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Brandon Seifert: The Witch Doctor Is In

A comics interview article by: Adam Watson
Brandon Seifert has making waves in the comics community with his comic, Witch Doctor. Although he is new to the comics scene, Brandon has quickly earned the respect of industry pros and fans alike. The first issue of Witch Doctor is now available. Jimmie Robinson, creator of Bomb Queen, described it best when he stated, "Witch Doctor is brilliant! A prescription for what's ailing comics today -- a dose of good storytelling." I recently got the chance to interview Brandon and find out more about the series..

Adam Watson: What got you interested in comics? Do you remember the first comic you ever read?

Brandon Seifert: I have random memories of reading comics at a very young age -- I've got a very vivid snapshot memory of picking up an issue of DC's Blue Devil in the house I spent my childhood in, and when I lived in Norway for a year when I was five years old I remember the newsstand editions of The Phantom, the old pulp hero. (But those were in Norwegian, which I couldn't read -- I must've just looked at the pictures.)

I really got into comics in middle school -- I got into Marvel's Darkhawk series right when it started (which was ideal, because I was there on the ground floor for a character who was supposed to be only a few years older than me). But what really cemented my flighty interest in comics was the Fabian Nicieza/Mark Bagley run on New Warriors from Marvel. It was quite sophisticated as far as superhero comics went at the time, more so than the Darkhawk and Amazing Spider-Man issues I was reading. (Incidentally, hearing that Marvel was relaunching New Warriors was what got me reading comics again in college.)

AW: What comics do you currently read? Are there any authors you feel you are inspired by?

BS: I'm reading a lot of independent stuff right now. I used to be a big Marvel man, but the crossovers of the last few years -- which I haven't cared for -- have driven me away. I still really like a couple Marvel titles -- Nova is consistently excellent, and I really like the new Astonishing X-Men.

I read a lot of Dark Horse, Oni and Avatar books. Scott Pilgrim is definitely my favorite comic yet this decade. I'm also a big fan of Corey Lewis (Scottknife) and Brandon Graham (King City, Multiple Warheads), and I'm looking forward to getting to play with that aesthetic.

I read all the Hellboy-related series. Mike Mignola is a big influence on me, which really just started this last year when Lukas and I started thinking about Witch Doctor (Lukas was a big Mignola fan, and now I am too).

My two biggest influences, as far as writing goes, are probably Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis. I also love Ed Brubaker, and this summer I got really heavily into Matt Fraction.

AW: How did Witch Doctor come about?

BS: I met Lukas a couple times in early '07, and I've always been a fan of his art. We're both from Alaska and we both do some work for the newspapers up there (I write articles, he mostly does covers), and we ended up getting paired together on a cover story I wrote for the Anchorage Press. I really liked the cover he did, which was this very Gorillaz-kind of stylized thing, and the next time I saw him I asked if he liked comics, and if he might be interested in doing one together.

"Non-committal" doesn't begin to describe his response.

A few months later I'd just gotten back from a month working in Alaska, and I'd come up with a comic story I wanted to pitch to him. So I was planning on e-mailing him -- and then the day I got back, I ran into him at Powell's Books in Portland, and he goes, "I've been meaning to e-mail you! Do you want to do a comic together?"
So clearly it was meant to be.

We met up a few times and batted some ideas and influences around, and the idea for Witch Doctor is the one that really stuck. Pretty quickly into it I think we both started seeing the potential that it could be really different, and good, and play in a bunch of worlds we each really like.

AW: Can you tell us a little about what Witch Doctor is about?

BS: Next up we'll be introducing "Witch Doctor's Office," which is the umbrella title for very short Witch Doctor stories. The first Witch Doctor's Office story is an eight-pager called "Rock, Paper, Scalpel," and it introduces one of my favorite characters in the Witch Doctor setting, Absinthe O'Riley. Abby's an "arcane archaeologist," and she's a kick in the pants -- imagine if John Constantine was in Indiana Jones' line of work, only female and played by Audrey Hepburn. Yeah. She rocks.

