Our new series DEMONIC starts today! Our partners at Image Comics sat down with writer Christopher Sebela and artist Niko Walter to get the inside scoop on this new horror/crime project!
IMAGE COMICS: DEMONIC started out a while back as a story by Robert Kirkman and Joe Benitez from Top Cow’s Pilot Season program. How did you two come to create the standalone series?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: I was was contacted by Sean Mackiewicz at Skybound back in 2013 right after my first creator-owned book High Crimes started coming out. They must’ve liked what they read, because Sean said they had some projects I might be a good fit on, and he sent me a few options to read over and think about.
I probably reread all of them about three times, and I could see a lot of potential in each one, but I’m a crime fan and a horror nerd, so DEMONIC was the book that stuck with me most. When I told Sean, he said he suspected it’d be the one that I was the best fit for, too. So it felt kind of ordained. Then we got to work mapping out the series, deciding what stuff from the original first issue was going to stay and what we could lose and rebuild. No one was super precious about anything, so it was a cool back and forth between me and Sean and Robert Kirkman about what would serve the book best. Then I crawled off to my cave and wrote it.
NIKO WALTER: I was at a con a few years back attempting to get editors to look at my portfolio. Sean was the only editor who took the time. He gave me his card and we later exchanged a few emails. After a couple of days I was offered DEMONIC. The ideal convention experience.
IC: What was it about the story that worked for you? What was the hook that unlocked how you wanted to approach writing and drawing the tale?
WALTER: I never had a clear approach. I was too green. I came at it from a number of directions. Adapting and discarding as I learned what worked and what did not. Though, as I got comfortable, there was I think a perceptible change. The characters became more defined, excessive lines were culled somewhat, and the page layouts became less aggressive. Paring things down ended up becoming a focus. The script was clear yet supple, giving me plenty of room to explore. The dark nature of the story also gave me opportunities to spot plenty of blacks and play around with contrast. That was fun. The main thing really was making sure everyone else involved was satisfied. Very important.
SEBELA: A few things. One, it had demons and a dude in a mask with an affinity for knives and violence, both of which are big horror landmarks. There was a permission slip of sorts that I could go crazy and sort of paint the walls with as much blood as I wanted. I saw lots of room to really go for it on this book, and it intimidated me wondering if I could pull it off, which always makes me want to do something even more. But the thing that grabbed me the most were the characters and trying to make human people fit in the middle of all this madness we have going on. My hook is always the characters, what makes people tick and how that stuff gets torn away and banged to hell when they’re thrown into a nightmare. DEMONIC had lots of room to explore that while also coming up with some really disturbing, stuff-I-think-about-as-I’m-trying-to-go-to-sleep imagery at the same time.
IC:DEMONIC features deals with the devil, cop drama, and secret societies, which makes for a lot going on. Chris, how do you describe the story to people? What are the brass tacks for you?
SEBELA: For me, DEMONIC is the story of a guy with a past packed with personal demons who finally comes face to face with one of them in the flesh. This demon lends Scott aspects of her power so he can go out and kill for her, to keep his life intact and his family alive. It’s meant to be a torture to this paragon of serving and protecting who’s struggling to find a loophole out, but eventually the idea that Scott might like it, even prefer it, compared to the life he’s fighting so hard for is what becomes the real horror story. I tried to build this world out as dense as I could, going into decades previous and dealing with cults and police bureaucracy and family history, all of it as stage dressing for the story of a man covered in blood who isn’t sure if he should laugh or scream and is wondering if he really wants to be free of this curse.
IC: Scott is the main character of the series, a family man, police officer, and weapon…What’s the most interesting or resonant aspect of his character?
WALTER: Got to be the family. Mostly for selfish reasons. Drawing capes, claws, and buildings is a great deal of necessary fun, but I found that I enjoyed being able to break that up with domestic scenes. Plus, the family is, in my view, the heart of the book and the thread holding it all together. Even if I would nearly rather grind glass with bare hands than draw children, it was a rewarding challenge.
SEBELA: The part that resonated with me most was this idea that Scott is trying to make himself a better person, and dealing with the question of if the potential to be a good person is still within him or if he’s just faking it as best he can. Scott had a pretty messed up childhood, which we’ll get into in the book, and he did his best to build a perfect life to make up for it. He’s got all the trappings: a wife, a daughter, a job that puts him in a position of authority and that he’s good at, a city he loves. Then Scott managed to screw it all up with drinking and cheating and corruption.
He fell down the hole but his family rode it out, he didn’t lose his job, his partner stuck by him, and he came back from it, living up to his promises to everyone that he could be that man again. But what if he’s not that man? What if that’s the mask he wears for the world and all the ugly stuff that threatened to wreck his life is his truest self, who he’s meant to be. That’s what really hooked me when I first got onboard and it’s that question I hung onto through the whole run.
IC: Niko, DEMONIC splits the difference between supernatural thriller and a realistically rendered police drama. How do you balance those two sides of the story in terms of visuals? Are you looking ot anything for inspiration? Some of the layouts are especially fascinating, particularly when you move away from using the grid. What are you trying to get across with these scenes? How do you know when’s the right time to go for the more dynamic layouts?
WALTER: There’s a funny thing that happens when your hobby becomes your profession—suddenly all your long gestating, carefully crafted notions about technique, layout, and so forth start lining up against a wall and before you know it you have blood on your shoes and your fingers are black with powder. I had all these ideas about what I liked or didn’t like and would or wouldn’t do.
And then…I got a script and a deadline. Forget it. That was a challenge that, along with a few others, forced me toward the layouts you mentioned.
1) I love working on a grid. If I had my druthers, it would be very rare for me to break it. Yet, I had thought, possibly erroneously, readers may get bored with what was more or less a fairly fixed grid. Too little spice?
2) The Scott/Demonic divide was what I was latching onto in the first few issues. How do I show that split, and further, how do I show the havoc it was causing him internally? I attempted to create this divide by stepping away from the grid when Demonic was the focus of a scene.
3) I image-searched the original DEMONIC and saw a handful of Joe Benitez pages. Coupling what I saw there with the desire to visually split Scott and Demonic, along with childhood memories of Marc Silvestri’s comics (who was also involved in the Pilot Season version), I thought it might fun to honor the ’90s Image Comics aesthetic that they brought to mind. Again, this manifested primarily in the layouts.
4) I did make some attempts at distinguishing between Scott and Demonic beyond layouts. Largely by spotting fewer blacks when focusing on Scott, as well as a few other little things. This also plays into the question of balance. In most instances, I endeavored to use the same principles to distinguish the police from the supernatural. Dan Brown’s wonderful colors really amplified this.
5) I discarded a lot of my old notions. Before DEMONIC, when I drew something, I designed it to my strengths and comforts. If I had an idea that hinged on something especially difficult for me to draw, like horses or a car chase, I could choose not to do it. Or change it as needed. Suddenly, that option was gone. Everyday I get up and pull on my pants. Right leg, left leg. Two, maybe three, times in my life, I got the order backwards. Left leg, right leg. Nearly fell on my face. It’s a bit like that. As for inspiration, certainly there are those artists who loom enormous in my mind and inform my approach at a rudimentary and almost unconscious level. However, I’m not certain that any of them came through with any real vigor, as they are beyond my reach. Considered further, I suppose that the scripts themselves contained much of the inspiration. All of the guideposts are laid out with clarity. Throw in the library of terrific comics that Skybound has put out, along with a great team (Chris, Dan, Sal Cipriano, Sean, Arielle Basich), I had no choice but to be inspired.