Smash Pages Q&A: Casey Gilly

The writer of ‘My Little Pony: Generations’ and ‘Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer’ talks about both projects, writing licensed comics, creating new ponies and more.

Casey Gilly has been busy in the past couple years, writing comics that ranged from a short in the anthology You Died (drawn by Raina Telgemeier) to Star Wars Adventures. This fall, she’s launching two big, high-profile and very different projects.

IDW’s long-running My Little Pony series just ended, and Gilly and Michela Cacciatore team up for the five-issue miniseries My Little Pony: Generations, the first of which is out this week. It brings together the Friendship is Magic ponies with the Generation 1 ponies, along with some new characters. Then in December, BOOM! Studios launches the four-issue miniseries Buffy the Last Vampire Slayer with artist Joe Jaro, which features Buffy Summers in her 50s in a near future that — well, Gilly will explain that and more.

Tell me about My Little Pony: Generations.

Well, they’re horses. Some of them are unicorns. [laughs]

It’s this really fun in-between story. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is closing out. The comic that I worked on is a bridge that brings in the first generation of ponies in a way that I feel, as somebody who grew up with them, is as true to the characters as you can be. I think people who grew up with them will find it fun and will see different sides to these characters which were never showcased. And there are five brand new characters who have never existed in the ponyverse before. I’m excited and really nervous for people to see them. Three of them are ponies and two of them are humans.

Hasbro has been amazing to work with. They have said yes and been so incredibly supportive of this story. 

So with Friendship is Magic ending, does that mean that we’ve officially decided that friendship is no longer magic?

It’s still magic! It’s magic in different ways. The thing that make MLP so special is that it’s not just an adventure story, it’s not just a silly story, you really do get to see dialogue and conflict between characters in a way that I feel does not appear in a lot of other children’s media. You get to see friendships develop and have arcs and moments that are not just a 15-minute episode. I feel like that is something that people will find in this arc, as well as some conflict that hasn’t happened to them before. What’s interesting is that some of the ponies are so powerful, you’re basically writing a god. There’s nothing they can’t do. So creating challenges for them or finding loopholes in the canon where something can be a conflict is pretty challenging. And then doing it in a way that fits and makes sense and is a compelling read is really challenging. It’s rooted in what I think is most powerful about the ponies, which is relationships and feelings. 

The story was brought to me by my editor who said, “Hasbro wants to do a story and bring the original generation into the current one.” My first thought was that iconic story from my childhood, and so I have two witches who are related to the witches from Generation 1 and the Volcano of Gloom. Witches are something I love to write about anyway. I’ll put a witch in any story I can. So for me the story started with these two teenage witches that I completely fell in love with from the moment they came to me. It was hard to say goodbye to writing them. 

It was really important for me to show what friendship could do, which isn’t just magically fix everything, but be something that can be aspirational. For the ponies and the witches, that can look a lot of different ways. And that things that are “evil” and “dark” and “bad” have their own ethics of friendship. Friendship looks different depending on who you are and I love that characters can not have the best intentions, but there will still be respect and an upholding of what their friendship looks like. In different ways this arc is very much a fish out of water story. The first generation ponies coming into this world. The witches. And these three “bad guy” ponies coming into this world. To them it’s a little weird and we get to see a different view of ponies and how to fit into this world. 

Now especially we are at a point of thinking about friendship and dealing with old people and new people. This feels very timely in some ways.

Besides my family, this book is one of the things that got me through the first year of COVID. It was so hard to get my headspace to focus on ponies during the pandemic. My editor Megan and I had a lot of email conversations about the book and the story because I had to be really honest with her sometimes and say, “Hey, I know I have a deadline in a week but I’ve been crying for a week.” And she said, “Me too, no problem, let’s work this out.” And some of the magic from the ponies spilled into my real life with Megan, which was both of us connecting over this story, which is supposed to be uplifting and exciting and scary and funny when everything around is a new daily death toll.

At times it was pretty surreal. I would throw myself into it to a degree that was probably a bit much. In one issue there’s a map where we see a mission that a character has to go on and I could see it in my head, and I drew it to show the artist this is what I’m thinking. I’m not an artist and I spent like five hours doing that. With the caveat of saying, “Hey Michela, this looks terrible, feel free to laugh at me, can we do an approximation of this?” It was so dumb and funny that Michaela and Megan and I just went back and forth over email laughing about it. Having this book over COVID was something I don’t know if I would have been as okay as I am without it.

But as far as working with editors and licensors, tell me about this other book you’ve written, which my brain keeps thinking of as the “Old Man Logan” version of Buffy.

I’ve called her “Old Ma’am Logan.” I’m sure if you look up an interview with any writer, they tell you how the story started in one place and it turned into something else. This was originally brought to me as, “We want to do this story where the vampires can walk in the day and what does that mean?” They wanted a dark Old Man Logan cranky Buffy feel. As an adult woman of 40 who was a teenager at the same time as Buffy, I was obsessed with the show. It was a big part of my late teen years. I hadn’t really watched it much since, and I was surprised when I started working on this that I was so fluent in Buffy. The dialogue, the characters, everything came super naturally to me. And supernaturally. I wrote that first issue in two days. I was thinking about the story that Buffy deserves. In it she is in her 50s and is the oldest living slayer that has ever been. Her life has been really difficult and things have not gone her way. Now these monsters that she was basically created to hunt can walk around during the day and have protection. 

