A Chat With Eric Kripke – The Boys, Supernatural and Crafting the Icebergs Under the Water

 

I was introduced to the new Amazon Prime show The Boys at San Diego Comic Con and was immediately intrigued. I was already excited about it simply because Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, is executive producer (and we all know how passionate I am about Supernatural...). So I went to the “activation experience,” which took you inside the first episode of the show and let you help some of “the boys” solve a superhero-related crime. That’s right, the superheroes in this show aren’t exactly the good guys. In fact, they’re a bunch of assholes. Most of them anyway. Propped up by big corporate money and power, the “Supes” are essentially the worst kind of fabricated and manufactured celebrities, their personas carefully constructed to appeal to the unsuspecting masses as the only hope for an increasingly frightened and powerless humanity. If that sounds a little too close to real life right now, that’s exactly the point.

That’s the premise of the comic on which The Boys is based, and the premise of the Amazon series as well. The show has something to say about who holds power in our current culture and how they wield it, including the role of social media and propaganda in shaping people’s views and keeping them in a perpetual state of fear – which makes a superhero who swoops in to save the day and claims to be able to keep everyone safe very appealing indeed. It’s a dark, gritty, cynical world that The Boys inhabit, but it reflects the fear-mongering and online manipulation that is all too real, that make people long for “saviors” and turn the other way when those saviors turn out to be the actual monsters.

All that hits a little too close to home, and if that’s all the show was about, the darkness would be too much to take on top of the overwhelming dose of darkness I get every day through every type of media. What makes The Boys instead as hopeful as the traditional superhero tropes it subverts were intended to be is the existence of a resistance. In the tradition of Supernatural’s Sam and Dean, the resistance comes in the form of a bunch of just plain humans, who nevertheless are willing to go against the odds and try to do what’s right. Instead of taking out demons and wendigos, the Boys are going after the Supes. Outgunned in terms of powers and definitely the underdogs, nevertheless the Boys are every bit as invested in the “always keep fighting” mantra that has made Supernatural such an inspiring show. I’ve only watched one episode so far, and I’m already rooting for them.

For a show whose first episode begins with an ultra violent occurrence and includes a decadent sex-fueled club scene and some full frontal (equal opportunity) nudity, The Boys tackles complex and relevant themes with a surprisingly deft hand. Main character Hughie, whose quest for revenge is instigated by one of the Supes callously running through his girlfriend at super speed and exploding her, has his trauma examined instead of just tossed out there as an explanation for what happens next. And while everyone on the show seems to live somewhere in the morally ambiguous grey area that I love seeing characters struggle through, that goes for the Supes too – or at least one of them.

The premiere episode also takes the time to examine new Supe Starlight’s recruitment into the elite “Seven”. Presented as young and naïve and fully buying into the cult of celebrity that she thinks she craves, Starlight soon finds that the Supes are not who she thought they were when she had that poster of The Deep on her wall. It’s a pointed commentary that was fascinating to me as a psychologist who’s studied celebrity and fandom for the past decade plus. There’s significant sexual assault-based trauma for Starlight that happens with that realization, and it too is not glossed over but explored realistically. That story line pulled on my heartstrings more than anything else in the first episode, and anchored the show in a feminist slant while critiquing the misogyny and power dynamics inherent in that world – and our own.

At the Comic Con press room, Erin Moriarty (who plays Starlight) said she loved the fact that you initially believe that Starlight is going to fit into the familiar stereotype, but it turns out she’s a lot more than that. So far, one episode in, she feels like the moral compass of the show, along with Hughie, who she just so happens to meet on a park bench as they struggle to come to terms with their respective traumas and how those traumas have changed how they view themselves.

The Boys is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Eric Kripke, based on the comic series by Garth Ennis. It stars Karl Urban (Billy Butcher) as leader of the Boys, along with recently traumatized Hughie (Jack Quaid), Karen Fukuhara (The Female), Laz Alonso (Mother’s Milk), and Tomer Kapon (Frenchie). The Supes include Anthony Starr (Homelander), Dominique McElligott (Queen Maeve), Jessie T. Usher (A Train), Chace Crawford (The Deep), Nathan Mitchell (Black Noir) and Erin Moriarty (Starlight). Elisabeth Shue plays Madelyn Stillwell, the corporate PR person who pulls the strings with a chilling smile.

