"Arrow" star John Barrowman and writer Erika Lewis have been collaborating for years, dating back to when Barrowman was a host on various G4 shows. Their newest project is "The 49th Key," a new comic drawn by J.K. Woodward and published by "Heavy Metal" that mixes historical fact with fiction and is currently being developed as a TV miniseries which Barrowman will star in. CBR TV's Kiel Phegley welcomed Barrowman and Lewis aboard the world famous CBR Floating Tiki Room at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss "The 49th Key," its real-world origins, how Barrowman collaborates with writers like Lewis and his sister Carole, and trying to make the story live up to what "Heavy Metal" signifies for readers. They also discuss the magic and inspiring nature of Comic-Con, teasing yet another new story they came up with during the show.
The conversation begins with a discuss of how Lewis and Barrowman met, their work at G4 and how it ultimately led to them working on a comic book together in the form of "The 49th Key." Lewis then discusses her time living in Europe, the museums she would visit and how seeing John Dee's artifacts became the genesis of this story.
On how Lewis got into the story's historical aspects:
Erika Lewis: I started to see all of John Dee's artifacts with Edward Kelley. ... I started to do a lot of research and the interesting thing about John Dee, first off, I don't know if anybody knows this but they actually believe that 007 was John Dee and Queen Elizabeth was Q, but in our story John Dee, in truth, was one of Queen Elizabeth's first appointees to the Privy Council. He predicted she would get to the throne, Mary had him imprisoned in the tower and Elizabeth immediately released him when she took over. When he got and he didn't want to be, you know, stuck in a castle anymore, he left and hooked up with this first documented medium named Edward Kelley. So Edward Kelley is the one who could hear these voices and he would set up these crazy boards with pentagrams and they had scrying stones, which were the fortune telling balls. Basically, he would hear these vibrations and noise and sounds and John Dee translated it into a language called Enochian. And all of this is real history, all of this is documented, and they believed they were hearing the voices of angels. They dictated these 48 keys -- messages, essentially, is what they meant about living a good life and sort of these godly things, and then they predicted the 49th key would open the gates to wisdom and understanding. So this is a story of the 49th key.
The way this story is woven in, it's about a kid who's been lost here at a very young age and pretty much raised in our, let's call it slightly violent society who then is found or connected to one of Edward Kelley's descendants, Rhett Kelley, who also hears these voices but doesn't talk about it because he doesn't want to end up in a mental institution. It's about his journey to take this kid home. Ultimately, what our world -- and it's a very violent journey on the way home -- and ultimately what ends up happening when the door to the other world is opened up and walked into.
In part two, Barrowman discusses how he works with writers like Lewis and his sister, Carole, with whom he has written the "Hollow Earth" series of books. Barrowman also explains what attracts him to creating stories and how he identified with superheroes growing up. The duo then discuss what "Heavy Metal" means to them now and growing up, and whether they adjusted their story to fit what the magazine was known for, as well as what role artist J.K. Woodward plays in living up to that standard.
On the creative process and identifying with super heroes:
John Barrowman: I just love the creative process. Comic-Con, for me, is like my nirvana, my singing orb. I was a kid like everybody else around here, I was a kid who was bullied and pushed around as a kid. I love the superhero world, I love the comic world because it would take me away from the real world I was in. I could identify not with the flaw, but with the superhero aspect of it, because I didn't think I was flawed. I wanted to do great things and that's how I identified with the superheroes. So for me to come here and be, like you said, recognized as an actor, a co-author, a producer, a TV producer, that's like heaven for me. It's wonderful, because that's everything that I've ever wanted to do and to be accepted by my peers -- and when I say that, I mean my geek peers -- I am thrilled. I'm totally thrilled.
On whether there was any pressure making the story worthy of the "Heavy Metal" brand:
Lewis: In this particular story, it's not that I don't strive -- I build the mythology that way, in making it crazy and different. I don't take "Heavy Metal" and say that I have to have naked people running around on all the pages or people getting stabbed every five seconds or whatever it is. I think that now, the way they're looking at things, especially with Grant Morrison there [as Editor-in-Chief] which is unbelievable, it's great. The story fits in so well in taking a mythology like this and making it accessible. This particular story, it doesn't fit with Marvel, it doesn't fit with DC, it's a different kind of a superhero. It's Indiana Jones meets "The Da Vinci Code" kind of with a sci-fi twist to it.
Barrowman: But having said that, if we find that in the future -- and I'm not being silly here -- the only way we can say it is if we find that the story lends itself to a man taking his top off, or a woman taking her top off, we're totally up for it. And they'll be hot!
Lewis: The wonderful thing about "Heavy Metal" now -- and I loved it as a kid. My brother had those magazines, it was the magazine that you sort of hid because you didn't want your mom to see it right away, because it did have some nudity in it.
Barrowman: It's geek porn! Come on, that's what it was. But it was good stuff! It was good.
Lewis: And the stories were crazy, and that's what I love about it. This story is very -- it's a big story, it's one that's gonna jump into a lot of places, and that's why I think the folks at "Heavy Metal"--
Barrowman: They're excited about it. It's gonna open up a new door for them, I think.
In the final installment of their conversation with CBR TV, Barrowman and Lewis explain the concept of "rubble," creating the worlds and stories they wish existed around them, and how Comic-Con inspires them both in terms of how it brings fans across the globe together and the creation of new ideas.
On creating whole new worlds and "rubble":
Barrowman: We can create these whole new worlds. We have a joke, Scott and I, my husband, we have a joke in our house, when we go on vacation we do three days of what is called "rubble." [Laughs] That's what I call it. It means going to like historic sights; going to visit rubble. And in the UK, there's a lot of rubble. But there's a lot of great rubble because it still exists; it's still standing. Whereas in a lot of other countries, you might have to dig a little bit, or they say, "Here's a wall that used to be here." What's great when you're writing stories, you can take that idea and you can draw upon it and create more because you have a little bit of artistic freedom.