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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

Without Buffy Summers There Is No Tessa Battle


[Editor's Note: Novelist Kelly Thompson has a few things to say about how, like a lot of us, Buffy the Vampire Slayer affected her life in a significant way. Read on to see exactly how and find out just who Tessa Battle is.] 

I was late to a lot of things in my life. Late bloomer I guess they call that. As a result, a lot of the things that have really shaped me as a person came later than one might expect. I found comics at the age of 16 and from that day forward they were a great love (and obsession). When I was 20 I stumbled by chance upon the last episode of Season One of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (“Prophecy Girl”). It was already halfway through and though I had no idea what in seven hells was going on, I was immediately and permanently transfixed by what I saw.

It was love at first sight.

Without fully understanding it, I also intrinsically knew I had found something powerful and life changing for myself in BTVS. Something that spoke to me and stirred something in me. I knew I had found a match for myself in the same way so many of us are taught from such a young age to search for “the one.”

But I was having that moment for a television show.

And now, nearly 17 years later I am totally okay with that.

*boyfriend grumbles something incoherent but clearly displeased nearby*

Ahem. I’m okay with that because BTVS profoundly affected me on multiple levels: as a fangirl, as a budding feminist, as an artist and writer, and coming at a time when I was really just beginning to figure myself out, she (and her friends) shaped how I thought about women, characters, feminism, heroes, genre, media, and more.

When I was in high school, I spent almost the entirety of certain classes writing screenplays in my spiral bound notebooks (which may explain why despite taking more than three years of French, my French remains atrocious). Said screenplays were also atrocious and very free form as I didn’t know how to structure them or even how long they should be. I was a young writer who had no idea what she was doing. When I finally began the experiment of writing for things that already existed, in part to learn about structure, storytelling, voice, developing characters over time, and even how to subvert conventions, I naturally started by studying BTVS. So the show became the world I cut my teeth on, the one I studied to understand how things worked, the world I used to learn how to become a writer. I’m sure those first struggling steps weren’t pretty (and thank the gods those files were long ago lost) but given that love at first sight I experienced the first time I saw BTVS, it’s no surprise that it was the first world I turned to and the one I consistently turn back to.

When I wrote my first book — The Girl Who Would Be King, a novel about two teenage girls with superpowers — I dedicated it to Joss Whedon, because for the last seventeen years it has been his characters, his world building, and his sharp, funny, self-aware writing in everything from Buffy and Firefly to Cabin In the Woods and The Avengers that has shaped the kind of stories I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell them.

While that remains true, when it came time to write my second novel, it was no surprise I found myself wanting to write something that could be — if I was very, very lucky — a Buffy The Vampire Slayer of sorts for a new generation.

And so Storykiller was born.


Art by Ross Cambell

The concept for Storykiller is simple – a world in which all Fictional characters are real, and Tessa Battle is the one girl – that can kill them when they start trouble – which is why behind her back, they call her The Storykiller.

Tessa and Buffy are, naturally, very different characters. Other than their similar circumstances – teenaged girls with super powers living in a supernatural world – they are very different women in almost every way. But no matter how different they may be, there’s simply no way Tessa Battle exists without Buffy having paved the way. Buffy paved the way for so many heroines that followed her and to this day she remains that inspirational template and touchstone of feminism and thus, the initial and primary inspiration for Tessa.

“Strong female characters” as a shorthand for what characters like Buffy represent has gotten an odd reputation of late, with people both innocently and not so innocently misunderstanding the shorthand. When we use that shorthand we’re of course not talking about physical strength, although that’s sometimes part of it, but rather the strength and complexity that comes with any well-defined character . Buffy was the definition of a “strong” character, female or otherwise, not because she was an ultimate badass when it came time to kick ass, but she was complex and real. Buffy simply was. She was girly and also tough. She was witty but not always wise. She was a clothes horse and romantic, sometimes a flake, but she was also strong-willed and righteous. She was a rebellious teen but also a devoted daughter. She was good and yet never without flaws. She was funny and also tragic, living a very serious (frequently dire) life and she had incredible friends, allies, and even enemies that were equally as complex and well-considered. Every writer dreams for and aims for characters so complex and so strong, because that makes them real and relatable. I hope the characters in Storykiller are all so lucky to be that complex, that strong, that real. I certainly tried my best to make them so, although I admit that pretty regularly they just took over and told me exactly who and what they were, which usually means I did get something right along the way.

