When they signed on with Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment in 2011 to release their own Image Comics series "Witch Doctor," creators Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner were at the middle of a Cinderella story -Â albeit one with more blood, guts and ectoplasm. Their concept of an M.D. who diagnoses everything from possessions to hauntings to demonic parasites with mystical medical know how went from self-published one-shot to highly touted mini series fast. But as the team soon learned, keeping that momentum going was more challenging than they imagined.
Now, when "Witch Doctor" makes its return to comic shops nearly a year after the last story (a one-shot subtitled "Resuscitation") came out, the series isn't just bringing a more personal horror for the doctor but a more seasoned, dedicated creative team as well. Shipping November 28, "Witch Doctor: Mal Practice" is the latest six-issue mini series in the ongoing saga of Dr. Vincent Morrow, and Seifert explained that the long road to the release means that more stories should be coming bigger, faster and stronger.
"The first year that we were doing 'Witch Doctor' in 2011, the entire year was one really steep learning curve for both of us," the writer explained. "I was working four days a week as a security guard. I was getting all the e-mails that I needed to respond to for the comic on my lunch break. Lukas had done one 22-page comic previously and some other stuff that was shorter than that, but this was the first time he had to work on a full mini series. I think both of us drastically underestimated how much effort it took and how long it was going to take. So that first year was about getting our sea legs. Once we were done with that, things had gone smoother, and we have a better idea exactly what we were able to produce. I was able to scale back my hours at the day job, and that's freed me up to do a bunch of other comics writing."
Seifert said that his dedication to lettering the original series meant that his production duties on the book actually ended up taking longer than the writing, but today that time has hopefully paid off in readership. "It was something where I didn't want to split my focus too much. Basically, I didn't want my first graphic novel to represent anything less than my full attention. Once we got done with that and knew better how long it would take me to write scripts and Lukas to draw them, it became clear that the book was going to be off the shelves substantially longer than we'd expected. The plan had always been to do four issues and then take a two-month break before the 'Resuscitation' one-shot came out. Then it would be another two months, and the second mini series would start. But this series clearly didn't start in March because we were still figuring how long it all would take.
"It's now Skybound's policy that they don't solicit a series until the first three issues are drawn, which I think is great," he added. "I wish every publisher did that. At this point, we have four issues in the can. Lukas is working on issue five. Since it's a six-issue mini series, we can guarantee that it will ship on time. As a comics fan, I hate books that don't ship on time, and to whatever extent I have control of it, I never want that to happen with my work."
The writer has started to work across the comics continuum since then, crafting "Hellraiser" stories for BOOM!, some incoming "Doctor Who" work for IDW and a creator-owned series for Monkeybrain called "Spirit of the Law." But returning to "Witch Doctor" has been a priority for him and Ketner, and the "Mal Practice" series represents the next step in the book's long term evolution. "'Mal Practice,' rather than being a self-contained story is a six-parter. But it's not paced for the trade. Something special happens in each issue, but all of them add up to make a longer arc. It's definitely a conscious change in the storytelling style of the series.
"It's less a 'case of the week' thing," he said. "We've still got a lot of monsters, and even though the first mini was more focused on the monsters, there are more in the new series. Here, you've got more than one monster in any given issue. Now that we've established this world, let's screw with them. Let's give Morrow a really personal threat that he has to struggle against. We want to see what he's made of when he can't sit back and be detached and snarky about everything."
The core story of the book revolves around a case that Morrow doesn't just have to solve but has to save himself from. "After a regular day at the office, Morrow goes out at night to a bar, meets a girl and wakes up with no memory of what happened. Now he's trying to figure out whether he had a one night stand or if it was an assassination attempt or if he's infected with a supernatural disease or what. That's a springboard for the entire six-issue story. It's basically the worst 36 hours of his life.
"We're bringing back a lot of the characters you've met already," Siefert said, including the bathtub gin making demonologist who's appearance in "Resuscitation" raised eyebrows. "Catrina is definitely in there. She's one of my favorite characters, and it was great to bring her in more. If people read 'Resuscitation,' they got to meet Catrina for the first time, but there's a lot of stuff in that issue that was setup which you probably didn't realize was setup. Things that seemed like random details we mentioned were not random at all. They were all set up to pay off in this series. 'Resuscitation' was more of a prologue to this series than a coda to the first volume."
Seifert explained that writing a character who's supposed to be brilliant is still a challenge, but with more lead time for this book and more experience under his belt, the results have shaped up sharper than he expected. "I have to be one step ahead of this person who's very smart. But on the other hand, in this situation, he's gone off completely wrong-footed, and he has to play catch up. None of his usual securities are there. He doesn't know what's going on. He's not emotionally detached. So he's operating at a disadvantage. And that makes things a lot easier for me.
"This mini still took a lot of research and planning, but the things that Morrow figures out the easiest are problems I had to puzzle over for hours or sometimes days. It took me weeks to figure out the finale of this series, and once I had it, I went 'Of course! That's what Doctor Morrow would do!' Once I had that, there was no other possible way to end the mini series, but it took me a long time to figure it out. Hopefully that'll be true for the readers as well."
The writer said that his artist has risen to the challenge as well. "I feel like this is me finding my drive, and looking at Lukas' pages for the first four issues, you can see him level up. He was great to begin with, but he's even better now. We've been working on this so long with no one seeing this, and we're really excited for it to see the light of day."
Overall, Seifert expressed optimism that he and Ketner would be able to tell stories with Dr. Morrow for years to come and that despite the setbacks that delayed "Mal Practice" until now, the quality of the work had earned them fans. "We wanted people to read the first issue and get a satisfying story so they'd trust us enough to follow us along into a two-part story or even a six-part story. Now, I feel like we've done #0, a four-issue mini and then a one-shot. We've got a fanbase now. We have people who love our comics to a startling extent. Yesterday, somebody forwarded me a link to Amazon where somebody has made a cosplay version of Doctor Morrow's sword and is selling it! That's not anything we expected, but now that we have people willing to follow us, the time is right to do a longer narrative.
"Honestly, our original intention was to do a series of mini series," he said. "But we really didn't realize how long it was going to take to produce them. One series a year is not optimal. I have Robert [Kirkman] telling me that it's hard to build buzz around a series that only comes out four to six times a year. At this point, we know we want the series to continue, but it's a matter of how we'll do it after this mini series. Do we continue doing minis? Do we bring on more artists and have Lukas trade off with someone for story arcs? To be honest, that's up in the air right now. The intention has not worked quite the way we thought it was going to when Lukas and I had no actual experience producing comics yet."
But one way or another, they remain dedicated to "Witch Doctor" having a long life with the undead.
"Witch Doctor: Mal Practice" #1 ships to comic shops November 28 from Image/Skybound.