Although best known for his recurring role on the daytime television series One Life To Live, actor Michael Easton’s love of science fiction runs deep. He’s starred in several short-lived Sci-Fi TV shows such as Mutant X, VR.5 and Total Recall 2070, and he played a vampire for a two-year stint on the soap opera Port Charles. Although it’s acting that pays the bills, Easton has carried in him the desire to write his own material; he’s got several screenplays floating around Hollywood, and has written two volumes in his graphic novel series Soul Stealer with artist Christopher Shy.
Soul Stealer covers the life of a fallen warrior named Kalan who lives in a Sci-Fi fantasy world that mixes Easton’s gothic prose with the esoteric and atmospheric imagery of Christopher Shy. In this story, Kalan is mourning the loss of his lover at the hands of a man named Apis Bull. His devotion leads to a transformation for Kalan into a supernatural being set to return souls from the afterlife, and he uses that to go after his partner and after her killer.
With the third volume, Soul Stealer: Last To Die scheduled to debut at Chicago’s C2E2 convention in April, we talked with both creators about the series and the upcoming new chapter.
Newsarama: Michael, for your entire career, you’ve straddled mainstream stories with genre stories, like playing a vampire in Port Charles and futuristic stories like Total Recall 2070 and VR.5. What drew you to the fantastic and supernatural so early?
Michael Easton: I remember watching Frankenstein for the first time when I was ten years old and in a way, I think I've just been trying to find my way back to that place. That's the type of storytelling I've wanted to be a part of. On some level, to portray characters trying to do good in a world seemingly overcome with corruption and despair. If you were limited to operating in a single literary realm, for me it wouldn't be one created by Shakespeare, it would more likely be the universe of Phillip K Dick.
Nrama And what led you to graphic novels?
Easton: From the first line scratched out on a napkin, How far would you go to get back someone you love? It was clear that Soul Stealer just belonged to the graphic novel. You read comics all your life and the notion that you might somehow join this order was both humbling and daunting. You know your intentions have to be true. Your story has to fit, it can't be manipulated. It must have heart and a bit of magic. We needed a universe where vice and virtue could coexist. A world created in shadows but wasn't simply black and white. This was the only genre that allowed us the freedom to come to life.
Nrama: How did the ideas that became Soul Stealer come together?
Easton: It began as a dream that became a nightmare. I'd like to blame it on the Ambien but the fact that it's continued on leads me to believe I'm just a little twisted.
Nrama: Tell us about the world that Soul Stealer’s set in.
Christopher Shy: The near future at the beginning, maybe 20 or 30 years off. The world is a dark place it has a very Enki Bilal feel to it. Once we see Kalan, we start cutting into his past, which opens up various paths, confrontations, and relationships that resolve themselves into the future. Its very French New Wave, in the sense that you are dropped into the story, and as the reader, you are playing catch up. Its rarely spelled out, but the clues are there. The Gods are dead; long live the new Gods as it were. It has aspects of everything, Frankenstein, ancient history, Shakespeare; it’s all woven there.
Nrama: You’re definitely the comic book veteran of the pair of you, so why did you choose to work with Michael?
Shy: I am not sure I would consider myself a vet, but thank you just the same. Maybe something of a committed amateur.
It really came down to creative chemistry in the beginning. I don’t think either of us knew how far we were going to take Soul Stealer, but I think as the first book grew, we realized we really liked working together. We watched the same movies, read a lot of the same books, etc. I work really fast, so I would be ahead of Mick, as he was finishing the script, and I would research some things, and call him up, and he would know exactly what I was talking about, he would have heard that particular story I was referencing, I was really blown away by his knowledge in some pretty obscure areas. I was impressed, Plain and simple. He is a great friend.
He also has a commitment to doing things outside of the system, something that I committed too early on. Neither of us were interested in doing mainstream work, both of us were writers, and both of us grew up all over the place. So we would talk about our pasts, stories we heard, and a lot of what is in Soul comes out of that, a real passion for unconventional story telling. Mick is really committed the WORK. He works all the time, and so do I, that kind of ethic, its…well, its gone, really, and I appreciated what he was trying to do.
Nrama: What makes Kalan special from your point of view?
Shy: The idea that what you are most afraid of is inside you. For Kalan, who is made up of parts not all his own, the potential for doing good, bad and the unknown created a unique dynamic. Ultimately what drives Kalan is the belief that love is worth dying for -- is worth going into Heaven and Hell for -- and that power is at the core of everything that follows in the story.