As a passionate Supernatural fan, I was initially interested in The Boys because of Eric Kripke, who created the characters I love so much on Supernatural. I asked him a question at the press room for The Boys at Comic Con (see video link below), but couldn’t wait to talk with him some more about his new show and its similarities to his first ‘baby’, Supernatural. We’ve stayed a little bit in touch over the past decade by email, but having a chance to actually chat was a treat.

E: Hey Lynn, how are you?

L: It’s been like ten years since we’ve had an actual conversation!

E: It probably has been, but I follow you on twitter and we’ve had some twitter conversations and you seem like you’re doing great, so I know what you’ve been up to. And thank you so much for all the support over the years.

L: Pretty sure I should be thanking you – I’ve written six books about your show (Supernatural) that helped me get tenure and promotion to professor. Thank you for that!

E: Well, you’re welcome!

It really had been a while. I first chatted with Eric Kripke way back in 2008 when I began researching and writing books about fandom and celebrity, mostly focused on the show he created that I had fallen head over heels in love with, Supernatural. (Here’s Eric the first time we met at the Supernatural Creation convention in Burbank – he was a baby!)

Photo Lizz Sisson

We did a few phone interviews and met up at Comic Con that year to chat some more. We talked a lot about fandom and of course about fannish creativity and fanfiction. Eric’s first question: Am I ever in it?

Me: Umm, I guess? I may have run across a few…

Kripke: Oooh, is it porn? You have to send me that!

Fast forward to 2019 and Eric’s Reddit AMA when someone asked him if he’d read any Supernatural erotica and he said yes, and then described the definitely-not-G-rated fic…

L: I had to laugh when I saw you mention that fic with you and Jared from back in the day (laughing). I mean, what you said is true, you were assertive in it…

E: Exactly!

L: I had forgotten what it was actually about and was like OMG that’s right…

E: Yeah (laughing) I’ve never forgotten it, it made a major impact that’s for sure.

L: Well, either you’re welcome or… I’m sorry?

E: (still laughing) Yeah right, I think a little of both.

Side note: Eric has always been fine with fans “playing in his sandbox” and understands transformative works as a sign of affection for his characters and his worlds. There’s a whole chapter on our early conversations about Supernatural in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls if you’re curious.

L: Anyway, The Boys! I’ve watched the first episode, I’m a bit old school in that I like to watch one at a time and space it out and sort of digest it. I LOVED the first episode and I think other Supernatural fans will really love the show too. There are some similarities to Supernatural for sure.

E: Mm hmm

L: For one thing, the protagonist is sent on a hunt for revenge because the love of his life is violently killed – Mary burning on the ceiling is an iconic image for Supernatural, and so is Robin being decimated and Hughie standing there still holding her bloody hands!

E: Hmm. That one, I mean yes, now that you’ve pointed it out, there are similarities to that. Robin dying in The Boys is taken almost frame for frame from the comic book so it’s funny, that hadn’t really occurred to me about that connection, because in The Boys the instigating incident is so infamous for anyone who’s a fan of the books. It was my job to capture it as faithfully as possible and that’s mostly where my head was, but yeah. Also, I think where they’re similar is there are a lot of tonal and thematic similarities. In a lot of ways, The Boys is a hard R Supernatural.

L: (silently) A hard R Supernatural….ohgod yes please…

E: And it’s funny because you don’t even realize these things until it’s hindsight. I don’t set out to say oh I’m gonna make something for Supernatural fans, I just make stuff – the only person I really try to please is me. But because I love Supernatural and those are the kind of things that I love, I guess it stands to reason that if left to my own devices to make another show that I put all my love into, it will have some similarities.

L: That makes sense.

E: What The Boys is really ultimately about is these kind of very down to earth middle class blue collar people taking on these arrogant ultra powerful forces that are overwhelming and all powerful. In Supernatural it’s angels and demons and (laughing) God…

L: lol

E: And in The Boys, it’s the sort of pantheon of superheroes. The incredibly big guy with magical powers basically is something that I’m clearly interested in. I think I really like the idea of blue collar no bullshit guys taking on and puncturing these huge myths and kind of having to bring them down to earth just through their own wits, because they’re outmatched…

L: Yeah, and that’s all they have, their own smarts.

E: And that says something to me, I think, about the world. Like we’re always up against these seemingly insurmountable forces, but there are things we can do to get some equality. You just have to – it’s not easy and it’s not fair – but you just have to keep banging away at it.

