(Spoilers) Exclusive Interview with Writer Bill Williams on 'Spike: The Devil You Know'

Spike is the character that almost every writer, fan or otherwise, dreams of writing for.  He's a poet, he's a fighter, sometimes he's romantic, sometimes he's a cad, and sometimes, just sometimes, he's crazy in a basement; but he's always cool, always compelling and, arguably, he's always the most clever voice in the room.  Is it any wonder that IDW jumped at the chance to give him his own story in the midst of Angel: After the Fall?  

With Brian Lynch's Spike ongoing still in the planning stages, it would be a crime to risk letting Spike simply be part of the Angel Investigations team and so, Bill Williams and IDW teamed up to bring us Spike: The Devil You Know, a mini series that puts Spike center stage and gives him a whole new cast of characters to bounce off of.  No team, no prophecies, just an angry, blue demon and a dream.  Here now, we talk with writer Bill Williams (with a little help from editor, Mariah Huehner) about this new series and why fans are still chomping at the bit to see more from the man who brought us Happy Meals with legs.

"[This] piece of art is from the second issue when Spike and Eddie are trying to track down the location of the new improved Hellmouth. Spike was in the habit of signing out cars from Wolfram &Hart (under Angel's name of course) so he has a stash of classic cars to drive around in LA. Lucky for him that branch of the firm imploded and no one is looking for the stolen cars." - Bill Williams


Buffyfest: How did this book happen? Were [IDW editors] Chris [Ryall] and Mariah [Huehner] looking for ideas or did you pitch "The Devil You Know" to them first?

Bill Williams: During one of our first phone calls with Mariah, Willingham mentioned that I wanted to get more pages for Eddie and based on that conversation, I wrote up the pitch that would become Spike: The Devil You Know. I was a few months into the Eddie Hope back-up series in Angel when I got the project okayed by Mariah after she chatted with Chris. Those four pages a month break down to about sixteen panels which is not much storytelling real estate. I wanted to wedge Eddie into another series somehow without stepping on what Willingham has planned for Eddie in the main Angel series. Angel has mini-series all over the place, but there was a lack of extra Spike material in the pipeline. I proposed the story as a Spike mini-series with a special guest-star... Eddie Hope.

I originally pitched the mini-series as ’24 with vampires’ because there is a ticking Hellmouth out there and Spike is racing around Los Angeles trying to make sure that is does not open. By the time I finished the script, it was more like 48 Hours. As you can tell from the cover, the ‘buddy cop’ vibe is pretty strong. I write a lot of projects that revolve around crime, so more of that detective angle is in this series.

Buffyfest: What's the timeline of this story? Is it post-After the Fall? How does it coincide time wise with the upcoming Brian Lynch series?

BW: Eddie Hope was a regular guy who was transformed during the events of After the Fall, so this story is after that one. This mini-series more or less runs parallel with the Willingham run on ANGEL. Specifically, it fits between the Eddie stories in Angel #32 and #33 so it’s before Gunn but after Electric Gwen. The Eddie part of it is pretty easy to place because he hits another name on his list in the first part of the story. The adventure unfolds over the course of two nights so that it will not step on what Brian Lynch has planned for the upcoming SPIKE series. In the narrative, Eddie is on his vengeance- fueled shooting spree, trying to rub out another terrible person who revealed the depths of his inhumanity in Hell-A. And as in the television show, our two lead characters cross paths as Eddie has a guy in his sights that happens to be trying to help kill Spike.

Spike has a problem, a long lost and legendary vampire that was sired by The Master has been hired to open a new kind of Hellmouth under the city. Miss Tansy Fry has been running a monstrous crew that has been opening mini-Hellmouths for a variety of clients across the world. She has set up shop in Los Angeles to open a new portal to a dark place.

Buffyfest: Chris Cross referred to the book by a different title, Spike: Family Feud. Titles change all the time but, we're curious, why was the story originally called "Family Feud" and why was it changed to "The Devil You Know"?

BW: I wanted to put a reference to our new favorite devil, Eddie in the title. The Family Feud angle comes from the fact that Spike and Tansy have a common ancestor in The Master who was Tansy’s sire. If my math is right, The Master was Spike’s Great-great-grandsire. The project was called a few things as I worked on the pitch and batted it back and forth, but the current title is the one that stuck. It is the most descriptive.

Buffyfest: Speaking of Chris Cross, how did he, Marc Deering, and Felix Serrano, get connected to this project? Was that Chris Ryall's decision or had you wanted to work with them specifically?

