Tim Seeley, the writer who's guiding recent DC hit titles like Grayson and Batman Eternal, debuts his first Vertigo title this week with Effigy, a comic he admits has a high concept behind it — but also "cool murders and monsters and stuff."
Effigy, which features art by Marley Zarcone, follows a former child TV star named Chondra Jackson who returns to her hometown, hoping to do something good with her life by becoming a police officer. She's confronted by a bizarre murder that mimics an episode from the sci-fi TV show Star Cop, in which she used to star, and ends up being plunged into the mystery of a strange cult that worships celebrities as eternal effigies.
Before his recent DC work, Seeley was best known for his horror-themed comic Hack/Slash from Image, but he's also getting a lot of attention for his current zombies-with-a-twist story in Image's Revival, which he creates with studio-mate Mike Norton.
Newsarama talked to Seeley to find out more about the idea behind Effigy, the series' protagonist, and how the sci-fi show Star Cop plays a role (including some upcoming scenes set at a Star Cop convention).
Newsarama: Tim, where did you come up with this idea, where people worship celebrities in a way similar to religious effigies? Even the basic description speaks to something that we see so much in the world today, with people who either hate or love celebrities a little too much.
Tim Seeley: It wasn't any specific moment, but the idea came from a bunch of things percolating in my brain at the same time, and I think at one point — I'm not, like, a philosopher or a very smart guy, so it only came in little chunks — but it was that realization that people were sort of seeking out famous people and interactions with them, in the same way that it seemed like people were going to church.
It's like you just want to touch that "something" more powerful and bigger than you, to help validate your own existence. And it's almost like, whether it's God or it's Pit Bull, it doesn't matter, as long as you're close to it. It sort of helps deal with this confusing existence we have.
Nrama: Obviously, this story takes that idea and pushes it to an extreme. Can you explain the basic premise of the story we'll be reading as Effigy begins?
Seeley: Sure. The basic idea is that a girl who's a former child star from a science fiction TV show for kids decides to become a cop, and she ends up dealing with a murder that incorporates a lot of elements from her old TV show. This leads her into this larger conspiracy, sort of occult thing that's going on behind the scenes, and it leads us through the connection between fame and religion.
Nrama: The story even traces back to ancient religion. I know that's not the focus of the story, but it does touch upon this part of all humans that's existed for centuries.
Seeley: Honestly, it's the first thing humans think about, after "be warm" and "find food." And maybe "get some sex." The next step is, ask why I'm living, and ask what I'm here for, and why do these things happen? So I think that search for validation and faith is completely natural for us and always has been.
But that changes in an age of social media and 24-hour cable news and the cult of celebrities and even fan conventions. All these things change the larger context of that stuff. And I wanted to deal with that, but not make it boring.
We totally have to have cool murders and monsters and stuff. So we'll have that too.
Nrama: OK, tell me about the main character, Chondra. What's she like?
Seeley: She is someone who hasn't had control of her life for the past 10 years, and she's just regaining that now. She's never really questioned it, until recently, why she was living someone else's dream. When the fun parts wore off — when the fame and all that stuff wore off — I think she realized that she wanted something more from her life.
But a lot of the Hollywood still exists in her, so even when she comes back to her hometown and is legitimately interested in helping people by becoming a copy and being more like the character she played, there's still a lot of L.A. in her. That's because it formed her pre-adult years.
Nrama: How would you describe the style, and why did you think Marley Zarcone's art would fit with the story you were telling in Effigy?
Seeley: Marley's stuff is really — when I first saw it, I noticed it right away — everything is pretty. Even the corpse in issue #1 is kind of pretty. And I think that fits with this idea of celebrity culture, where everything is just a little bit too perfect, and the veneer is just a little too shiny. And I think she really brings that to it.
And she's great at expressions. So I knew it had to be a book about the people and the way that they were interacting with each other, and these kind of bigger ideas. So I thought she was perfect for that, because she really gets acting. And this book incorporates a certain amount of television fakery, so it had to have that acting in it.
Nrama: I assume there are flashbacks to Chondra's TV show, Star Cop?
Seeley: Of course! Yeah! In fact, issue #2 and #3 take place at a Star Cops convention, so you get to see a lot of the fandom associated with it, and more of the story behind the show.
That's the weird thing about writing a story within a story, is you have to know two stories. So I have to know basically 11 seasons of Star Cop, roughly, in my head.
Nrama: This is an ongoing, right?
Seeley: It's an ongoing, yeah.
Nrama: So you have lots of ideas tying into this down the road?
Seeley: Oh yeah! I'd better! But the idea was to start with the very fringe of the mythology. So over the first arc, you see that interaction with it from the outside.
And then as we go on, we'll really expand upon that mythology. That'll allow us to go all over the world and put our characters through crazy stuff. But the key is to start small and show you little bits of it, and how it relates to our characters, and make you fall in love with them. We build on each mystery, opening the way to new mystery. So hopefully every time our characters figure something out, it'll open the doors to something they don't know, and that curiosity will keep the characters and the reader going, to want to know more about this.
And in the meantime, we'll also have cool action scenes, and sexy time, and all kinds of strange stuff, so it'll be worth the trip.
And then see how they interact with this big, crazy idea that'll hopefully be so expansive that it can hopefully run for a couple hundred years.