Chicago Con is always special, because it was my very first Supernatural Creation con. That was now over ten years ago, which is kinda hard to believe because it seems like a second ago, and yet it also seems like a long long time ago. A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. I’m incredibly grateful that so many of the people I met at that very first con – on both sides of the stage – are still there. It says something about the loyalty of both the fans and the cast to this show that continues to inspire us. And more than ten years of cons later? That’s pretty special.
Rob hosted Friday, since Richard was up in Vancouver preparing to direct Supernatural.
Rob: Richard’s not here because he’s in Vancouver directing Supernatural. Which is kinda fun, because I get to tell you that guess what? I love Perth!
The audience roared at the long-standing in joke.
Rob reminisced about doing his very first Supernatural convention right here in Chicago – immediately after filming the convention episode of the show! I still remember how blown away he was that day. He kept exclaiming, “this is so weird, this is so weird”. It was all kinds of adorable. And I love that Rob and Rich are two of the people who can look back on so many years of cons, and on their evolution from simply guest performers doing one panel to the linchpins of the entire convention weekend. I’m 100% sure that one of the reasons the cons have continued for so long is because Richard Speight Jr. is the consummate host and Rob Benedict and Louden Swain are the most kickass “house band” you could ever wish for.
After thoroughly enjoying the Supernatural panel in Hall H (see part one of my epic Comic Con report here – Part One) we had an hour to rush to the press area and download some photos and eat a hot dog (you eat WAY too many hot dogs at Comic Con, just saying…). Then it was off to the Hilton Bayfront for the Supernatural press room. This is my second year in the press room, so I wasn’t quite as nervous about my technology failing me (though it did…) and more able to just enjoy the chance to chat with everyone. We had a great table of press, some of whom I already knew, and everyone had great questions. Press rooms can be stressful things, since there’s a very limited amount of time and no guarantee that every cast member will get to your table – which means I actually did get anxious anyway. But big kudos to Warner Brothers’ Holly Ollis and Nikki Calderon, who managed to make sure that every single table got some time with every single one of the cast and producers. Phew!
Executive producer and showrunner Bob Singer was the first to come to our table – which is why I was so nervous I didn’t even manage to take a picture of him!
Our table asked what he could tease about Season 14?
Bob: Oh nothing, we have strict instructions…
We laughed, but he relented.
Bob: I think Season 14 is gonna be a little less broad in scope and a little more emotional, with more personal stories about the guys. We’ll look at what Jack’s going through with losing his powers, and if and when Dean comes back from Michael, what it will be like with his relationship with Sam. We also have a lot of fan favorites who will be back – Bobby, Charlie. I think it will be a little more low key but it will still be Supernatural, just more personal and emotional.
(That literally had me bouncing with happiness because yay for more personal and emotional! Okay, maybe not literally bouncing, but it was a near thing)
It’s no secret to anyone who has ever read one of my Supernatural books that I love Comic Con – my first year there was 2007, when you could still drive your rental car right up to the convention center, park in the underground garage and stroll up to get in the (very small) line to get in. It was Supernatural that brought me to Comic Con back then, and it’s still Supernatural that brings me back now, and every year in between. The Show has gone from Room 6BCF to the larger Ballroom 20 and finally for the past few years, the gigantic Hall H. Like many loyal fans, I’ve followed along and celebrated the Show’s success as it defied the odds and refused to be cancelled. Last year saw a triumphant celebration of that tenacity, with Kansas appearing to play the Show’s unofficial theme song, Carry On Wayward Son, live on the Hall H stage.
Nobody expected Warner Brothers to top that amazing feat this year, and yet anticipation was high for our first glimpse of Season 14 – and Supernatural (as always) did not disappoint.
