This month marks the 20th anniversary of a little film about a cheerleader who’s told she is destined to fight vampires. It would eventually lead to a popular TV show, comic books, and a lot more. On Sunday, Comic-Con paid tribute to 20 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The panel was moderated by Clare Kramer, who played the evil goddess Glory/Glorificus during Buffy’s fifth season. Panel guests included people from all three incarnations of Buffy: Randall Batinkoff, who played Buffy’s boyfriend Jeffrey, represented the movie. Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy, was scheduled but couldn’t make it because she’s filming in Canada. Nicholas Brendon and James Marsters, Xander and Spike respectively, were there for the TV show. Scott Allie and Georges Jeanty were there for the Dark Horse comic, along with Jane Espenson, who wrote for Buffy on TV and in the comics.

Espenson explained why Buffy is still popular: “I think it’s because high school still exists, and that high school is still Hell.” She adds that Buffy’s battles while being in Sunnydale High School still inspire a lot of people.

Randall Batinkoff, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters

The discussion turned to the actors who were the men in Buffy’s movie and TV life. Brendon recalled how he had to win Joss over to get the job as Xander, and about his competition. Marsters admitted that he wasn’t sure that being on Buffy was for him… until he watched the show. Since he got the role of Spike he was always surprised about what he’s had to do, wear/not wear for six seasons (Nick jumped in about how he wore a bra). Still, he was happy about how challenging the role had become. “I realized how lucky I was to be terrified,” he said, “because as an artist, you don’t want to be safe. You want challenges… It was surprising, really, that I got in the middle of something much better than I ever had thought that I was getting into.”

Batinkoff recalled how he enjoyed working in the movie and with talented actors like Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens, Luke Perry and Kristy Swanson. He was later surprised that it would become a TV phenomenon a few years later and had asked his agent to get him on the show. While it didn’t happen, he was still happy to be part the original movie. He also had high praise for Whedon, who wrote the movie [editor’s note: the version filmed was extremely different than the final script. See “The Origin” for Joss’ original conception]

While Buffy has made her mark in movies and TV, she’s also made history by being the first TV show icon to make the transition to comics with the help of the man who created her.

Jane Espenson, Scott Allie, Georges Jeanty

Scott Allie from Dark Horse said in the past, comic books based on TV shows or movies usually didn’t have any connection with producers of the original source. Buffy comics had existed while the show was on the air, but the relationship was different. “We just sent things to FOX, and they sent things to us,” he said, “and we did our best to get it right.” When Joss decided to make a “season eight” of Buffy as a comic book series, especially after the success of Fray, that changed. Allie said, “That was the first time that the guy who created the show, the guy who ran the show, was saying ‘I’m gonna keep telling the story.'”  Now other TV shows are doing the same thing; If cult favorite Fringe had not gotten a fifth season on FOX, the series would have continued its story via comics. It also works the other way, as The Walking Dead is enjoying big success on AMC as a live-action drama, even though it has its own storyline that is close to the original graphic novel source.

Jane Espenson

Espenson also admitted that writing for the Buffyverse has been second nature now. “These voices are so in my head now for so many years I don’t have to say it out loud anymore. I hear it in my head that it’s Spike.” She also says the more extreme characters, like Anya, are easy to write, Spike and Xander are somewhere in the middle, and Buffy is the most difficult of all.

Georges Jeanty, who illustrates the Buffy comics, admitted he didn’t know much about the show when Joss suggested he take the job to draw her. Once he realized he didn’t have to draw Buffy as Sarah Michelle Gellar, it became much easier. “If you could recognize the nuance of that character,” he said, “I thought I could get away with it.” Successfully creating a new Buffy, an incarnation exclusive to the comic world, has been part of the series’ success.

Clare Kramer moderates the Buffy at 20 panel

But what about Clare Kramer, who was Buffy’s nemesis on TV? What does the Slayer mean to her?

“The fan base, which is you guys,” she said, “are really what makes Buffy, in essence, the whole experience. It’s wonderful writing, it’s great directing. It’s really, amazing to me, part of like an artistic storyline… I couldn’t ask for a better project.”

James Marsters greets fans at Comic-Con

Then it was the fans’ turn to ask questions. They asked what were the actors’ favorite lines. Marsters had “Out for a walk, bitch” although the famous line from season three, “I may be love’s bitch, but I’m man enough to admit it” also got a lot of applause. Another was from the comic book where Xander asks Buffy, “You need some alone time, boss?” and she replies “Is there any other kind?” Of course, there are many more unforgettable lines from the Buffyverse.

Marsters was also asked about Spike’s journey in the comics. He said that he looks “awesome” on the page. More importantly he says, “Spike can live on and they don’t have to recast it.” He also said that Spike has taken many roles over the years. He started as a formidable villain, then later the “wacky neighbor” since a microchip in his head kept him from biting people. Then he became an unlikely lover for Buffy, and the sacrificing hero. He would come back on Angel as an unlikely ally. Espenson was a little surprised about how many changes Spike has made, but it’s really a testament to Marsters. “We knew we had this amazingly versatile character,” she said, “largely because we had this amazingly versatile actor.”

Nicholas Brendon

Brendon recalled how he heard Joss was thinking of killing off Xander in season seven, but his writers talked him out of it. Espenson claims she didn’t remember that discussion, but she’d never do it anyway.

The panel members also talked about their favorite plot points. For Clare, it was Glory’s defeat in the 100th show. Marsters said it was “Fool For Love”, where we find out who Spike was before he was a vampire. Brendon couldn’t think of one, but he did do the Snoopy Dance.

Nick Brendon introduces Whedonopolis’ screening of “Once More With Feeling”

After the panel, Brendon introduced what has become the traditional closing event for Comic-Con, Whedonopolis’ “Once More With Feeling” sing-along, which is only shown at the con.

The audience waits to sing along to “Once More With Feeling”

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may not have been as big as the Firefly panel at Comic-Con, but it was still a great reminder of the girl who has inspired countless numbers of people and maybe pop culture in general. As Kramer pointed out, the Slayer may be the inspiration of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Hunger Games. It wasn’t too long ago we saw Marsters and Charisma Carpenter on Supernatural–a show produced by Angel alum Ben Edlund. Some of TV’s best show-runners are Buffy fans, including Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice), who later hired Marti Noxon as a consulting producer on her shows.  The influence of Buffy will be felt for quite some time.

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