Brandon Seifert: From Witch Doctors to Dream Sequencers

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks


Welcome to the first of our many SDCC interviews; expect to average about five of these a week for the next long while! Today, we're speaking with Brandon Seifert about past, present and future work, including his debut at the already impressive MonkeyBrain Comics.

Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: We're here at the mother-ship of it all, the San Diego Comic-Con and you’ve got a few very exciting new announcements. So why don’t you fill me in?

Brandon Seifert: So, earlier this week, BOOM! announced that I’m doing a Hellraiser miniseries for them. It’s four issues called Hellraiser: The Road Below and it’s kicking off on Halloween, I believe.

CB: Good timing.

Seifert: Yes, exactly. That was the first thing that got announced. We’re also announcing the long-awaited second Witch Doctor miniseries, Witch Doctor: Malpractice. That mini finally has a release date; it’s going to be November. And I’m also doing a project for MonkeyBrain Comics, a new creator-owned digital company that Chris Roberson -- the writer of iZombie and Memorial and stuff like that -- and his wife Allison Baker just launched. The project I’m doing for them is called Dream Sequencer. It’s an anthology; it’s a series of self-contained one-shots, of around 22 pages with a variety of artists in a variety of comics.

CB: Oh, interesting!

Seifert: Yeah, and there’s no overarching team or anything; it’s just whatever the hell I want.

CB: So you’re moving away from just doing horror, which is what I associate with you.

Seifert: Exactly, and that’s part of why the MonkeyBrain thing is so appealing. Part of why I’m doing what I’m doing is because, as much as I love horror and I love the supernatural and the paranormal stuff, but I am already getting pigeon-holed as the horror guy. I like horror, I also like superheroes and I like science fiction, I like fantasy and I like a bunch of different random stuff; so this is kind of an opportunity to be able to do whatever the hell I want to do and show people like, “Here’s me doing superheroes, here’s me doing science fiction."

CB: Are you selecting the artists for your story?

Seifert: Yeah.

CB: Can you talk about some of the people you have, drawing pieces for you?

Seifert: Yeah. The first story that I’m doing is with Michael Montenat, who drew Hellraiser. And he’s somebody that I’ve been talking about… well I actually brought him on to Hellraiser; I suggested him for that. We were all really happy with how that turned out, so I wouldn’t mind working with him again for a while. So we’re doing a noir/pulp mash-up called Spirit of the Law. It’s this kind of film noir group of hitmen, who inadvertently cause the origin of the kind of a paranormal, pulp, superheroine character.

CB: She has a very classic look. Almost like a statue come to life.

Seifert: It’s based on Blind Justice, except that she’s got the sleep mask instead of the blindfold. And it’s really fun. It’s told from the hitman’s point of view, so basically like a superhero origin but from the point of view of the people who the hero is hunting down.

CB: Interesting.

Seifert: I had a lot of fun writing it. This one has a paranormal element, so it’s closer to the work that I’ve done previously than some of the other stuff I’m doing, but it does also have the superhero kind of thing and the gritty noir.

CB: It’s kind of a transitional piece for you, in a way.

Seifert: It is, honestly. It wasn’t intended to be, but it is definitely. The other stuff that I’m working on, I’m doing a story with Axel Medellin -- he does Elephantmen and Hoax Hunters and he’s done a bunch of other Image books. And then I’m also working with a guy named Adam Rosenlund, who is one of my favorite science fiction artists and he hasn’t actually broken into the industry yet; he’s just phenomenally talented. He’s got very detailed European science fiction comics that he does. So I’ve been working on science fiction projects with him.

CB: Are you going to target their strengths and that’s just what you want to write about?

Seifert: No. The thing about working with MonkeyBrain is, since it’s digital, there’s no upfront cost; there’s no printing cost, there’s nothing else. So nobody is risking money on this, so I can just do whatever the hell I want. And then we don’t have to market it to retailers, so it doesn’t have to be something that people who work in comic stores think will sell. It’s entirely in the hands of the public, whether it sells or whether it doesn’t. And it doesn’t, none of us will lose a lot of money.

CB: Now this is a purchase model in MonkeyBrain?

