Turning a comic book into a live-action TV series is not a revolutionary idea in the current TV landscape — but turning a comic book into a live-action TV series that is then itself turned into an animated series set in the same universe is not a pitch studio and network execs get every day.
That’s what “The Boys” executive producers Seth Rogen, Eric Kripke and Evan Goldberg set out to do when they came up with the idea for the very adult cartoon shorts “The Boys Presents: Diabolical,” while they were simultaneously working on the upcoming third season of the mothership Amazon Prime Video series and its recently ordered untitled superhero-college spinoff.
“We were deep in the pandemic and we were looking to get something from what we’re calling the VCU on the air go before Season 3,” “The Boys” showrunner Eric Kripke told Variety, citing the show’s Vought Cinematic Universe. “And with all the shooting restrictions, it was just impossible to even do a small live-action thing. So we started talking about doing something animated. Even during Season 1, I’ve always loved the idea of doing some animated stuff with the ‘The Boys.’ I’ve always wanted to do like a ’70s-style ‘Super Friends’ with The Seven. It’s really exciting because it works as an idea lab for the show and all the crazy ideas that don’t quite fit in episodes or don’t quite stretch out to make their own 60 minutes.”
Kripke, Rogen and Goldberg adapted the Emmy-nominated, live-action “The Boys,” starring Karl Urban as Butcher and Jack Quaid as Hughie, as the first piece of Amazon’s VCU based on writer Garth Ennis and illustrator Darick Robertson’s comic books of the same name.
“We can try things with these and be completely nuts with form and different style,” Kripke said. “I love that shit for being able to really hopscotch and have radically different styles and just try things that are the craziest things we possibly can — even a little too crazy for the show because it’s animation and you can take it so much further with animation than you can with live-action. That part has been a blast. We look at it like, what ideas can we get out of it and how far can we push this whole universe? I think the animated version gives us a chance to do that.”
Launching Friday, the eight-episode “Diabolical” features different characters and animation styles for each of the fun-size episodes. Running 12-14 minutes each, the animated installments were written by Goldberg and Rogen, “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland and Ben Bayouth, “The Boys” comic book creator Ennis, Eliot Glazer and Ilana Glazer, Awkwafina, Aisha Tyler, Andy Samberg and “Diabolical” showrunner Simon Racioppa. The style inspirations that are being utilized for the Prime Video animated series are classic American animated shorts, “Justin Roiland’s aesthetic,” an homage to the original “The Boys” comics, French comics and animation, Saturday morning animation imports, anime, Korean drama and horror, and “a darker take on American superhero animation.”
“It was all of us reaching out to our friends we felt were talented and cool to see if they were interested,” Kripke said. “I had met Justin Roiland at Comic-Con and we had emailed a little bit. And Evan Goldberg knew him, too. So we just asked him. Obviously, I know Aisha Tyler from our companion talkshow last year, so reached out to her.
“But a lot of the really big names were Seth and Evan, because they just in general have much more famous friends than me,” he added with a laugh. “So they reached out to Awkwafina, they reached out to Andy.”
The biggest and most “obvious” ask for Kripke and Co. was Ennis, who wrote the original “The Boys” comic book series that was largely illustrated by Robertson.
“That was a real blast, because we all started as just huge fans of the original ‘The Boys,'” Kripke said. “So to be able to animate an original story from that world in Garth’s style, to have Butcher without a beard, to have Jack From Jupiter, all these different characters, to bring in Simon Pegg and to have finally Simon Pegg be Hughie, as the fans have been waiting for since that book came out — that was one of my favorite things, too. Really letting him create the original version of ‘The Boys.’”
Racioppa says Ennis pitched his idea for a “Diabolical” episode “about a drug dealer who supplies the Supe community and then Butcher intimidates him and they spike his Supes’ supply,” to which he said “that sounds amazing, because who am I to tell Garth Ennis that that’s not a ‘Boys’ episode?”
“I was just like, I’m just here to help you do what you do, basically. It’s intimidating, because I’ve read Garth Ennis with ‘Preacher’ and all the stuff he did with ‘Judge Dredd’ years ago… My role was really to just to help him execute it and keep it as true as he can.”
Part of that came into play in attempting to mimic the artistic style Ennis’ partner Robertson had created for “The Boys” comics on screen.
“We wanted to make it look and feel a little bit like the comic books There’s some limitations in animation, certainly in our schedule, to how close we could get to Darick Roberston’s art,” Racioppa said. “It’s very sketchy. There’s a lot of roughness to it. That’s really hard to track and do in animation, certainly in our time frame. So we had to simplify the designs a little bit. But we hope it comes across that it’s definitely strongly inspired by Darick Robertson’s original artwork and his and Garth’s original book. So much so that there was an original cover that he pulls out. That’s an original Darick Roberston cover that he did exclusively for the show, drew for us the same way he does any other comic cover.”
Robertson, who is an executive producer on “Diabolical” along with Ennis, told Variety that “the cherry on the sundae” of the project “was finding out that not only were they making an episode, written by Ennis himself, and basing it on my original comic book designs in an effort to essentially bring an issue of our comic to the screen, but they even have Simon Pegg doing the Scottish accented voice of Wee Hughie, which for both of us, is massively cool.”
“Simon sent me early designs and the screenplays for the episodes and told me of their ideas for the opening of our episode, so I pitched them some ideas just as I would for an actual issue of the comic back in the day, right down to getting colorist Tony Avina to color the work like he did on the original covers,” Robertson said. “We found a moment that seemed to capture the main elements of the first episode and I have to say, personally, it’s pretty incredible watching it come to life.”
When it came to helping out the other “Diabolical” writers with their visions, Kripke and Racioppa say the balancing act was giving everyone free rein to basically make their own mini “Boys” spinoff, while still making sure it all felt “true” to Amazon’s “The Boys” universe.
“So Vought has to be Vought, right? Maybe you could pitch one in an alternate universe, but it has to feel like Vought, it has to be connected that way,” Racioppa said. “Compound V has to look and feel and act like Compound V. So those core elements have to be true for the show to make it feel like it fits into ‘The Boys’ universe.”
But other than that, Kripke let the “Diabolical” creators go wild.
“As a perfect example, we had our first meeting with Andy Samberg and we’re like, ‘What are you thinking?’ And he’s like, ‘Really serious, melancholy drama about a woman dying of cancer and a husband trying to save her. And it’s really just about letting go.’ And then we all take a beat and go, ‘Terrific! Great, go do that. That sounds amazing,'” Kripke said. “We just wanted everyone to do what they’re passionate about. For me, if there’s an idea you are excited about and you’re super fired up, then run with it.”
He added: “To me, the only defining rule of that particular universe is that everything has to spring from Compound V. It’s what I say in the writers’ room, too. Compound V is the only magic thing in the world. And so you can’t have like aliens come down. You can’t have gods come up. It can only be the side effects of this one insane magical drug. And we would say that sometimes, so people weren’t bringing in other totally crazy elements. But we wanted them to go nuts and it’s a reach to even call the show all taking place in the same universe. It’s different artists’ interpretations of that universe, I think, is the most realistic. Like ‘The Animatrix’ or ‘Star Wars: Visions.’ So we told them basically to just do whatever the hell they wanted.”