How 'The Boys' comic book survived cancellation and inspired Amazon's new hit superhero TV series

the boys&quotThe Boys."Amazon Prime Video

  • "The Boys" comic artist and cocreator Darick Robertson spoke to Business Insider about the history of the source material behind Amazon's new hit TV series of the same name.
  • "The Boys" comic launched at DC's Wildstorm imprint in 2006, but was canceled after six issues despite strong sales.
  • "If you look at the original first issue of 'The Boys,' it was peppered with ads for Batman and other stuff," Robertson said. "I don't think they realized just how hard of a punch Garth [Ennis, the other cocreator] and I were going to land."
  • Robertson said Ennis had a five-year plan for the series and knew how it would end. Fortunately, it  was quickly renewed by Dynamite Entertainment weeks after it was canceled.
  • Then Hollywood took notice. But "The Boys'" long journey to the screen was just as rocky.
  • "It's the way Hollywood works," Robertson said. "Having an option is lovely, but it doesn't mean a project will go forward. So we got our hearts broken a few times."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

"The Boys" is a hit for Amazon Prime Video, which announced earlier this month that the series is one of the platform's most watched shows ever. But the new superhero TV series wouldn't exist if its source material hadn't been saved from an early cancellation.

"The Boys" comic book ran for 72 issues from 2006 to 2012. It was created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, who had previously collaborated on "The Punisher Max" and had made names for themselves individually in the industry with such works as "Preacher" and "Transmetropolitan," respectively.

Robertson told Business Insider during an interview Monday that "The Boys" was originally going to be set within the DC Comics universe that includes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more.

But the book's irreverent premise - a group of government operatives keep a check on superheroes who abuse their powers - didn't quite mesh with the colorful and heroic adventures at DC. So Ennis and Robertson created their own group of "heroes" that satirized preexisting ones, such as the alien Homelander (think Superman) and the super-speedster A-Train (think The Flash).

the boysThe superhero team The Seven from &quotThe Boys."Dynamite Entertainment/Darick Robertson

"We decided that it wouldn't work if we tried to be too subtle about what the gag would be," Robertson said. "I like the DC characters very much. I see a very distinct line between our characters and theirs. If you have the costume and the power but none of the character, you still don't have Superman's greatest power, which is self control. Homelander doesn't even take the costume off. And that reveals a lot."

"The Boys" launched at Wildstorm, a DC Comics imprint founded by DC's now-copublisher Jim Lee that was set outside of the normal DC universe. Ennis and Robertson could tell their own story without sullying the reputation of DC's flagship characters.

READ MORE: How Amazon's new superhero TV show, 'The Boys,' was shaped by Trump, Me Too, and 'sweet, sweet Bezos money'

When the series was released, though, things changed.

"The problem was that Wildstorm was still a sub-company of DC Comics," Robertson said. "If you look at the original first issue of 'The Boys', it was peppered with ads for Batman and other stuff. I don't think they realized just how hard of a punch Garth and I we're going to land ... I think it made people nervous that we were doing such a raunchy book that was advertising other DC properties."

And it was indeed raunchy. The first issue of "The Boys" featured graphic language, sex, and violence that would become hallmarks of the series. 

the boysThe cover to &quotThe Boys" issue 1, released in 2006.Dynamite

The Boys are saved

"The Boys" was canceled six issues into its run, despite strong sales.

"The comic was as big a hit as the show is now," Robertson said. "For the world of comics, we were doing quite well. It was selling out. It was a weird time in the industry where it would sound like a laughable number now, but it was good then, especially for a creator-owned, mature book." 

Robertson said that DC would continue publishing the book if the subject matter were toned down, or it would offer it back to Ennis and Robertson for them to take it somewhere else.

Toning it down wasn't an option.

"It was a gracious way to solve the problem," Robertson said. "In another scenario, it could have been a nightmare and the book could have died."

Robertson said that Ennis knew from the beginning how the series would end and had a five-year plan. But they suddenly had nowhere to go with their story.

"I had just bought a home, I had two children," he said. "I had set up the next five years just to do this book, so I didn't know what to do."

the boysDynamite Entertainment/Darick Robertson

The feeling didn't last long. Living in California and now out of work, Robertson took his family to Disneyland for a weekend after the cancellation in January 2007. The following Monday, his phone blew up.

"Everyone had found out we were canceled and every publisher I knew in the business was calling us saying they wanted the book," Robertson recalled. "It was amazing. We just wanted to make sure we ended up at the place where we had the most control."

Dynamite Entertainment ended up being that place. Mere weeks after the cancellation, the company announced it would renew "The Boys." It returned that May with issue seven and Dynamite quickly released a collection of the first six issues.

"That's another reason we parted with DC was because they were reluctant to publish the trade paperback, and that's where the bread and butter is," Robertson said. "Dynamite got that out immediately and it was the number one trade paperback as soon as it hit. It sold out and immediately went to a second printing."

That's when Hollywood came calling.

'The comic and the film property followed similar lives'

By 2008, producer Neal Moritz, known for the "Fast and Furious" franchise, took notice of the book's popularity. Robertson said Mortiz championed a film adaptation and shopped the project around to studios for years.

"I learned the hard way that getting an option is easy and getting something made is not," Robertson said. "It's the way Hollywood works. Having an option is lovely, but it doesn't mean a project will go forward. So we got our hearts broken a few times, especially because the people that were coming on board were wonderful."

One of those people was Adam McKay, who was then known for directing "Anchorman" and has since directed Oscar-nominated movies "The Big Short" and "Vice."

 

Columbia Pictures was originally on board and then ditched the project. Paramount picked it up in 2012, but it never went forward there, either. A big-budget R-rated deconstruction of the superhero genre proved to be a hard sell.

"Everyone was terrified of it," Robertson said. "It's funny, because the comic and the film property followed similar lives. McKay was on board and we were sure it would happen any day, but we just couldn't get any studio to give the green light. For me it would be life-changing so I just kept hoping it would happen, and it never did."

the boys&quotThe Boys"Amazon Prime Video

Flash forward seven years and "The Boys" has finally found a new home at Amazon, just on the small screen instead of the big screen. But even the TV series faced a climb.

Showrunner Eric Kripke told Business Insider last month ahead of the show's premiere that it was originally set up at Cinemax, but the company dropped it because it was too expensive. Then Amazon swooped in with what Kripke called "that sweet, sweet Bezos money."

"There's a lot of production value, but in the same respect, there's never enough money," Kripke said. "We didn't have anything close to a 'Game of Thrones' budget or anything like that. We're not even half of what that number would be. But when you don't have all the money in the world, you get there through blood and tears."

And "The Boys" TV show has already avoided the temporary fate of the comic. There will be no early cancellation. Amazon renewed the series for a second season before season one even debuted. 

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