My thought was that I am now a woman, and while not the same age as Buffy, I have been starting to feel like I am invisible to the world. I had a baby four years ago and it really started then. I would just be ignored by people unless something bad was happening. I can distinctly remember in my 20s people turning their heads and looking at me as I walked by or people paying me a little more attention, and those things are no longer true. I think it’s something that every woman experiences in life where through patriarchy and living in a very sexist world people have been socialized to think that you no longer have value if you’re a woman of a certain age. I thought about Buffy having once been so powerful and revered – and sometimes ignored – but mostly this incredibly powerful woman, and what would it be like for her to go through that. The thing that makes her the most powerful is no longer needed. And she’s not a teenage girl anymore. What’s that like?

The obvious metaphor of growing old and vampires walking around makes me think of what we fight and deal with in our youth and how that changes or becomes normalized.

Definitely. The vampires in this world are I would say pretty standard in the Buffy-verse. Nothing she hasn’t seen before. Nothing that she couldn’t take out in a second if she could do her normal slayer duties. The unique challenge here is that Buffy is a different person and readers can explore what does she care about and how have her powers changed as she’s gotten older. What has it done to her?

Some of the covers and the solicits have sounded very post-apocalyptic.

It is not apocalyptic in the sense of Mad Max, but Joe [Jaro], the artist, is so good and he has such a way of making things look decrepit and familiar but uncanny. He’ll draw this building which looks incredible but also, you know you don’t want to go in there. I know that this is not the kind of place I’m used to. When I started seeing his pages come in, I was floored. He got so much atmosphere into such a small amount of space.

This is not a world anybody is going to find familiar. There is no sun. It’s completely blotted out. The color palette really drew on the fires last year. At the time I was living in Northern California and it was incredibly apocalyptic and it cast everything into this weird murky “walking on Mars” orange-brown-gray color palette. It made everything look very unfamiliar. I sent pictures of that to Joe because I have seen what it looks like with no sun in the sky. In that way the book very much looks like what a real life mini-apocalypse did look like.

There’s also a sense of it being apocalyptic in that everything we knew about this world is reversed. Vampires are free to walk around and do whatever they want. One of their biggest obstacles has been removed and what does that mean? It is not the same desert destruction sexy wasteland apocalypse that I think comes to mind, but a much quieter, more subtle and, I think, scarier world to explore.

We encountered Buffy as teens roughly her age, and it was partly about banding together against the adult world. What does it mean to grow up? And the idea that a slayer isn’t expected to live long.

She’s a blast of dynamite and expected to take out everything with her and then, they’ll just get a new piece of dynamite. I don’t think the show treated her as disposable, but looking at it, that is what it is. I address that in one of the issues. There’s a conversation about what didn’t she learn because no one expected her to live this long. What life skills or lessons were withheld from her? Not out of malice, but she’s never going to need to know this.

One way of getting through such things is friendship, as the ponies have taught us.

Buffy is sort of about friendship. I thought about it for a long time. One of the great things about Buffy’s world is this supportive group that she has around her. But do you still have the same friends you did when you were 17? I don’t. Do we think these friendships would survive? That’s a big part of the series. 

It’s four issues. It’s short and sweet. I would love to tell more stories in this alternate universe. I think there’s a lot of fun stuff to explore. I really love writing a character who is “comics old,” which is kind of like “Hollywood fat.” Buffy is not old empirically but she has aged hard and there are a ton of characters like that in comics. You get to see a lot of dudes in comics who get to be middle aged and grizzled and tough and sexy. There are female equivalents, but not many, and so getting to write one – and one that’s iconic as Buffy – has been really cathartic. It was really important for me to give her the story that she deserves.

Buffy deserves a good story about adulthood.

I’m really grateful to work in licensed comics because it’s helping me learn about character integrity and being a part of a legacy, which I really like, how to compromise, and how to create new things. There are some writers who don’t feel comfortable in licensed space and I get it, but for me it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I think that there’s maybe one or two things ever that I wanted to do and they said no to, and it was nothing I felt strongly about. 

So much of your writing is about voice, and this lets you focus on that.

The hardest thing for me in writing is coming up with a brand new story. I will question myself to death over has this been done, is this derivative? And of course everything is, but I really put myself through the paces. With licensed comics, that’s all removed. Because I know the exact boundaries where I’m working, I feel the biggest sense of freedom. The world already exists, I don’t have to invent it, and then I end up creating new characters. Somebody asked me if it was weird to create new ponies and I said, “When else would I use them?” I’m not going to write horse comics of my own and create some similar thing to My Little Pony. I was inspired by what already exists and it belongs to that universe and I don’t feel weird about leaving them there. It feels just as valid and just as creative for me. 

Thanks, Casey.

My Little Pony: Generations #1 is out this week.

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