and Bite Club. What is it about the genre that keeps you coming back for more?

MARIAH HUEHNER: I know this is really for David, but, since I've worked with David on most of his vampire series to date, it seems like we keep finding ourselves dealing with fangs. In my case I just happen to find myself working on books about vampires. I don't know why, maybe it's because I wear a lot of black. David's the one who keeps saying yes to writing for them for some reason. :}

DAVID TISCHMAN: Which is funny, because I've STARTED wearing more black since we've been working on this book. But to answer your question, vampires are just about the coolest thing ever created. Vampires and pizza. What keeps bringing me back is the different spins each of these projects has put on the standard "Dracula"-style vampire mythology. When Howard (Chaykin) and I did Bite Club, it was a medical vampirism that jumped from bats to humans--creating a new ethnic minority that fueled the organized crime part of the story. On True Blood, also with Mariah, we've got sexually voracious and hyper-violent vampires, whose blood is somewhere between penicillin and PCP. Angel is a more traditional vampire, but he struggles against himself, physically and morally, to make the living world a better place. A devil trying to be, quite literally, an angel. There's just so much you can do with that!

BF: How have these past vampire comic experiences prepared you for writing Angel? 

DT: That's where the similarities end. Each book is different. Each script is different. Maybe people think I'm "the vampire guy." Believe me, there are worse things to be. As long as you spell my name right. But I approach each of these books from scratch. But we're having a lot of fun. The Angel series was great, and Mariah and I are both fans, so it's very satisfying when we finish a script and it feels like the TV show. As a writer, we're supposed to say that we write for ourselves, but in this case, I think we've kept the fans in mind--we're all going on this journey together, and we're trying to tell a smart story we'd all enjoy watching on the telly.

MH: Honestly, nothing could have prepared me for working on Angel. It's not like anything else I've ever worked on and it's been one of the most excruciating, challenging, but worthwhile projects I've ever worked on. It's taught me a lot.

BF: Why do you think vampire stories have such enduring popularity? In such a technology-fueled age isn't it interesting that we still feel the need for our monsters lurking in the dark?

MH: Vampires are, no pun intended, eternal. They're a dark, primal, nearly bottomless well of story possibilities. I mean, look at the very human themes you can explore through them: 1. Sex. Whether as a metaphor for animal passions during inhibited eras or as a more literal and direct look at the complex nature of desire and sex. They're very sensual, but also provocative and terrifying by nature because of the whole drinking blood thing. Which does have an erotic angle to it, due mostly to the imagery around it, I think. And the fact that desire is a very consuming emotion, similar to the way vampires lust for and must consume blood. 2. Life/Death/Immortality and the human condition. As undying creatures of the night, vampires are a pretty obvious way of looking at the things we fear (Death), the things we should appreciate (Life and Death), and the things we secretly wish for even when we're not sure the of the consequences (Immortality). Plus, they're really pretty. I think one of the reasons we still like our monsters is that, no matter how advanced we get, or how many gadgets we make, we're all still afraid of the dark and the boogeyman in it.

DT: Vampires are stronger, faster and sexually free--which puts them way ahead of the people I hang out with. But it makes them super-heroes, too. And we love our super-heroes. We love them because we aspire to their higher moral level. Well, Angel gives us two-for-one -- a super-hero who aspires to a higher moral level. But your question about technology is very interesting. The physical nature of vampires is a great counterpoint to the frailty of the powerful micro-circuits. 

BF: Your run on Angel will be the title's transition from IDW to Dark Horse. How is the hand-off being coordinated by both sides?

MH: Very carefully. We know some of what's to come that will be addressed more directly with Spike, but we're also finding ways to drop in hints and things for readers to pick up. We're telling our own story here, though, that's mostly a way to tie up IDW's run on the series. But we're happy to work in what we can so that Dark Horse will have as easy a transition with the stories as possible.

DT: Mariah's on the front lines of that one. I just keep my head down and type.

BF: Were you a fan of the Buffyverse before you began adding to its mythos?

MH: Big time. Both series have meant a lot to me both personally and professionally. They accomplish something with genre fiction that's very rare, making it relevant and entertaining and meaningful, in a setting that should be ridiculous in a lot of ways. Plus, it created what remain some of the most complex and iconic characters, especially for women.

DT: I was a Buffy fan for the writing, more than anything else. On Angel, though, his character and his personal story and his moral issues made me a fan from the beginning.

BF: Besides the Buffy and Angel series, did you have any other major influences in your approach to the story arc, or vampire genre in general? Which supporting characters were influences? 

