Buffy: Willow isn't a coming out story, but is about "becoming her queer self"

(Image credit: BOOM! Studios)

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise has never been a one-person show, and now one of their most unique characters gets the solo spotlight in a new five-issue comic book series debuting July 8.

"Since we first started building our corner of the Buffyverse, we’ve been excited to give Willow her own miniseries —partly because she’s an absolute favorite of ours, but also because she is one of the most iconic queer characters in pop culture," BOOM! executive editor Jeanine Schaefer said back when the series was announced.

Willow by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Natacha Bustos follows the teen witch as she leaves Sunnydale High to discover herself - along the way she'll join a new school and see that their motto of “finding your true self” is something they take too seriously.

Newsarama spoke with Tamaki and Bustos on the eve of the Willow title's debut, talking about what magical tales the series will dive into, the type of adventures readers can expect from Willow’s journey away from the Scooby Gang, and the queer narratives the limited series will explore.

(Image credit: BOOM! Studios)
(opens in new tab)

Newsarama: Mariko and Natacha, why did you want to work on a Willow book?

Mariko Tamaki: Because it’s a book about a cool queer witch. 

Natacha Bustos: Because this is Willow, the witch from Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I love the subject matter and drawing characters like this.

Nrama: What’s your connection to Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Tamaki: I have lived in many queer apartments with stacks of VHS tapes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer lining the living room walls. So, it’s in my blood in a very peripheral way. 

Bustos: I was a fan during my teen years. Joss Whedon created a fascinatingly different take on the mythology of vampires, witches and so on that people bought into from the very first episode.

Nrama: Mariko, in the main Buffy title Willow left Sunnydale and everything she’s known. What type of adventures can we expect from her now? 

(Image credit: BOOM! Studios)
(opens in new tab)

Tamaki: Willow is looking for an escape. She wants to get away from herself, from everything that’s happened that was so unsafe and horrible. At the end of her journey she’s going to find a place that seems like exactly what she’s looking for. But of course, it’s something much more complicated.

Nrama: Does the series delve more into Willow's connection to magic? 

Tamaki: I feel like Willow is very connected to knowledge and learning about magic, a.k.a. books. I wanted to create a space where she could explore another source of power, a power that’s about community and connection not just to an external power but a power she has in herself (so woo woo!).

Nrama: Will this tie into the main book?

Tamaki: It’s a separate path. It connects back to the main eventually and it is set into motion from the events of the main series.

Nrama: Will we see other known Buffy characters or is this purely Willow’s journey?

(Image credit: BOOM! Studios)
(opens in new tab)

Tamaki: It’s completely Willow focused! Mostly.

Nrama: One element I’ve really enjoyed about the Buffy books is that Willow is completely out and proud from the start. You’re no stranger to queer 'coming of age' stories, will you be diving into her queerness with this mini?

Tamaki: I love that Willow is so her very queer self. Willow is a proud nerd, a proud member of the LGBTQ community. I dig that. This is not a coming out story (although I’ve said many times I love many coming out stories). Being out doesn’t mean Willow doesn’t have a ton of other stuff to deal with and many other insecurities. Willow is in the process of becoming her queer self, which is a wild ride when you’re also dealing with…hell stuff, obviously. I also wanted to put Willow in a very queer place, which I feel like is a distinction from where she’s at in Sunnydale. 

Nrama: Willow has just broken up with her girlfriend, Rose ⁠— is she still dealing with the pain from that?

Tamaki: Absolutely. She’s dealing with a lot. Because she’s a character in a comic and that’s what characters in comics do, all the time, is deal.

(Image credit: BOOM! Studios)
(opens in new tab)

Nrama: Natacha, What elements from the show and main Buffy comic did you want to bring to your art?

Bustos: I love the way Willow has been portrayed in that punk-goth style of late. I especially loved what Dan Mora did with that character. I've tried to maintain that aesthetic, finding inspiration in pages like Pinterest, which is an excellent place to find outfits and all sorts of other things.

Nrama: How did you want to bring your unique style to the limited series?

Bustos: My goal when I began to draw Willow was to create an aesthetic that would be attractive for younger readers. I'd spent many years using a more 'cartoony' style. It's what I used for Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. So, I wanted to experiment and create more stylized characters in this new series.

(Image credit: BOOM! Studios)
(opens in new tab)

Nrama: Are there any new supporting cast members you were able to design/draw?

Bustos: Loads; lots of witches. It's awesome for an artist to draw a new world like this town created by Mariko. 

Abhhain is an idyllic place filled with an assortment of witches. In particular, there's this new character called Aelara, who Mariko described in the script as a middle-aged woman of great strength with an aura of mystery about her. I had a blast creating her aesthetic.

Nrama: For fans of your Marvel work, why do you think they should get excited for your work on Willow?

Bustos: I think what's most exciting is that perhaps lots of those who read Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur were kids when they read that series and, now, they are teens and youngsters who're gonna love Willow.

Nrama: Willow is very known for her magic - how do you depict this side of her character with your art?

Bustos: The magic-wielding characters give you a lot to work with. They provide you the opportunity to experiment with various different visual aesthetics. There're loads of scenes where we see Willow's new magic power, which grows across this series.

Kat Calamia

Kat has been working in the comic book industry as a critic for over a decade with her YouTube channel, Comic Uno. She’s been writing for Newsarama since 2017 and also currently writes for DC Comics’ DC Universe - bylines include IGN, Fandom, and TV Guide. She writes her own comics with her titles Like Father, Like Daughter and They Call Her…The Dancer. Calamia has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and minor in Journalism through Marymount Manhattan and a MFA in Writing and Producing Television from LIU Brooklyn.