EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The ‘Witch Doctor’ Is In – Seifert And Ketner Talk About The Biggest Debut In Horror Comics This Year!

This Summer might be one of the slowest in recent memory for the horror industry in film, and admittedly: that sucks. But luckily for horror aficionados, casual fans, and passers-by everywhere, the comic industry is still booming with new and interesting titles that are covered in the good ol’ blood n’ guts. However, out of all of the new upstarts that are hoping to find their footing this year, there are few that have even come close to being as unique and interesting as Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner’s upcoming “WITCH DOCTOR” from Robert Kirkman’s newly launched, Skybound Entertainment. The series which follows Doctor Vincent Morrow, Eric Gast, and Penny Dreadful is the first 100% original title to come from the new publisher, and with it it has brought along more buzz than a wicker mask over Nicolas Cage’s screaming head. Up until recently news on the title has been kept quiet, but now with just a few short weeks until the series debut the creative team behind then title took the time to sit down with me and discuss the book at length. Inside you can feast your eyes on the entire interview with Seifert and Ketner, where we cover everything from getting the series off the ground with Robert Kirkman (“THE WALKING DEAD”), the debut of issue #0 with “THE WALKING DEAD”, the series’ initial 4 issue run, and what lies ahead for Dr. Morrow and Co. Read on for the skinny…

&documentITHEoDEAD: “First off, thank you both for taking the time to do this interview with us. As most people know by now, “WITCH DOCTOR” is the flagship title from Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Publishing, and the first original title to come from the publisher. How did the two of you come into contact with Robert, and subsequently get “WITCH DOCTOR” off the ground with the company?”

Brandon Seifert: “Robert contacted us, actually.  Lukas, you want to tell that story?

Lukas Ketner: “In short, Robert saw an editorial illustration of mine online. A few years back during the 2008 election, I did a cover for the Willamette Week alt-weekly newspaper of Barack Obama rising from the Willamette river, glistening with his shirt open. It was a spoof on a harlequin romance novel cover (complete with white horse dashing through the surf), and it was meant to be a commentary on Portland’s love for the candidate (Google ‘Obama Lukas Ketner’ to see it). Robert saw this image, and followed a link from my art blog to the “WITCH DOCTOR” website. There, he was able to read our first self-published “WITCH DOCTOR” story, and like it enough to ask if we had a publisher. Robert Kirkman. One of a very short wish list of people we’d die to have take even a quick look at our book. Found it free to read online, read it, liked it. There’s a lesson here about never knowing who’s going to see your hard work when you put it where everyone can find it.

THEoDEAD: “I know that “WITCH DOCTOR” has been a story that the two of you have been hard at work on for quite some time. What was the inspiration behind bringing the story of Eric Gast, Dr. Morrow, and Penny Dreadful to life?”

Brandon Seifert: “There’s a few different things “WITCH DOCTOR” came out of.  Lukas and I are both big fans of series that blend horror and SF with other genres — Lukas loves The Goon, I love Buffy, and we both love Hellboy and Doctor Who.  Those are all series where you can do a variety of stories with a variety of tones, and “WITCH DOCTOR” is sort of our own personal equivalent.

More specifically, I love the idea of the occult doctor, the doctor who investigates the supernatural.  That’s an idea that’s been around almost as long as horror fiction, but I’d never seen it played straight.  I wanted to see a hero who approached monsters the way a doctor would, instead of being played as a generic monster hunter or mystic.  Lukas and I both love jerky, snarky anti-hero types, and we thought it’d be fun to make our occult doctor sort of a Dr. House type.  So that was another element.  The last thing, the final ingredient, was the monsters.  Pretty soon into thinking about “WITCH DOCTOR”, I realized the monsters all needed to be crossed with actual diseases and awful stuff from real biology.  For me, that’s when everything finally came together, and we had our comic.

Lukas Ketner: “Brandon mentioned Hellboy, which is a title that was created out of a desire to give it’s creator maximum satisfaction when it came to both the art and storytelling. This is our equivalent to that effort, our love letter to much of what we love to read and see ourselves. Ghostbusters is a good example; that was always one of my favorites as a kid, and “WITCH DOCTOR” hits many of the same personal notes for me.

THEoDEAD: “Something that I think you rarely find in comics nowadays is a completely and utterly cohesive blend between story and art, but in “WITCH DOCTOR” the two of you really seem to pull that off in spades. How did the two of you come together on this project?”

