Stjepan Šeji? is sending the Grim Reaper for us all – luckily, she’s a good guy.
This Wednesday, the Croatian artists launches Death Vigil – a new creator-owned series published through Image follows a recently deceased man named Sam and his servitude as part of an dwindling army of death dealers fighting against a seemingly all-seeing, all-powerful force known as the Enemy. Best known for his work on Top Cow titles like Artifacts and Witchblade, Death Vigil sees Šeji? blending masculinity, sexiness and a slice of Whedonesque humor circa Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Last year, Newsarama named Šeji? as one of our “10 To Watch in 2014” and now as he pushes himself to live up to that with the creator-owned Death Vigil in addition to balancing work at Top Cow and upcoming projects at DC, we talked to him about this series, his approach to art, his amazing work ethic and his thoughts on working for the Big Two.
Newsarama: Stjepan, how would you describe the story of Death Vigil?
Stjepan Šeji?: Death Vigil would be easiest to define as an X-Men style team book. By that, I mean it is a book about people with special abilities under the guidance of a mentor.
It is definitely a character-driven team book. Its general plot is about a bunch of death knights fighting necromancers from letting in the, eaters of universes, known as the Enemy.
It is the exploration of characters that I think will be its strongest side. The reasons for their actions and behaviors, their motivations and fears, their boastfulness and their apparent aloofness.
Nrama: The guy at the center this is dubbed ‘The Digger,’ but his real name is Sam. Who is he?
Šeji?: He used to be a going nowhere fast, kind of a person. No great ambitions, no great romantic aspirations. Hell, before he joined the Death Vigil he was not even overly talkative… which resulted him looking like less of a dark silent type, and more like "too dumb to join the conversation" type.
Joining the Vigil changed him. Bernardette the Reaper changed him. He became one of the most talkative people in the Vigil; in fact, combat banter is something he considers a personal specialty.
However, like most apparently odd things in the book, this too has some very strong reasoning. I won't go too deeply into it but there is a line in the third issue that says a lot I think
"We aren't acting strong and confident in front of each other Clara... We are acting that way for each other. Truth is, we are all terrified of what we are facing...and fear like laughter is infectious. If we have to choose our infection, I say, we laugh!"
Nrama: And just what is the Vigil that Sam and Bernadette are a part of, and what are their goals?
Šeji?: Death Vigil is an order of death knights, known to be at the very least six thousand years old. If there was vigil before it, their leader Bernardette can't say. Memories only last for so long.
What she does know is that at some point people were exposed to the Enemy. A being or beings of immense power that promised power, knowledge and immortality to those who served their purpose. And their purpose was a simple one.
“Let us in! Let us enter! We bring gifts!”
If Bernie ever knew the true origin of the Enemy, or even herself, she does not remember it anymore. But things she knows about the Enemy keep her fighting,
Even the smallest manifestations of Enemy's power, summoned by his human allies, the necromancers possess the ability to, at the very least, drive anyone who sees them insane. These beings of chaos seek purpose; they feast on minds, and endlessly crave more leaving a trail of death fear and madness behind them.
This is where Bernie and her mysterious scythe come in. She doesn't remember how or why but she is capable of recruiting certain people...the gifted, to become one of the Vigil, to grant them immortal bodies and weaponry that in the lack of better words are magical.
These death knights, the Death Vigil, fight necromancers and take away their powers by severing the link with the Enemy forever.
Nrama: The first issue is massive – over 46 pages. Why’d you decide to make the debut issue so big?
Šeji?: Simple. Characters needed some room to be themselves. Who was I to stand in their way?
Nrama:I really enjoy the tone of this – it’s about magic, death and action, but Sam and Bernadette have a real tongue-in-cheek approach to things that’s sardonic and refreshing. How’d you go about finding their voices?
Šeji?: I love humor... no, I adore humor. In all honesty, any story that can make me laugh even once is scoring big with me. This really worked to my advantage because believe it or not humor in Death Vigil is crucially important... buuut more on that in the later issues.
I wanted Bernardette to be this immensely powerful woman, who would find the most mundane little things to remind her of why she is fighting; she is thousands of years old. She has seen humanity at its best, but she has seen it at its worst, and there are days when it is hard to find the reason to fight for.
So she finds any reason to laugh, to smile... and to rock out to, Yes, in the last few decades she has found immense love for music.
Sam, on the other hand was never too talkative, but Bernie's attitude and behavior helped him open up. He got to know her, and having spent the most of his life on the listening and observing side of things, he noticed things about her many would miss.
So he appointed himself as the cheermeister to the Grim Reaper, one might say.
Nrama: People know you best from your on Aphrodite IX,Witchblade and Artifacts, but you’ve been doing creator-owned work for a while – with Ravine but also online endeavors. What drives you to do creator-owned work?
Šeji?: Heh, serious chuckle when I read online endeavors... usually people refer to it as, that "other" comic.
What drives me? What drives any storyteller? There is a bunch of characters jumping on top of my head and poking me to write their stories.
Often those stories turn out to be not what I planned them to be but what characters needed them to be
That is the true magic of storytelling. The endless adventure of writing; you never know where it will take you and whether or not your destination will be what you envisioned.
Nrama: For Death Vigil here, you did the entire production of the book – from writing to drawing, coloring and lettering. Is that your ideal method for doing comics, and if not, why did you go this route?
Šeji?: It is ideal for me right now, yes. More people you have, the more unforeseen circumstances you may have to end up dealing with. Sheer strain of horrible luck and bad events that delayed the book 2 of Ravine are a perfect example.
For instance, I initially lost about 20+pages of that book in a hard disk accident. Which had delayed it for about 2 weeks. Only to deliver it to Ron Marz for him to do his writing pass over my stuff, and then his mother died early this year.
I heard it said many a time...life gets in the way sometimes, and that is true.
And rarely is it ever positive.
Tragic enough on its own, this sad event ended up having the added consequence of setting back his monthly paid work, and having to pay his bills. He too had to focus on that, as Ravine is a back-end deal for the both of us.
Thankfully book is now finished and being prepared for print so that load of stress will soon be off our minds.
But see, that is it in a nutshell. When I derail my own schedule, and it is of my own fault; I can apologize personally for it, I can make amends for it as the situation is ultimately under my control.
Don't get me wrong I am planning for Death Vigil to be accurate like clockwork, but this needed to be addressed.
Nrama: I’m impressed with how much work you do – typically, how many pages do you do in an average day or week?
Šeji?: Generally, on a slow day it is two comic pages a day, plus some additional side gigs and projects depending what I am in the mood for.
Nrama:For the past seven years you’ve almost exclusively worked at Top Cow, with some brief stints at Marvel and elsewhere. What makes you call Top Cow home?
Šeji?: They treat me well, I have formed not just work relationships but friendships there as well, and most importantly...when I make a suggestion or have an idea ...they listen. That means the world to me.
Nrama: And that being said, you seem like exactly the kind of artist DC or Marvel would want. You’ve done some covers recently for DC, and some interiors in the past for Marvel, and done some great drawings of their heroes on your DeviantArt account. Is doing more with them something you’re interested in?
Šeji?: Yes and no.. I am a bit weird with this stuff. For instance, there are characters I would like to do miniseries of someday. A fun book featuring an adventure and romance of Big Barda and Mr. Miracle for instance would be near the top of my list.
Thing is, I am a fan of self-contained stories, with an actual ending to them. It is the nature of ongoings to be cyclical, deaths, rebirths, turning evil, turning good, losing powers, regaining powers... all of these things are on an endless loop, and while fun and definitely useful as jumping on points, they do get drowned in continuity too often for my personal taste.