Brandon Seifert Prescribes a Double-Dose of Horror and Humor with Witch Doctor: Mal Practice

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When Robert Kirkman selects your book as the first property to be published under his Skybound Entertainment imprint, you have to know you’re doing something right. Last year creators Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner found themselves in that exact situation, thanks to their efforts on Witch Doctor, a medical-occult thriller that tickled the funny bone even as it twisted your gut into knots. With its macabre original premise, quirky characters, and robust, classic art style, Witch Doctor captured the imaginations of fans and critics alike, garnering an Eisner nod for Ketner’s emerging artistic talent and smashing the sales expectations for a new series.

Fresh off the launch of Witch Doctor: Mal Practice and his web comic Spirit of the Law with up-and-coming artist Michael Montenat, Seifert joined Broken Frontier for a quick consultation, taking the opportunity to clear up confusion about the current series’ title.

“I should clarify — the reason the second Witch Doctor miniseries is called 'Mal Practice' instead of “Malpractice” is it’s not about lawsuits. “Mal Practice” is a Latin pun,” Seifert reminds us. “But I clearly should’ve thought the title through a bit more before I suggested it... because I’m seeing people mistake it for “Malpractice” constantly.”

Despite the confusion over the title, Seifert and Ketner’s creator-owned cult hit stands poised to once again cut us all to the quick with the razor-sharp urgency of a surgical laser.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Witch Doctor was one of the best-reviewed/well-received series of 2011-12. For a lot of us, the series seemed to come out of nowhere but it was actually in development for quite some time. When did you and Lukas first sit down together to lay the foundations for Witch Doctor?

BRANDON SEIFERT: Well, on one level, it did kind of come out of nowhere. Witch Doctor was the first comic I made, and the first comic Lukas made too — so it’s not like we’d been around the industry before that.

I met Lukas in 2007, and that autumn we started talking about doing a comic together. But we weren’t planned on doing an ongoing, or even a miniseries. All we were going to do was one 16-page story, to use as a portfolio piece to try and get other comics work. But the story we decided to do was the first Witch Doctor story... and really quickly we both realized we were onto something good, and we’d be stupid not to run with it. And my mama didn’t raise no stupid children.

We self-published that first 16-page story, Witch Doctor: First Incision, in April 2008. We ended up getting a lot of attention for it, and Lukas got some other work from Dark Horse. In spring 2009 we self-published another story,“Witch Doctor: New Strains, which was eight pages long. Then that summer Robert Kirkman contacted us about bringing the book to Image Central — which turned into our debut as the launch title from his Skybound imprint, which he announced in summer 2010. Then the first issue came out in summer 2012. So, while on the one hand Lukas and I really did come out of nowhere... we’d been working hard to come out of nowhere for several years beforehand!

BF: When a book hits as big as Witch Doctor did so early in one’s career, how does it change your approach to the business of comics? How about the craft?

SEIFERT: You know, I’m honestly not sure how to answer that. I’m sure having a success right out of the gate with WD changed my approach to things... but that’s a hard thing to pin down. I can say, though, that I’ve had to do a huge amount of growing in public because of Witch Doctor's success. There’s definitely been a pressure to, if not improve, then to at least make sure I don’t hit a “sophomore slump” or something.

BF: In the first volume of Witch Doctor, you revealed Dr. Morrow is the current wielder of Excalibur and plays the role of saviour in a future global supernatural crisis. Are there any plans to develop this plot thread in Mal Practice?

SEIFERT: Honestly, there’s a bit of development on that front — but it’s not the focus of the series by any means. The whole “Relapse” apocalypse plot with the Archaeons — our versions of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones — was always intended to be just one of a bunch of plot threads that would play out over time as the series went on. So while the Mal Practice miniseries ties into it, and will shed some new light on it by the end of the series, it’s not a big element. We’ve got a bunch of other stuff to cover instead!

BF: The role of archetypal hero would seem to be an awkward fit for Morrow. Witch Doctor is a series that revels in juxtaposing opposing themes such as science vs. the supernatural; hero vs. antihero etc. How much of the thematic sparring was intentional?

SEIFERT: Some of it, definitely. The Science/Supernatural dichotomy was very intentional. And the design of our core cast is very intentional — it’s a horror/medical drama so we’ve got Eric Gast, who represents the medical/scientific side, and then Penny Dreadful, who represents the horror side. And then Doc Morrow, who straddles the two. The hero/antihero thing wasn’t that intentional. I’m just more interested in antiheroes or reluctant heroes than I am in people who genuinely want to spend their time being nice to people.

BF: What kind of research does one embark upon in preparation for a Witch Doctor story? What’s the strangest thing you’ve come across in your research?

