On Wednesday, Comic-Con@Home will be making its debut on a screen near you. Very near you.
When the San Diego Convention Center pop culture blowout was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Comic-Con organizers refashioned the five-day convention as a series of online events that will include panels on TV, movies and fandom; a virtual version of the annual Masquerade Costume Competition; and an online Exhibitors Hall. And unlike the usual Con, this one is free and open to the public.
It won't be the same, but when pop culture fans gather to share the stuff they love, the Comic-Con spirit will always be in the house. In honor of Wednesday's planned festivities, here is a look at a new book and a new podcast that celebrate three of my favorite things: the "Supernatural" TV series, Cameron Crowe's film "Almost Famous" and the joys of fandom. So step right up if you're ready to get your Con on. The line forms behind me.
"There'll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of 'Supernatural'
"If you could wrap up the whole obsessive, loving spirit of Comic-Con into one TV show, "Supernatural" would be that show. The 15-year-old CW network drama about the adventures of two monster-hunting brothers has the fantasy/sci-fi/comic book vibe that has been part of Comic-Con since the beginning. It has a dense mythology to rival the Marvel Universe; many metric tons of swag ( "Supernatural" pillowcase, cookbook and charm bracelet, anyone?); and a pop-culture footprint you could see from the deck of the Battlestar Galactica.
Most importantly, "Supernatural" has the kind of smart, passionate and insanely dedicated fans who helped build Comic-Con into the massive entertainment force it is today. This book of personal essays is for those fans, as it chronicles the many ways this little underdog of a TV show became a hero whose superpower is its ability to help other people transform themselves.
Edited by Lynn S. Zubernis, a clinical psychologist and the co-author of "Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls," this new collection gives "Supernatural" fans and cast members the chance to say goodbye to the show, which had to shut down production in March before the final two episodes were filmed. The network is hoping to shoot and air those last episodes sometime in 2020.
Part wake, part therapy session and all heart, "There'll Be Peace When You Are Done" is also a moving tribute to the power of fandom by the stars and the fans who have been changed by it.
So how did a TV series with an astronomical body count, a muscle-car mascot and a weakness for truck-stop classic rock manage to inspire so many meaningful journeys? Let the book count the ways.
It did it by giving its dedicated viewers a memorable cast of characters that became increasingly vivid and varied as the years went by. That lineup came to include a lesbian tech genius, a deaf demon hunter, kick-ass fan girls, gay hunters, gay demons, a Black demon hunter played by Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown of "This Is Us," and powerful women on both sides of the heaven and hell divide.
It did it by putting one of its main characters in a wheelchair but not limiting his demon-hunting mobility. It did it by showing the hunky Winchester brothers battling depression, anxiety and the "Supernatural" version of drug addiction. (Don't mess with demon blood, kids.)
Best of all, "Supernatural" became more than the sum of its early creature-feature parts by learning from its mistakes, listening to criticism and being open to letting its stories and characters reflect the diversity of its fan family and the rainbow coalition that is the Comic-Con fandom.
In their essays, fans show how "Supernatural" helped them navigate coming out to their parents, completing a gender transition, and dealing with mental health challenges and physical disabilities. Co-stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles talk about how the Winchester brothers' determination to go down fighting inspired them to be better people, and how the fans are the soul of the show. As for what happens to all that love and support when that final episode finally airs? Anyone who has ridden shotgun with the Winchesters knows the answer to that one.
"'Supernatural' will never end," Ackles says in his essay. "The show might, but what it has built? This will never end. Besides, nothing ever stays dead on 'Supernatural'"
(For information on "There'll Be Peace When You Are Done," go to fangasmbooks.com.)
"Origins Chapter 6: 'Almost Famous' Turns 20"
If the startling news that writer/director Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" turns 20 this year makes your heart hurt — because if "Almost Famous" is 20 years older, what does that make the rest of us? — try sinking into the warm, denim-wrapped arms of the "Origins Chapter 6" podcast. It will put you back on the bus with Stillwater, and the view from the window seat will make you feel young and footloose again.
This five-part series from journalist James Andrew Miller is a deep, detailed dive into the making of Crowe's Oscar-winning film about his early years as a San Diego teen journalist covering rock 'n' roll for Rolling Stone magazine. Like previous "Origins" installments excavating the creative histories of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Sex and the City" and ESPN, the "Almost Famous" chapter gathers all of the main players together for an oral history filled with insider insights, behind-the-scenes nuggets and blow-by-blow accounts of the Herculean human effort that goes into these feats of entertainment magic.
Thanks to Miller's well-researched probing, you will hear how Brad Pitt was all set to play enigmatic guitar-player Russell Hammond, until he inexplicably wasn't. Hear how Kate Hudson won the loyalty award (and eventually, the part of Penny Lane) by sticking with the film through its many, many months of casting changes. Hear about Crowe's long and winding script-writing journey; how Frances McDormand handled the challenge of playing the filmmaker's mother (while Alice Crowe was watching); how the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (as rock critic Lester Bangs) took Patrick Fugit (as young journalist William Miller) under his wing; and why Jimmy Fallon (as slimy manager Dennis Hope) thinks he came perilously close to getting fired.
All of the principal cast members are on board, and all of them — Hudson, McDormand, Fugit, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee and Crowe himself — are funny, passionate and as devoted to film as the fans are. Like the movie itself, "Origins Chapter 6" is a tribute to rock 'n' roll and to the people who really, really love it. The film is a treasure, and the podcast is a gift. When you are in the fine company of these expert storytellers, there is room on the bus for everyone, and the road goes on forever.
("Origins Chapter 6" is available on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.)