Tim Seeley Talks Celebrity Culture And Small-Town Spookiness In Vertigo’s ‘Effigy’ [Interview]
This week sees the debut of Effigy, a new Vertigo title from Grayson/Revival scribe Tim Seeley and Madame Xanadu artist Marley Zarcone. The series follows Chondra Jackson, a woman who, as a child, starred in a beloved kids' sci-fi/mystery TV show, and now lives a quiet life as a police officer in small-town Ohio – until she gets pulled into a mystery involving ritual sacrifices, a shadowy celebrity-worshipping cult, and pieces of her past coming back to haunt her.
To mark the launch of the book, we spoke with Seeley about his work process, his inspirations, and how the world of celebrities and comics intersect.
ComicsAlliance: This series combines some pretty disparate elements right off the bat: kids TV shows of the 80s/early 90s, child stars and stage moms, supernatural horror, and sextape-driven TMZ-styled media. What gave you the idea to take all these things and mix them together?
Tim Seeley: I never really broke it down into so many elements. I think the inspiration was just kind of… I had a really pleasant experience working on Revival and just kinda doing a big mystery-style series, and I really liked writing police stories more than I thought I would, yet I still wanted to do something a little different. And I've spent much of the last twelve years working in comics at comic conventions, and one of the odd side effects of that is that you end up going out for drinks and hanging out with cult movie celebrities and former child stars, and I just kinda got fascinated with watching the world they live in.
I think it's impossible not to be very aware of the celebrity culture and the way it dominates. It's taken over a lot from what used to be news in America, and as I thought about that stuff, it all sorta combined. Celebrity culture and that sort of fame is somewhat similar to religion, and all that made me decide to do a cult-mystery story based around this new religion.
CA: And beyond the experiences of working on other titles and the times where you're in that weird parallel world of comic cons, did you do much in the way of research? Did you sit down and spend hours youtubing old kids' shows, did you read up on child celebrities…?
TS: [laughs] Yeah, definitely. I definitely have way too many links on my computer now. Like Lindsey Lohan's mom kinda stuff, where I got really interested in that phenomenon of "momagers," which is an actual term for people who, for good or bad, exploit their children for fame and fortune. I've read tons of interviews with people like that, YouTube has a number of videos of these people presenting their children, and that's something I really wanted to touch on. And really, if you sit around a convention bar long enough, you can hear some really good stories that can serve as reference for comics.
CA: So then, why isn't your lead character Chondra just doing the convention circuit, hitting small-town conventions and charging for autographs? Why did she decide to become a cop?
TS: Well, it's very specific to her personality why she didn't just do that. That's something we cover right away in the first arc – she actually ends up going to a convention in the second issue, while looking for clues to this murder. But I think she feels kind burned by the celebrity culture and the churning people out. I think she kinda feels like she went through everything that she could possibly do to maintain her status, and now she's no longer particularly interested in doing so.
You'll see that as we go on – maybe the passion she should have for acting wasn't hers, maybe it was her mom's, more than anything – and we'll see what made her want to become a cop. Because the cop she played on TV is obviously not the kind of cop she is in real life, and we set that up right at the beginning when we see her as a kid cop in the future, busting a few slimy villains, and in the real world, she's writing parking tickets. It's not the same kind of thing. And that will be a big part of the story.
CA: And while the celebrity element factors into it right at the beginning, most of this first issue is structured as a small-town supernatural drama, which is a genre you've played with before (in Revival) – are there ideas in this that you've had kicking around for a while, that for one reason or another didn't fit into other things?
TS: Yeah, that's kind of a thing I want to play with. It starts out as kind of a familiar thing – I mean, if you've read Revival, it'll feel familiar at first – but Effigy is going to be a very different kind of book, because the place that she starts is not where she's going to end up. Whereas, I think Revival is kind of all about that sense of being stuck where you are.
I wanted to do something where you got to see the training and background of a small-town cop, and what that encompasses, and then becomes this globe-hopping Dan Brown sort of story.
CA: Yeah, I was struck by how small it starts. The initial press release gave us a clue how big it's going to get, but there's only hints of that at the beginning. The first issue introduces a bunch of characters, and takes its time – you resist the impulse to hit us with everything right out the gate.
TS: That's the toughest part with comics, I think: the pacing, deciding what happens when, because you're only getting these things in small doses, once a month.
I felt with Effigy, it was most important to have you meet these people and see the world they come from, see them in their element. And that will set up the larger theme when things get weird. And I really want to play with that as we go on – there's always a question with reality TV of "how much of this is scripted, how much is real?", and I kinda wanted to play with that same question in this book. So there has to be that part that seems very real and very true, and then as it goes on, I think the point will be to make you question how much of this is actually reality and how much is scripted.
CA: And you're measuring all that out carefully, which is almost counter-intuitive – you're taking your time to build a story about the instant-gratification, here today/gone tomorrow elements of celebrity culture.
TS: Maybe that's dangerous, yeah… I mean, if you go back and read the first issue of The Invisibles now, it's really surprising – the first issue basically revolves around two characters, you don't even meet most of the cast, the conspiracy angle doesn't really show up until later issues. And we live in a world now where there's less patience to wait for stories to play out, so it's not something I can always stretch out and tell over a long period of time. It's going to have to be more condensed, and it has to jump into those bigger things fast, because I don't think the attention span is the same as it was when a series like The Invisibles or Sandman first started up.
CA: So how far in advance do you have things planned, and how precise and absolute are those plans?
TS: It's pretty well set in stone through the first twelve issues or so, but I've learned my lesson doing Revival and Hack/Slash and stuff over the years that you have to have a skeleton plan, but also be open to sharp changes in your story. So I think of it as like driving with headlights on a foggy night: you can see directly in front of you, but things are only hazily illuminated off in the distance. You know where you're going, you know the location, but you can't see the path too far ahead.
CA: Your artist, Marley Zarcone - how were you put in touch with her? Did you find her, was she suggested or recommended by someone at DC/Vertigo?
TS: She's totally a [Vertigo Executive Editor] Shelly Bond find. Shelly had worked with her on Madame Xanadu and some Fables stuff and really wanted to work with her on more things, so when Shelly was collecting a group of Vertigo pitches, she had a group of artists that she was having try out and kinda let pick projects. So I got lucky and Marley picked me!
CA: And from there, how did you guys go about developing these characters and the look of things?
TS: When I started working on the series, I designed all the characters. I drew them out, and I sent them to Marley and she just kinda did her own thing. [laughs] She made things completely different than what I was thinking, and I think it's totally for the best!
Effigy #1 is on sale January 28th.