EXCLUSIVE: Our Interview with Robbie Thompson About Supernatural, Comics & More!
This weekend was New York Comic Con 2016 and we got the opportunity to chat with the incredible and brilliant Robbie Thompson about comic books and his experience working as a writer on Supernatural. Robbie is currently a writer for Marvel Comics working on a variety of different books, including: Silk, Spidey, Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme and Venom: Space Knight.
He is also well known for his role as a former writer on the show Supernatural.
Nerds and Beyond (Paulina): My first question is about libraries and schools expanding their comic book collections and sometimes including them in their academic curriculum. Do you have any opinions on that or any staples you think libraries or schools should be considering when building their collections?
Robbie: Well, I’m a big, big fan of libraries in general. When I was a kid my brother and I used to go to libraries all the time. As a matter of fact, some of the first comics we got were from the library. This was a million years ago, from like the stone ages. There wasn’t as many trade paperbacks, but they had some, it was like Marvel Son of Origins and stuff like that, these old collections. They also had this thing that was called the treasure chest which you could open up, and you could trade one of your comics for somebody else’s comics, and I really loved being able to have access to stuff that I maybe couldn’t afford at that time because even when I was a kid in the stone ages comics were expensive. So, I’m a big, big fan of it, and I really like seeing books for all ages like Jeff Smith’s Bone which I think is just one of the best comics ever, but I also like seeing some of the more advanced titles or older titles like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and things like that. So, I would love to see more comics in libraries. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for kids to learn different stories and different perspectives that they may not see outside of the Marvel Universe they’re seeing every single time. So, I’m a big fan.
Nerds and Beyond: Thank you! Today you were on a panel about feminism and comics. Can you talk a little bit about how you incorporate topics of equity into your work? I’m thinking specifically about Cindy Moon. I believe this topic is very apparent in the Silk comic series.
Robbie: I think with Cindy Moon that was a character that was created in two really big events, and the editor on the book who is Nick Lowe and now it’s Devin Lewis. But before that was an editor named Ellie Pyle, and we had a lot of really long conversations about how to give her the most agency, and how to tell a more internal story because the events were so big. It was Original Sin and Spider-Verse, it was spectacular and awesome and big and huge, but we couldn’t really match their scale. And it was Ellie early on who was like, “Maybe we can match the scale instead of going external we can go internal and really drill down into it.” One of the things she said early on was, “If you want to have great representation don’t put these characters in a glass box, and keep them perfect.” So we started talking about what the reality would be if you were locked away for ten years, what it would do to you psychologically. There wasn’t a lot of analogs I could find for her kind of story, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hadn’t come out yet, and at least Kimmy had friends there. I did a lot of research into isolation: people who had been prisoners of war, and people who had been kidnapped, and kind of locked away for a while, and it really kept coming back to mental health. As a person who has dealt with anxiety in my own personal life, and who has been in therapy, it just felt like an opportunity to tell some stories that maybe aren’t normally seen in a comic. It just felt like an opportunity to really flesh out her character, give her the most agency, and figure out what she’s struggling with, and really confront it, and to really show that that’s an ongoing process. It’s not like you go to the doctor, you’ve got a broken arm, and they fix it, and you’re, “Oh, I’m done now!” Something we’ve really tried to do: Devin Lewis who’s an editor on the book is always like, “Hey don’t forget she needs to go to therapy, she needs to check-in.” If she’s not checking-in what does that mean, what does that mean for her character? I really have to give a lot of the credit to Marvel’s editorial staff. They really wanted to push the character and to try to tell a more personal story.
Nerds and Beyond: So this question is a little more fun. What are some things you love about comic cons, and are you a huge nerd of any fandoms?
Robbie: I go to comic shows all the time, even just as a fan. I go just to walk around. I was just at Long Beach Comic Con, I’ll probably go to Stan Lee Comic Con in L.A. I just like to go walk around. I’m not there as a panelist or a guest or anything. I’m a big believer in a type of retail therapy. I have recently started buying old comic books that I remember from when I was growing up with as a kid. I’ve bough old issues of Fantastic Four. I bought a Rom Spaceknight issue while I was here for like a dollar. I just really love, I’ve always loved at a comic show that there’s a really cool community of people that all like different things. I love seeing people’s passion for the things that they love, and often times I’ll find something that I didn’t know about. I remember once I saw someone cosplaying Attack on Titan, and I asked what the costume was. They told me what it was, and I hadn’t heard about it at that point. I got really into it. I started reading the comics and saw some of the TV show. For me, again, it’s a kind of retail therapy. I don’t necessarily always buy stuff, I just like walking around and seeing new stuff. It’s a great way to creatively recharge.
Nerds and Beyond: I’m going to transition to asking you a few things about Supernatural. Do you have any thoughts on the Wayward Daughters movement or the idea of a spin-off?
Robbie: The Wayward Daughter’s movement I think is fantastic. I actually met the young lady who spearheaded the whole thing yesterday, Riley. My friend, Jules, who runs the Supernatural Wiki, I think, put it best. It was special to see fans activating and advocating for a story they would like to see. I think it’s really inspiring, it’s really cool. I hope it happens. I hope whoever writes it is able to tap in to that sort of energy that you see in the WaywardAF (for the kids out there audience), but I also know one of the things Jules said that I think is really great is that it’s moved beyond the spin-off. It’s a really wonderful tag on twitter #WaywardAF. To just go through it and see people finding one another and be able to celebrate a certain attitude or point of view, and it’s been something really special to watch. It really seems to bring people from disparate groups together. Like in the Venn diagram (Robbie illustrates a Venn diagram with his hands), there’s a lot of overlap which I think is really special. As much as I would love to see that show, and I love all those actors, I’m actually more excited about the fact that this is also developing a whole other aspect to it, which is really special.
Nerds and Beyond: Charlie is personally my favorite character in the entire series. In the past you’ve talked about fighting to keep Charlie on the show before the final decision to kill-off her character was made. As we know, death isn’t necessarily permanent in the world of Supernatural. As a fan of the show, would you want to see Charlie returning to the show in any capacity?
Robbie: Absolutely. I would love to see her back on the show. Felicia [Day] is a wonderful actor, and that character worked because of her work on the show. We did a big backstory, which we ended up telling, but I just did that for my own process. When she came in on the first day of dailies we just knew that this was a person who could carry a lot of scenes, and could really go toe-to-toe with the boys and all of the cast. So, I would love to see her back. She’s a terrific actor, and I think she brings out a really fun dynamic with the boys. She only got to meet Castiel the two times, but I would love to see her more in that world. Supernatural is a very unique show in so much as there’s always ways to bring characters back, but the thing we always talked about internally, like when I would try to bring a character back myself, was it has to be a story worth telling. I think if they have a story worth telling, I really hope they find a way to bring her back, I think she brings a really fun dynamic to the show, and she’s just a great person. Charlie is a good person, but Felicia is just a wonderful person, and like I said she just brings out something kind of special in that sort of sibling dynamic.
Nerds and Beyond: Since you mentioned it, what would you imagine the dynamic between Charlie and Castiel to be if they developed a friendship?
Robbie: Oh, I don’t know. That would be like an episode. I only got to write them the one time, but I just thought they’d be sort of the like-mind in a way, and I thought they would get along. I think that he would be sort of curious about her, and that they would be BFFs forever, but yeah I don’t know. I’d have to write an episode about it. That’s a longer question to answer.
Nerds and Beyond: You wrote some of the most beloved episodes from Season 11, including “Baby” and “Don’t Call Me Shurley”. What are some memories that you have from writing your last few episodes of Supernatural that stand out for you?
Robbie: Well, I didn’t know they were going to be my last episodes so I wasn’t thinking—you know it’s like when you’re eating a cupcake, and you’re saving that last bite, and you kind of savor it— I didn’t really archive it in my head. I do have to say, I wrote 18 episodes of that show, and I’m really honored to have been able to work on every single one. I look at them and see all of my mistakes and things I wish I’d done better, but I have to say of all the ones that I wrote, the one I had the most fun writing, just fun, was “Baby”. I tried to get that episode through the system a couple of times, and Jeremy [Carver] and Bob [Singer] were always open to it, but they really needed obviously a story, which I just didn’t have. I just had an idea. I’m so grateful to Jeremy and Bob for giving me a chance to write that episode. It was just so much fun to be able to—this is going to sound like a terrible joke—but to kind of pump the breaks a little bit and kind of be with the guys and have some long scenes. Up until “Don’t Call Me Shurley” the sleepover scene in “Baby” was the longest scene I ever wrote. The longest ended up being a scene between Metatron and Chuck, but that sleepover scene was everything I wanted to write in the episode. It was emblematic of everything we were hoping to find which were moments that you knew had happened, but we had never really seen. It was one of the first ideas I had for it, and it was the top down shot. Which Thomas [Wright] and Serge [Ladouceur] really beautifully framed. I remember pitching the idea for the episode and saying “there’s this one shot, and it’s top down.” Bob and Phil Sgriccia called Jim Michaels and made sure that we had a car that we could get that shot on. It was really important that we saw that moment, and as soon as that locked into place the rest of the episode was just a pure joy to write. There’s always a challenge with each episode to make it producible and make sure you’re telling a good story worth telling, but that one, every page was just an absolute joy to write. I would write 50 just “Baby” style episodes in a row. When you have great actors like that who have inhabited those parts for so long they know the characters better than anybody, and to be able to have that trust and to be able to write for them, and give them the opportunity to kind of play as well. And then to work with a director like Thomas Wright who is just one of the best directors working. He’s just an absolutely brilliant artist and had so many great story telling ideas. I don’t know if I was thinking about it when I was writing it because I didn’t know it was going to be one of my last ones, but that one was a pure joy to write.
Nerds and Beyond: I think Jensen recently mentioned that it’s his favorite episode of Supernatural.
Robbie: That’s very kind of him to say.
Nerds and Beyond: Season 12 is right around the corner, it’s next week. Will you be watching as a fan?
Robbie: I will 100% be watching as a fan. I can’t wait, and I was just saying this earlier to another fellow fan that this is the first time in five years that I will be watching and just not know what’s going to happen. I’m so excited. They’re such a great crew of writers over there. They’re such a great crew of filmmakers up north and storytellers, and then we have this amazing cast starting with the boys and then obviously Misha [Collins] and Mark [Sheppard], and everybody else who has become part of this ensemble. I can’t wait. I won’t be live tweeting or anything like that because I don’t think it’s appropriate, but I’m a huge fan of everybody over there. I miss everybody every single day. I was sad to go, but I’m also really excited to see where the show is going, particularly the way that Season 11 ended. I just think it’s a real emotional game changer, a very personal game changer, and I can’t wait to see how it all falls out with Mary specifically. With Mary Winchester coming back and the dynamic that’s going to strike between the boys. You know, her reading through the Carver Edlund books or dad’s journal, I can’t wait to see her catching up on everything that she missed out on and how that affects her relationship with her boys. It’s such a great idea to add that. It’s a big idea, but ultimately it’s an emotional one, and that’s the best type of idea, I think, in terms of a story engine. It’s a great crew, and I can’t wait to see what they cook up.