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Eric Kripke Talks “The Boys” at Comic Con – and Why Supernatural Fans Should Watch!

I was very excited to attend the press conference for Eric Kripke’s new show, The Boys, after experiencing the activation installation at Comic Con last weekend. Instead of round table interviews, invited press sat in front of the panel, and cast and Kripke and took turns asking questions. Eric recognized a few of us and gave us a friendly nod, which I admit made my fangirl heart happy. You were supposed to wait for the room person to give you the mic in order to ask a question, which meant I was having a near panic attack trying to get her attention while other people just yelled theirs out. Finally I got a turn to ask a question – one for Mr. Kripke.

Me: One of the things that sets your first baby, Supernatural, apart is that on the surface it’s a show about two brothers hunting monsters but it really is so much more. It’s a show about family and loyalty and how family don’t end with blood. Are there underlying themes on The Boys as well?

Eric thanked me for the Supernatural centric question and gave a thoughtful and interesting answer, which you can listen to below (once I managed to stop just smiling at him and push the record button…)  But come on, SPN Family, it’s Kripke!

Eric: I think this show is also about family. It’s about ‘the boys,’ who are the heroes because they stick together and they’ve got each other’s backs, and they’re willing to admit vulnerability and weakness. They’re scared and outmatched and outgunned, but they’re taking on these powerful forces – not dissimilar to the way Sam and Dean take on monsters and demons. What I love is that the heroes of this show are the ones who can express vulnerability and weakness and be imperfect….

Supernatural has been unique in its exploration of masculinity, especially when it comes to emotional vulnerability. Sam and Dean have gone from “no chick flick moments” to being able to cry with each other and to have each others’ backs quite literally. The theme of the ordinary man taking on the super (natural) or super (heros) is a compelling one that is a part of The Boys as well as SPN. Finally, the theme of family – and especially that ‘family don’t end with blood’ seems to be woven into Kripke’s new show too.

Eric: We spend a lot of time building the iceberg under the water with the emotion, and with the satire…

That time and effort to build the ‘iceberg under the water’ is what has set Supernatural apart from the beginning, so if The Boys can pull it off, that bodes well for its longevity.

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The Final Supernatural Panel in Hall H at SDCC

To say that the final Supernatural panel in Hall H was emotional would be a serious understatement. Supernatural fans, myself included, alternated between trying to stay in denial about the upcoming ending and getting unexpectedly overcome with feelings at other panels for soon-to-be-ending shows. By the time Sunday morning came around, most of us had packed extra tissues as we filed into the giant Hall H.

We waited for the panel with mixed emotions, staring at the familiar name placards that have been there every year at Comic Con. I still remember the very first panel we were at, in the much smaller 6BCD room.

Excitement ran high as it always does. Fans who sacrificed sleep to wait in line and get their Hall H admission wristbands were nevertheless filled with energy as soon as those doors opened. Several cast members had come through the lines like they always do, including Misha Collins, Rachel Miner, Alaina Huffman and Osric Chau. Jared and Jensen stood out on the landing to greet the fans before the panel. Coffeed up or not, everyone was wide awake as they filed in and hurried toward the front to get the best seat possible.

WB gave out special edition Impala models, which are awesome. (In the press room that afternoon, Jared was wishing he had one too). As we settled in to wait, I chatted with some Supernatural crew and with Osric Chau, one of my favorite people in the universe. I love that he was as excited as we all were!

It was a good thing that the woman next to me brought an entire BOX of tissues because just the very start of the panel made me tear up. Warner Bros publicity person Holly Ollis, who has kicked off every Supernatural panel I’ve been at since way back in 2007, took the mic to talk about how special this little show and this incredible fandom have been. Her voice broke for the first time and I had to choke back tears. I didn’t even get through her intro, folks!

Holly has been a champion of this show from the start and it’s been a long and winding journey, with lots of ups and downs for the show — and for me. I’ve written thousands of articles and episode reviews, and published 6 books on Supernatural. Knowing this was the last time I would sit here and listen to her introduction, after 12 years here at Comic Con…it was a lot. It’s been a lot to be privileged to experience, and it will be a lot to give up.

Whether you’ve been on this wild ride from the very first Supernatural appearance prior to its airing in 2005 (as were several fans I spoke to) or you discovered the show in Season 14 and binged to catch up, every fan has their own shared story with Supernatural. Everyone has a reason why the show is special, their own history with Sam and Dean and Cas and company. We each know what the show and the cast and the fandom have done for us. And as we start the journey through the “last year”, that makes it an emotional journey indeed.