Lukas Ketner: “I think the main thing is that we both started this project together from scratch. Lots of comics start with a finished script in need of an artist, but we really sat down from the beginning, each with a stack of favorite titles and said, “okay, how do we make something that both shows off the best of what we can both do?” I’m handy with horror and sci-fi genre art, so that was one ingredient. Brandon is a truly gifted writer, but comics is full of great writers. It’s when you add his commitment to research and his love and wonder at what he discovers that the storytelling adopts a unique facet. Not many people know this, but we didn’t start by wanting to create our own title. We just wanted a short story that would show off the strengths we both had as a portfolio piece to get comics work. It wasn’t until we had the idea hashed out that we both agreed there was a possibility that it could be a series. I think that’s why it’s come together as well as it has. Thanks, by the way!

THEoDEAD: “In looking at the series from an outsiders standpoint, it is easy to draw comparisons to “REANIMATOR” at least in look and feel. However, that being said, the first thing that you will notice when you sit down and look at “WITCH DOCTOR”, before you even delve into the storyline, is how unique the illustrations are. Lukas, how did you go about bringing the story to life in such a visually stunning way?”

Lukas Ketner: “There’s a constant tension when I draw. On the one side, there is me drawing from my imagination and everything I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, there is the research that Brandon does for the book. He’s constantly discovering new and interesting things about biology, medicine, and folklore. It’s challenging to try to marry the two, but if I lose either side of that when drawing a monster, for example, it just won’t be unique or scary enough. Brandon really keeps me on the right track in that respect. The scariest, most horrific thing you could pull from your imagination just can’t hold a candle to some of the horrors in real life.


Two Sketch Pages From Issue #0 and “FIRST INCISION” Taken From Seifert And Ketner’s “WITCH DOCTOR”

THEoDEAD: “Recently it was announced that “WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #0 was to be released behind the 85th issue of Robert Kirkman’s “THE WALKING DEAD”. Now it is my understanding that this issue was the original pitch for the story. Is that correct?”

Brandon Seifert: “Yeah, that’s pretty much right.  Like Lukas said before, he and I were originally just planning on doing a 16 page story as a portfolio piece.  The story we came up with was a vampire story, and “WITCH DOCTOR” #0 is a rewritten, redrawn version of that.  It was always intended to be our pitch to companies to try to get them to pick up the series — now it’s doing the same thing for the reading public!

THEoDEAD: “How does Issue #0 tie into the continuity of “WITCH DOCTOR”? Is it a standalone story that is just based within the same universe, or does this particular moment have a major bearing on the overall plot of the rest of the series?”

Brandon Seifert: “We want “WITCH DOCTOR” to be a mix of longer stories with more involved plots, and “case of the week” stories that anybody can pick up and read.  #0 is one of those jumping-on point stories, and so are issues #1 and #2 of the miniseries.  You don’t need to read #0 to follow what’s going on in the miniseries, but there’ll be some callbacks to it before the series wraps up.

THEoDEAD: “Lukas, with the story of Issue #0 you also got to donate cover artwork for “THE WALKING DEAD”, an honor that very few artists can add to their resume. What was it like coming in and getting to do something like that for what is currently the biggest horror story in the comics industry?”

Lukas Ketner: “I haven’t told Robert or our editor Sina this yet, but I was terrified. I didn’t realize it until I sat down very happily to do it a few days before it was due. Then I thought, “oh, right. Fear. That’s why I haven’t started this yet.” I work digitally, so it was easy for me to second-guess everything in that image to the point of four total redraws. I was awake for three days on that thing, taking short naps on an army cot that I’ve got in my studio and smelling pretty bad by the end of it (or so the bartender told me after I turned it in). I’m happy with the illustration, it just took a little longer to get there because of nerves.

THEoDEAD: “Let’s talk about the first issue of “WITCH DOCTOR” for a moment. Of course the book makes its debut on June 29th with Skybound, and the buzz around the series has been far reaching. In fact, with issue #84 of “THE WALKING DEAD” we got our first look inside said issue with a bookend preview. With exorcism, demonic possession, and plenty of tongue in cheek, what can readers expect out of this four issue story-arc?”

