Pretend you’re the Devil. You’ve been running Hell for a few millennia and you’re just kind of done with it. Could you just up and leave? Would the forces of Hell let you? Never mind that. Would Heaven let you freely walk the Earth? And if you did make a successful break for it, what kind of life would you live?
That’s the foundation of Devil Inside, the weekly webcomic from artist Dennis Calero (Man of the Atom, X-Men: Noir) and actor Todd Stashwick (The Riches, Heroes, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).
“If he doesn’t use his mojo he doesn’t show up on their radar so he’s really working very hard to not be the thing that he is,” said Stashwick of their Devil named Jack, “It’s a man caught between his past and what he hopes his future is."
"Sort of in the same way as the Incredible Hulk, he establishes himself in a community and tries to sort of live life as a man but he is what he is and he has to use his powers which is fun for us to watch,” said Calero, “It’s a lot about the nature of evil and the nature of choice and how those two things are interrelated.”
How did these two seemingly unconnected creators find each other? They have NBC’s Heroes and Twitter to thank. “Dennis had drawn my character from Heroes in the online webcomic on the NBC website. So I thought that was pretty badass and I introduced myself to him on Twitter,” said Stashwick.
“Well, he always tells the story wrong. I found him on Twitter,” said Calero, “My depiction of his character [from Heroes] was the first time the audience had gotten to see Eli. And what was great about that was I’d actually been a genuine fan of Todd’s, you know it wasn’t just a matter of running into him and him being this successful actor.”
Calero continued his version of events. “And then I’m on Twitter and I notice that some guy's mentioning me, you know how you do an ‘@ mention’ on Twitter, has my drawing of Todd as his Twitter avatar. And I’m going, ‘Who would you have the drawing of an actor as your avatar?’ and it turns out, oh, it’s the guy. It’s actually him.”
Calero was set to make a trip to Stashwick’s neck of the woods in L.A. near that time and asked if he’d like to get a cup of coffee. “Me thinking, he’s a big-time actor, I’m a schlubby webcomic artist, you know that’s not gonna happen, he’s too busy. And lo and behold, he writes back and says yes. And by the way, I also made the same offer to Alyssa Milano and she never got back to me, but Todd’s cuter so it’s all right.”
After discussing movies, video games and comic books for a while, Calero asked Stashwick if he could write.
“I said yes I do and I had this idea, I didn’t know if it was for a screenplay or a TV show and I pitched it to him,” said Stashwick, “And he said let’s do that as a webcomic and while he was in L.A. we sat and killed a bottle of wine and broke the story together.”
While reading Devil Inside, you notice not just talk about God, the Devil, good and evil but also molecules, electromagnetism and geophysics. As Stashwick explains, that was on purpose.
“A lot of thought has gone into that, you know there’s that old thing, ‘that which we consider magic is just science waiting to be discovered.’ I have a firm belief, cell division is a miracle, nuclear fusion and the power of the sun is miraculous,” he said, “So I wanted to draw a parallel between things we consider mystical and things that are part of nature. I like the idea of exploring mystical things through science and vice versa.”
Calero says nothing in the series is completely black or white.
“Jack, is not the traditional, Biblical Satan and our premise is sort of that in modern religion, all religions, Jack figures in some way in all of them. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. He’s the Devil in sort of Catholic, Judeo-Christian religion and that’s of course, that’s very negative,” he said, “but in Egyptian religion he was Anubis, who was the God of Death but not an evil god in any way, shape or form. Death was a very important part of the life-cycle in Egyptian religion and Jack as a fictional character was very important in that as a very positive figure.”
“But like real people, Jack will often realize that he downplays the negative parts of himself and he plays up the positive attributes,” said Calero, “So he’ll have a tendency to say, ‘You know, I’m not really a bad guy,’ but he’ll do things that are genuinely bad and he can be scary and evil which makes him very hard for people to be friends with him.”
With the 28th “episode” of Devil Inside recently released, the pair of creators are ready to kick it into high-gear.
“[Jack is] trying to make new decisions and trying to do things the right way but he has to do them in the only way that he knows how. A new key character gets introduced [this] week who becomes very important to the story and to our little team of Sophie and Jack,” said Stashwick.
“And now we’re going to introduce the focal point of, sort of the physical object, the Ark of the Covenant kind of a thing that will become sort of the focus for this season of stories, the first novel in this saga of Jack,” said Calero, ”what these guys are going to go after and why it’s important.”
You don’t have to have too keen an eye to figure out the main character Jack resembles Stashwick.
“We are unapologetic about the fact that this is a venture vehicle for Todd. It’s just a fun thing, it’s not meant to be in any way calculated,” said Calero.