My Supernatural-centric Comic Con began on Thursday night with the Wayward Cocktails party in the Gaslamp district’s Analog Bar. Jules Wilkinson (better known as admin of the SuperWiki) and friends throw this party most years, and it’s a great place to meet up with all your fellow Supernatural fans. It’s also a charity event, so I brought along some copies of Family Don’t End With Blood to donate, benefiting Random Acts and Public Counsel, a legal services advocacy organization. All the television screens in the bar were playing episodes of Supernatural, there were Supernatural themed drinks, plenty of food, and of course pie for dessert. Ruth Connell joined us at our table for a while, and I had a chance to chat with Scoobynatural writers Jeremy Adams and Jim Krieg, who would love nothing more than to reprise that amazing episode.
I also got to hug some of the people who keep the Show awesome, like the always adorable post coordinator Mary Manchin and showrunner’s assistant Meghan – and to talk Season 14 a bit with writer Davy Perez. He’s excited about the upcoming episode written by Meredith Glynn and that makes ME even more excited! More on that later, because SQUEE!
Friday stayed Supernatural-focused with the Warner Bros. party at Float, the rooftop bar of the Hard Rock Hotel. My friend M. Night Shyamalan was also at Comic Con, premiering the trailer for his new film Glass (more about that coming up!) so I invited him to come by the WB party – because it’s always a fabulous party! He stayed long enough to chat for a little while, and then ran into Jensen Ackles as he was leaving, so they got to reconnect too. That’s what makes Comic Con so awesome!
Along with my good friends Laurena and Alice, I chatted Season 14 of Supernatural at the party with producer Jim Michaels while we sampled the delicious food and drinks, including the pros and cons of a reduced season of 20 episodes instead of 23. I was thrilled to hear that Jim’s optimism about the Show continuing for a while matches my own. We also were happy to run into showrunner and director Bob Singer and his wife, writer and executive producer Eugenie Ross-Leming. Both are excited about the new season, even if Bob did try to retire a few years ago – but we all know how that turned out!
Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Alex Calvert joined the party a short while in and stayed until they literally turned the lights on to try to convince those of us who were having way too good a time to finally leave – sorry, Float employees! My chats with Jensen were about his singing prowess and whether he’d run into Night before Night had to leave (he had, in the elevator!), with Jared about his recent birthday, and with Misha about politics – and whether I need a new phone (I do).
My chats with Alex were a bit more substantial – I can’t say enough about what a lovely person Alex is and how thoughtful about this unique situation he finds himself in. Needless to say, he was nervous about being onstage at Hall H in front of 8000 people on Sunday, but as I told him that night – the rest of the cast have his back. And so does the fandom.
Returning to Pittsburgh con this year was bittersweet, since we knew this was to be the last Supernatural Creation con in the city. I opted to take the train again, which is a beautiful way to see rural Pennsylvania at its best while sipping a cup of coffee and eating a hot dog from the café car. What can I say, I like simple pleasures. Also the seats in the Pennsylvanian go wayyyy back and there’s a footrest, so… I’m easily amused. I was not, on the other hand, amused at all by the fact that the dispatcher saw fit to keep a slow-moving freight train ahead of our passenger train for hours instead of allowing us to pass, so I was late getting in and missed most of the Thursday night fun in the vendor room. Boo Amtrak.
In spite of that beginning, Pittcon lived up to my expectations and made me sad not to have another to look forward to. It was also Pride Week in Pittsburgh, and from our high up window, the city was lit up in a rainbow of colors. There was a free concert every night right below us, so we were treated to a view of the crowd dancing to the music and a contagious positive vibe all around us.
Friday kicked off with Louden Swain and Rob’s rendition of Genie In A Bottle which I assume is an homage to local Christina Aguilera. Rob and the band can rock anything, just saying.
The con was in a different ballroom this year, which was smaller and more intimate and had actual carpet instead of a cement floor so yay, but I did miss watching the cast come and go through the glass skyway as we all waved and they either waved back or did lewd things for our amusement.
Richard: We’re in a different room this year, so no skyway. So no one can be looking at our bottoms…
Not sure why Richard was on a bottoms kick, but we also had a repeat performance of the bit about Rob getting drugs out of his b-hole complete with a Speight original dance performance. I can’t even describe it in words but trust me, it was hysterical.
