by Sandy Auden
Actor Todd Stashwick and comic artist and writer Dennis Calero on their wicked new webcomic Devil Inside.
Sometimes a cup of coffee can change your life. For actor and general entrepreneur Todd Stashwick (Supernatural, Heroes) and comic writer/artist Dennis Calero (Heroes, Wolverine) a simple caffeine break together resulted in the launch of a brand new web comic called Devil Inside.
"Dennis had drawn me into the Heroes online comic," says Stashwick. "I tweeted him to tell him how much I enjoyed it and he said he was going to be in LA." They met up and, "got into a discussion about all things geeky, movies, comics etc."
Maybe some events are just destined to happen because Calero insists he had no influence on Stashwick's Heroes character Eli (who could clone himself) being written into the comic series, "That was NBC, intending to start generating interest in Eli even before the season began," Calero says. "They were very interested in having the comics working in conjunction with the show."
But the comic generated the meeting and soon, "we were talking about stories and ideas," explains Stashwick. "I brought up this idea I had about the Devil having a crisis of conscience and how he goes on the lam in the desert as he searches for a new truth. He said it would lend itself beautifully to the comic medium. We felt we were on to something."
The result of their labours is Devil Inside. Stashwick gives away a little about the plot: "Jack Springheel, The Devil, overseer of the underworld, is blasted out of Hell after a nasty row with his significant other. He lands in the Nevada desert. He takes this moment to reassess his existence. Has crisis of conscience and begins to decide whether he wants to return to the Job. The cosmos abhors a vacuum and forces conspire to drag him back to hell. He goes off the grid to seek his new truth and stay one step ahead of his adversaries. If he doesn't use his powers, he can remain undetected.
"However he is the Devil and that can prove difficult. Ancient habits die hard. He enlists some unlikely companions in his mission. He begins to see existence from a whole different angle. Evil isn't a force... it's a choice, he's just weighing his options. It's a twisted, violent, horrific, hilarious psuedo-redemption story. I say it's Quentin Tarantino meets Stephen King with a dusting of Kerouac."
Developing and producing Devil Inside is additional work, over and above Stashwick's acting career. Doesn't he think he has enough to do already? "I've never been satisfied by just being an actor. I have always found great enjoyment in many aspects of storytelling. I had a theater company in Chicago that I produced, directed and wrote shows for. At Second City, we generated original material and I have continued to put up original work.
"I enjoy the production end, the writing, the directing and often even making the poster. My production company, Lazy Cougar, is the natural progression of what I've been doing on stage for years. I want to bring those same skills to a larger audience. Whether it's short films, TV pilots, webisodes, screenplays or the Devil Inside web comic, I want to keep telling stories that I want to see."
Writing those stories in a web comic format is a first for the actor. "On one hand, it's a cinematic art form, telling story with images I understand. On the other you have to be so economic. Deciding how best to get across action, emotion and surprise in as few frames as possible. The story in my head and on paper is massive. We have to tame it down to a limited number of frames.
"It's a wonderful challenge and a steep learning curve and I'm fortunate to have Dennis who knows this world inside out."
Other challenges that the two had to face included time and space. "This is a labour of love so we have to do it when we are not pursuing our careers. And then there's the distance. Dennis lives in NYC and I live in LA. Communication is smoother when we can work in the same room together."
But at least working together went reasonably smoothly and they both contributed to all areas. "We haven't had many differences. We are quite simpatico. We build off of each other's ideas. We have good communication flow. We question thoughts but the strongest idea always wins, not whom it came from.
"I contribute to the artwork just in the conversations," continues Stashwick. "We talk about layout and flow. Discuss the best way to tell the story. Logo design, stuff like that. He's the artist though. We write together but he brings it all to life."
Likewise, Calero was not restricted to just the artwork: "Todd and I discuss this story ceaselessly, on the phone, via text, on Facebook and Twitter. So it's an evolving process!"
It's all quite a commitment really, especially when there is no money involved. Calero explains, "For me it's the chance to work on a story with someone who knows the story we want to tell and wants the best for the project." And for Stashwick, "I've spent many years doing shows for free. It's always about doing something that turns you on. You never know where it leads, you want it to reach a wide audience. It's also a hell of a good time."
And they want to keep that fun going for as long as possible. "We have in our heads the arc of how things will progress," says Stashwick. "We want to share all of it. We would love to tell it to the end. If folks want to keep reading we will keep delivering."
Calero chips in: "We will tell this story until kingdom come."
That could take quite a few episodes, but the pair say they don't know yet just how many episodes will be in the first story arc. However Stashwick explains: "My brain is wired into seasons because of TV. In my head, I know how season one ends and two begins. It will play out in terms of goals I think. Jack will achieve one goal but it will be complicated or compromised. Deepening things further. It's a big story.
"So we'll blow the whole thing to the wind and see where it goes. It could translate into other mediums but right now we're just dedicated to making the web comic strip kick ass."
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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