Brandon Seifert On ‘Witch Doctor’, ‘Hellraiser’, And Magical Medical Malpractice

Brandon Seifert is plenty busy. In addition to the just-launched Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, he’s also in the middle of the second Witch Doctor miniseries, Mal Practice, with the fourth issue coming out tomorrow (you might remember we had high praise for issue #3, and we’ll have a review of issue #4 tomorrow). Brandon was good enough to sit down with us for a few minutes to talk about the research that goes into Witch Doctor, what it’s like working with an established horror franchise like Hellraiser, and balancing the fine art of horror and comedy.

Gamma Squad: How did Witch Doctor start, as an idea? It’s fairly unique.

Brandon Seifert: I’m glad you think so — but for me, it just seemed like one of those obvious ideas that somebody should’ve already done, but that I’d never seen before. Doctors who investigate the occult are an old trope in supernatural fiction — they’re at least 20 years older than Professor van Helsing in “Dracula.” But I’d never seen one played straight, written like someone with a medical background approaching the supernatural. Usually, they just turn into generic monster hunters. So, having an “occult doctor” who investigates the supernatural from a medical point of view was the first piece of the puzzle. The other piece to me is that all the monsters and magic in “Witch Doctor” are based on actual stuff from biology and medicine. That’s something we’ve seen a bit of before — the Xenomorphs in “Aliens” are heavily based on the lifestyles of parasitoid wasps. But again, I’d never seen a series really commit to the idea.

Gamma Squad: One touch that some fans may not notice is that you’re pretty rigorous about your mythological and folklore research. How much digging does it take to find good legends?

Seifert: Ha! Thank you. You’re right, I feel like that element gets noticed less than the medical stuff — in part because basing a vampire on actual bits of 17th century vampire folklore is more subtle than saying “it’s got anticoagulants and a vasodilator in its saliva!” I do a lot of reading about folklore and myth, stuff people have actually believed about the supernatural. I don’t think it takes a lot of digging — for me, lots of it was just sitting there on Wikipedia, or in an encyclopedia of vampire folklore!

Some of the stuff we use is more esoteric, though. We’ve had a couple of issues dealing with demonic possession, and there’s a lot of details in there that I’ve pulled out of a couple books I read about the Vatican’s exorcists and Catholic possession beliefs. Stuff like how possessed people are often possessed by multiple demons. And during exorcism, the weaker demons are the first to be expelled — because the stronger demons “push” them out! Or about how the worst cases of possession are caused by curses — because you have to deal with both the demon, and the spell that caused the demon to possess the victim in the first place!

Gamma Squad: On the flip side, how much medical research do you have to do?

Seifert: At this point? Not that much. But that’s because I’ve done a huge amount of research into medicine and biology since Lukas and I started working on “Witch Doctor” in 2007. It’s at the point now I’ve already figured out the “Witch Doctor” take on a huge range of monsters, from zombies to the Grim Reaper. I usually do a bit more supplemental research when I’m writing a story — but I already took care of the heavy lifting.

Gamma Squad: Horror comedy is a tricky balance to pull off sometimes. Have there ever been moments where you say “Hmmmm, maybe this is a little too goofy/dark?”

Seifert: Oh yeah, all the time! Mostly it’s hard because the temptation is to go to goofy places all the time. That’s something that both Lukas and I struggle with on Witch Doctor. I’ve written so many funny scenes or bits of dialogue that got cut because they just make it too much of a comedy — and there have been plenty of thumbnails Lukas has sent me where I asked him to do a different version because I wasn’t comfortable with how comedic he was playing things.

Lukas is really gifted at drawing monsters and horror stuff — but he’s also got a great sense of humor and can draw utterly hysterical stuff. I think all our fans’ favorite moment in the book so far was when Doc Morrow shook an evil baby in #2 of our first miniseries. It was a funny moment to begin with — and the way Lukas drew it totally took the joke to a whole different level!

Gamma Squad: Speaking of the horror side of things, how did you come to the Hellraiser franchise?

Seifert: In early 2012 I got contacted by Chris Rosa, the Hellraiser editor at BOOM! Studios. The BOOM! folks had checked out the first Witch Doctor miniseries and liked what they saw — so they asked me to do a story for last year’s Hellraiser Annual #1. They liked the story I did, so they asked me to pitch a miniseries — which turned into Hellraiser: The Road Below. And then they liked what I did with The Road Below, so they asked me to co-write the new ongoing, Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, with Clive. It’s all been pretty seamless — but I never would’ve guessed this time last year that things would’ve gone the way they have!

Gamma Squad: How is it working with an original property, versus working with someone on their idea?

Seifert: They’ve both got their good points and their bad points. I like working on other people’s projects because I don’t have to start from scratch. I enjoy watching movies or reading comics and deconstructing characters’ motivations and personalities based on what they do in the story, so it makes writing a character like the Doctor (like I did in Doctor Who #3 and 4 from IDW a couple months ago) or Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser fun. On the flip side, I’m creating stories in someone else’s sandbox, on someone else’s dime. Nothing beats the freedom of creating projects out of whole cloth, that I control completely.

Gamma Squad: What’s up next for you?

Seifert: I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’m working on right now — but unfortunately I can’t talk about most of it, because it hasn’t been announced yet! I will say that I’ve already written over 200 script pages in 2013— and more than half of them are for a single project I’ve been commissioned to do. I’ve also got some more creator-owned projects in various stages of development, some of which should get launched some time this year.

Thanks to Brandon for taking the time to speak with us. Interested in Witch Doctor? Issue Zero is available for free on Comixology, and it’s a neat look into the universe. And for those already following along, issue #4 of Mal Practice is out tomorrow.