Brandon Seifert: “Lukas and I both hate it when you pick up the first issue of a new comic, and it’s all set-up, no story.  So we get right into things in the first issue of “WITCH DOCTOR”.  By the end of the miniseries, we’ll have seen Dr. Morrow fight several completely different kind of supernatural threats, we’ll have learned secrets of their weird biologies — and we’ll understand the battle Dr. Morrow is fighting and what the consequences will be if he fails.

Lukas Ketner: “I want to expand on that. Like I described earlier, “WITCH DOCTOR” was first created in the process of us trying to make something very finite, very bite-size, and very satisfying in one go. As we’ve gained the opportunity to expand the “WITCH DOCTOR” universe, that satisfaction that comes from a one-shot is something that we try to retain as much of as possible, even in an issue that is part of a greater whole. It’s playing to the 22 page format as the medium as equally as the 88-page collected edition, and I think people are going to notice that effort.

THEoDEAD: “How would you describe the characters of Eric Gast, Doctor Morrow, and Penny Dreadful? Who are these characters, and what of the strange world that they live in where death seems to be just another talking point, and an event that seems just as inconsequential as waking up in the morning?”

Brandon Seifert: “Dr. Vincent Morrow is our protagonist.  He’s an anti-hero, or really more of a Byronic hero — ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know.’  Very smart, very charismatic, very arrogant, shadowy past, shaky morals.  Eric and Penny are his assistants.  Eric Gast is a paramedic, and he’s sort of a refugee from a medical drama — this is not his world, and he’s struggling to make sense of it.  Penny Dreadful, on the other hand, belongs more in a Lovecraftian horror setting.  She’s not entirely human, and she and Morrow aren’t entirely on the same side.

THEoDEAD: “A character that really stands out, at least for me, is the seemingly psychotic Penny Dreadful. A character that not only seems shrouded in secrecy (Both figuratively and literally), but also has the ability to grow some pretty deadly cuticles. Obviously she isn’t entirely human, but what sort of details can you give us on her? Is she human?”

Brandon Seifert: “We don’t want to give too much away about Penny.  Like I said, she’s not entirely human, and she’s not entirely on Morrow’s side — but they’ve got an agreement.  She helps him out, and he helps her out, and nobody gets hurt.  That’s how it’s supposed to go, at least.

Penny’s definitely the biggest enigma of the central cast, but by the end of #3 you’ll have a better idea of who and what she is, and also why Morrow has her around.

Lukas Ketner: “We’ve gotten some nice response to that character, and honestly she was the hardest to develop. We went back to the drawing board on her several times. The Penny in our first self-published story, which is now more of a curious prototype than a “WITCH DOCTOR” story, she’s unrecognizable. I’m hoping to see a Penny cosplayer once before I die.

Brandon Seifert: “Ooh! Me too! I’ve already got an EMT friend who wants a hoodie like hers…

THEoDEAD: “Brandon, with your writing on “WITCH DOCTOR” you show a lot of knowledge of some pretty sophisticated medical and scientific terminologies. How did you go about researching or preparing yourself for this project? Were these things that you already had a vested interest and source of interest in before writing “WITCH DOCTOR”?”

Brandon Seifert: “Honestly, I didn’t have any background in medicine or biology before we started “WITCH DOCTOR.”  But what I do have is a journalism background, so I’ve got plenty of experience doing research.  When we got started with “WITCH DOCTOR” I did a whole lot of reading — starting with Wikipedia, and then moving outward to stuff I found out about there.  I did a lot of reading about weird diseases, parasitology (“Parasite Rex” by Carl Zimmer is basically the “WITCH DOCTOR” bible) and folklore.

THEoDEAD: “WITCH DOCTOR” is currently billed as being a 4 issue mini-series, but from what we have seen it would seem logical that the series could easily continue on beyond that. Are there any plans to continue with the story after it finishes its 4 issue run, or are things still just touch and go at this point?”

Brandon Seifert: “We’re starting with a four-issue miniseries, but that’s just because we had to start somewhere.  I’ve got a list of 50 or so “WITCH DOCTOR” story ideas we’re hoping to do — our takes on zombies, werewolves, chemotherapy, Cthulhu, Ebola, all kinds of stuff.  Whether we’ll get to do it… honestly, that depends on how the miniseries sells!

THEoDEAD: “In closing, what would you say to readers who are just now hearing about “WITCH DOCTOR”, and are thinking about buying the ticket and taking the ride?”
 