“I’m sort of living this role vicariously through the drawing. I would love to play this part if it was made into a TV series or into a film or a mini-series,” said Stashwick.
In fact, they’re treating the webcomic like a TV series on paper. “So I get to cast who I want. And so we’ve gone to other friends of mine, actor friends of mine, T.J. Thyne who’s on Bones, Roxanna Ortega, Azure Parsons is the photo ref for Sophie, Minnie Driver is the photo ref for Daisy, Dana Gould is the photo ref for Mump, I believe Dennis has now taken on the role of Corvus,” said Stashwick. “In a sense it is like casting your own TV show and if I’m casting my own TV show, hell if I’m not putting myself in the lead.”
For Calero, it’s a pleasing format to work with as an artist. “It affords us the opportunity to actually work with actors and people and it’s always sort of an interesting different way to work on comics,” he said, “that the comic is actually based on someone that you can say to them, this is sort of the emotional tenor we want for this moment and instead of making it up in your head, they actually bring something to it that you wouldn’t have necessarily expected.”
While not working on their webcomic, the creators are certainly keeping busy. Stashwick just wrapped up four episodes of TNT’s Men of a Certain Age and did an independent film with Jason Biggs and Lauren Ambrose called Grass Roots, set to be released this year. Calero is working on an adaptation of the Martian Chronicles, which he’s writing and drawing for Hill and Wang. “It will hopefully be done in a month or so,” he said, “[And] I am talking to DC about doing some stuff and hopefully I will be there sooner rather than later.
“Once we finish the first arc of this story we’re going to collect it into a book we can sell,” Stashwick said of Devil Inside. “I think we are about at the halfway mark of this story so probably by the end of the year or the beginning of next year. And Dennis and I have a couple other graphic novel ideas that we have been pitching out and have had companies sniffing at so that’s exciting too.”
Since Devil Inside is free to read, the success of book sales depends on the fans they recruit along the way. “It’s so important, I wish we had more [fan feedback] to be honest. People often think that comics, I mean all media, sort of comes out whole from a machine,” said Calero. “Even if they’re aware that there are people involved, they sort of judge this stuff as if human beings aren’t working on it, fallible, normal human beings. So we get a lot of very positive feedback, a lot of it comes from Twitter and Facebook so that’s also an interesting component that just as Todd and I came together via Twitter, a lot of our feedback and interaction with fans continued to come on Twitter and Facebook and other social media and I see that as something that’s going to be vital and continue.”
“The connections to the fans with social networking and through comment boards is huge. I don’t think it affects the story but we certainly are involving the fans,” said Stashwick. “We had a contest a few months ago where fans created some posters based on the comic and then we picked the winners and we drew those fans into the comic. So the character that plays the waitress in the diner was this girl Beth Hourston, she’s a fan from in the UK, and this girl Siv Hanson from Norway played the teacher.”
Calero believes social media and the arts have an interesting relationship. “Even though ultimately I’m the pilot of the airplane. I say, ‘This is the airplane, we’re going to Hawaii and if you want to go, get on board,’ and to a certain extent that’s how it has to work. I have to be in charge, the work has to be authoritative to have any sort of power,” he said, “At the same time, there is a value and interest in listening to fans if you know how to listen and how to glean what’s important and what’s important to you, you’re work evolves in a way that becomes so much more interesting.”
Calero and Stashwick went at this on their own, without the support of a publisher, premiering the first episode at last year’s Comic-Con International. Have their established careers helped them to stand out in the sea of comics on the web these days?
“I have been fortunate to have done a lot of genre shows like Buffy and Angel and Heroes and Supernatural and Star Trek,” said Stashwick, “So there’s a lot of people out there who know my work from those shows and this comic certainly pitches right down the middle of that milieu. Through social networking, through Twitter and Facebook, that fanbase for those shows have been very kind to spread the word to the communities.”
Calero believes their previous successes have not hurt them but that it can also be a double-edged sword. “Obviously we had hoped, Todd has a level of popularity and I have a certain level of popularity akin in comics, and we certainly hope that that will at least draw a level of interest and it did,” he said. The other side of that is, people can look at it and go, ‘Well, that’s just some Hollywood guy creating a property artificially to sell to somebody,’ and not understanding that we both have a deep love of comics. We’d both love to see Devil Inside go into other mediums and make us a lot of money, we’re not shy about that, but we made a commitment to each other and to the project that regardless of whatever happens, this is a story that the webcomic will go on and continue telling in whatever form that happens, week in, week out until one of us is dead. Or until both of us is dead because we’re dedicated to this form.”