Students may notice a mysteriously dark-clad and masked Victorian-style horseman perched upon a futuristic metal steed at Salt Lake Community College.
While the horseman is simply a character on a poster, he is an eye-catching figure and leaves viewers with a curiously haunting feeling. Who is this masked man in his hat and long riding cape?
Meet the Devil’s Rider, a comic and novel character designed by SLCC adjunct professor Dennis Millard.
What motivated Millard, a classically trained artist and oil painter, to create such a grim, yet compelling character?
“I just wanted to do something steampunk,” says Millard, describing the term as a sub-genre of science fiction known as Victorian Futurism. “The Victorian era had a lot of mechanical devices, such as locomotives and flying machines. So when you bring that feeling into this age, we can even have steampunk in space exploration.”
Millard’s eyes widen when he reflects on the first times he used his oil painting to develop the Devil’s Rider.
His first hurdle was getting the metal horse just right. Millard conducted research by taking photos of horses and studying equestrian anatomy.
Next, he envisioned an unknown power source glowing wildly from within — like a fire burning through hot metal around the horse’s neck, withers, undergirth, and hind quarters. Millard says this source “gives the Rider power, as he is in control of this thing.”
Millard then focused his efforts on bringing the rider to life.
“I painted the face three or four times until I realized I didn’t want a face,” says Millard. He settled on a nondescript mask, like a hybridized character, which was somewhere between Zorro and Ghost Rider.
It was while painting the Devil’s Rider that his story began to unfold.
Backstory of the Devil’s Rider
While working the fields as a poor dirt farmer somewhere out west, tragedy struck him when renegades rode up and murdered his young family and set his home ablaze.
Discovering smoke billowing from his house, the farmer frantically tried to get back to rescue his family, but it was too late. Feeling the most helpless and horrific despair imaginable, the weeping farmer witnessed a shadowy figure walking confidently out of the fire.
It was none other than the devil himself, with a proposition to bestow the farmer with powers to avenge his family — if only he would sign his contract in blood. Thus, the Devil’s Rider was born.
Path to professional artist and teacher
When fans ask Millard how long it took him to create his poster, he is quick to quip, “It took me one week to paint the poster, but years of work leading up to that point.”
“I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was seven years old and that’s all I’ve ever been,” says Millard.
After fine-tuning his craft as a student, he moved to Los Angeles and became a professional freelance illustrator for Mattel, Honda, Yamaha, and Universal Studios. He was published in Time magazine, Newsweek, and National Geographic.
Upon moving back to Utah in the 80s, he worked for ten years for a major agency (landing their Intel account) before returning to freelance work.
As an adjunct professor in the Visual Art and Design Department, Millard teaches advanced illustration, drawing, Photoshop, and design.
To date, Millard sells his posters and promotes his concept at Comic Con-type events and venues across the country, while keeping watch for the right publisher. He expects this process to take at least a year, maybe longer.