The panel kicked off, as it usually does, with a filmed compilation. I’ll never forget the epic year that WB installed surround screens ALL OVER Hall H and it was Sam and Dean in the Impala racing around them, followed by Kansas performing Carry On Wayward Son LIVE.

But this compilation was also special – because it was a look back at the ENTIRE series. And it began with this sign.

Photo @paleonut

And yes, it made me cry.

The montage then began with those iconic scenes from the pilot, “We got work to do” and then took us on a wild ride through the seasons, each one introduced with its number. FOURTEEN seasons, countless special moments flashed before our eyes, a visceral reminder of how incredible this show and its cast and crew have been.

The audience cheered our favorite scenes and our favorite characters, and if we were filled with emotion before, it was overflowing now.

And the video ended with this.

Which made me cry even more.

And then the last Hall H panel began – moderated by the only two people who could possibly do it justice: Richard Speight Jr. and Rob Benedict. I feel like we are the luckiest fandom ever to have two actors from the show, who play iconic characters, and who happen to be super talented at improv and at emceeing panels (which they do constantly at Supernatural conventions). They came out wearing trench coats, then quipped, “We’re cosplaying…. Sam and Dean in the rain…”

They got us to laugh so we could temporarily put down the tissues.

Rich and Rob were also emotional though – not only have they been on the show since its early seasons, but it has changed their lives in countless ways. Rob and Louden Swain have their own passionate fan base. Rich is now an accomplished director who’s directing three episodes in Season 15. It was so much more meaningful having them anchoring the panel; they’re part of the family. They get it.

Rob and Rich introduced the panel – showrunners Bob Singer and Andrew Dabb, writers and exec producers Eugenie Ross-Leming, Brad Buckner and Robert Berens, and Alex Calvert, Misha Collins, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. The actors were all clearly moved as they took the stage, trying to take it all in and remember this unique experience of being applauded by a room full of 7,000 some people. Jared and Jensen stood side by side and paused for a few photos, physically anchoring each other through all the emotion.

Credit Getty Images

Misha sat down and just smiled, looking out over the crowd. Alex was clearly trying to take it all in.

Rich and Rob kicked off the panel by asking the first question – where are your heads at? You grew up with the show, and now it comes to an end, how are you feeling about it all? What’s your grand take away from this?

Jared: That’s so mean to start with, I’m trying not to cry, can we all just start crying?

Most of us: We’re way ahead of you!

Jensen said that what he’s gotten from the show are lifelong friends, experiences of a lifetime, and this (gestures to crowd).

He paused, looking out at the sea of adoring fans.

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The Sunday Recap of #SPNDallas!

Sunday is always a fun day at a Supernatural con – also always the most hectic! It’s alot more fun (and a bit less hectic) if you have a ton of friends there to help out in the vendor room and to share the special moments with during panels and photo ops and autographs. Some of my favorite people in the entire universe were at Dallas con, so Sunday was extra fun.

And Jared and Jensen were there too, which definitely makes the day special.

The gold panel kicked off the day at 10:30, which felt much too early to both of us. And to Jensen, who savored his customary cup of Starbucks in between answering fan questions.

Lynn: The floof is impressive from the side, isn’t it? (Okay, who am I kidding, it’s impressive from any and all angles. Jensen’s recent back-to-work selfie proved that beyond a doubt)

Jared wore his customary gold panel beanie, which I think is as much a security blanket as Jensen’s coffee and allows them both to wake up and get comfy with the crowd as they settle back into con space.

Jared’s beanie really brings out his beautiful eyes, doesn’t it?

A fan asked about their Saturday routine when they’re at a con. Jared prefers a steakhouse dinner, which he says they often have the night before a con in whatever city they happen to be in. Jensen said that he works out in the morning, so he sleeps in as late as he can.

Lynn: I’m with you, Jensen. Also, the floof is out of control in this next photo – and eye crinkles! And that little boy grin! Kim captured some of my favorite moments, which always makes me happy because I can just concentrate on my live tweeting. I no longer even bring my actual camera when I know Kim’s going to be sitting next to me – why bother?

They were also asked about advice for planning a wedding.