Abby O'Riley is the director of the Museum of Supernatural History in San Francisco, and she's come to Morrow with a problem: One of the Museum's security golems is acting up. It's a fun little story, and since the Witch Doctor's Office eight-page format turned out to be so easy and fun for me to write, we may do more of those soon. Specifically there's a story about changelings that ends up spotlighting Penny Dreadful, and one about the Navajo idea of Ghost Sickness I want to do...

After that, we've got a full-length story called "Haunted Housecall," which is our take on poltergeists. I've come up with what I think is a pretty different, interesting take on poltergeists that plays on our cosmology. Plus, it's our first real chance to get a bit deeper into our three core cast members and see how they interact. "Haunted Housecall" also introduces our new one-page back-up feature "Sick World," in which Dr. Morrow gets to break the fourth wall and teach our readers about the real-life stuff each of our stories are based on.

We've got a number of ideas for other short stories and oneshots, as well as quite a few miniseries and longer story arcs. (For instance, this week I came up with a story where Morrow has to destroy a fantasy kingdom.) But the miniseries' are going to have to wait until we've gotten ourselves a publisher. (Unless finding a publisher takes too long, in which case we intend to just go ahead and publish them ourselves in our free time.)

AW: When will we find out what Penny Dreadful is? Is that something you will be delving into in the immediate future or are you saving that one for further down the road?

BS: We'll be hinting pretty strongly at Penny's origin in "Haunted Housecall," but in a way that's probably just going to peak people's curiosity rather than sate it... which is really the point. We'll properly establish what Penny is, on a surface level anyway, as soon as we have the space to do it justice. But really, not even Dr. Morrow knows for sure exactly what Penny is and what her capabilities and intentions really are, so this is going to be a recurring question throughout our stories.

Speaking of Penny, I should mention that she's going to look really different the next time we see her.

Since Lukas and I have always treated First Incision as our "demo," less a Witch Doctor story outright than a proof-of-concept of what a Witch Doctor story would be *like*, we've felt like we have the freedom to retool pieces of it that could be better (Although our readers may disagree with us on that. We'll see...).

Penny turned out to be the one thing people had the most trouble with about First Incision -- they didn't get what she was supposed to be dressed like ("Is she a cheerleader?"), what her role in the story was supposed to be, or why she looked so much more flamboyant than anyone else in the story. And that kind of pointed out the problem with the design to Lukas and me -- it turned out neither of us were really happy with it either, and it wasn't actually doing what I'd expected it to do in the first place. So Lukas has redesigned her, taking her in more of a J-horror direction visually, and grounded her more in the look of the rest of the series. Hopefully the contingent of our readers who immediately loved Penny will forgive us the changes and will agree with us that she works a lot better the new way.

AW: Will there be any other cast changes between First Incision and the main storyline? I can fully grasp what you are doing. It's like First Incision was a pilot episode.

BS: A pilot episode is a good way of looking at it too. That may actually be the best way to describe it in fact. I come from a music background -- I'm a music journalist -- so I think of it as a demo album. Some of the songs on the demo you might never play again, and others you might totally retool; it's just there to get your foot in the door. The difference is that we set our demo/pilot loose in the real world.

As far as other changes, Morrow's design is getting refined some more. Since we released First Incision I've noticed so many other characters in a similar coat, so we're tweaking the lines of his jacket some, giving him something that's a cross between a surgical coat and a priest's cassock. Doctor-priest has always been the look I've envisioned for Morrow, so I'm pretty happy with the new direction.

Other than that, things are staying pretty much the same. We aren't going to declare First Incision out of continuity or anything -- it still happened, and it happened just the way you saw it, but Penny looked significantly different while it was happening.

AW: Where can readers purchase Witch Doctor?

BS: Portland readers can buy Witch Doctor at Floating World Comics, Cosmic Monkey Comics and Excalibur Comics and Books. It's also on sale in me and Lukas' home state of Alaska at Bosco's Comics on Spenard in Anchorage and The Comic Shop in Fairbanks. There may still be a copy or two at the Danger Room in Olympia, Washington. And First Incision is available through international mail order at Seppuku Comics.