Seifert: Yes, MonkeyBrain is Comixology exclusive and the comics, depending on the length, are mostly going to be $0.99 or $1.99. $0.99 is for shorter stuff, $1.99 is for traditional comics. So they’re probably going to be… I haven’t discussed it with MonkeyBrain but it’s probably going to be 16-22 pages, most of them are going to be $1.99. Then we can put them out whenever we finish them.

CB: Do you create them for the iPad format? So you have the long pages, like DC does with Justice League Beyond?

Seifert: Yeah. I’m honestly, basing it pretty heavily on, not all the Thrillbent stuff but like the story Luther that Mark Waid and Jeremy Rock did, which is designed to be a printable comic, in a regular comic portrait format, but each page is broken in half, so you’ve got two half page landscape chunks, that can be divided up in the panels and then you stack two of them and you’ve got a regular comics page. So the idea is to do something that takes advantage of digital and takes advantage of the screen format and the tricks that you can do with digital storytelling stuff.

CB: Yeah, it’s different tricks with digital versus analog; with Witch Doctor you can have full-page and double-page spread and you can really play with the different arrangements and panels. Is it constraining to work in the digital where you have to have two tiers?

Seifert: It’s honestly like, this is just something that I’m choosing to do and it’s also something I discussed with the artists. If I’m working with an artist who doesn’t want to do something digital, like if they wanted to just make a regular comic, that’s released digitally, I’m fine with that. if I work with somebody who wants to go crazy and just do something that the formatting is so wacky, you couldn’t print it out and make a regular comic, I’m totally fine with that, too.

CB: Okay.

Seifert: The existing comics, the five titles that MonkeyBrain launched with are all done as regular, portrait-style comics, but none of the usual people took advantage of the kind of digital storytelling stuff that I’m excited about.

CB: The format is kind of evolving. I feel like even in just two years from now we’ll have a lot better sense of what we can do with digital comics.

Seifert: It is, and there’s a number of issues involved with it where all the writers are trying to figure out a scripting style. So like in my scripts for my MonkeyBrain things, I have the individual pages and then I have them divided into half pages. And within those half pages I obviously want the panels. So it’s definitely an evolving thing and there’s a lot of stuff to figure out,  and there’s also a lot of people also reinventing the wheel, solving the same problems that other people have already solved.

CB: Well, you get to all kind of experiment together. I kind of felt that there’s going to be this larger approach that grows out of it. A consensus of some sort.

Seifert: Definitely.

CB: It’s probably not going to be the two-tiered, not going to be the full page; it will be something, somehow different. This is how I imagine it.

Seifert: And the thing is, digitally there’s so much stuff that you can do; the only issue is, if you want to print it, you have to do specific things. If you don’t want that, if you never want to print it out, like a lot of my favorite web comics are wildly different from one strip to another. I think my favorite webcomic is A Lesson Is Learned In But The Damage Is Irreversible.

CB: I’ve never heard of that one.

Seifert: It’s starts in 2006 or so, but every single strip that they did is a completely different size, and length, and format, and it would be extremely difficult to collect, which it the same problem with like, I have the collection of Copper by Kazu Kibuishi, which I love the crap out of it as a digital comic but then when I buy a collection of it, some of the strips where so big -- it’s such a weird format that they just had to be shrunk way too small.

CB: And then you have the opposite problem if you try and read a prepress PDF of something like that, or even a Comixology; a Comixology experience completely changes the way you feel about the page.

Seifert: Yeah, that’s true. And you can write towards that, and that’s one of the things that we can do with MonkeyBrain, we can intentionally write it with those Comixology transitions in mind. It’s really interesting to be involved in and for me it’s something that I kind of balked at getting involved with so quickly because I have only been in comics so briefly and I feel like I’m still finding my balance, finding my legs with writing regular-looking comics.

CB: I think in some ways, the writers like you who are newer to the industry are the ones who can lead the way; you don’t necessarily have an investment in the old way of doing things. You have the freedom to innovate. In a way it’s like -- maybe, not a good analogy, but the countries that never had landline phones, they can just go directly to cell phones; there’s no disruption in the technology. You skip a generation, so to speak.