Nrama: In the second volume of Soul Stealer, you laid bare the origin of Apis Bull, Kalan’s rival. Originally portrayed as the villain, in this book we see Apis’ own motivations to become the person he ended up being – I won’t say he’s on the side of angels now, but he’s not the clear-cut villain by no means. Can you tell us about that from a storytelling standpoint?
Easton: Evil comes in many forms and rarely are they that transparent. Nothing should be as it seems. Apis Bull is a violent man in a brutal world but it's a world in which the journey between hero and villain is a potentially short one. A few events in ones life make the difference.
Nrama: This opens up a wider conversation about the sense of moral ambiguity that you write into this book. Is this something you consciously wrote into this, or just what flows naturally out of you?
Easton: All things meet their opposite. But rarely do we see the consequences of that action from both sides. From the beginning It was important to make Apis Bull redeemable. To make he and Kalan closer in value than it first appears. Ultimately, Apis Bull cannot survive. But his heroic sacrifice in the final installment hopefully brings about a state of salvation.
Nrama Chris, your artwork on this has a big Frazetta vibe – what were you aiming for when depicting Apis Bull’s story?
Shy: Yes, always, Frank will always inspire me. For me honestly, it’s always been about Apis Bull. I loath characters that are evil for evils sake, its complete crap, don’t waste my time. Everyone has a reason inside for the things they do, no one is born evil, and I am not sure anyone ever thinks that they truly are. They may be in pain, or have a murderous rage, but there is always a reason. In book two we saw what shaped Apis, and realized his motivations were much less clear, and yet in other ways completely understandable.
The work, or passion for it in that book came from that. I understood Apis, and what Mick was going for. Its was a real moment for both of us when we took that gamble to set most of that book from his perspective. We were both fans of Ridley Scott’s The Dualist and that was how the first discussions of book two between me and Mick began. “Have you seen the Dualist? Why yes, I certainly have.” The characters in the book, Kalan, Apis, and Oxania form a trinity or the Triple Goddess, each representing an aspect of birth, Decline, and Death, and its was necessary to set up book two in that fashion.
Nrama: How do you write a script – are you doing the narration and dialogue as well as plotting simultaneously, or do you do it in waves so to speak?
Easton: I try for all at once but want the words to exist mostly as a guide to recognizing the full potential of the story that exists beyond us. A suggestion that although defined is also limitless. I'm keenly aware to never hinder Chris' artistic contribution to the process.
Nrama: This book relies on a lot of narration – and the words you chose were very poetic. You really convey a special kind of atmosphere at the cadence and words chosen for this – what were you aiming for with the narrative?
Easton: I just try to faithfully reproduce what the characters see within themselves. Fears, dreams, loss and loneliness. As a result the point of view is sometimes fractured, a little damaged. I like poetic yet vague. My hope is to always err on the side of restraint and never get in the way of the art.
Nrama: Christopher, being the guy taking the script to comic form, what has become the hallmarks of Michael’s style? Do you see anything due to his background in film/television showing forth?
Shy: That a good question, but it’s really hard to say. Perhaps his day polished his style, but I think his work is much clearer than a lot of scripts that get passed around my desk honestly. Certainly he is a damn fine writer in my humble opinion. Our collaboration may be a lot different from the normal working relationship. He will work an outline, that we will usually talk over after I receive it, and then as I break it down, I will notice he will leave areas open for me to develop. I will usually drop him a call, and we will chew through it, and then more notes. It’s very organic, at least for me, and I am appreciative of it. The story is there but its what he leaves in the margins that most intrigues me, a little note to look into something here, or an ancient poem, “What do you think?” I research it, and then its drags me in, the backgrounds start to affect the story proper, and before you know it, his script copy and mine are a battered note filled book.
We actually wrote a book for Soul Stealer 2based on our notes, its called “The Order Of The Immortalis”. We had so many notes for so many background characters, their place of birth, how they died or were turned, that we just needed to work it out. I drew sketches throughout and that became our guide, something we referenced time and again just to keep our thoughts straight.
Nrama: Michael, have any of your co-stars on your tv show had anything to say about you writing graphic novels?
Easton: They have been kind and very supportive.
Nrama: Besides graphic novels, you’ve also written a book of poetry as well as some screenplays. DO you consider yourself a writer first, or an actor? And how do you balance the two?
Easton: I haven't thought about it much. Perhaps it's telling that this story, these characters, dominate my thoughts from morning to well onto the night. I just feed off the process, the journey, even when it leads into dark places. I guess because I know there's always a way out. I just ask, What would Tarkovsky do?