Brandon Seifert puts on a monthly clinic in combining modern day action, fantasy and medical drama in the pages of "Witch Doctor." His lead character, Doctor Morrow, fits the classic archetype of the arrogant medial practitioner who is as good as he says he is, but unlike his modern day fictional MD contemporaries, Morrow deals in the fantastical and the supernatural. Joined by his assistant Eric Ghast, Morrow exorcises a demon out of a child, busts up an attempt by faeries to replace babies and goes on other adventures armed with a series of spells and the legendary Excalibur.
Written by Seifert and drawn by Lukas Ketner, "Witch Doctor" is the first title to be published under Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint at Image Comics not written by Kirkman himself. With the first four-issue miniseries having just wrapped, the first trade coming out in December and a one-shot titled "Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation" on the way, CBR News spoke with Seifert about the origins of Dr. Morrow, his relationship with Ketner and exactly how Kirkman discovered the book.
CBR News: You originally self- and web-published "Witch Doctor" -- how did you wind up packaging the book for Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint?
Brandon Seifert: Our goal, from when we put out the first "Witch Doctor" story, was to get the book picked up by a publisher. We started out by self-publishing in very small print runs -- both so we could have something to sell to try and build a fan base, and so we'd have a calling card for the project, something we could hand to editors. We also put the self-published "Witch Doctor" stories for free online, to make them as easy for people to see as possible.
We actually got a lot of attention from publishers, even before we finished the first story. We even got a couple of offers from other publishers before Skybound -- but then Robert Kirkman came along and made us the deal we couldn't refuse.
One day in summer 2009 I got an email from Robert, out of the blue. He'd seen a piece of Lukas' illustration work online, followed a link to his portfolio and discovered our "Witch Doctor" stories through it. That's the weird thing about the internet, and the great thing: You never know who might be watching!
Did anything change in your overall approach to the story when you moved to Skybound?
The only thing that changed on the story end was our plan for our first miniseries. Our original plan had been to start with a zombie outbreak story! Dr. Morrow vs. zombies! But when we signed with Robert "The Walking Dead" Kirkman, it quickly became apparent that starting like that would be a terrible idea. As our editor Sina put it – I think it was Sina -- "You need to earn your zombies!" So, "Witch Doctor" Vol. 1 was completely different from what we might have done for our first miniseries if we'd ended up with another company.
We're still planning to do that zombie story -- but we want to make sure we're solidly established as "not a 'Walking Dead' rip-off" before we do.
Is Robert very hands-on when it comes to the book, or does he let you do your own thing?
When we were first discussion signing with Skybound, Robert made it clear to us he wanted "Witch Doctor" because he liked it the way it was, not because he wanted to change things in it. He's always been really good about encouraging us to do what we want to do with the series, and we really appreciate his faith in us. He's there for us if we want advice or guidance, but he doesn't force it on us -- which is really nice!
During the Skybound panel at NYCC, you described Dr. Morrow as "Dr. House meets Dr. Strange." Was that how the concept first popped into your head?
Honestly, this all started with me thinking about characters like Professor van Helsing in "Dracula" and Doctor Strange. The "doctor who fights monsters" is really well-established in horror and fantasy fiction, but I didn't feel like I'd ever seen someone do the idea justice. Doctor Strange isn't a doctor. Despite his origin, he's just a generic magician. Van Helsing acted like a doctor in "Dracula" -- but only until he realized what they were actually fighting. Then it was all stakes and garlic and no scientific method.
"Witch Doctor" was basically a reaction to that -- an occult doctor who actually approached the supernatural the way someone with that background might. Who looked at monsters like vampires, zombies and werewolves and just saw more diseases. Weird diseases, sure, but diseases.
I've also always been a fan of the "Dr. Jerk" character, which you find in, like, every medical drama ever. There's a great contradiction in the character whose job it is to help you out, but who's a dick to you while he does it. I immediately knew I wanted Dr. Morrow to be that kind of doctor. "House M.D." actually wasn't a direct influence; it's just the most prominent example of a "Dr. Jerk" character in pop culture right now, so that's what we liken the book to.
What was behind the decision to go from a miniseries to a one-shot then back to a miniseries later next year?
Lukas and I always conceived of "Witch Doctor" as a series of miniseries', one-shots and short stories. We were very influenced by "Hellboy" and the way Mike Mignola traditionally published it.
Beyond that, it's become a bit of a necessity. Since "Witch Doctor" started, we've gotten a huge number of requests for us to make the book a monthly ongoing, but that's simply not possible for Lukas and I at this point. This is the first comic series for both of us, and neither of us have reached our optimal speed yet. We simply can't produce the book fast enough to make it an ongoing monthly. Instead, we're just going to produce as much material as we can and continue releasing chunks of it as frequently as we can, for as long as sales and Skybound let us!
"The Resuscitation" one-shot revolves around the urban legend of a person waking up in a bathtub thinking his kidneys have been removed. Did you start with the tale and then weave your story out of it?
Honestly, yeah, it started with the urban legend. One day, I just got this picture in my head of a guy waking up, thinking he was the victim of kidney theft, going to the hospital and finding out that his kidney hadn't been stolen, it'd been swapped for something else. After that, the questions were: What was it that his kidney got swapped for? And who -- or what -- did the swapping?
What are your plans after the one-shot comes out in December?
We've got another "Witch Doctor" miniseries coming out in the first half of 2012, so that's going to be my main focus. Besides "Witch Doctor," I'm also developing several other projects, but nothing that's been announced. Beyond that, I'm still not supporting myself on comics work, so I've still got a day job! I'm hoping I'll reach the point where it won't be necessary pretty soon.
The art on "Witch Doctor" is visually striking, and invaluable in achieving the stories' tones. How did you hook up with Lukas Ketner?
The story of how Lukas and I started working together is, honestly, pretty convoluted and circuitous. Basically, we're both from Alaska, and we live in Portland, and we have a lot of friends in common -- so it was inevitable that we'd end up meeting. I was a fan of his work from the album art he did for Portland's band of Alaskan expats, The Builders and the Butchers. We ended up getting paired together by a weekly newspaper; I wrote a cover story for them, and they brought him in to design the cover. After that, we started talking and eventually decided we'd do a comic together, something short for our portfolio. The story we did was the first "Witch Doctor" story, the one Robert saw online that ended up getting us signed by Skybound!
The first Witch Doctor trade will be coming out the week before the one-shot. What can fans look forward to in that collection?
"Witch Doctor Volume 1: Under the Knife" is going to have issues #1-4 of the first "Witch Doctor" miniseries, as well as the "Witch Doctor" #0 story that's previously only been available as a flipbook with an issue of "The Walking Dead" or as a digital comic through comiXology. There's also going to be an introduction by Robert Kirkman -- which I'm pretty excited about! -- and a sketchbook section with a bunch of art from throughout the four years Lukas and I have been working on this project.
"Witch Doctor Volume 1: Under the Knife" will be out on December 14, while "Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation" comes out on December 21, just in time for the holidays!