Greetings, folks. Ambush Bug here with another interview I conducted at the San Diego Comic Con. Special thanks to AICN’s unsung hero, Muldoon, for transcribing all of these back and forthings. Expect a ton of interviews to be released daily until my interview well is dry (and believe me, it’s going to be a while after this con). I had a chance to catch up with Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner, two very talented and very lucky gentlemen. They are the creators of WITCH DOCTOR, Skybound's first original hit series. WALKING DEAD writer and Skybound founder Robert Kirkman hand-picked these two gentlemen and their story of magic, macabre, and medicine. Here’s what Brandon and Lukas had to say backstage at the Image booth…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): All right, so here we go. I am backstage at the Image booth. I’m here with Brandon [Seifert] and Lukas [Ketner] from the red hot new series WITCH DOCTOR, which is from Skybound. Is that correct?
BRANDON SEIFERT (BS): Yeah.
LUKAS KETNER (LK): Yes.
BUG: And you guys were doing this comic before Robert Kirkman got a hold of you guys, so how did that all happen first?
BS: We met back in 2007 and after we established that we both liked comics and we both wanted to work in the medium and that neither of us had any history in it and neither of us had anything we could put in a portfolio, we decided to basically team up and make something short that we could both use to try to pursue work in the field. That’s not really how it went, because what we ended up creating was WITCH DOCTOR and very quickly we were both like “You know, this is a whole bunch of things… This is kind of a distillation of everything that I want to do in comics, let’s just pursue this. This is something that people seem to like and that we think could be successful at a company, so let’s just do this.”
BUG: So how did you guys meet in particular? How did that happen?
LK: I do artwork for a local Portland band called “The Builders And The Butchers” and so we would go to a lot of the same shows and we met at a show. Previously to that we hadn’t met face to face, but we had done a cover story for the Anchorage Press together operating from Portland and I had done like an illustrated cover and he had done a really great article about all of the Alaskan bands that were moving from Alaska to Portland and so that got us aware of one another. Then we met at some shows and we talked about comics and he asked me if I wanted to do comics and at first I was very noncommittal, because…
BS: I would say “hurtfully noncommittal”, that would be the adjective I would use.
LK: I don’t remember it that way….
BUG: (laughs) It sounds like it still is a sore subject.
BS: He also remembers a different chronology of events as far as these things happening, but the thing that we should clarify is the reason that we met is the Alaska connection. I’m from Fairbanks, he’s from Anchorage, that band that he mentioned is dudes that he knew from Anchorage, I used to do college radio with one of them in Fairbanks, so it’s a very small expat community in Portland with basically everyone we ever knew when we grew up who moved to Portland and so it’s pretty inevitable. We had all of the same friends in common; it was really inevitable that we would run into each other sooner or later.
LK: Like he said, we wanted to do a portfolio piece and then to do that we had to come up with a situation and we just ended up getting really attached to the character, the setting, the idea of doing supernatural medicine and so we said, “Okay, we will do this one story and we will make it satisfying in its own thing, but then as well we will just keep putting them out on our own and just show publishers that whether they want to publish it or not, we are still going to put it out." And that’s what we did, we put out a couple of self published things and a year or two later we just got a cold email from Robert Kirkman who had run across it because he saw a funny Obama painting I did for the local paper in Portland.
BUG: So just out of the blue you get an email from Robert Kirkman?
LK: Pretty much.
BS: It was actually preview night at Comic Con 2009, we were both in Portland, neither of us were going to the show, and we get this random one line email from Robert Kirkman and it just kind of blew our minds.
BUG: That’s great. So since then, last year when I was here I got the teaser, kind of like the “#0” issue. I read that and reviewed that when I got home. It was a great concept and it seemed like Kirkman has this eye for good concepts and good stories. So what kind of advice has he given you to kind of develop this character and do all of that stuff? Has he stepped in at all or does he let you guys do what you want?
