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Sometimes, you just can’t go to a regular doctor for a
supernatural illness. Instead, you should ask for a specialist in supernatural
medicine. From Skybound, WITCH DOCTOR follows Dr. Vincent Morrow and his
medical team as they treat patients with vampirism and demonic possession.
FANGORIA spoke with author and creator Brandon Seifert about how the concept
came about, the characterization of Dr. Morrow and his involvement with THE
WALKING DEAD’s Robert Kirkman.
FANGORIA: How did your career in the comic book industry
BRANDON SEIFERT: Like a lot of comics creators, I got my
start self-publishing. More specifically, I got my start self-publishing WITCH
DOCTOR with artist Lukas Ketner. We put out a couple of WITCH DOCTOR stories by
ourselves, starting in 2008. We did print editions with very, very small runs
(200 copies each, because that was all we could afford), and we also put the
issues up online for free and tried to get people to look at them. We got some
attention from a few different publishers, but nothing panned out until Kirkman
saw us online, loved our book and got in touch. We self-published the first
WITCH DOCTOR story in spring 2008; Kirkman contacted us in summer 2009; in
summer 2010 we signed contracts with Skybound and announced the project; and
now it’s summer 2011 and our first miniseries is coming out!
FANG: How did you come up with the concept of WITCH DOCTOR?
SEIFERT: Various pieces of it came to me at different
times. Back around 2003, I started thinking about characters like Dr.
Abraham Van Helsing in DRACULA, the idea of the occult doctor. Usually when
you’ve got a doctor character who investigates the supernatural, they’re used
as a generic monster hunter. I thought it’d be cool to see a character like
that who actually approached magic and monsters the way he’d been trained, from
a clinical, scientific view. That idea ended up combining with the idea of a
protagonist who was sort of a Dr. House type, someone who helps you out, but
isn’t very nice to you while he does it. The thing I consider the final piece
of the puzzle for the WITCH DOCTOR concept is that all the monsters are crossed
with diseases and things from actual science. That was the last part of the
idea to come to me, and it just sort of hit me as I was walking down the street
FANG: WITCH DOCTOR has an interesting cast of
characters—from Dr. Vincent Morrow, Eric Gast and the mysterious Penny
Dreadful. Tell me more about the relationships between Dr. Morrow and his
SEIFERT: We describe WITCH DOCTOR as a “horror-medical
drama,” so it was important to us that Morrow had someone assisting him who
belonged in each of those two worlds. Eric Gast is our refugee from a medical
drama. He’s a paramedic, very competent and capable, but out of his depth with
the magic stuff. He’s Morrow’s right-hand man and Morrow would have trouble
getting along without him. But Eric’s very trusting and somewhat naïve, which
makes him very fun for Morrow to pick on. And sometimes, Morrow goes too far.
Penny Dreadful is the assistant who belongs more in a
straight-up horror story. She’s a young woman with…something monster-y about
her. She doesn’t act all that human—and there are reasons for that, but we get
into those in the miniseries, so I don’t want to spoil the reveal. Penny’s
physically powerful, hard to injure, and has some abilities that make her very
useful in Morrow’s line of work. She’s also dangerous and not very reliable.
How much Morrow can trust her isn’t entirely clear yet.
FANG: In an interesting mix of horror and medicine, Dr.
Morrow uses medical jargon to explain the supernatural illnesses. How much
research was done in this project?
SEIFERT: Oh, man! I do sooooo much research for this
project! Since Lukas and I started working on this in 2007, I’ve read a whole
bunch of books, articles and websites about various diseases, animals and
medical issues. In addition to that, I’ve enlisted help from some medical
professionals; right now there’s an EMT who helps me out a lot with the medical
elements of the stories.
I’ve also done a lot of research into horror fiction and
also folklore. There’s a lot of interesting material in the things people
actually believed about the supernatural and a lot of the most classic horror
fiction has been informed by that; DRACULA had a lot of vampire research in it,
and for a more modern example, THE EXORCIST was based heavily on real-world
reports of “demonic possession.” That stuff is much more interesting to me than
horror fiction that’s inspired primarily by…other horror fiction. The snake
starts eating its own tail pretty quickly in that case.
FANG: The major theme in issues #0 and #1 is the debate
between science and religion. In issue #0, Dr. Morrow tries to give a
scientific explanation as to why vampires are afraid of crosses. In issue #1,
Dr. Morrow argues with a priest over faith and medicine. Is it difficult to
come up with both sides of the argument, even while representing your own point
SEIFERT: It’s interesting that you point that out, because
it wasn’t at all intentional. It was clearly something that needed addressing
in issue #1, because it’s a story about exorcism and possession in a very
Christian mode. The argument between the priest and Dr. Morrow was also a good
way to show the reader the difference in Morrow’s approach and viewpoint from
other heroes of the genre. No matter how weird the stuff he deals with, to him
it’s all just diseases and illnesses. On the other hand, in #0 we were doing a
bit of a scientific deconstruction of vampire fiction, and it seemed like the
vampires’ aversion to crucifixes was something we needed to get into.
I’d argue that science vs. religion isn’t really the theme,
and that it’s dogma vs. an open-minded, evidence-based approach to
understanding the world. And dogma comes from lots of places. One thing we’ll
see plenty in WITCH DOCTOR is Morrow butting heads with other people who think
they’re right, whether it’s religious figures, scientists or more
traditionalist members of the mystical community.
As far as both sides of the argument goes, Morrow’s side is
immediately apparent to me, just because I know him well enough. And in
issue #1, the priest’s side of the argument was basically taken verbatim from
the opinions of some Roman Catholic exorcists I’ve read. (I read several books
about exorcism and demonic possession before writing issue #1, and they were
pretty fascinating. I recommend THE RITE: THE MAKING OF A MODERN EXORCIST by
Matt Baglio and THE VATICAN’S EXORCISTS by Tracy Wilkinson especially.)
It’s pretty easy for me to put myself in the shoes of people
who have a very black and white view of the world, especially one that’s based
on religion. The priest in issue #1 is doing what he thinks is best for the
kid’s soul. The problem is, in this comic he’s wrong not just about what’s
best, but about what souls and possession even are.
TO BE CONTINUED
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