SEIFERT: Most of the research for Witch Doctor was front-end stuff. I did a huge amount of reading about medicine, biology and folklore when we were first starting the project. But at this point, I’ve got enough weird information in my head that I don’t have to do a lot of reading for each individual story. For the Strigoi infection in Mal Practice #1, for example, I did a quick once-over about the real-world parasite and the Eastern European folklore it’s based on — but that was just to make sure I had the details right. I’d come up with that monster years before writing the story. Same for most of the other monsters we’re going to see in the miniseries.

And there’s no way I could possibly tell you what the “strangest” thing I’ve found in my research is. Where would I start? If you want one example of something strange, there’s a lot of evidence accumulating that auto-immune disease can be treated by infecting people with limited doses of intestinal worms! Helminthic therapy. Look it up!

BF: While it’s well-established that you honed your writing skills under the tutelage of Brian Michael Bendis as both a student and teaching assistant, could you give us an update as to where the comics writing course stands? How successful was the course overall as a resource? How did it help your own development as a creator?

SEIFERT: I took Brian’s class in Spring 2010, shortly before Witch Doctor was announced as being set-up at Skybound. Then I T.A.ed for his class in Spring 2011, right before the first “WD” miniseries actually hit. So I’m not really a good person to ask about where the class stands.

I learned a lot in Brian’s class, and I had a great time. But it’s definitely geared more to people who are brand-new to comics writing, rather than people who have dabbled in it or who are working professionally in the industry. For me, that was actually good — I had basically no formal experience in fiction writing, so Brian’s class gave me the basis that I’d been lacking. I read McKee’s Story, Mamet’s On Directing Film and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics all for the first time, and I also saw a bunch of great documentaries and stuff that I hadn’t seen before — stuff like “Visions of Light” and “Comic Book Confidential.” Brian’s class is also awesome because of the industry guests he brings in. The first semester of the class, we got Matt Fraction, Diana Schutz and Jamie Rich, Jeff Parker, David Mack and Alex Maleev. Brian made sure we were not just hearing from writers, but hearing from artists and editors, too.

BF: Between Lukas Ketner and Michael Montenat, you seem to have an uncanny ability to attract ultra-talented up-and-coming artistic collaborators. What’s your secret?

SEIFERT: No secret! I just tend to notice artists who I think are good, whether or not they’re currently getting published. Lukas was somebody who was doing all these amazing covers and illustrations for local newspapers here in Portland — and it turned out he wanted to draw comics. And Michael Montenat was actually suggested to me by my friend Bob Schreck. Michael’s done a few comics here and there, stuff for IDW and Top Cow, but hasn’t gotten the opportunity to do a miniseries or an ongoing. And I think he’s super talented, so I wanted to work with him!

BF: Like Witch Doctor, your digital comic Spirit of the Law can trace its roots back to the pulp tradition, even if its lineage is much more direct. When did you first discover pulp fiction and to what do you attribute its ongoing allure for successive generations of audiences?

SEIFERT: Honestly, there are a lot of things in fiction that I find interesting intellectually, but that I don’t have any actual basis in. Like hero pulps. I like the idea of hero pulps, I’ve researched characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage — but I haven’t read any of the actual pulps, or even the current comics series based on them. So I’m not a very good person to ask that. For me I guess, the pulp heroes are interesting both for their similarities to superheroes — they’re larger-than-life characters who frequently fight crime using pseudonyms and disguises — and for their differences — they’re often non-powered or have low power levels, their outfits are more “down-to-earth,” their origins are harder for current audiences to take seriously, and they’re frequently more violent than most superheroes.

 BF: So far, fans have only been provided a little taste of Spirit of the Law. What are your plans for its further development?

Michael Montenat and I did the first Spirit of the Law sort of to test things out — to see how we liked working together, to see how it was putting comics     out digitally through MonkeyBrain, and to see how well the story went over. And everything ended up going really well. I’m really proud of Spirit of the Law, I think it       turned out great. So we’re definitely going to so more stories about the character — although we’re talking about doing another project together first.

BF: What’s next for Brandon Seifert after the current volume of Witch Doctor comes to a close?

SEIFERT: Witch Doctor: Mal Practice ends in May. Between now and then, my current Hellraiser miniseries, Hellraiser: The Road Below, is going to wrap up — and the second issue of my Doctor Who two-parter is going to come out from IDW. And in February, BOOM! is launching the new Hellraiser ongoing series, Hellraiser: The Dark Watch — and I’m co-writing it with Clive Barker. So that’ll still be going when Mal Practice wraps.

I’ve also got a couple of other projects going on right now that I can’t talk about. One of them is a new creator-owned miniseries, which could potentially be launching this summer. And I have plans to do more MonkeyBrain stuff between now and summer, whether it’s with Michael or with other artists!


BF: And finally, I gotta ask…Ever sued anyone for malpractice?

SEIFERT: Ha! No, not me. I think Lukas might have, though. But he’s spent a lot more time in hospitals than I have.

Published monthly by Image/Skybound, Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #2 hits shelves this Wednesday. Spirit of the Law is available online from Monkeybrain Comics.                                   

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