BS: The advice that Robert has given us primarily is “You guys are good, you guys are talented, you need to chill out and not worry about it so much.” That was one…one of my favorite conversations I’ve had with Robert was I wrote the script for the first issue of WITCH DOCTOR, which is sort of our EXORCIST story and I turned in the first draft and I was nervous as crap, it had been an incredibly difficult issue for me to write, because there was so much stuff that I had to introduce and I had to tell a story and I had never actually done a full 22 page story before and I turned it in and I hated it and I thought it was awful and I thought that they were…basically I was afraid they were going to realize I was a fraud and I get a call from Kirkman and he says, “The script is great. I love it. It’s really good, so try to change as little as possible.” I was like “Really? I thought it was really bad” and Robert says, “That’s because you are incredibly insecure and you need to get over it.”
BS: I was like… “touché…” Yeah, so basically the majority of Robert’s advice has been, “Trust yourself. Trust in your vision. And don’t keep coming to me and asking me if what you are doing is good, because what you are doing is good or I wouldn’t be working with you.” So he’s always been very adamant that this is our book. It’s not a situation where he picked it up because he thought it was good but that it needed some changes to make it better, it was he picked it up because he thought we were on the right track and he just wanted to give us the freedom to keep moving down it.
LK: And to clarify, he’s always open for a phone call for help and stuff, like if we needed advice on something just not necessarily an ego boost or whatever. He’s always available to help us out with scripts and storytelling issues and stuff like that. He’s just very empowering. He is extremely supportive and he really kind of keeps us going a lot of the time.
BUG: That’s the best kind of boss to have.
BS: That’s true, and I mean he was a very busy man before THE WALKING DEAD TV show and now he’s in the writer’s room eight hours a day and he shows up early to get writing done on his comic scripts, and you know, he told me “Call me on my lunch from the writer’s room. Call me on the two hour commute when I’m stuck in LA traffic. I will find the time to talk to you.” So we really appreciate him.
LK: Yeah, definitely.
BUG: So are you guys in this for the long run? I know this is just a four issue series…or is it a five issue series?
BS: The first miniseries is four issues and it was really like they wanted to test the water before, because it’s sales. Sales willing, we want to just keep doing this as long as we could and so we did the four issues and then the first issue sales were amazing, it was one of the strongest debuts of a Nu Image book this year. The first issue sold out in two days and so we’ve got a one shot that’s coming out in December and then we’ve got another miniseries that’s starting next March and our intention is to keep rolling. It’s just an incredibly fertile venue for telling stories, like I’ve got a list of something like 50 story ideas at the last count and I keep having...I have one or two more every week.
BUG: Well at Ain’t It Cool News, every year we do our own…our group's called “The @$$holes” and we have our “@$$ie Awards” every year on our site and one of the categories is “Best Covers” and so far the covers to WITCH DOCTOR have just been fantastic. They are definitely front runners for next year.
LK: Oh, thank you.
BUG: So what…and they are pretty iconic, they are kind of incorporating horror, like the original cover kind of like a spider walk kind of thing and then he’s taking his pulse from his chest. How do they come about? Where do these ideas come from? Is this a collaboration between the two of you as far as ideas?
LK: A lot of time it is. Most covers start with me asking Brandon “Do you have any ideas? What do you think we should do?” And usually he will have two or three ideas and that will spark a new idea from me and we will just go back and forth and you do a bunch of thumbnails until…we always know when we hit the right one, because it’s just like “That right there!” Like when we came up with the spider walk thing it was just like “Oh dude yeah, we are doing that.”
BUG: It’s so bizarre and it stands out amongst all of the other ones on the rack.
LK: It’s weird, because that scene was deleted from the original EXORCIST, but everybody knows what it is.
BUG: It’s got a cult following yeah, definitely.
BS: And that was a situation where I suggested…we were having some trouble with what we should do for the first cover and Lukas had done a number of…initially I was kind preoccupied beating myself over the head with the script for the first issue and then Lukas kind of came to me and was like “Look, I don’t really know what to do for the cover…I've got this one thing, but it’s really cool and would work better as a variant cover” and I was like “Okay, well try this, try this, and this” and then one of them he did kind of an alternate version, like the kid just levitating and the Doctor taking his pulse and it was a much blander layout and then he was like “I’ve got this idea for this spider walk thing as a thing and stuff” and I absolutely could not visualize it based on his description, I was like “send me a sketch” and he sent me the sketch and I’m like “Alright, we have a winner, yeah!” And yeah sometimes it’s really like…
The one shot that we are doing in December, THE RESUSCITATION, like you know I call him up at like 11:00 at night and I was like “I think this is what we should do for the one shot” and he was like “Well what should we do for the cover?” I was like…I had one idea and it was like “How about an invisible man sitting in a bathtub full of ice?” and a day and a half later this amazing fully painted image pops up in my inbox and I’m just like “Holy crap.”
