Talking Comics with Tim | Brandon Seifert on ‘Witch Doctor’

Today marks the the release of the Witch Doctor: Mal Practice trade paperback, which collects Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation one-shot and Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1-6. Written by Brandon Seifert and illustrated by Lukas Ketner, the medical-horror series from Skybound/Image Comics follows Dr. Vincent Morrow, who specializes in supernatural diseases, frequently bringing him in contact with vampires, demons, changelings and the like.

In anticipation of the release, I contacted Seifert for a consult on the series (as well as to get his take on cursing in comics). If you want to read Witch Doctor #0, comiXology is offering the issue for free. Also, Seifert and Ketner will be at Portland Things From Another World (2916 NE Broadway St., Portland, Oregon) tonight for a Witch Doctor: Mal Practice release party.

Tim O'Shea: In this trade paperback-hungry market, how good does it feel to be at the TPB stage with Witch Doctor?

Brandon Seifert: Really good! Witch Doctor Vol. 2 has been in the works for a long, long time. Lukas started drawing the first issue in the trade in, I believe, October 2011, and I wrote it a month or two before that. So this TPB has been in progress for like a year and a half, year and three quarters! It’s great to finally have it done and on sale. And the edition itself turned out great!

Doc has many weapons at his disposal, but how is it that you came up with the idea of his rather unique umbrella?

I don’t really remember at this point. Putting a circle of protection inside an umbrella so you could move it around easily just seemed like an obvious idea to me. In retrospect, though, it’s not super “medical” — I try to avoid using magic that you could see in a different paranormal comic like Constantine or Doctor Strange or whatever. I want magic in Witch Doctor to all be filtered through the medical/biological metaphor we’re working with. So if I had to do it over again, I may have come up with a different form for the circle of protection to take.

What is it about the art of Lukas Ketner that made him right for Witch Doctor? Can you single out a favorite Ketner scene from the new collection?

Lukas has a bunch of strengths to his art. He can do horror, he can do great, funny humor, he draws great body language and expressive faces — and he’s got an amazing imagination for monsters! Witch Doctor was really heavily tailored to Lukas’ strengths as an artist — so it’s less that Lukas was right for Witch Doctor, and more that we made Witch Doctor right for Lukas.

As for a favorite scene Lukas drew in the new collection ... that’s pretty hard. But one of my favorites is definitely our weird “Doctor Strange meets Fantastic Voyage” sequence.

Not every horror comic features a character like Eric, dealing with PTSD (from his military days). Did you hesitate to tackle such a real-world issue in a story of this nature?

Nope. Not in the slightest. My only frustration is that I wish we’d dealt with it more quickly, and in more detail!

When you first introduced Catrina, had you always envisioned bringing her back down the road?

Yeah, the intention was that she’d be a recurring foil/love interest for Morrow. I didn’t have specific plans for how to bring her back — but I knew we would.

I am curious to know the philosophy on how you handle cussing in the book. Characters cuss, but the offending words are blacked out.

A lot of people seem to have trouble with that — but I’ve seen it in lots of comics, including the All-Star titles from DC and some Marvel titles. I want to include profanity in my comics, because it’s how a lot of people talk — but if we actually print the naughty words, that automatically means some stores will start polybagging Witch Doctor issues as “Mature Content,” and some other stores won’t carry it at all. And since if I have a character say “**** you!” in a comic, everyone who reads it knows exactly what that actually means, so actually showing the swearing isn’t super-necessary — in my opinion.

I like the balance of adventure/horror and humor in Witch Doctor. How do you gauge if a scene can handle humor (without upsetting the pacing) and are there certain storytellers' senses of humor that have helped shape your own.

I don’t really have a specific rubric for the humor. I just play it all by ear. Some scenes can take a lot of humor; but some others, I’d totally ruin if I even put a single joke in. All depends on the tone the scene needs, what it’s trying to accomplish.

As far as senses of humor that have shaped my writing, there’s bits of Joss Whedon, Warren Ellis and Steven Moffat. Some others, too, but those are the big ones.

Beside the doctor himself, of course, which character do you find most challenging/enjoyable to write?

Penny took me the longest time to get a basic handle on. After that, Eric took even longer to fine-tune — initially he was way too much of the wide-eyes straight man, so I dialed up his cynicism and his sarcasm and he started working better. Now he’s one of my favorites to write.

Some horror series work best in black and white, while others benefit from color. Was it important to you to do Witch Doctor in color?

Definitely. We did the first couple self-published Witch Doctor stories in black and white. They work a whole lot better in color.

Not to spoil anything, but at one point the doctor solves a problem with his own urine. How long had that gem of a scene been rolling around in your head before you finally worked it into the story?

It never got a chance to roll around in my head. One thing I like to do with Witch Doctor is back Doc Morrow into a corner, and then figure out how he’d get himself out of it. I came up with the whole scenario — which is based on actual events here in Portland — and then started trying to figure out how to fix it. It took me a little while to come up with the solution — but when I finally did, it just seemed so obvious.

What's on the horizon for you creatively? 

Right now Clive Barker and I are still co-writing the Hellraiser: The Dark Watch ongoing series from BOOM! Studios. I’ve also got several other series I’m working on, both my own creations and other peoples — but unfortunately it’s too soon to talk about any of them!

One of the Watchmen Just Quietly Joined the Justice League

More in Comics