DT: I know Connor can be a hot button issue with the fans, but he is an essential part of who Angel is. At the same time, the Angel supporting cast--even when it was just Wesley and Cordy and Gunn (and/or Spike)--needed to be serviced, and--just in my opinion--took away from our time with Angel. Which is why I came up with the story I did in Barbary Coast. When Mariah and I started looking at what we wanted to do, it was really important to me to give Connor the room to continue to grow, but also to get Angel OUT ON HIS OWN and get him back to basics, against the biggest bad of them all, Wolfram and Hart. I had one part of the story, and Mariah came in with the other half--it really came together like that. And our solution literally gives the fans both those things. We're building the tension and it's all moving like a fucking speeding train toward a very big end.

MH: You always have to look at what aspect of being human a story is trying to convey. What themes are at work here, what do these characters need to do, what do they need to discover about themselves, where does it need to go? In that sense, any and all stories can be an influence in some way. I read and watch a lot of genre fiction of varying sorts and I'd say it was all an influence in one way ore another. Farscape, Discworld, Dollhouse, Lost, Lord of the Rings, Muppets...at core all these stories were about the characters and their journey. And they all have an epic quality that Angel has, too.

In Angel's case, he's kind of had these incredible peaks and valleys lately, and it was time to really let him be the hero that he is again. Saving the world, fighting the good fight, that sort of thing. At the same time, Angel isn't alone, and his friends need their own arcs, too. As David said, I know a lot of folks have issues with Connor, but the fact is, that's Angel's son. It would be strange if he wasn't a huge driving force for Angel, and he's one of the most important ways we can show Angel's development as a father and a character.

BF: Wolfram and Hart have always been major players in Angel's series. Why do you think they work so well as villains? What led you to choose them as your arc's “big bad”?

DT: On Buffy, Sunnydale had the Hellmouth, but the town was never really a character. On Angel, Los Angeles (the city of Angels) is very much a part of the show--as much a character as New York is in "Sex and the City." And in many ways, Los Angeles is the most "American" city we have. More American than New York. Los Angeles is where Manifest Destiny ends. Really, the biggest example of the American Dream, maybe the last place in America where dreams still happen overnight. And Wolfram & Hart feeds on all that. The firm represents the choice each of us makes; how much of our soul are we willing to give away to make our dreams come true? They are lawyers; subtle, strategic, using the system for their own purposes. Angel's a smart guy, but he's a man of action. W&H is the Joker to Angel's Batman, and we needed them for this final battle.

MH: This last arc needed to be epic. But it also needed to really be about the characters and surmounting something that's been holding them back so they could evolve. At the end of the day, Wolfram & Hart is the embodiment of what Angel has been fighting against. He will always have to fight the good fight against enormous odds. And that's W&H. They are always there, making things difficult in big and small ways. I think Angel needs them in a way, and this last arc definitely needed them so Angel could come full circle.

BF: What are the differences you see between working on a big licensed book like Angel, and working on a Vertigo book like Bite Club?

DT: Bite Club was a creator-owned book; we created those characters and those dilemmas--where we took it, and what the book was about are the same thing. On a licensed book, you're playing with someone else's toys. Although, really, at this point, Superman and Spider-man are as "licensed" as Angel. But that's another conversation. On a licensed book, the IP has monetary value and you're given parameters. It also comes with an existing fan base with expectations. So it's challenging--in all the best ways. And incredibly satisfying. I really mean that. We're writing our hearts out on this book.

MH: A lot of it has to do with dealing with an established world someone else created, who have fans who are very particular, vs. creating a world yourself. There's more freedom in the latter in certain ways because you define the rules and who the characters are. The former, you're working with established history and have a lot to take into account. It's a challenge, but it's not all about limitations. The great thing about working on an established license is the passion and enthusiasm fans bring to the continuing stories. They love these characters and they just want to see them treated with respect. If you can do that, you've got a lot of room to develop interesting stories. Plus, especially something like a Whedonverse story, there's so much to work with. The characters have real depth and the world is complex and generally fairly flexible. Which makes it ideal for exploring all kinds of themes while still getting to make up weird creatures. That's always fun.

BF: Do you have any upcoming projects after your run on Angel?

MH: I'm working on a bunch of things, most of which can't be announced yet. It's always possible I'm not quite done with vampires, either.

DT: I'm announcing a very cool creator-owned book at New York Comic-Con, next month. An idea I'm really passionate about. I'm loving the pages. There's something else that'll be announced in January--something Angel fans will really dig. It's completely unexpected.

Angel #39, the first part of the final IDW story arc, goes on sale from IDW this November.

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