Aubrey Sitterson Talks the Dirtbag, Metalhead Magic of Doc Spektor

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Aubrey Sitterson Talks the Dirtbag, Metalhead Magic of <i>Doc Spektor</i>

Aubrey Sitterson is blazing his own path through comics, whether that means teaming up with an avant-garde artist to tackle licensed toy properties or breaking from a unified sci-fi/action shared universe to spin a yarn about a magical young dirtbag who needs rent money. Doc Spektor, which runs as a backup serial across Dynamite’s latest Gold Key heroes line, doesn’t look or feel like its colleague series Sovereigns, Turok or Magnus, but like the bastard son of Hellblazer and a bong rip. Each installment, illustrated by Dylan Burnett, colored by Triona Tree Farrell and lettered by Taylor Esposito, tells a self-contained Spektor tale while advancing his quest for…rent money, a relatable NYC struggle.

In advance of the fourth installment, which runs this week in Magnus # 3, Paste chatted with Sitterson about metalhead magic, digging into grimoires and defining a unique visual identity for the serial. We’ve also got a peek at the fourth installment and Burnett’s character sketches for the witchy cast.

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Paste: Urban magicians have been a comic-book staple since John Constantine popped up in Swamp Thing in the ‘80s. Where does Spektor fit in that lineage? What inspired the more gutter-punk take this go around?

Aubrey Sitterson: Even further back, man! What about the original Doctor Spektor in the 1970s? Or even Steven Strange, M.D. back in the 1960s?! But yes, absolutely, the fact that the core concept is nothing groundbreaking or unique was definitely on all of our minds. Which is how we landed on the project’s specific dirtbag sorcerer aesthetic, which I’d categorize as more metal than punk, and was actually one of the starting points for my conversations with our editor, Matt Idelson.

I love magic (the “ck” always reads as pretentious to me). The occult. All the spooky stuff. But most of the time in comics, the occult is portrayed in a pretty fey manner. It tends to be more goth than metal: eyeliner, pancake makeup, fishnets, Bauhaus, etc. We wanted something heavier, something with some balls—more Kirby’s Demon than Gaiman’s Sandman, you know? Where’s the black metal take on magic in comics, right? Where’s the occult doom take? Where is comics’ Ghost.

But the occult metal niche wasn’t the only one we were looking to fill. Another trend over the past few years in comics has been an uptick is really great, fun books that speak directly to a younger audience: Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, etc. They’re doing an amazing job at not only telling fantastic stories, but doing so while bringing new, diverse readers into the fold. But most of them focus on young female characters.

With Doc Spektor, we wanted to do the “dude” version of those books—not out of some sense of fairness or anything like that, but simply because it’s something the entire team would like to read, but doesn’t currently exist. At least not the way we think it should be done. Beyond just being a gender swap though, we’ve tried to really imbue this with what it is to be a scummy 20-something dude in New York, one who’s learning the painful lesson that he’s been sold a bill of goods about what his future would entail. It’s subject matter that, after a decade in NYC before seeing the light and moving to Los Angeles…I’m intimately familiar with.

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Doc Spektor Ch. 4 Interior Art by Dylan Burnett, Triona Tree Farrell & Taylor Esposito

Paste: We’ve already seen Spektor kick a rad-looking king of Hell to the curb. Did you dive into occult research to come up with foes for the book? Or have you left most of the demonology to artist Dylan Burnett?

Sitterson: YOU SPEAK OF PAIMON! OF THE SHEMHAMPHORASH!

Man, I’m so glad you asked about this, because of course I did research. And by research, I mean “Dug out my well-worn copy of The Lesser Key of Solomon.” A lot of the specifics from that scene—the horns, the camel, Paimon’s appearance—come directly from Goetic magical tradition.

I don’t believe in being slavish to a single magical tradition though, as it seems to undercut what magic is all about, so you’re going to see a lot of other magical influences on display too. Already you’ve seen no small amount of chaos magic, as well as some more traditional forms of folk magic, like trances and glamours. And in chapter three, Doc even busts out some Enochian (the language of angels, obviously) when confronted with our version of fairies, the Unseelie boss Hurgn.

Paste: Burnett, colorist Triona Tree Farrell and letterer Taylor Esposito have created a visual identity for Spektor that’s a bit less tethered to realism than the other Gold Key titles. What’s the process like between the four of you, and how involved have you been in guiding that look?

Sitterson: I feel outrageously fortunate to be working with this team—Matt really assembled a murderer’s row of talent, and more importantly, he gathered together the exact right people to be working on this project.

Matt and I went back and forth a bunch about the artist, because we knew we needed someone whose work reads young, but without veering into twee or cutesy-wutesy territory. Nothing wrong with that stuff, but it’s not what Spektor is about, you know? We needed someone who draws battle jackets with Darkthrone patches, not Disney pins. So when Matt sent over Dylan’s stuff, I knew it was perfect. He and I both share, as a very foundational influence, the work of Jamie Hewlett, and anyone with eyes to see can spot that in Dylan’s work—Spektor looks like occult Tank Girl, which is perfect. But the level of detail in the backgrounds, the forethought that goes into the layouts…it makes for something completely different. Every time I get pages in, I go back in and redo the script and it becomes 100x better. That’s the magic of collaboration, and it’s why Dylan and I are already hard at work on our next project together.