BW: A lot of those questions are better suited to Chris or Mariah. I had no input on the decision to put Chris Cross and Marc Deering and Felix Serrano on the title. Writers often don't often have a lot of say about that aspect of creation. A ton of different factors go into picking an art team for a project like availablility, suitability, etc. and the writer is sometimes distant from that part of the process. I was thrilled when I saw some of the early studies on Marc’s deviantart page. www.emperios.deviantart.com/ I dropped Marc a line and he put me in touch with Chris. Now, whenever he was a question about the art, he can give me a call or drop me an email. He called me with a question one night about the reservoir set from Angel. When I first sat down to study the Angel series, I had seen it in syndication, but I knew I needed to do my homework. So I sat down with all of the seasons on DVD and made a big thick Angel Bible that I reference from time to time. So, when Chris Cross called I went back to my notes and then to the DVD and found the reference and got it back to him that night. The internet makes it much easier for the creative team to stay in touch.

[Update with Mariah Huehner] Mariah: Chris Cross had just sent in some samples and was looking for work, and I thought his style would be energetic and different to really make the mini-series stand out. He did some sketches of Spike which we liked a lot and we got him started. he brought along Marc and Felix. We move pretty fast and it's important to get these projects on the schedule and moving forward. The whole art team has been really great and is having a lot of fun with the scripts. I think half the fun of comics is getting to see different takes on the characters and playing around with art style.

Buffyfest: Getting back pages based off of what you've written is surely always exciting. What about the art for this book do you love best?

BW The Spike mini-series is full of action and Chris Cross does great kinetic action scenes. Spike is the target of a vampire organization pretty early in the story, so there are a few fights. Most of them are in the typical stages in the Whedonverse like parking garages and abandoned warehouses and the like.

Buffyfest: What do you think makes Spike such a popular character?

BW: In some ways, Spike is a Rorschach test for fans. Some see Spike as a romantic hero and a poet. Some fans see Spike as a guy who loves to fight. Depending on the story, Spike can fit in anywhere. One of the things that I loved about the character on the television shows was that Spike was fully engaged with his environment. By that I mean, when he was sad, he felt it. Spike is also witty and very funny.

I like the reluctant ally stage of Spike’s development in Buffy Season Four where he has the chip in his head so that he cannot harm humans. He is getting over Dru leaving him by spending more time brawling with the other demons in that cursed town. And he still manages to put the Scoobie Gang into harm’s way by working with Adam. Spike is clever and that side of him needs a good airing.

Buffyfest: There are so many Whedon related forums out there full of very vocal fans. Having spent some time engaging with the fandom, what is it you think fans want most from a Spike story?

BW: I spend some time on the IDW forums in the Angel discussion areas. I try to stay out of the conversations about who can beat up who and who should hook up with whoever. What fans want is simple. If my reading of the fanbase is right, some of the fans want to see Spike the warrior poet who gets together with Buffy but not long enough to quash a Buffy and Angel reconciliation. Some want more fighting and some want more relationships. Some fans want to see more of the Fearsome Foursome (Darla & Angel & Dru & Spike) in their cravats having Vampire Victorian Adventures. When you boil it down, what people on the message boards want is... More. Fans don't want the story to end.

The great thing about serial fiction is that we all want to know what happens next. The comics are a great way to revisit the things we love about the Whedonverse characters. I’m just happy to be able to create a handful of new characters for the fans to watch as they bounce around in the existing continuity. I’d be giddy if Willingham picked up some of the characters from the mini-series for the main ANGEL series.

Buffyfest: Is there a difference between what Whedon fans want and want they need in a story? If so, what do you see as the difference between those two?

BW: Well sometimes, you really need something you don’t know about or want yet. Whedon fans are very enthusiastic and very certain. They speak with authority. I think that most fans including Whedon’s fans need to know what happens next. What I think fans really want is to be surprised. Fans want memorable moments. The overused phrase is that drama should be surprising and inevitible.

What I wanted to show with this mini-series is that Spike no longer just measures himself against Angel. Spike’s only real competition is with Spike. After the mayhem of the Season Five finale, I think Whedon’s Los Angeles needs a new villain or two. I’ve introduced one that I hope sticks around.

Buffyfest: If you are in the midst of writing a story, how likely will fan opinions be in affecting where the narrative goes?

BW: The story is locked. I wrote the first draft of the mini-series in 2009 over about two weeks time. Mariah and the people at Fox went over it backward and forward and came up with a short list of fixes. I got the notes from them and did the rewrites which included a pretty big rewrite of the first issue and that was it. Now when I get in new pages from Chris and Marc, I get those little ‘Oh Yeah’ moments when I see that my blueprint is making a pretty cool comic book. I can’t wait to see it lettered and colored.

I know you’re not supposed to read your reviews, but I’m compulsive.

