We sat down with Rebcake, one of the moderators of the fantas_magoria community on livejournal to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, their legacy, and why even after almost a decade off the air, people love doing fanart and fanfiction for these programs.
1) What can you tell us about yourself and how you became interested in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series?
It was inevitable that I would be bitten by the “Buffy” bug. Genre stories have always appealed to me, and I love the way that the fantastic can often highlight what is true and meaningful better than a story with a realistic setting. Feminism and pop culture interest me in equal measure. For example, my American Studies undergraduate thesis subject was Lois Lane, Superman’s Girlfriend. I’ve done work as a writer and editor of underground comics, as well as playing drums in an all-female “alt” band, and writing the occasional essay on various cultural phenomena. I briefly worked with Alison Bechdel of the “Bechdel Test” fame. Girl power is catnip to me.
Nevertheless, I was both early and late to “Buffy”. I saw the original movie in the theater when it first came out, as it sounded just about perfect. It was…not that thrilling. I was therefore on the fence when the television series was announced. For a variety of reasons, the primary one being child-rearing that didn’t allow for TV watching at 8PM, I didn’t get around to watching the series until it was off the air, in spite of hearing good things. I treated myself to the BtVS Season 2 DVDs when my daughter turned 10. What was supposed to be a bit of escapist fun turned into an obsession in just a few hours. It had everything I’d always wanted: the fun-loving girl designed to slay demons both real and metaphorical with a quip and the help of her trusty friends. The black humor appealed to me, as did the way it toyed with viewer expectations. I devoured every episode of “Buffy”, continuing on to “Angel” Season 5 before backtracking to the beginning of AtS. I’ve seen all of Buffy multiple times, though there are sections of Angel that I’ve only seen once.
[img_assist|nid=222|title=Angel the Series|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=200|height=150]
Having run through both series, I wanted more. I read all I could about the making of the show, the creators behind it, and finally turned to reading fanfiction. I was impressed with the high quality of the writing on the juried fanfic sites, and began to correspond with some of the writers I admired. They clued me in about the online community of people interested in the Buffyverse.
2) You help co-moderate the fantas_magoria live journal community. What can you tell our readers about that?
The community is set up to review every episode of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series, in order. We highlight one episode of each show each week. We post a short reminder about the episode’s themes and ask the members to put up anything pertaining to the episodes in focus — ideas, essays, or meta; stories; artwork; video; poems; or reports from behind the scenes.
The originators passed it on to the current moderators just as the community was getting ready to review the BtVS Season 3 episode “Lovers’ Walk”. It was a great place to start, as it brought back a villain from Season 2, Spike, and used him in a whole new way to highlight the situations of the regular cast of characters. It’s a pivotal episode, featuring a divisive character, and lots of our members had something to say about it.
It is wonderful to be able to shine a spotlight on every single episode. Not all of them are equally well-loved by the fandom, but each one contains something noteworthy and frequently quotable. We enjoy pointing out the good bits of less-rewatched episodes, as well as the less-appreciated characters or moments in the very popular episodes.
[img_assist|nid=213|title=Buffy, Spike and Angel in Lovers Walk|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=305]
3) The neat thing about the fantas_magoria community is that it still produces fic and art for shows that have been off the air for nine and eight years, respectively. How do you keep fans coming back to participate?
The richness of the source material means that there are multiple ways to interpret the motivations and actions of the characters both beloved and less so, and that makes it easy to engage people, even after all this time. Different people are drawn to different aspects of the show, but many creative people are interested in the part of the story that went untold on screen. Some revel in uncovering the back stories of the villains, others delight in filling in what happened between scenes or episodes, others examine the world of the Buffyverse through the eyes of people that are barely mentioned.
We use a variety of tools— such as prompts, challenges, and polls — to spark discussion and creative work. We also try to make the community a safe place for people to participate. Minority opinions are welcome, but we discourage comments about other fans, unless it’s to say something unequivocally nice.
4) Why do you think people are drawn back to loving the Buffyverse and to creating art and fic for it even years down the line?
It is surprising how many people are still involved in these fandoms, and there are new participants joining all the time. It’s a testament to the strength of the original material, but also to the dearth of anything else that has been able to capture its spirit. I credit Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon’s production company) for a tremendous achievement in creating a modern myth with seemingly inexhaustible staying power.
There is also so much variety in these fictional worlds. “Something for everyone” is not an exaggeration about the Buffyverse. Some people are drawn to the comedy, some to the tragedy, others to the romance, the gothic horror, the intellectual exercise, or the all of the above. Some adore the dashing heroes and heroines, some like to spotlight the guy or gal that makes a pithy comment and never appears again. We have members who are focused primarily on a single character or two, others who embrace the entire ensemble. If you tire of one aspect of the show, you’ll very likely find another that interests you even more.
5) What are some challenges involved with running the community?
As you said, these shows have been off the air for a long time. The fandom was definitely more active when the shows were “fresher”. Partly, that’s because so much discussion has already taken place, and people don’t feel the need to repeat themselves, although there is still an openness to new interpretations. In addition, some of the material is very emotionally difficult, particularly in the later seasons. Some fans just want to have fun in their fandom, and there are certain places that they’d rather not revisit. We try to tread lightly without shying away from the hard stuff.