And Triona? She’s a gift from the heavens. We knew what we wanted—someone who could do weird, metal magic without going monochromatic. People hear “metal aesthetic” and they automatically think darkdarkDARK, but in doing so, they forget about the most metal form of art in all of existence: van paintings. Bright, colorful, evocative, hallucinogenic, glowing van paintings. Tree has swooped in, amplifying all of that crazy detail that Dylan devils in, while imbuing the entire project with a feel and tone that reads as our world but…different. Dylan’s stuff looks and reads great in black & white—as you would imagine from an artist of his caliber—but Tree’s involvement turns it into something else entirely. It’s a special type of alchemy we’re working with here.

I’m also really glad you mentioned my old pal Taylor, too. I knew that he was a smart, talented dude from when we both worked together at Marvel, but what he’s done on this project has left me absolutely stunned. Most digital letterers have their style or template that they slap onto whatever book they’re working on, which, while fine, is uninspired. Taylor came into the project, saw the art, read the script and realized that we needed something different, and so he created an entirely new aesthetic with which to letter the book. And most impressively, he didn’t veer off into the other direction as some other letterers do, with different fonts and balloon sizes for every character. He did the job all letterers aspire to: He made undeniable contributions to the flow and feel of the story in ways that most readers won’t even notice.

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Doc Spektor Ch. 4 Interior Art by Dylan Burnett, Triona Tree Farrell & Taylor Esposito

Paste: Since Doc Spektor is running as a backup throughout the Gold Key line, readers are following the whole imprint, but how does Spektor fit in with the other characters? Does his seemingly more intimate quest—not getting evicted—dovetail with Turok, Magnus and the others?

Sitterson My Gold Key compatriots have big, crazy, awesome plans for their characters, which is another reason why we went with something more grounded (albeit drenched in the occult) for Doc Spektor. It’s also a welcome counterpoint to the huge, action-packed, aspirational adventure comics that Giannis Milonogiannis, Lovern Kindzierski and I have been doing on G.I. Joe, The Crown Jewel of the Hasbro Universe. I don’t know if I’d say that our book “dovetails” with the others, but it was very much designed to bring a different flavor to the line, to scratch an itch that everyone has, even if they don’t know it yet.

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Doc Spektor Concept Sketches by Dylan Burnett

Paste: Where does Spektor go from here, aside from poverty? What’ve you got planned for him in the remaining serial and beyond?

Sitterson: As folks have already seen, each installment of Spektor, while only four pages, is packed with weirdness and character moments and jokes and, obviously, magic. It was a fun thing to plot out, as not only did each installment need to work on its own, but they also needed to build toward a satisfying whole. I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be an amazing way to structure a story—each chapter examines and explores an aspect of Spektor’s life, while a larger threat and conflict grows around the margins.

Coming up, you can look forward to meeting Doc’s hunky roommate, Frankie (little bit of eye-candy for everyone), Frankie’s procession of girlfriends (more eye-candy), demonic evocation, hard partying, a pinch of Lovecraft, knockdown-drag-out brawls and, naturally, relationship drama. And like I said, each chapter works independently, but once you read one, you’re going to want to pick up the rest. Here’s a schedule to help you with that noble endeavor:

Chapter 1: Sovereigns #0 (out NOW)
Chapter 2: Turok #1 (out NOW)
Chapter 3: Sovereigns #4 (out NOW)
Chapter 4: Magnus #3 (on-sale 8/16)
Chapter 5: Sovereigns #5 (on-sale 9/13)
Chapter 6: Magnus #4 (on-sale 9/20
Chapter 7: Turok #2 (on-sale 9/27)
Chapter 8: Magnus #5 (on-sale 10/18)
Chapter 9: Turok #3 (on-sale 10/25)
Chapter 10: Turok #4 (on-sale 11/22)

After that, well…it’s largely in readers’ hands, as they’ll need to let Dynamite and their retailers know how amazing Doc Spektor is, and how badly they need more of it in their lives. I’m not concerned though, as truthfully, with what me, Dylan, Tree and Taylor are doing…there’s absolutely nothing else like this out there and I shudder to think of what we’d conjure up with an ongoing series.

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Doc Spektor Concept Sketches by Dylan Burnett

Paste: And since you’re a pretty vocal metalhead online, what’s Spektor listening to in his downtime?

Sitterson: Metal is a wildly diverse genre, so it depends on what he’s doing, you know? If he’s just sitting around, getting baked and reading grimoires, it’s something doomy, like Sleep or Ufomammut, or Telekinetic Yeti. But when he’s stomping around NYC or scumming around on the subways, it’s all thrash, daddy. Power Trip is definitely in the rotation, as is Ghoul and, when he’s feeling darker, Skeletonwitch. His absolute favorite rippers, however, are the blackened doom geniuses Poltergeist who, the gods and Dynamite willing, you’ll be seeing in the future.

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Doc Spektor Concept Sketches by Dylan Burnett

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