BUG: Is that available online?
BS: They revealed the cover for it at the Skybound panel, so we can provide it or our publicist can provide it. I haven’t seen anyone actually posting that image rather than just a photo of the projection of it, so yeah.
BUG: Okay, well I’m getting a sense of Bernie Wrightson a little bit?
LK: Yeah, definitely.
BUG: Who else were kind of your influences?
LK: Bernie Wrightson, Mark Shultz definitely, I love XENOZOIC TALES. I love the way he draws wildlife and stuff from the prehistoric age. I love Massimo Carnevale as far as covers go and a lot more recently I’m really into Jerome Opena’s work on UNCANNY X-FORCE, because it’s got that MOEBIUS, Enki Bilal feel to it. Enkie Bilal is another big one for me and also anything Sean Murphy does, because he’s awesome.
BUG: Cool. So as far as just the concept of it, it’s really tough to write magic and you guys seem to be doing it pretty successfully. What’s your secret? How are you doing it when so many other people are trying and failing miserably at it?
BS: Quite frankly, my secret is that I write magic as little as possible, like it’s taken me an extremely long time to figure out how to write magic in this comic, so when you see magic by and large it’s in some sort of physical form, and partially that’s because of the rules and parameters that we have set up in this universe, like if you see magic and you see something…like a spell is generally being cast by some gigantic steampunky device or it’s in a pill that the Doctor takes out of a little case that he’s got inside his jacket. The issue with magic in fiction is that it really quickly becomes this Swiss Army knife that you can do anything with. Doctor Strange can always go in and say some alliteration and make gestures with his fingers and solve everything. He can go “No more mutants” and suddenly, like, Marvel has fixed a problem that they didn’t…or he can say “No more marriage” and that’s like something…I’m honestly…I come from a sci-fi background, like sci-fi has always been the thing that has enthralled me the most, but I am less interested in sci-fi horror than I am in magical horror. When you’ve got magic sort of all of the bets are off and so this is a thing where we are injecting a lot of science fiction into magic and monsters while trying to preserve the fact that just because vampires have anticoagulants in their saliva doesn’t mean that they aren’t magical, there is still this big thing.
LK: We are trying to make things plausible without demystifying them, just trying to show some of the interesting inner workings of how some of this stuff might actually exist if you tried to pick them apart, but they are still magic. There is…we are trying not to lose that level of wonder.
BS: And the fact that it’s all run through a medical metaphor sets up a lot of things. Magic is something that you have to have a system of rules for and there has to be…it can’t be weightless, so in our case it makes it very easy, you know? If you’ve got physical dependence, if you’ve got tolerance and side effects and spell interactions and diseases that you can catch from using magic…these are all things that make it easier to control and make it less a Swiss Army plot device.
BUG: So not to give too much away, but is the Doctor, the main character in this series, is he the only one that’s able to access this type of magic in the universe you have created or are there other…is there a hospital somewhere where magical medicine goes on, or is he unique to that universe you have created?
BS: We are going to encounter other people who use magic through sort of a medical metaphor, but nobody else does it quite like him. It is sort of like…we are going with the idea that magic is how you look at it and there are lots of metaphors involved...we are going to see people who do more computer or video game kind of influenced magic, but it is all kind of viewpoints and as we go along we are going to be seeing more magic using characters and we are going to see how they approach it.
LK: And he does live in a world where people aren’t aware of magic. It’s very much like that…
BS: Yeah, that’s something that people have gotten confused while reading the first issue or two, they think that magic and monsters are commonplace and everybody knows about them and I’m like “Oops, I should have clarified that.” (laughs)
LK: We will make it clear by the end…
BUG: It sounds like you guys have a great concept going on. I mean it’s a big hit for you guys, congratulations on all of that.
LK: Thank you so much.
BUG: Are there other projects that you are working on, other than this? Are you focused mainly on this right now?