6) You're rapidly approaching Buffy's final (televised) season. What are your plans for when you've reached the end of the series? Will you start into comics or just reloop?
We’re just finishing up with “Buffy” Season 6 and “Angel” Season 3. We still have three seasons to cover — “Buffy” Season 7 and “Angel” Seasons 4 & 5. We haven’t discussed the future past the end of the televised shows. While it’s possible that a fan of the comics will want to carry on in some format, I think at the very least we’ll keep the community as an open episode-related archive of fan work. It is searchable by episode, using tags, and there is no reason that new work couldn’t be added in later.
7) What about the women of the Buffyverse or Buffy herself do you find empowering and feminist?
The often overlooked thing about the Buffyverse women is that there are so many of them. When a female character is presented as powerful and heroic in the media, I’m happy to see it. But the Buffyverse has women and girls in every conceivable role and that makes me even happier. The very first woman we see in the first episode seems to be the typical, young, blonde, horror movie victim — though she turns out to be the opposite of those things, except for the hair color. And she’s not even the main character!
[img_assist|nid=219|title=Vampire Darla and Her Victim|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=302]
Women are everywhere in the Buffyverse. They are the heroes, the villains, demons, moms, sisters, friends, girlfriends, enemies, frenemies, students, damsels, hard working intellectuals, achy-footed service workers, lawyers, assassins, and everything else. They are straight, gay, young, old, thin and — okay, they’re pretty much always thin, overwhelmingly white, and able-bodied. (I suspect the shows would be more representative if they were made today.) All this variety means that the women get to be more than tokens or representative of a type. The heroine can have issues with depression. The sweet, shy girl can also have a controlling streak. The moms can be good moms, and still fail badly at times. The villains often have compelling reasons for their villainy. The women of the Buffyverse are feminist to me not because they are shining beacons of perfection, but because they are first and foremost complicated human beings, just like all the fascinating women that I know. Also, the message that runs throughout “Buffy” — that more can be accomplished within a cooperative community than by a single individual — has strong feminist resonance for me.
8) Which of the characters do you think stands out to you as the best example for women today?
That’s impossible for me to answer, because I believe that different women need different examples, depending on their situation and interests. I do think that “Buffy” offers several good ones, while still making clear that putting people on a pedestal leads to disappointment. Tara and Joyce both offer wonderful examples of the importance of kindness and understanding, for instance. Willow and Fred are fine examples of what can be achieved with talent and hard work. And, of course, Buffy herself is a wonderful example selflessness, tenacity, and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds. Given the current political climate, I think we can all use a reminder that our actions on behalf of others can make a huge difference, and might even save the world.
9) Okay, now a hard one. What's your favorite episode and why?
That is a hard one! I once did a list of my Top 10 Buffy episodes, and ended up with 21 episodes! My favorites tend to be those that show the story from a new perspective, or result in a new understanding of the characters. Lots of episodes qualify, but none more so than “Fool for Love” in Season 5. In it, Buffy seeks out her old enemy, Spike, now hobbled, to try to understand how she almost lost a fight with a random vampire. Spike, the Slayer of Slayers, is able to tell her a side of the Vampire/Slayer story no one else can.
Through a series of flashbacks, we see Spike as a human, how he became a vampire known as William the Bloody, and how he came to defeat (twice) the scariest thing a vampire will ever face: the Slayer. In the end, we see Spike’s heartbreaking and hilarious breakup with his lover of 100+ years, and how much his association with Buffy has come to reshape his existence. That part of the story has barely begun, however.
Surprising new facets of Spike are uncovered throughout the episode, as well as fascinating snippets of past Slayers: one a Chinese swordswoman in 1900, the other a Black Manhattanite in 1977. This latter scene is a tour-de-force of editing, intercutting Spike’s battle on a subway car with the Slayer of the time, Blaxploitation-style, with his faux battle with Buffy in a modern-day alley. Making the Slayers a part of the sweep of history was a revelation to me. It was apparently equally so to the writers of the show, who went on to create the best-yet comic book based on “Buffy”: Tales of the Slayers.
[img_assist|nid=220|title=Spike and Slayer Nikki Wood|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=300]
10) Finally, if there was a plot line or idea that you could change from the five years of Angel and seven years of Buffy, what would you do differently?
If I were the boss of the Buffyverse, I would prefer that Buffy’s mother, Joyce, had not died. Buffy has a lot of tough things to deal with, including her own death (twice). If I could spare her and her sister the pain of losing their only useful parent when they didn’t have the luxury of time to grieve, I would do so. If Joyce had lived, Buffy could have stayed in school and gone on to a fulfilling career — providing she survived the annual apocalypse. Her struggle to eek out a subsistence living and care for her minor sibling is very hard to watch.
That said, I know that Joss Whedon more than earned the right to tell the story the way he did, having lost his mother as a young man.
But it makes me sad. A girl needs her mom.
[img_assist|nid=217|title=The Late Joyce Summers|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=224]
Thank you so much rebcake for ALL your help! You all can check out more about her community at http://livejournal.com/community/fantas_magoria
Also all images are property of 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and not of Legendary Women, Inc.