Brandon Seifert: “I’d tell them they should check it out for the art alone.  Lukas is a really amazing new talent, he’s got a lot of that old school horror comic flavor but it’s all modernized and done in his own style.  His black and white pages are amazing — and they only get better after our colorist Sunny Gho gets a hold of them.  Sunny adds an amazing amount of texture and life to the pages, and he and Lukas’ styles mesh perfectly.  So, pick it up for the art.  Maybe you’ll be surprised by the story, and by the ideas we’re playing with.

Lukas Ketner: “I’ll back that up by saying, come for the art and concept, but stay for the stories and writing. Brandon is drawing some brilliant analogs between elements of medicine and magic; natural science and folklore, and he knows how to weave them into a story about characters that I’ve grown to love and identify with. The art is the glint on the needle, but the story is what’s in the syringe. We’re hoping people get hooked. And that is possibly the corniest thing I’ve said today. Please read our book.

We would like to thank both Brandon and Lukas for taking the time to do this interview with us. You can keep up with the series at the Official Website, and for those of you who are looking forward to the launch of “WITCH DOCTOR”, we have given you a cheat sheet below, where you can get all the solicitation info and details on issues 0 – 4 of the first arc in the series. Also, as always, be sure to keep it locked here at Bloody-Disgusting.com’s Graphic Content for all the latest news, previews, and exclusive interviews on all of your favorite horror titles.

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #0

WRITTEN BY: Brandon Seifert
ILLUSTRATIONS BY: Lukas Ketner

“Witch Doctor is a medical horror comic from Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner, a pair of Alaskans currently based in Portland, Oregon. The book is described as Sherlock Holmes meets Fringe, and features Dr. Vincent Morrow, “a physician who fights outbreaks of the supernatural, trying to find a vaccine for the apocalypse,” according to writer Brandon Seifert.”

“THE WALKING DEAD” Issue #85 Drops May 25th From Image Comics With A Special Flip Story Of “WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #0! (MSRP – $2.99)

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #1

WRITTEN BY: Brandon Seifert
ILLUSTRATIONS BY: Lukas Ketner

“House M.D. meets Fringe in the first Skybound original from Robert Kirkman’s new comics imprint! Meet Vincent Morrow, a doctor looking for a vaccine… for the apocalypse! In this stand-alone first issue, a family needs Dr. Morrow’s help with their son’s illness: Demonic possession. But when Morrow attempts an experimental cure, he discovers the boy’s disease isn’t all spinning heads and pea soup — it’s like nothing you’ve seen before! Horror gets a brain transplant in Witch Doctor, the book Warren Ellis calls “Mental.”

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #1 Drops June 29th From Skybound Comics! (MSRP – $2.99)

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #2

WRITTEN BY: Brandon Seifert
ILLUSTRATIONS BY: Lukas Ketner

“Another foray into medical horror from Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Originals line! Is your baby really your baby — or is it a camouflaged monster that’s feeding on you while you sleep? An infestation of Cuckoo Faeries is spreading through the nurseries of Arkham, Oregon, and it’s up to Dr. Vincent Morrow, the Witch Doctor, to stop it! So why doesn’t he want to bother? Plus: Shark cage diving with sea monsters!”

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #2 Drops July 20th From Skybound Comics! (MSRP – $2.99)

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #3

WRITTEN BY: Brandon Seifert
ILLUSTRATIONS BY: Lukas Ketner

“It’s Dr. Morrow’s biggest case yet: “The Patient From The Black Lagoon!” What’s the secret of the Deep Ones? How do they fit in with the Relapse, the Extinction Event that’s coming for humankind? And why are Morrow and his medical staff at each other’s throats? “Basically, I’m jealous. Bastards!” — Ben Templesmith”

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #3 Drops August 17th From Skybound Comics! (MSRP – $2.99)

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #4

WRITTEN BY: Brandon Seifert
ILLUSTRATIONS BY: Lukas Ketner

“It’s a sick world — literally. The universe is a living thing, and the monsters of legend are its parasites. Earth’s immune system — humanity — has been at war with supernature for all of history. But to fight a disease, you don’t need soldiers. You need doctors.

Doctors like Vincent Morrow, excommunicated from the medical community and headhunted into an exciting new career in the black arts. Morrow serves the world with both hands — one in magic, one in medicine — as earth’s protector. Earth’s Witch Doctor.

It’s a sick world — he’s here to treat it.”

“WITCH DOCTOR” Issue #4 Drops This September From Skybound Comics! (MSRP – $2.99)