LK: I’m mainly focused on this right now. I was a professional freelance illustrator for years. I thought I was going to have time to do that on the side, I don’t. I do have the next series I would like to do in mind, but that’s a long ways off. It’s like I want to put everything I’ve got into making this series as great as I can personally and you know, eventually if years down the road if somebody else takes over or whatever as that kind of thing happens to series some times, then I do have ideas of where I want to go, but for right now this is it. This is all I’m doing.
BS: It’s always easier, as a comics writer to do multiple projects than it is to do…comics artists by and large can only draw one issue a month, a comics writer can write, you know, four or more projects a month. So for me I’ve still got a day job which has been a big fucker upper and so it’s been…
BUG: Damn the real world!
BS: Seriously. And so as this goes along and I’m able to free up more of my time to focus on this, like I’ve got a bunch of other projects…I’ve pitched another one to Skybound that they really liked that’s got an artist attached and he was just chomping at the bit to get started on it and I eventually had to be like “Look, I just don’t have time. I barely have time to get this four issue miniseries done.” So yeah, there are a bunch of ideas that I’m in love with and that I really want to move forward on and now that the book is out and now that it’s a success and now that I have some better idea of what I’m doing and how much time is involved I’m really looking forward to getting some of those started, so hopefully some of that will get announced by the end of the year. That’s what I’m shooting for.
BUG: And Image is treating you guys well?
BS: Image is great. Skybound has been amazing, and you know, we have never done a book through Image central, so we don’t know and honestly I know we are getting a lot of things that you don’t get from a lot of other publishers. The fact that they’ve got so few books and most of their books are Robert and artists means that we get a ridiculous amount of special attention, which we really appreciate, because we…
BUG: What’s that like though? All of a sudden everybody wants to interview you and people are starting to recognize you walking around.
BS: It’s been really fun, yeah.
LK: Everybody is so nice about it, so…everybody is just super supportive, it just makes us feel good and want to put the book out faster.
BS: I got recognized by somebody in the Oakland airport on the flight down here. It was a guy who had gotten a book signed at Wonder Con and you know the fact that I always dress the same at conventions means it’s very easy to recognize me.
LK: Yeah, this is his casual attire.
BS: This is, yeah.
LK: And then he’s got the black suit.
BUG: You were at the panel with the suit.
BS: That’s right, and I do tend to…and I get a lot of crap from Robert about that, because you know he’s very much a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy and I’m not.
BUG: We all have our different styles.
BS: It’s true, yeah. But yeah this has been…I think by and large we have adjusted to it better than we could expect, but yeah it’s been very…every single aspect of this has been a very sharp learning curve and some of the production stuff was kind of an unpleasant learning curve, but like the people coming up and being like “Dude, I love your book. It’s so good, I’m really glad to see you!” Now that’s fun.
BS: I like that a lot.
LK: It’s good to get out of the studio and remember why we do it.
BS: I’ve gotten like three fan emails just today based on the second issue, so yeah.
BUG: I did want to just ask a question, because I know…I think we asked in an interview there a while back about…now that it’s out, I think the distinction is pretty clear about how different it is from a character like Dr. Strange, but early on was that difficult being compared with that character being so prominent around there?
LK: We used to do that too, like “It’s Dr. House meets Dr. Strange.”
BS: And it is…I mean we are doing something that is…I’ve had a lot of people who have come up to me and said “It’s so original, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read” and as the person who came up with a lot of the basic ideas, I can tell you exactly how derivative and if people are like “Oh, that’s a Dr. Strange rip-off” I’m like “That’s a fair comment, yeah that’s true…” Now what we get mostly, now that people have read the first issue, it’s been strange, it’s gotten compared…Morrow’s gotten compared to Deadpool, like all of these people see all of these different characters in it and all of these different influences that they think that we have got and a lot of them I’m like “I’ve never read that, I don’t know what you are talking about” and partially it’s just the space that we are working in is a very familiar space, we are just trying to shine light in different corners of it. But the Dr. Strange thing was something that has…
BUG: Unfortunately the interview was cut off from there as someone else needed to use the interviewing room. But be sure to check out WITCH DOCTOR from Image’s Skybound. It’s a great mix of horror and medicine!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) Order Code: AUG111067! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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