AW: You mentioned you have a background in music journalism, what papers/magazines have you worked for and how is writing comics different?

BS: My other career is freelance journalism. I write mostly for alt-weeklies -- Willamette Week in Portland and the Anchorage Press in Alaska -- but I've written for a number of papers, a couple small magazines, and a few websites, including Comic Book Resources and Buzzscope/PopCultureShock. I mostly do arts and culture journalism, especially music and comics topics, but I've done political and science/technology reporting too.

There's a number of things that are applicable to most any writing -- a sense of pacing, being able to start a story in an interesting place and end it in an appropriate place, making sure you stay true to the characters in the piece as you see them. Those are skills I picked up doing journalism that have definitely helped in writing comics; plus I like to have some sort of narrative running through the longer pieces I do. But even then, a feature article that tells a story with a beginning, middle and end is a pretty vestigial narrative compared to something like comics. I'm having to learn a different way to structure my writing to write scripts, and though it's felt pretty natural so far, my journalistic sensibilities can tend to creep through. I like to throw a hell of a lot of research into my stories, in the form of big heaps of exposition. Mercifully, it makes sense to do that in Witch Doctor.

AW: Since your background is music, I have to ask: If Dr. Morrow were real, what bands would he be listening to?

BS: I think Morrow would listen to a pretty diverse mix of old and new music -- Nina Simone, Tom Waits, The Cure, Cab Calloway, Leonard Cohen, The Pixies, plus a hefty chunk of contemporary chamber pop, dark folk, and dark cabaret, underground West Coast musicians like Jason Webley, Loch Lomond, Vermillion Lies, The Builders and the Butchers, stuff like that.

... Then again, I just described one segment of my own personal music collection. I'm curious what answer Lukas would give for this. (I imagine he'd back me up on the Tom Waits if nothing else.)

AW: In a short amount of time you and Lukas have managed to create quite a buzz in this area for a book that was not solicited through Diamond. What do you attribute this to? Is there any particular marketing strategy that you think worked well for the two of you?

BS: My marketing strategy was pretty simple: Show people Lukas' art. That usually seems to do the trick. The boy can draw.

Beyond that, I can't say we really had a strategy. Really, it was just me posting about it places where I thought our future readership might live -- message boards for comics creators, Warren Ellis' forum, stuff like that. Evidently I guessed pretty well. The reaction has been way, way better than I was even hoping for, let alone expecting.

Having the book itself in our hands and releasing it at the Stumptown Comics Festival in Portland this spring helped a lot too. Portland's got more comics creators than possibly anywhere outside of NYC, and more per capita than NYC, and they're really accessible. Really, the professional and amateur comics community have turned out to be our biggest supporters, and they've been great about spreading the word about our book and trying to help us out in any way they can with it.

AW: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

BS: As far as superpowers go, I'm very much a flight man. I've had very, very vivid flying dreams throughout my whole life, and between them and the one time I got to go skydiving, flying is definitely where my heart lives. Though honestly I'd like to have Namor's power set: flight, and the ability to swim down and explore the wreck of the Titanic? Sign me the hell up.

AW: Any advice for aspiring creators?

BS: Stop aspiring and go create. If you're an artist, find a writer to team up with; if you're a writer, find an artist. Make something together you can use as a portfolio piece, something short that you can focus on doing well. Put your money where your mouth is.

Looking back on it, I feel like Lukas and I stumbled on one of the easiest ways into the industry. We vowed to put something together, came up with a good concept, got it out when we said it was going to come out, and made it pretty good. We released it for cheap to make sure it got in as many hands as possible, and then we turned around and looked at what we could've done better and started thinking about our next project. It showed editors and other creators we were serious and we could get the work done, and it showed readers we had something interesting to say. Six months later we've got publishers who've opened the doors for us to pitch to them, and a couple of editors who are actively looking for work to give us. And it's only right now been a full year since I first told Lukas, "I've got this idea for a horror/medical drama comic..."

Make something. Make it good. Make it short. Get it out there. Point it out to people. If you build it -- and it's good -- they will come. If it isn't good enough? Make something new that's better.

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