While they aren't considered canon, they were all approved and signed off on by both Fox (the studio responsible for producing the show) and Joss Whedon (his office, actually, but often by Whedon himself), the creator of the BTVS universe. Also of interest is that all of the artists who worked on the comics had to be approved by the actors who portrayed the characters on the show. I'm not sure if this is true 100% all of the time for all of the characters, but it is for Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played Buffy. I do know though that an artist only needed to be approved once, so if their style changed over the years, they did not need to be approved by the actors again. This is why you see such varied styles from long-time BTVS artist, Jeff Matsuda, throughout his run on the title.
Following the original run of the BTVS comics that were published while the show was still on the air, seasons eight and onward (currently season 10 is being published) are officially considered canon, as stated by Whedon himself.
During the initial run of BTVS comics, there were always two covers (minimum) produced for each issue, an artist's illustrated cover, as well as a photo cover. As explained by series editor Scott Allie in the 'Panel to Panel' book published in late 2007, it was the studio's opinion that photo covers would sell more issues of the comics, so therefore photo covers were produced for each issue, along with a more traditional illustrated comic book cover so that fans would have a choice of which one to purchase. For this first issue, there was a third cover produced for the direct comic book market by industry great, Arthur Adams.
Here in the first issue of BTVS we find our familiar gang of Scoobies planning their night in the courtyard at school, hanging out at The Bronze and spending time at night watching movies together. While leaving The Bronze they are attacked by a gang of vampires, which Buffy quickly dispatches, but while they are fighting they are being observed by a mysterious figure in a Chinese straw hat. When Buffy finally notices the mystery man she asks who he is, and he promptly runs away.
Later in the issue we find Xander taking karate at a local dojo, and repeatedly getting his butt kicked by his sensei, who incessantly reminds him that he must learn to fight so that he can eventually die with honor. We also get the classic library scene of Giles and the gang researching, and this time it's the mysterious 'straw hat guy' that they are trying to learn more about.
After Xander leaves the library he goes home to practice his moves before his next class. While he is training, Cordelia tries to milk him for information about his newly acquired black eye, and learns about Xander's karate lessons. After Xander goes back to the dojo to let his sensei pound on him while lecturing about honor, the 'straw hat guy' shows up looking for a challenge from the dojo's strongest fighter. He makes short work of the sensei, who begs for mercy from the first punch.
Buffy shows up though and takes on the guy in the hat, who actually happens to be a vamp in disguise. While he manages to get the upper hand on Buffy, it is Xander who saves the day by staking the vamp from behind while it looms over a fallen Buffy.
The series first writer was Andi Watson, and he does a fine job of capturing the character's voices here in this issue. Without even looking at the art, it is immediately apparent who is speaking. The characters that are so familiar from the show translate perfectly here, and the dialogue, tone and quirks of each character shine through. From Cordelia's condescension to Xander's quippy puns, each character's voice is distinct and recognizable. The story is familiar as well, as it fits the shows often employed demon-of-the-week strategy. As a first issue, this is a nice easy entry point for fans of the show, and besides not knowing the characters, is completely readable for the uninitiated as well.
Joe Bennett and Rick Ketcham are the art team here in the first issue, and do a decent job. It is the late 90's, so the character poses and anatomy tend to reflect that, but the action scenes are very good, and the story flow is servicable. Some of the characters resemble their on-screen counterparts more than others, but overall you never wonder who is who, and for a comic book based on a visual property, that is what matters most.
In the days before seasons eight through ten you knew you were in for a much less organized approach to the BTVS comics, but here in issue one it feels like a continuation of the show, a theme that would carry though for the next five years when this iteration of the comics ended with issue #63. While seasons eight and beyond are more engaging for long-time BTVS fans, these early issues laid the groundwork for what would work well in BTVS comics, and it's fun to go back and see where it all began.
If you're a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan you will enjoy these old issues immensely, if you're not a fan, you could certainly do a lot worse. This issue presents a solid demon-of-the-week, one-and-done story that is easy to digest, with decent art and some good old vamp butt-kicking, check it out if you see it in a back issue box somewhere.