While I would never deign to hope that Tessa Battle and Storykiller can ever be as big, as important, or as groundbreaking as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, if it can reach even one reader and have a fraction of the impact that Buffy had on me, then I’d be pretty damn satisfied.


Cover Image by Stephanie Hans and Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson is author of the novel Storykiller and the superhero novel The Girl Who Would Be King. Comics loving feminist troublemaker and writer of She Has No Head!, co-host of the 3 Chicks Review Comics Podcast, Reviewer for Comic Book Resources, writer for Lit Reactor. Generally well liked, except when she’s detested.

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  • Anonymous

    I admit always had some immense issues with Whedon’s handling of WOC characters on the show but I always love hearing how it has inspired a new generation of writers! Storykiller sounds very interesting!

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Agreed.

    It’s interesting. I discovered Buffy in middle school, and it helped to provide the groundwork for making me more critical of the media I enjoy. In fact, if I had not seen Buffy back then and been influenced by it and a fan of it, I might not be in a place to recognize its serious shortcomings as feminist work now. :D

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    The novel sounds good and the comic sounds gooder, I’ll throw in whatever it takes to get a digital copy depending on the results of my car inspection tomorrow.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    If you’re talking about Ken-druh, thuh vam-piyuh slayuh…I agree that they should have hired someone that actually had that accent.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    More of the lack of POCs period, IMO. And then, in S7 when they had more, they were either part of Xander’s sex fantasies, antagonistic as all hell, or flat cardboard cutout of an actual person(Kennedy).

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Kennedy falls into which category now?

  • locuas

    you think jumping to season one finale was bad? my first actual buffy episode was THE SERIES FINALE. as in, the one with the weird shapeshifter ghost, the cool axe that everyone talked about how important it was but i had no idea what i actually did, the army of women, the weird sacrifice from the white hairde vampire on that cave. i was SO confused. and i did not start to get some of the things until i finally was able to watch the series properly years later.

  • Anonymous

    She’s Mexican, at least the actress who played her is.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Interesting. Don’t really see anything about Kennedy being Mexican. I think this might be one of those situations where you could either give them the progressive credit or you don’t based on a coin toss.

  • Anonymous

    I have a soft spot for Kendra, bad accent and all.

  • Anonymous

    I think he made up for it with the creation of Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres) from Firefly.

  • Anonymous

    Ha, I had the same thing happen with Sherlock series 1. This was when it was first coming out, so the episode title wasn’t listed—I didn’t even know there were multiple episodes! Needless to say that ending was very confusing.

  • Anonymous

    May I ask why exactly you find Buffy to have feminist shortcomings? Because I certainly don’t agree at all.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks everyone for all the sweet comments, shares, and pledges to Storykiller! I’m so glad people get it and are responding in kind!

  • stella

    This sounds so cool!

  • Anonymous

    Actually I feel quite a bit touched by what Buffy meant to the author. I never found the series great or was moved by Buffy in any way but I can very well relate how one can “fall in love” (in a way) with a TV show.

    I grew up in the 80s, for me this TV show was “The Avengers” (the British spy show from the 60s in re-runs, not the US-Comic). Guess Emma Peel was “my Buffy”! ;-)

  • KryptoBunny

    The show about a world where Chinese is so prevalent that people swear in it, yet there are no Chinese characters?

