by Kate Kowalski. It’s the most wonderful time of the year: heaps of candy, jack o’lanterns, and scary movie marathons. Halloween is almost here. Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, The Craft—everyone’s got witch on the brain. Now is the perfect time to check out what our favorite spellcaster of Sunnydale has been brewing up as we wait for the final installment of BOOM! Studios’ Willow miniseries. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow, a five-issue run that picks up in the aftermath of the catastrophic events of BOOM’s “Hellmouth” event, sees Willow Rosenberg striking out on her own. She hits the road, traveling near and far for something to realign her shaken sense of self and security. It’s a classic coming-of-age story with some demonic trauma recovery thrown in. “Running away is kind of a mixed bag,” Willow writer Mariko Tamaki says. “On the one hand, it lets you escape your problems; on the other hand, once you’re away, you have space to think about stuff, about the past and so on.”

Willow’s journey has landed her in Abhainn, a community of like-minded witches that at first glance seems pretty ideal. For at least a moment, Willow achieves that long-sought sense of belonging but it’s clear there’s a darkness lurking not too far beneath the surface. Something about Abhainn is perhaps a little more Roald Dahl’s The Witches and a little less Practical Magic. It seems there’s no rest for the Wicca. 

“Willow has clearly been through a lot and lost a lot,” Tamaki continues. “I think what she’s doing going forward isn’t just about pain, it’s about finding strength as well.”

Whatever happens at the end of this arc it promises to be big, not only for Willow’s personal development but for the Buffyverse as a whole. Ahead of the release of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow #5, I got to ask the series’ team, writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Natacha Bustos, about the process of taking on such an iconic character and reimagining her for 2020.

Cover to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow’ #1. Art: Jen Bartel/BOOM! Studios

1. I wanted to begin by asking about your collaborative process—what has it been like to construct such a personal story for Willow in this series?

Mariko Tamaki: I feel so lucky to be working with Natacha. She is such an incredible artist and from the initial sketches to the first pages I knew she was the perfect person for this book. Which is to say that really the process is I send in my scripts and then I just love what Natacha sends back.

Natacha Bustos: Mariko has been an inspiration for me ever since I started in this business, so it was a great honour to work with her—I just feel so lucky.  The way in which she develops the characters through her dialogues is enchanting.

2. This updated Willow not only identifies as a lesbian right away, but also discovers her magic and embraces being a witch much earlier than her first incarnation. How does this inform her characterization and story?

MT: I was really taking my cue from the existing BOOM! series when thinking about Willow for this story. I suppose one thing having her queerness and her witch-identity be so up front from the get-go does is open space for other discoveries Willow can have about herself. Willow’s sexual identity isn’t something she grapples with in this story, but her sense of where she belongs is. And really, belonging is about so many things.

3. Mariko, we discover in ‘Willow’ #1 that Willow is running away—will she have time to confront her pain and feelings about recent events in issues to come? What will that look like compared to the massive scope of Willow’s pain we’ve already seen in the original show?

MT: Running away is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it lets you escape your problems; on the other hand, once you’re away, you have space to think about stuff, about the past and so on. Willow has clearly been through a lot and lost a lot, and I think what she’s doing going forward isn’t just about pain, it’s about finding strength as well.

4. How do the two of you feel about the major timeline changes in the comics version of the Buffyverse? Specifically, how things seem to be ramping up in the lives of the Scooby Gang, who are noticeably younger than their television counterparts?

MT: I am very for this version. I think if comics have shown anything it’s that there is always room for reinvention.

NB: I agree with Mariko, I find the reinventions really cool. They spice up the Buffyverse, and readers and fans (and I am most definitely one myself) want to read stuff that is new.

5. Speaking of which, how do you personally feel about the inevitable comparing and contrasting of the Willows? Mariko, you honor the original characterization so well with her contemplative but quirky inner monologue. Natacha, it’s clear Alyson Hannigan has consistently been the model for BOOM! Studios’ ‘Buffy’ comics—your depiction in ‘Willow’ is a bit more stylized than others. What is your relationship to the original source material, and how does that affect your creative decisions as you build an unknowable future for this relatively new world?

MT: I try to keep my decisions focused on my story and I feel like the space for comparing and contrasting belongs to readers. I am a super nerd and I do my own comparing and contrasting for other properties.

NB: I think my version is more of a reinterpretation, by which I mean I haven’t tried to literally use the anatomical model of the actress, but I was inspired by her, naturally. I hope our readers have been able to perceive that, too.

6. I want to talk about that full-page spread on the second page of ‘Willow’ #1. It feels grand and mythic and serves as an important refresher on the tragic endings of the ‘Hellmouth’ event. Natacha, how did this image come to you?

NB: Both Mariko and our editors knew pretty much exactly what they wanted, so it was really easy for me. They said I should choose a bunch of key scenes and these were the ones I chose.

7. In general, there seems to be an established rhythm of large panels and huge spreads in this comic. Can you reveal some insight to your process of mapping these out?

NB: Every time I have to create a two-page spread I try to make it have as big an impact as possible. It’s something that’s complicated in terms of composition, too.  I put together a bunch of sketches, then make myself a coffee and come back to them. Then, I may rework them; sometimes I make changes with the inks. Inking is a more mechanical process, which I love to do with music or a podcast in the background.

8. You’ve both said how excited you were to get to create this story about such a beloved and iconic character. Did you feel any pressure or nerves taking this on?

MT: I don’t know if it’s nerves per se. It’s definitely a lot of pressure. I hope Buffy fans enjoy this series.

NB: As a fan of the series, there have been a few butterflies. Fans are very passionate about the character. So, I hope they have enjoyed what we have done with her.

9. In other nerd news, it’s been recently announced that the CW series ‘Batwoman’ has cast Javicia Leslie, a black bisexual woman, in the title role. This is incredible—not to mention something that might not have been possible even a few years ago. How do you view the change in conversation of representation in the realm of heroes and comics? How has it changed during the scope of your career?

MT: I am very excited to see the new Batwoman. I am very glad, obviously, that boundaries have shifted. I think they could always shift some more.

NB: Yeah, it’s really exciting and so necessary that diversity is becoming commonplace on our screens. I’ve been lucky enough to work on projects with really diverse characters, something I very much enjoy drawing.

10. Jeanine Schaefer, [Executive Editor of BOOM! Studios] said the story arc of Willow will “impact the future of the entire Buffyverse.” Without directly spoiling anything, is there a tease that you can share with our readers about what Jeanine may be alluding towards? What could possibly be coming next for Willow?

MT: You’ll have to read and find out!

‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow’ #5 hits stores on November 18. Contact your LCS to score a copy of your own.

Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow’ #4, featuring the colors of Eleonora Bruni and the letter work of Jodi Wynne, courtesy of BOOM! Studios:

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