[Interview] Cullen Bunn Talks ‘Harrow County’ and the Growth of Comic Success in Society
Cullen Bunn’s place in the entertainment industry can be summed up in one word: necessary. We need deep thinkers. We need charismatic talents. We need guys like Cullen who know how to capture the mind – even if only for brief stretches at a time – and endow us with timeless tales. Harrow County, Cullen’s masterful tale of witches, vengeance and fear of the unknown is one of today’s greatest comic books on the market. It may in fact be the greatest comic on the market. From the vintage vibe to the lovable characters to the wildly dark subject matter, it is a book that absolutely has to be read. To steer clear of it would be to do one’s self a true injustice.
We here at HNR are completely addicted to the story. It’s a page turner times infinite and a work that will one day be recognized as an unquestionable classic. Now that you know these things, you know exactly why we wanted to pick the man’s brain. Who wouldn’t want to know what ticks away in the mental crevices of a true genius?
Prepare for a look into Cullen’s thought process. He was kind enough to share a few minutes and some insight with us, and we’re overjoyed to share that with you!
HNR: Talk to me about any specific influences you may have been impacted by while writing Harrow County.
Cullen Bunn: I grew up in the country and I spent my days exploring the woods, dilapidated and forgotten tobacco barns, meandering cave systems, and other gloomy places. I also grew up with a dad (and uncles) who liked to spin all sorts of stories… legends of the people who lived around them… tall tales of the adventures they used to have… and many, many stories of “haints” or ghosts. These are things that most heavily influence HARROW COUNTY. There’s a reason the book has a bit of a “growing up” vibe to it. In this case, though, our main character, Emmy, is growing up around ghosts and goblins and other creepy crawlies.
HNR: Are any of the characters in these pages reflections of individuals you know?
CB: I think every character I write is a reflection of someone I know… albeit very far removed. In some cases (maybe in most cases), characters are amalgams of several people, you know? And I draw a lot from people at different times in their life… and that can bring vastly different influences to a character. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint any one individual who influenced a specific character.
HNR: There’s a moral line that is drawn in the sand in this book. Hester Beck, while offering positive services to locals, also leans on the dark side to perform her acts of healing. By the time the people of the town lynch the woman she transitions to a vengeful being intent on returning to make those people pay But Emmy is essentially the yang to Hester’s ying. She doesn’t want to be evil. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone. It feels like a very personal battle between good and evil – but how do you continue to explore that dynamic while remaining faithful to the horror genre, which this book clearly fits within?
CB: I think that struggle of good versus evil… of doing the right thing even when it would be so much easier to give into darkness… is ongoing and ever-present. A single victory doesn’t dispel it. At the end of our first four issues, it would seem that Emmy has come to grips (to some degree) with who she wants to be. Then—out of nowhere—we introduce an outside influence who could completely change things for Emmy. And that’s the sad truth of it. A person is in a constant state of conflict. Outside forces—whether it’s a witch, a mortgage, a job—will always try to change them for better or for ill. Of course, this internal struggle will be going on against a backdrop of ghost-haunted and sinister places. Make no mistake, I won’t forget this is a horror yarn.
HNR: How far can this story go, and what are your personal plans and goals? Do you want to turn this into a very long running, epic story, or is this the kind of tale you feel you can tell properly within a fairly limited number of issues?
CB: This is a series that can go on for quite a while if readers are supporting it. There are many, many stories to be told in Harrow County (and beyond? Spoilers!). We’re working on the third arc and looking toward the fourth and fifth. We’ll be exploring the county, its history, and the people who live there in much more detail. That said, I think there is value in working toward an ending, and we already have the end-point in mind.
HNR: Tell me about your working relationship with Tyler Crook, how did you two come together for this project?
CB: Tyler and I work in a very collaborative fashion. We talk out stories and ideas and the future of the series on a fairly regular basis. It’s a great partnership… and it doesn’t hurt that he is absolutely amazingly talented. We first worked together on some issues of THE SIXTH GUN, and we knew we wanted to work together on something “big” at some point. When the opportunity arose at Dark Horse, we discussed a number of possible stories to tell, and landed on HARROW COUNTY.
HNR: How do you feel about the visual style he brings to the story? Do you think his artwork fits the story you tell appropriately?
CB: His artwork is perfect for the story! It’s creepy and foreboding when it needs to be… and sweet and innocent at other times. It’s a fantastic balance. With horror comics, ambience and mood are so important. It’s something that is often forgotten, I think. Tyler, though, he bleeds the stuff all over the page!
HNR: What are some other genre projects you have already released, or plan to work on in the future?
CB: I have several horror books in development right now. The next one that is coming out, though, is a “kissing cousin” to HARROW COUNTY. In October, just in time for Halloween, BLOOD FEUD will be released from Oni Press. BLOOD FEUD is another backwoods horror story, this time set in the Missouri Ozarks. It’s the story of three good ol’ boys who have to stave off the forces of bloodsucking darkness. It’s very different in tone. More of a comedy/horror hybrid, along the lines of FRIGHT NIGHT or HOUSE or EVIL DEAD II. It’s a book that goes great with beer and popcorn.
HNR: Comic books are an interesting form of entertainment in that they don’t necessarily receive the same media coverage as film, or novels. Given the state of the industry and the complete resurgence of comics in general – thanks in part to some amazing cinematic adaptations – do you think media outlets will begin to look closer at comic books and offer the creators a greater degree of public praise, coverage and exposure?
CB: I think we’re moving slowly in that direction, for sure. In my experience, the producers, writers, and actors who are adapting comics have been very open to involvement from the comic creators. When you get into that stuff, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of aspects of production to talk about. Media is going to focus on actors, directors, screenwriters… but the comics creators are the least sexy aspect (except for me. I’m VERY sexy.) But they’ll also follow what consumers are interested in. The more the people who watch the movies and TV shows become aware of the comics, the more recognition the creators of the comics will get.
HNR: Any words for the fans out there who show you tremendous support?
CB: I can’t thank the fans enough! The support of the book means the world to me! Please keep talking about it! Let your friends, retailers, complete strangers know they should be reading HARROW COUNTY!
HNR: Thanks for the time, Cullen. As a guy who spends far too many hours reading genre fiction and watching countless hours of film, it’s nice to stumble upon a book that really, really shines. There’s great material out there, and then there’s material that somehow transcends greatness. Harrow County transcends greatness, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude for that. You’re a damn stud, my friend!
CB: Thank you.
But I prefer “sexy stud”.
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