Kim: I especially loved Jensen’s answer; as a wedding photographer, I take it as my responsibility to make sure the bride and groom have a quiet moment to themselves. Jensen said someone had given him that advice, to make the time to sit back and take it all in and enjoy the moment.

Lynn: I’m sure someone else more memorable gave Jensen that advice, but I got momentarily excited because I gave him that advice too. Shortly before his wedding, I was at an album release party in LA and Jensen was there. I must have had one drink too many, because I ended up giving him unsolicited wedding advice about the importance of making sure that he and Danneel had FUN, and not getting too caught up in worrying about all the details. I guess I kept patting his shoulder enthusiastically to emphasize the importance of this advice, to my great embarrassment when a friend helpfully pointed that out after the fact.

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The Saturday Night Special – Dallas 2019!

Before I get started with the recap of the Saturday Night Special in Dallas, I’d like to say a few words about concert photography. It is, in fact, its own very complex skillset. Not only do you have to anticipate the musicians’ movements, waiting for just the right moment, but you also need to feel the emotion, and then find a way to frame it, to capture it in a way that translates that moment in time. On top of that, there’s the challenge of stage lighting. (insert appropriate gif of me screaming here) Listen, I love the stage lighting for these concerts, I really do. Essentially the center of the stage is well lit, with normal lighting, but the sides of the stage are darker and the lighting is more blue, even purple. It lends to the energy and passion of the music being played on the stage. But let me tell ya, it does prove quite difficult when editing the photos. I could’ve spent days trying to color correct, but alas, I did not. Instead, I just went with the blue and purple hues cast upon the faces of the performers. I actually kinda like it, and I hope the photos in this article will somehow bring you into the moment with me.

I have written many, many recaps/reviews of Louden Swain’s Saturday Night Specials. Sometimes I think that I have exhausted my vocabulary of adjectives and adverbs as I try to explain to you just how much I love Louden Swain. But it’s summertime, so…

When I was a kid – just a few years ago LOL – I loved amusement parks and all the rides: the slower rides, like the bumper cars or the carousel; the water rides, which often left me drenched, a welcome relief from the heat of a summer day; and the thrill rides, like the ones that spin you around to the point of utter dizziness, to the rollercoasters that slowly carry you up the hill then send you flying down the other side, often turning you upside-down and sideways and all of it at heart-stopping speeds. At some point, a waterpark was added, and I loved that too, especially the lazy river… it was so relaxing to just float along the path, to have a quiet moment away from the loud hustle of the rides.

And, of course, I went to the park with friends, often part of a large group, so it was also nice when we’d all meet to eat some lunch, and share stories about having good times with good friends, laughing and screaming and riding the rides.

That, my friends, is a Louden Swain concert. These concerts are an adrenaline-filled thrill ride, with all the energy and excitement of an amusement park – from speeding rollercoasters full of heart-stopping thrills, to lazy rivers that slow things down and soothe one’s soul. These concerts are good times with good friends, from Borja, smiling as he plays bass or keyboards, to Stephen pounding away on the drums in time with the beating of our hearts.

These concerts are Billy, meticulously, methodically, melodiously fingering that guitar, filling us with wave after wave after crashing wave of emotion. (hashtag allthegasms)

These concerts are Rob, playing that guitar, singing those lyrics, taking us on all the rides, leading us upward on the rollercoaster and filling us with anticipation and excitement… speeding downward, knowing the thrill that comes with the speed… then walking with us as we settle into the lazy river, slowing it down with lyrics full of heartbreak and heartache and pain and love. And at the end of the night, Rob is there to light the fireworks and take us through one last moment of excitement and awe. Yes, these concerts are Rob, the true Master of Ceremonies.

I won’t keep going with these metaphors. Instead, I’ll say sit back and relax, and just enjoy this ride.

Louden Swain came onto the stage before the lights came on. They were shadowy figures up there, moving into position. The first chords were played, chords I knew oh so well. Slowly, the stage lights came on, Rob and Billy and Borja softly playing their guitars, Stephen tapping the cymbals. Then Rob began to sing, “There is just one bottle left to open…” And it begins! The song is called “Reunion” and it is one of my favorites! It’s a high energy song, one that builds slowly and erupts into a full out rock song. On top of the music, it has great lyrics. Whenever I’m struggling, these words seep into my mind, into my soul, a constant reminder: “I’m alive and I’m still tryin.” #LifeMotto

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