Actor James Marsters has always liked going to comic conventions. At 13, he even went dressed as a Vulcan, “gutting it out,” he jokes, when such a thing wasn’t even close to cool.
“What I found was a place where everyone was beautiful and safe and you could be whoever you wanted to be,” says the man who was Spike, the vampire on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” who fell in love with the hero he was trying to kill. “I felt love. There’s a high amount of tolerance for diversity. People at a con are not protecting themselves with cellphones. They’ll take one out to take pictures, but that’s it. Most places I go, people have their heads down staring at their screens. It’s kind of nice to be where there are hundreds of people just being together.”
These days, Marsters, 54, sees conventions from the other side. He’s one of the guests this weekend at the Paradise City Comic Con at the Broward County Convention Center, along with Billy Dee Williams (“The Empire Strikes Back”), Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”) and celebrities from shows and movies like “Star Trek” and “Sharknado,” anime artists, comic book authors and anybody who likes a bracing dose of cosplay.
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The good-natured, thoughtful Marsters, who also appeared in the “Buffy” sequel “Angel,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Torchwood” and “Smallville,” says he’ll answer any question fans throw his way about the groundbreaking show, which ended in 2003 after seven seasons but lives on through a popular comic book series.
Marsters, who has also racked up credits on audiobooks, animated features, video games, films and stage plays, will also perform at a VIP concert (his band, Ghost of the Robot, re-formed and released the album “Bourgeois Faux Pas” in 2015, though he’ll play solo Friday). But despite a varied résumé, he’ll always be remembered as Spike.
This is not a problem.
“It’s a complete blessing,” Marsters says, minus Spike’s British accent (Marsters was born in California). “I have friends who are very talented on the stage but never got a chance to make the crossover. I think what everyone hopes for is that one hit, that thing that puts you on a map. If you’re in a rock band, you need that one hit album, then you can tour for years. ... I think of ‘Buffy’ as my hit album.”
The show, conceived by Joss Whedon — “he’s a genius,” Marsters says simply, “and I realized it as soon as I met him” — followed the story of teenager Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who lived on the Hellmouth, fought demons with her friends and saved the world (a lot). In her path stood the iconic Spike, black leather duster, Billy Idol curls and cheekbones to die for (many did). He ended up in love with her, launching a million relationshipper arguments. Buffy and Angel? Or Buffy and Spike? (Whedon himself recently confessed to Complex magazine that he was a Buffy/Spike shipper.)
He’s a genius, and I realized it as soon as I met him.
James Marsters on ‘Buffy’ creator Joss Whedon
Marsters loves to talk about the show (he’ll also happily discuss “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” though don’t ask him to name a favorite: “I can have my cake and eat it, too”). His favorite “Buffy” episodes are “The Body” (“And I wasn’t even in it!”) and the musical “Once More With Feeling,” still one of television’s best and most innovative hours, which he calls “a very brave choice on the edge of insanity, but we got away with it.”
“It’s fabulous, but we were scared. We thought Joss was jumping the shark. He had to persevere through a lot,” he says. “I did not have faith Joss could write music! I’m ashamed of it now. He gave us a cassette of him singing and tinkling at the piano, and I thought it was cheesy. But it wasn’t fully orchestrated. They’re great songs. I was into punk rock and Everclear then and didn’t want to sing show tunes!”
As for Gellar, who ended up hiring two vocal coaches, he says simply: “She had the most to lose. She was amazing. That woman’s got balls.”
The question he’s asked most frequently at comic cons is who’s a better kisser, Gellar or John Barrowman of “Torchwood.”
“The truth is I don’t really know,” he admits. “Kissing on camera is not a sensual experience. ... the closer you get to the other actor, the easier it is to ruin the shot. You hear ‘Rotate your head to the left. Stop. Back, back, back. Wait!’ It’s a very technical process.
“When I first kissed Sarah I was being very passionate because I was playing a character who had been looking forward to this so much. Sarah had to say: ‘James, this is just like stunts. You can’t be passionate with stunts, you’ve got to do it by the numbers or we’re going to be here all day.’ ”
Marsters believes the Buffyverse endures because of the show’s strong writing and its theme, “which is how do you get through adolescence without giving up. We all go through that. ... ‘Hamlet’ is about this, too, actually. Joss just tackled it with humor and werewolves and vampires.”
Artist Georges Jeanty, who lives in Miami and will also appear at the convention, has illustrated more than 40 “Buffy” comic books for Dark Horse Comics, picking up the story where the series finale ended and carrying it through its most recent release, Season 11.
He believes the show’s universality bolsters its longevity.
“ ‘Buffy’ hit at a perfect time where strong female characters weren’t as visible, and the idea of a strong female flawed character was even more rare,” Jeanty says. “She was just this regular girl who had this power that made her special but didn’t necessarily make her right. Who she was appealed to people much in the same way ‘Rocky Horror’ appealed to people in the ’70s. The outcast characters that you can relate to like Willow or Xander or Oz, you can see yourself in them.”
Jeanty, too, looks forward to talking “Buffy” in this brave new world of the comic con, where embracing the fantastical is the norm.
“It’s OK to be a geek now,” he says happily. “When I was in high school, if you were into ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars,’ you had to go about it on the downlow.”
If You Go
What: Paradise City Comic Con
When: 12:30 p.m.- 1 a.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: $75 for a three day pass; $60 for Saturday/Sunday pass; $30-$40 for single day tickets
For more information, schedule and autograph session tickets: paradisecitycomiccon.com