Seifert: That certainly makes sense. I think it’s probably much easier for me to be doing this than it is for comics writers who have been writing comics for a long time and are really used to doing it the way that they do it. For me, since I am still just learning all this; I’m still just making it up as I go along, so making it up for digital and making it up for print, there’s not a huge difference; I’m just making it up one way or the other.

CB: That’s true. Well, now you’re going to be fully able to make things up with Witch Doctor, too. You’re playing in your own universe; I know you were very exited about doing that first Hellraiser story, but now you’re really going to have to dig deep into that universe if you’re doing a miniseries for them. That’s got to be different, too -- I know you are a huge fan of that stuff but at the same time you find yourself having to double-check references and things like that.

Seifert: Yeah, it’s been interesting on that one because the first Hellraiser story that I did, the annual, was all characters that were previously established; it was Frank Cotton, Captain Spencer and then a number of characters from the regular title. So these were all people that I could read about and have some incite into just from that. With this miniseries, Kristy -- the Pinhead version of Kristy -- is in there and then the Female Cenobite from the movies is in there but everybody else is new, and the approach is kind of like doing a Hellraiser movie except now Kristy is Pinhead and there are these people who have summoned her and it’s that kind of set up. And I honestly had some trouble; initially I was like, “Oh! I’m really excited, I get to create my own cast.” And then I was like, “Well, I don’t have anything to base these people on.” And it’s one thing if I’m creating in Witch Doctor, cause I can just do whatever I want, but if I’m creating new characters set in this savage world that I know, well, that turned out to be more of learning experience. It was a bit more difficult than I expected.

CB: I can imagine. Tell me about what made that more difficult than you expected -- something that you ran into when you were writing it that you just didn’t expect to be a struggle to work through.

Seifert: In Witch Doctor, I kind of tend to fly by the seat of my pants, as far as Doc story and stuff goes, cause I don’t like to lock things down; I like to get enough back story and stuff so I have an idea of who that character is, but I don’t want to say, “Doctor Morrow was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and he’s this age, and he went to school here,” and all that stuff.

CB: He hates to have been born in Providence, Rhode Island.

Seifert: Of course he did. I don’t even want to say, “Maybe he is British; maybe he moved over from the UK when he was 5.” I don’t know yet. Because I did this, I made the mistake and the reason that I do that is when we self-published the first Witch Doctor story, I felt like I needed to have explanations for everything, especially for the vampire; I wanted to explain why all of its powers and weaknesses were the way they are; except I didn’t necessarily have good ideas for all that and then later on, I came up with a whole bunch of other ideas. Since I had already explained this stuff, I couldn’t go back and be like, “Oh, it’s actually this.” So, unless there is some story-base we’re using to brew that detail, in something like Witch Doctor I tend to not make my mind up. I will have a list of possibilities and then frequently I’ll have…. I had another idea about fairies in Witch Doctor this week that turned into a story and I’m glad that we had fairies in the first miniseries but we didn’t establish too much about them, so it makes it easy for me to be like, “Oh no, here’s this way better idea.”

CB: So you like that; you like the "seat of the pants" kind of thing, but now you have this challenge with Hellraiser -- do you feel like you have to plot the story out with more detail to it that you would? When you’re running an individual Witch Doctor arc do you give yourself freedom to play with the space a bit?

Seifert: Yeah, it’s happened, I was much more uptight about it; I felt like I needed to have everything plotted out and I would do my page-to-page story breakdown before I would write anything. And then on the second Witch Doctor miniseries, about halfway through, I just started, it’s actually something I started doing with the first of the Hellraiser, Annual, was as I was working out what was going to happen on each page, there was some pages where I wasn’t sure; I knew what was going to happen on like five of the pages and then I just went and wrote those five pages. And then, doing that, as I was writing, I was like, “Oh, I need to establish this, so this is going to go here, on this page.” And so by the time I had the whole twenty pages mapped out I had already written nine or ten of them. And that actually worked much better for me and that’s what I have been doing on Witch Doctor.

CB: Definitely a very organic process; very specific to you.

Seifert: Yeah. The problem is, I can do that with something if I already know the characters and I know their backstories and I know how they’d react, I can do that; I have to do my homework first.