While I have been waiting for this project to hit the stands, I’ve written about ¾ of the first draft of a mystery novel. And in super cool news, I got called in on short notice to do a massive rewrite of a pilot for a television show that’s supposed to start shooting next month. The process for that was a lot like the comics writing process in that your first audience is the editor/ producer.

Buffyfest: Favorite Spike-centric episode of Angel or Buffy?

BW: I’ll be greedy and pick one from each series.

In the BUFFY Season Three episode "Lovers Walk", Spike shows up in Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow to get her to cast a love spell on Dru so that they can be together again. It’s twisted and brilliant and has some great little Spike moments. The Spike line of the show, “I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."

Meanwhile in Season One of ANGEL in the episode titled "In The Dark", Spike narrates Angel’s rescue of a woman in an alley. It is loads of fun and demonstrates just what Spike thinks of Angel at the time. Before the big rewrite of the first issue of the mini-series, I had Spike drop a reference to Angel as ‘Captain Forehead’ which of course he was the only one to get.

Buffyfest: How would you describe Spike in 10 words or less?

BW: (Wow. At least you didn’t ask for a haiku. Or iambic pentameter. Let me see what I’ve got here...)

William the bloody makes a pretty champion named Spike.

Or... Spike is a charming, clever and honest vampire killer.

Aaahhhh. Looks like Spike is bigger than ten little words.

Buffyfest: Spike has worn many hats - villian, lover, champion. Which do you think is the most interesting?

BW: I think the most interesting incarnation of Spike is the next one. I can’t wait to see what Brian Lynch has in store for half of fandom’s favorite vampire with a soul.

Buffyfest: Who's your pick in a Spike vs. Eddie Hope match up?

BW: Spike and Eddie don't really get along well at first so we’ll get to see it play out in the pages of the four issues. I want to keep the action moving, so the story is full of jokes and punching. Under the pressure of the Hellmouth plot, Spike and Eddie do spend some time making fun of each other and it breaks out into punches thrown at least once.

The truth is that the writer can tilt the playing field in favor of one character or another. Over in the pages of the Angel comics, Eddie Hope decides to add Charles Gunn to his hit list and then kill him for the things that Gunn did while he was a vampire in Hell-A. Now that would not seem to be a fair fight. Not only is Eddie stalking Gunn, but he has his devil powers. Later when Gunn catches Eddie distracted and he creases Eddie’s head with a lead pipe, he evens the odds. But that is a story for another comic.

Buffyfest: We love Eddie Hope, any chance he becomes a permanent member of the team?

BW: Willingham has the master plan for Eddie. I took his original pitch and moved Eddie to where he needed to be to bash him into Team Angel. The next chapter is up to Willingham. When I took the gig, I did send Mariah a map of where I thought Eddie’s story should go. I have it in my head and hopefully, it will bit the page.

Every year, the Clockwork Storybook guys get together for a few days. That’s a writing group that Willingham and I are in and I suspect that we’ll sit down and hash out the new status quo after the upcoming events in the main ANGEL series. http://clockworkstorybook.blogspot.com/

Buffyfest: What is it with Spike and women...do you see Spike as a bit of a player now that he's a free man? And speaking of women, any chance fans will get a mention of the "B" word in this book?

BW: That depends, is Beta George male or female?

Seriously, there are cameos by Connor and Illyria, but Spike and Eddie mostly interact with new characters. Part of the reason to do that is so that we can have a high body count without getting fan outrage on the message boards. Plus, Fox might take a dim view of that kind of murderous behavior with their cast. One of the new folks is in Tansy’s camp and he’s my favorite of the supporting characters. Sam'rskell the Giant is muscle for Tansy and he is a match for Eddie and Spike combined. The three of them have a knockdown dragout of a brawl.

To the first part of your question, I think that Spike is essentially monogamous but that he has not found a new mate yet. I suspect that is more of a question for Brian Lynch than for me.

Buffyfest: In your opinion, should Spike ever get to Shanshu?

BW: That is the kind of question that is above my paygrade. There are a long line of writers and characters that would have input before mine. That said, Spike and Eddie have a conversation about the Shanshu Prophecy in the third issue of the mini-series. Spike gives him the short version and Eddie gives him his outsider’s perspective on the whole thing. Eddie is new to the life of a Supernatural Being and has a definite opinion.

Given the fact that Spike earned his soul and is powerful and pretty, would giving that up for a mortal life be a good idea at all. From one way of looking at it, isn’t the Shanshu Prophecy more of a death sentence than a happily ever after?
"[This] page from the first issue of the mini-series when Spike gets a dire warning from Illyria. She is still adjusting to her Fredness." -Bill Williams

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