Back in 1996, Beau Smith created the character of Wynonna Earp for Image Comics. The premise was simple. What if the present-day descendant of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp was tasked with putting down all manner of supernatural threats? Enter Wynonna. Wielding the family gun, she helped the special US Marshal unit known as The Monster Squad take out everything from redneck vampires to hillbilly gremlins.
The title moved from Image Comics to IDW Publishing in the early 2000s, where it was printed in fits and starts. Then along came SyFy. Now the comic is moving to the small screen with the help of Lost Girl showrunner Emily Andras. Think of the show as one part Tombstone (only without Val Kilmer) and one part Supernatural (only caring about female characters). I spoke with Andras by phone about her foray into the genre of sci-fi westerns.
HITFIX HARPY: Can you tell me a little bit of the backstory on Wynonna Earp?
EMILY ANDRAS: She's a descendant of Wyatt Earp. She is his great-great-granddaughter. With that name comes all sort of expectations. But in fact, her family is kind of considered outcasts in this small town called Purgatory where they lived in the west. Because of a very tragic set of circumstances that befell Wynonna when she was about twelve and because of something truly terrible she did, she fled home.
Now because of a new tragedy, she's been forced to return home to a place where people are really suspicious of her. They don't like her, some even despise her. Through the pilot, it's revealed it's up to her to fight all the outlaws Wyatt Earp put down in order to break this curse that's been put on her family. But since it's a western, things are always what they seem. Black and white don't really exist so much as shades of grey. Wynonna has to make a lot of hard decisions as to the nature of good and evil. But in the meantime, she's kicking ass with this incredible gun called Peacemaker that she inherits from Wyatt Earp and it's the only thing that can send these demons back to hell and she's the only one that can wield it.
The twist is: she wasn't supposed to be the heir. But through odd circumstances she now finds herself being the only one who can do it. There's a sense that Wynonna may succeed where everyone before her has failed BECAUSE she's a woman.
How did you get involved?
ANDRAS: They came to me after [I finished] Lost Girl, IDW were looking for someone who was well-versed in the genre but also got the strong female FLAWED protagonist. It was if someone had crafted my ideal project: it hit every single one of my boxes. I was born and raised in Calgary, which is very very western. So I'd always been fascinated with the west and the supernatural western genre. It did have this really strong female lead who was grappling with being a hero and inheriting her male ancestry legacy and what the means. It also had bitchin' monsters, which I love! Plus this graphic novel tradition where it's loose and so much is possible and it has a sense of humor and it's kind of meta. It was my ideal property, frankly.
You put emphasis on the idea of flawed protagonists. That being a “strong female character” doesn't mean a dude with breast bolted on.
ANDRAS: Exactly. You still kind of see that in auditions to be honest. Because there were so few female action heroes for a long time. When you audition a lot really capable young actresses, what you see is them doing that imitation. You see them doing Clint Eastwood in tight pants or Bruce Willis with a low-rise tank top on. I say that with all the respect in the world, there wasn't really a road map on how to play these type of characters until the last 10 years at best.
Just coming from Lost Girl too one thing I think is really important that I try to do is just because she's a kickass babe doesn't mean she can't also be a woman and have feelings and be vulnerable and make mistakes and maybe be stupid about her romantic entanglements. All the women I know are kickass and amazing but are real people who make mistakes. That's what really excites me about what we're getting to [in entertainment]. Women don't have to be either the girlfriend OR a kind of robot warrior. They can be something in between, which feels like a human being. [laughs]
It's almost like women are people! Next you'll be telling me women can be friends!
ANDRAS: Female friendship is coming into its own [in entertainment] in a way that I think is really positive in the last couple of years. Which is another theme of Wynonna with the series. There're several other female characters, but [we”ll deal] particularly with her sister. Kind of that complicated relationship that is both positive but layered and dramatic. I kind of pitched the show jokingly as “It's 'Frozen' meets 'Buffy' and everyone was like 'I LOVE IT!'”
SOLD! Other than those two properties, where did you look for inspiration? Tombstone? Will someone be the Huckleberry on Wynonna Earp?
ANDRAS: If we had a Huckleberry on our show it would probably latch onto your face and peel all your skin off. [laughs] What westerns bring to science-fiction and fantasy that I think feels really fresh are the vistas and the idea of the claustrophobia of the landscape. The idea that even if you can see for miles, something could be coming that's going to destroy you. There's such a fresh sense of dread there. We also shot all winter, so there's this added element of danger when you shoot in winter. If you're being pursued by some horrible demon, there's the added danger that if you get hurt or lost, the elements can kill you. That feels really interesting to me.
Wynonna Earp premieres on SyFy on April 1, 2016.