  • Hugo M

    Nice piece of writing. I really relate to your experience. I arrived to Buffyland even later, during season 4, and just went crazy hunting for the dvds and catching up. This comic of yours sounds really interesting! BTVS is my favourite tv show ever, and I believe the quality of the script and the character development are, to this day, rarely matched by other (even more famous and prestigious) shows. I’ll be checking Storykiller!

  • Richard Grant

    The lack of any Chinese characters within the show is quite inexcusable, even acknowledging that it only ran for half a season doesn’t really excuse not creating any Asian characters.
    In some alternate reality where there was at least a couple of seasons of Firefly I’d like to think that this would have been rectified by Joss during the end of the first series or in the second series, as he did at least acknowledge the lack of Asian characters was a problem when asked about it at the Firefly 10th Anniversary panel at Comic-Con.

  • Richard Grant

    I think a couple that seem recur are: the ‘fridging’ of Tara/ the negative connotations associated with magic and power for Willow in series 6.
    The Spike/ Buffy relationship in series 6 (especially the attempted rape scene.)
    The Angelus story-line in Series 2 as a metaphor for punishment for pre-marital sex.
    Faith as possible slut shaming, and some of the more problematic parts of Xander as a character.

    The important thing about Buffy as a show to remember is that its primary focuses were being a pastiche of the horror genre, and using the genre as a metaphor for growing up. So you can see arguments about how its use of some of the troupes are a knowing critque, rather than simply being problematic.

    It gets especially interesting when reading some of the Scholarly works written about Buffy, and how many different readings can come out of the same handful of scenes.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Richard Grant and QueerJock2 covered some of it. The fridging of Tara I
    can almost understand because Joss kills the most innocent and beloved
    of his characters as a rule, but paired with Willow going crazy he
    really could have avoided those tropes which feed into some of the more
    negative and false stereotypes.

    The Spike storyline was one of
    the most interesting character arcs I have seen portrayed on television
    but the rape element seemed ill-timed? The commentary on it and rape
    culture worked much much better with the sexbots and magic Warren used
    in earlier seasons; in the Spike/Buffy storyline I feel it was handled
    poorly.

    But I think the show paved the way for better portrayals
    of women as interesting and complex characters on television and even
    film to some extent.

    And Buffy hit me hard in the feels and got me through middle school and high school intact.

    Storykiller looks really interesting, by the by. Wishlist!

  • Emily Walton

    Also: *Faith’s “seduction” of Xander reads as pretty rapey
    *Joss’s commentary about how the finale is “a metaphor for female power: having it, using it, sharing it”, which I like, but it’s not really up to men to tell those stories (if that makes sense).
    * His fondness for literally insane female characters (Drusilla, Glory, Evil Willow, Amy)

    I effing love BtVS, and I love some of those storylines and characters even as I have issues with them, but tl;dr Joss still brings some sexism to his work.

  • Anonymous

    Just to be clear everyone, STORYKILLER (and The Girl Who Would Be King) are prose books, not graphic novels. The hardcover editions have sections of full color illustrations though (in TGWWBK it’s 16 pages by artist Stephanie Hans) in STORYKILLER it will be 32 pages from nearly 20 different artists).

    But thanks to all of you for the support and kind words. :)

  • Jake Mertz

    The show I fell in love with was Firefly, and it was long after it had been canceled. You can’t imagine how much I cried when I found out I was watching re-runs of a show that would never have any more episodes. It’s been a huge influence on my work.

  • gabby

    buffy rocks!!!

  • Joanna

    Mr. Pointy ^_^

  • Joanna

    *cough*Principal Wood*cough*

  • Amanda Pina

    I’m also writing about a female leader, and Buffy does have a weigh on that. Your story is so important to all lady authors everywhere. Thanks for that.

  • TheAnimatePixel

    Ahh I’m so glad to hear this~ My friend is at SCAD for fashion design while I at UGA for film. It gives me so much hope to hear about other women (girls? students? It’s awkward for me too) in the same position as me, also learning what strong female characters are. I think I might pick up Buffy, too! <3