CB: You do know those characters and love those characters so that’s got to help. It’s not total work for hire in that way. So do you want to preview a bit about the second Witch Doctor miniseries? What're some of the cool things people are going to encounter in that one?

Seifert: Like I said, it’s called Witch Doctor: Malpractice. Six issues, Lucas is done with the first three, Skybound has a new policy, to make it harder for works to slip off schedule, that they don’t solicit a miniseries unless the first 3 issues are drawn. So we’re going to be launching in November, the first three issues are already drawn and it’s July, so it’s going to ship on time; that’s very nice. Our first miniseries was very heavily focused on the monsters; the second one, honestly, is more focused on magic as this medicine metaphor. This is something that I may have talked about already.

CB: Go ahead; it’s a different interview, anyway.

Seifert: For fans of the first Witch Doctor miniseries, it’s still going to be Witch Doctor, but we’re mixing things up a bit. The first miniseries was mostly self-contained stories -- two single issue stories and then a two-parter. This one is six issues that are one continuing story. In each issue, I’m making them very standalone -- like, I’m not writing for the trade, 'cause I hate that; I hate buying the first issue of a new issue of a series and getting one-sixth of the story.

CB: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.

Seifert: So, in every single issue, they have some goal or some mission and by the end of the it they will either have achieved it or they will have failed so dismally that they have to move on to something else. And there’s also a bunch of monsters in there.

CB: You got to have the monsters; it wouldn’t be Witch Doctor without the monsters.

Seifert: Exactly. I say that the focus isn’t on the monsters so much but I think we actually have more monsters per issue, in this series.

CB: You have magic, you have to have monsters.

Seifert: And because of the whole monsters is disease and magic as medicine, we do kind of go…

CB: So if you’re doing magic are you influenced by any of the other guys who have done magic in comics? Ditko and Doctor Strange?

Seifert: I am more influenced in a negative way, in a reactionary way, where there aren’t a lot of people who I want to emulate, but there are a lot of people who I want to avoid the way they’ve done it. Magic is a very difficult thing to figure out in storytelling because it’s basically something where if you don’t establish rules, you could just do whatever you wanted to do. And this is something that the second miniseries goes into more, what are the consequences of magic and what are the downsides, and it’s things like bad spell interactions, cause in this case is all from the medical metaphor. So it’s like, “I can’t take to much Advil cause it will wreck my kidneys and it will wreck my stomach lining.”

CB: Ergo, actions really do have consequences.

Seifert: Exactly. So there’s a lot of stuff and some spells react badly with different people. You can become allergic to spells and things like that, in Witch Doctor, cause it’s all from the medical kind of thing. So with Witch Doctor it’s been much easier to figure out how magic works, cause I just look at the medical stuff.

CB: Oh, interesting, yeah.

Seifert: There are complications, and you build up a tolerance over time, and you can get psychologically or physically or spiritually addicted and stuff like that.

CB: You may be improvising on some level but your world has wider depths to it.

Seifert: Yeah, I really like working in metaphor, I like working in metaphor and analogy because most of my work is already done for me. That’s something that I do; I came from a journalism background and I’m used to doing research and I find it much easier; all my story ideas are based in research and it’s like I’ll read about something and I’ll be like, “Well that would be perfect for this” or, “That would be a great place fro a zombie outbreak.”

CB: It keeps you from getting writers block too, because there are stories all the time.

Seifert: Yes.

CB: Cool. I feel like I should ask you a big summary question. So things are moving ahead great for you; Witch Doctor’s been very successful, how are you feeling the second half of this year and 2013 are going to work out for you?

Seifert: I think it’s going to be really good. I feel like there has been kind of a slow burn because when I was doing the first Witch Doctor miniseries I wasn’t setting up other work; I wasn’t trying to launch other projects or anything. I really wanted to come correct on that. And then once that first one was done, now I have the freedom to try to expand and branch out from where I am. So in this show, I went from last year, it was all Witch Doctor, and the previous year it was all Witch Doctor, and then New York Comic-Con, I’ve got a couple of other projects that hopefully we’re going to be announcing. So it’s just kind of going out from here; it’s all cell division.

CB: A very appropriate analogy. 

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