New writer and former Bendis student Brandon Seifert stops by the Outhouse to talk about Witch Doctor, his new Horror/Medical Drama comic!
Brandon Seifert may be new to the comic book industry, but he's learned from the best. A former student and teaching assistant of Brian Bendis' comic writing class at Portland State University, Brandon has exploded into the comic book scene with Witch Doctor, a new miniseries illustrated by Lukas Ketner that takes showcases a sarcastic doctor examining and treating supernatural cases. The Outhouse sat down with Brandon to talk about Witch Doctor and his writing career.
The Outhouse: Brandon, this is your first soiree into the comic book industry as a writer. How did Witch Doctor come into fruition?
Brandon Seifert: A couple of years ago, I met Lukas and we decided to make a comic together, so we'd both have a portfolio piece to try and find work in the industry. The comic we came up with was WITCH DOCTOR, and we realized it was too good and too fun for us to not continue it.
OH: For those who haven't heard of the book, what's the general premise of Witch Doctor?
BS: WITCH DOCTOR is about a snarky antihero doctor who fights outbreaks of supernatural diseases — like vampires, zombies and demonic possession. He also studies supernatural biology, to try and find a "vaccine" for the apocalypse.
That's the story stuff. On a more conceptual level, the monsters in WITCH DOCTOR are all crossed with actual, disturbing things from real medicine and biology. We take something like a vampire, look at its different traits, and figure out just how it might work in the real world.
OH: What would you say the general tone of the book is? What sort of genre would you classify Witch Doctor as?
BS: We usually call it a "horror-medical drama," but the truth is, it's a cross-genre thing in the vein of Buffy, Doctor Who or Hellboy. The stories range in tone from horror to comedy to action to drama, depending on what Dr. Morrow is fighting.
OH: Your protagonist, Dr. Vincent Morrow, seems to be a mix of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Greg House with a dash of Dr. Strange mixed in for good measure. How did you come up with the character and in what ways do you feel he's unique?
BS: I'm not sure I've got a good answer for how I came up with the character. I think I just came up with his vague kind of description — "a loveable jerk doctor with a black sense of humor, who approaches the supernatural the way someone with a medical background would" — and Morrow was what came out when I started writing. I don't think I even knew his name when I started writing the first script.
I think the most unique thing about Morrow is the contradiction between the different parts of his character. To start with, we've got someone who's in a profession that's based on helping other people — a doctor — but who isn't by nature very caring or compassionate. On top of that, he's someone with a rigorous scientific background, who's now investigating magic, mythological creatures and "unexplainable" phenomena. He's also someone whose job it is to fight monsters, but he'd really rather study them and learn about them. He's not scared of them, he doesn't hate them — he thinks they're fascinating and beautiful. Scientists can talk about how gorgeous particles of the Smallpox virus are; Morrow's the same way about supernatural diseases.
OH: No doctor can operate well on his own. What sort of supporting cast does Dr. Morrow have and how will they factor into the book?
BS: Dr. Morrow's got two assistants, Eric Gast and Penny Dreadful. Like I said, we call WITCH DOCTOR a horror/medical drama, and Morrow's two supporting character represent those two different worlds.
Eric Gast is a paramedic and a former combat medic — so he's got a medical background, as well as an action background. He's got a calm head in a crisis, but he's handicapped by the fact that all this magic-and-monsters stuff is very foreign to him.
Penny Dreadful, on the other hand, is... we don't want to give away too much about her, because it's more fun to reveal it during the miniseries. But she's our refugee from a horror story. She doesn't have any medical background, but she's got certain physical and magical powers that make her very useful in Morrow's line of work. That doesn't mean her goals always match Morrow's, though — which is going to cause some conflict.
There's some other supporting characters we'll introduce in the first mini, but Eric and Penny are the big ones. They're Morrow's medical team.
OH: You use a lot of correct medical terminology in Witch Doctor. What sort of research did you do to prepare for coming up with medical terminology for magical creatures?
BS: I guess that stuff just kind of came out of the other research I've done for the series. I've had my entire brain immersed in weird medical books for several years, and in that stuff you get exposed to a lot of medicine and biology jargon. I steal bits of that which seem appropriate — an EMT friend introduced me to the idea of an "extracorporeal procedure" (a medical procedure that's performed outside the body, like dialysis), which just sounds like something a sorcerer would do on the astral plane. Other stuff I make up. I love coming up with fake Greek and Latin words — like "diablosis," which is infection by a demon — and there are some good word-search engines for that online.
OH: Issue #0 features a vampire as Dr. Morrow's patient. What other sorts of creatures will be popping up in Witch Doctor?
BS: In the first WITCH DOCTOR miniseries, we've got demonic possession, faerie changelings and some Lovecraft-y stuff.
Lukas and I want to use a variety of monsters from a variety of sources — folklore, mythology, religion, and modern and classic horror fiction. We've got biological takes in mind for everything from zombies to trolls to Chinese hopping vampires.
And then there's the WITCH DOCTOR version of "Twilight", which I'm pretty excited about. Bella's character in "Twilight" actually makes a lot more sense if she's infected with a parasite... but I better not spoil the details!
OH: Lukas Ketner brings an appropriately creepy tone to Witch Doctor. How did you find Lukcas and what has it been like working with him?
BS: Lukas and I are both Alaskans living in Portland, and inevitably we've both got a lot of friends in common, because those are both pretty small, tightly-knit places. We met a couple of times, and then we got paired up together by accident when a newspaper we both freelanced for commissioned him to do a cover illustration to go along with an article I wrote. I loved the cover he did, and hit him up about working together on something. I thought, if I was lucky, I could get him to draw an eight page story or something.
Apparently I'm much luckier than I realized!
OH: As a former student and T.A. of Brian Bendis, how much feedback have you gotten from him about Witch Doctor? What's the most important thing you learned from him?
BS: To be honest, I've never really gone to Brian about WITCH DOCTOR, apart from business advice. He's a very, very busy man, and I've always tried to respect that. When I was his student I just felt lucky to have him critiquing the assignments I turned in, and when I was his T.A. I didn't feel like it was my place to distract him from the people who were actually taking the class.
I don't know if I can actually pin down the most important thing I learned from Brian. I walked into Brian's class with zero formal education on fiction writing, and Brian introduced me to things like Robert McKee's "Story" and Mamet's "On Directing Film" that blew my mind. I think the most helpful things I learned in Brian's class were about story structure — and the most helpful things I learned from Brian himself were about the craft of collaboration. My approach towards working with Lukas completely changed after I took Brian's class... I don't know whether or not Lukas noticed, though!
OH: Final Question: If you had to convince readers to pick up Witch Doctor in fifty words of less, what would you tell them?
BS: Oof. Um. Yeah, end on an easy one.
Look. It's a Gregory House-type jerk doctor who fights and studies monsters. We're doing things to classic monsters that we've never seen done before, and we're doing them gleefully. And the art is gorgeous.
Also, there's shark-cage diving with the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
A special #0 issue of Witch Doctor can be found in Walking Dead #85, out this week whereever comics are sold. In addition Witch Doctor #0 can also be read digitally on ComiXology, which means that you can check it out on your phone, iPad or computer! Witch Doctor #1 hits stores June 29.
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer