Interview: Tim Seeley at the 2013 Middle East Film and Comic Con

Tim Seeley can be described as both a hell of a guy and just a regular, approachable dude. Amidst dealing with persistent fans and doing a bevy of commissions, he was able to slot in some time to speak to Steve Paugh, on behalf of Comic Bastards, at the most recent Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. Answering Steve’s questions while drawing an amazing picture of the main character, Dana, from his most recent hit book, Revival, Tim is clearly a fanboy who loves living the dream - excited, humble and easy going in equal measure.

During their conversation, the two covered everything from where the artist/writer also responsible for the long-running series Hack/Slash got his start, to his influences within the horror genre, and even to a very cool sounding project that could have been between him and Robert Kirkman. Read on to see why he gets a solid Bastard “Seeley of approval!”

Steve: First off, how is your first time in the Gulf going so far here at the 2013 Middle East Film and Comic Con?

Tim: Yeah, it’s great! Just coming to the comic book convention here, there’s this sort of ravenous ... I don’t know, people here just want comics. You can feel their excitement - it’s pretty cool. 

Steve: I know it’s a tried and true question, but how did you first break into comics professionally, and what were the personal motivations for you to do so?

Tim: I was a big comic book fan when I was a kid and I was always drawing. I also grew up with two little brothers who I’d sit around with and draw comics all the time, and my dad was a big sci-fi and horror fan, so we were always watching those movies. When I went to college, I majored in illustration and started going to cons and making my own comics .. they were terrible! But I was learning and meeting people, that was the most important thing. I’d go to my day job, come back and draw my comics, go to conventions and meet people, and then finally when I was 20, a guy I met got the rights to a G.I. Joe comic book, which was “Devil’s Due,” and he called me up and said, ‘Hey, wanna come work for me? I can’t even handle how successful this book is; it’s too much work.’ So I moved to Chicago and started working as an editor, just doing art directing and stuff like that. Eventually, the artist couldn’t keep up, so I filled in and ended up drawing the book for like two and a half years.

Steve: Who were your influences at the time this was all going on?

Tim: I was really huge into the indie stuff in the 90s, so the early Image stuff was a huge influence and what I wanted to do. I wanted to do all of the stuff like draw Spider-Man and Batman and stuff, but making something of my own was always really important to me. With Image, there was suddenly this really powerful desire to make your own stuff and sort of be different, outside-of-the-box. Scud: The Disposable Assassin was a huge book for me, so was The Crow. James O’Barr ... I mean, he’s sitting right down the row there. I got to hang out with him at a club last night, which was just ... surreal!

Steve: So, you still have those fanboy, geek-out moments?

Tim: Oh yeah. I mean, hopefully you never lose those. When you do, you now you’re just jaded. With The Crow, that book introduced me to the band Joy Division and all kinds of goth stuff. It was just such a powerful read for me as a kid, and now going to this place in the Middle East and going to a dance club with the guy’s weird, man! If that 13-year-old me living in Wisconsin ever thought that could be a thing, it would have blown my mind! I wouldn’t be able to handle it!


Steve: Speaking of unusual things, you’re that rare breed of artist and writer. How do you know which hat to wear or when to wear both when you approach a project?

Tim: Well for the longest time, I didn’t really get a choice in it. I would get hired to draw stuff. I was able to get enough work as an artist to pay my bills, and I would write stuff in my free time, doing stuff like Hack/Slash. But now I get more work as a writer, so I’ve switched over to doing that.

When I first started writing Hack/Slash, it was because I was getting sick of drawing G.I. Joe all the time. I was enjoying the job, but I knew I was going to go crazy if all I was doing was working for a toy corporation that made crazy rules and changed their minds at the drop of a dime. So writing Hack/Slash was a sort of therapy for me. Originally, I wasn’t confident enough to write it myself, but I decided to do it anyway. Because I’d been doing Hack/Slash for nine years, I was fully prepared to do Revival. But I’m definitely more comfortable now making my own stuff and believing I’ll be able to pull it off.

Steve: And you must be given more freedom now, given the structure of the independent publishers of today.

Tim: Oh yeah, I mean, with Image, you couldn’t be freer. Everything about that book is something that Mike [Norton] and I came up with on our own and had to execute, being our own bosses. But we were prepared for it, having done it for years.

Steve: Do you prefer art or writing?

Tim: I like them both. I think in general I like writing a little better, but I never get as frustrated drawing as I do writing. So sometimes drawing is like a nice release. Occasionally, writing can make you want to go insane. I can talk to you right now and draw, but I can’t talk to you and write, you know? There’s something nice and mechanical about drawing that you just don’t get with writing.

I now know why most writers are crazy, man. I totally understand it. You have to go through this weird torture thing. Sometimes to get this moment in a script right, you have to feel crappy ... it’s just so weird. I understand why Hemingway was a nut.

Steve: On the subject of nuts, you’ve been dabbling in horror for some time now, with like Hack/Slash and now Revival. What makes a good horror story, particularly in the medium of comic books?

Tim: When it comes down to it, I think the horror that’s most effective is when you care about the characters, because they are the gateways to you actually feeling something, and horror doesn’t really work if you don’t feel something. The best kind of horror is unsettling instead of shocking. It’s fun to go get spooked and jump, but horror should make you feel disturbed or make you question something. That’s the stuff that sticks with you, which is why I think zombies are so popular right now - not just because they’re decaying people, but because it makes you ask questions about your own mortality, if you can trust people, if you would be able to shoot grandma if she went crazy and tried to eat your head, you know? The other stuff will work for a while, but it’s forgettable.

Steve: How do you think comic book horror translates to the big screen? Could Hack/Slash or Revival work in your opinion?

Tim: I think anything can work in any medium, but I think some things work best the way they are. I think Revival would be a great TV show - it’s more about the ongoing story. It’s like The Walking Dead - it just works better as a serial. But yeah, we sold the rights to a television studio for a year, so we’ll see if anything happens. We make comics because we like comics, but if we sold something, that would be fine because we still like making comics.

There’s definitely something in the air with horror. With The Walking Dead being, like, world record level successful, it means that people are looking at especially horror comics with a little more respect than they used to. So yeah, it’s a good time to have a horror book. I think that we were able to latch onto the zeitgeist that’s going around, but doing something different with it as well.

The Walking Dead does the kind of zombies it does as well as you can do them, so there’s no reason for me to explore that anymore. I grew up on Romero, Return of the Living Dead, all that stuff. I love those movies, was always a big fan, but then, when The Walking Dead came out as a comic, the goal was, ‘What if your favorite zombie movie never ended?’ And they killed it, they did it perfectly. So now, the TV show is successful all around the world.

Still, there’s room within the zombie story structure, in terms of questions like, ‘Who is the real monster,’ and ‘What happens to us as a society without rules?’ But Revival is more about small towns and neighbors, the people we love and how we deal with death. So yeah, there’s plenty of room in that idea to play around.

Steve: While we’re on the topic, where did the story for Revival come from? It’s not quite a zombie story, not quite a ghost story, not quite a human story, while being all of the above. What influenced its story and artistic direction?

Tim: Mike Norton and I knew we wanted to work on something together, and we knew it had to be something that stuck with us both. One of the things we both wanted to do was tell a story in a small town. We’re both from small towns, and we wanted to focus on normal people instead of superheroes or adventurers. We wanted to show people dealing with something different.

I had some ideas about a small town crime series, and Mike had some ideas for a pseudo-zombie story, so we just sat down and talked stuff out. He came up with the idea of Dana, I came up with Em, and we each designed some characters - but we completely made it 100% together. It’s amazing because part of it was not thinking about it, we just made stuff up, you know? It ended up working best that way because it was just us talking about stuff we were interested in and the kind of characters we wanted to write. Instead of working on something that you hope will be successful, we just wanted to make something that would be great. Play off your strengths, make something you care about. That’s key.


Steve: What is your favorite horror movie of all time?

Tim: Halloween is my favorite of all time, but I always loved the original Dawn of the Dead. That’s one of my favorite movies of all time. The most recent horror movie I absolutely loved was Cabin in the Woods, which I thought was so fantastic and energetic and creative. It was totally in the vein of what I have made and would like to make more of, so when I saw that, I was like, ‘Ah, that Joss Whedon totally gets it, man.’


Steve: What books are you reading right now? Since we’re in a place like Dubai, which is still a new market for the industry, which books would you recommend for newbies?

Tim: Let’s see, I read a fair amount of stuff - lot of Image books, like Walking Dead, Invincible, Morning Glories, Chew. I also read a lot of Dark Horse stuff, like Hellboy. I try to try everything new and independent that comes out to at least give it a shot.

But yeah, in a place like Dubai, they don’t have a history of superhero comics, so I think there’s a lot of room to check other stuff out, like Saga. There’s some really great entry level stuff these days, even if you’ve never read a superhero comic before. It’s a new reading experience, and I kind of envy someone checking this stuff out for the first time. My first comic was a Spider-Man book, and I never got over it, obviously; I mean, I’m still doing this all these years later, but yeah, I’m envious for first time readers in a place like Dubai for having their first book be something great like Saga or Walking Dead - I think you’d get them for life.

Comic books are weirdly successful right now. I mean, I’ve been in comics for like 15 years, and I pretty much started when it was at the lowest of the low! [laughs] But yeah, it’s great to see it go up and see people get more interested. The movies are also helping, but not defining the kind of comics that are successful. The fact that I regularly see people wearing Avengers shirts ... I remember when I was 10 years old and had to wear my Avengers t-shirt at home because I didn’t want the kids to make fun of me. It’s crazy and it’s awesome that we’ve changed that much.

Steve: Well, I think Revival’s part of that - it’s kind of in the name.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, I think we got lucky. We’re part of the group of guys who have been working in the industry for 10-12 years, like Kirkman, Brian Vaughn and John Layman. We’ve been here long enough to have the confidence to do this and I think people are ready for something new. We’ve been to the cons for all these years and complained that people don’t want anything new ... but we were wrong! They DO want something new.


Steve: Is there any one creative person (writer or artist) you’ve wanted to work with, or is there a book you’ve always wanted to work on?

Tim: Oh yeah, for sure. I’d really like to work with Ross Campbell again - he does the book Glory at Image that just finished up. He’s the artist who, for some reason, when I do a story, I see his art in my head. I don’t know why, I just do! I’d like to work with Kieron Gillen again as an artist. I worked with him briefly on an X-Men project, and I thought his scripts were great.

I’ve known Kirkman for like 12 years, but we’ve never worked on anything. We were supposed to do a G.I. Joe project a long, long time ago, but it never happened.

Steve: Oh wow, that would have been amazing!

Tim: Yeah, it was a crazy Snake Eyes story - it would have been awesome. He would have gone to the moon and it was ... yeah, it was crazy, but we never got to do it. So I’d like to work with him on something.

Steve: Well other than hopefully THAT, what is coming next from Tim Seeley?

Tim: Well, I’m gonna focus on getting Revival set up. I’ve got two stories coming out from DC, a new book from Dark Horse. And hopefully I’ll have another Image book coming out soon.

Steve: Anything you can say by name?

Tim: Well, I’m doing one of the Legends of the Dark Knight - the digital ones. And the Dark Horse book is a sequel to The Occultist, a book I did a few years ago. So yeah, it’s all stuff I’m really happy to work on. Really exciting.

Steve: Very cool, well thank you for your time on behalf of Comic Bastards!

Tim: Yeah, man, I’ve used you guys on quotes before. Great stuff. Thanks again!