Last month was both Stroke Awareness Month and the one year anniversary of the publication of Family Don’t End With Blood, the book written by the cast and fans of Supernatural. So this is a perfect time to chat with Supernatural actor and Louden Swain frontman Rob Benedict (Chuck/God) about the powerful chapter he wrote in the book. In his chapter, Rob takes us through every tension-filled moment of the stroke he had while at a Supernatural convention in Toronto several years ago and how the SPNFamily got him through it. I knew when Rob sent me the story to include that it was going to make readers cry (in a good way) and that it was going to inspire people – but I didn’t know that it was going to literally save lives.
That’s exactly what happened though.
At a Supernatural convention this spring, a fan approached the vendor table for Family Don’t End With Blood and said she had something to tell me. I’ve heard so many wonderful stories about how the stories shared in the book have inspired someone to keep going, or given them the courage to make changes in their lives, or helped them feel okay being who they are for the first time. When the fan standing at my table got emotional, I expected to hear a similar story.
“The Supernatural fandom and this book,” she said, “saved my life.”
Not in the way I expected, however. Patty Barbera had read Family Don’t End With Blood, and Rob’s chapter, in which he shares his experience having a serious stroke at the Toronto convention, had really stood out for her. Shortly before the convention, she was getting ready for bed when her hand started to go numb. The numbness slowly moved up her arm, and then there was a pain in the back of her head and her whole right side went numb. The right side of her face began to droop. She began having trouble speaking. Because she had just read Rob’s chapter, which details what happened during his stroke, Patty immediately realized she was having a stroke. She screamed for her husband, and they drove to the hospital – where a CT Scan showed that she was indeed having a stroke – the type referred to as a “TIA” or mini stroke. Even more alarmingly, her scans showed that it was not the first one.
As she told me her story, she began to cry – but they were good tears. She was healthy enough now to attend the convention and thank Rob herself (and has since made remarkable progress and is almost fully recovered)
“If I hadn’t read this book, I probably would have ignored everything and went to bed, most likely damaging my brain. But because of this book and Rob’s story, I’m back to my old self with minimal damage,” Patty said.
I felt my own eyes well up, and we shared a few tissues together.
Patty’s powerful story was a reminder of why we all wrote Family Don’t End With Blood – we wanted to make a difference. The actors who wrote chapters and the fans who wrote chapters all wanted to share their very personal stories in the hopes that others would be inspired and impacted by what they wrote.
That was certainly the case for Patty with Rob’s chapter. Shortly after I met Patty, I sat down with Rob to ask about why he wanted to contribute to the book and what the response has been to his story. In keeping with the important messages of Rob and Patty, we’ve included a summary of the warning signs of stroke at the end of this article – you can read the entire account of Rob’s very emotional experience in his chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood.
Lynn: You wrote a really personal chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, taking readers through every moment of your experience when you had a stroke at a convention several years ago. What made you want to share your story?
Rob: It’s almost easier for me to express myself through writing. And I felt the need to re-visit the experience and take all of it back into my consciousness, and to try to account for what happened. In my recovery I read an amazing memoir called Brain On Fire, in which the author Susannah Calahan tracks her own journey through a debilitating virus that attacked her brain. I was inspired by that. I am inspired to put all of this in a book someday, but this chapter was a place to start. It was incredibly therapeutic.
Lynn: Was it challenging to be that personal and share your own vulnerability?
Rob: Not really – I mean the fear of getting too personal is always a road block, but it’s one I like to push out of the way. I do it a lot with my song lyrics. At times, singing my songs is like reading my diary out loud. It’s terrifying! BUT I am motivated by that fear. I dare myself to speak the truth. I think there’s something incredibly confident, or robust, about expressing one’s own insecurities and fear. I’ve said it before on stage when I sing songs like She Waits, but there is something about this fandom that makes me feel safe to express myself. I feel like there’s an unspoken connection, especially by the end of a convention weekend. So I did also feel that when I wrote this – that it wouldn’t fall on judgmental ears.