Brian Hurtt, artist for The Damned, took a few minutes out of his busy New York Comicon schedule to discuss his work with Oni Press. The Damned, originally a limited series, has recently spawned a second installment entitled “Prodigal Sons”, in which he and co-creator Cullen Bunn expand on The Damned universe, The Damned family and The Damned demons that make their prohibition era story such a dangerous place.
Matthew McLean (MM): For those who missed the first The Damned storyline, what’s it all about?
Brian Hurt (BH): It’s an intricate plot, kind of like to old noirs such as The Big Sleep with a lot of twists and turns so it’s kind of hard to describe the plot, but the basic world you need to understand is that it’s the 1920s in a Chicago gangland type of landscape, but you have these demons behind the scenes running the crime families using the rackets and vices to corrupt people into selling their souls. In the mix you have Eddie, who’s your gumshoe type character, your hapless schmo, but he has a curse that makes him valuable to the different families. Or a danger. He’s used almost as a pawn.
MM: What’s the nature of the curse?
BH: The nature of the curse is that Eddie doesn’t have the ability to stay dead. If he is killed, he’ll stay dead only until someone touches his skin. As soon as someone touches his skin, that person takes on the form of death that Eddie suffered. For instance, in the first graphic novel, Eddie’s lying in a ditch with his throat slit. As soon as someone touches him, that person’s throat is slit and Eddie comes back from the dead.
MM: [Laughter] That’s pretty horrible.
BH: That ended up ruling Eddie out for something that happened while he was dead. He’s the only person that couldn’t have been involved because the families know he was lying dead in ditch. He owes them a debt, so he’s brought in to try and solve the mystery [of the original GN].
MM: You mentioned that the demons were behind the crime families. Would you say that the general public is aware of them?
BH: The way it was presented, it’s not clear in the first graphic novel. But it becomes more clear as the series goes on that, no, they are not common place. This could be our world, they operate in the shadows and behind the scenes. They aren’t pervasive in the culture at all. It’s a little bit of a cop out, we kind of go the Buffy route. If people were to see them they would think, “Oh my God, I’m seeing someone with a Haloween mask on.” Or someone horribly disfigured. There are demis, who are just a cross between demons and humans, and they’re just odd looking humans. They’re people you might see in the street and think, “There’s something wrong with him.”
MM: That guy’s a freak.
BH: Exactly, that guy’s a freak.
MM: So the second one is entitled “The Prodigal Sons”. What can you tell readers about that?
BH: Without ruining too much…it’s so hard. [Laughter]
Eddie the main character has come back and this book is about his family. You get to know a little bit more about his mother, his father and another family member that now becomes a main player. It’s basically his brother who is introduced and is the main character in this three-issue arc. We have two concurrent storylines, an A story and a B story; one is Eddie’s story and the other is Morgan, Eddie’s brother’s story. Morgan’s is basically the A story in this book.
MM: And the brothers don’t get along?
BH: They don’t get along. [Laughter]
That’s pretty apparent, but we don’t know exactly what the problem is, but you get the idea that Eddie is trouble for Morgan and Morgan has been trying to stay away from Eddie. Eddie’s bad luck and a bad influence.
MM: You mentioned that The Damned was something that you and Cullen had been co-developing. How did that process work?
BH: Cullen and I have known each other for about 15 years. We started working at a comic book store together. When I met him he was already writing all the time and I was drawing all the time. Over the years we’ve been very good friends and we always talked about doing projects together, always bouncing ideas off one another. Somewhere along the lines, this is one of the projects that popped into our minds. I honestly don’t remember who did what; I can’t remember who suggested the ’20s or who said let’s put demons in the mix. All I know is I came up with Eddie the character, this guy with lots of scars who died and if you touched him he came back. I had this idea of him lying in an alley and that was it. And Cullen pretty much ran with it and then it was just back and forth, back and forth. Once we had the world down, Cullen sits alone in his room and comes up with stories and ideas and he runs plots by me and I give him input. Sometimes I’ll say that what we need in this book is this kind of a scene and Cullen will say, “Yeah, I think we can work that in there.” So it’s really nice, there’s a lot of give and take.
MM: So why should people pick up the book and read it?
BH: ‘Cause it’s Awesome! It’s a ripping yarn! [Laughter]
Cullen and I put together a book that we wanted to read. We try to keep the pace very lively and fun. There’s lots of twists and turns in it. Even though it will come out as a graphic novel eventually, it’s a monthly and we write it as a monthly, for the monthly reader. We have a lot of fun with that, with the pace and the cliffhangers. It’s a good read.
MM: Well, the first issue certainly ends with a cliffhanger that people should definitely check out. I won’t spoil it by mentioning it here. So is there any other projects you’d like to mention or anything else you’d like to say about this project?
BH: I have a lot of projects on the backburner right now, but I can’t really talk about them. Cullen and I are talking about working on some more projects together. There is a 3 issue mini that will follow “The Prodigal Sons” in about six months or so. It’s a sister story, completely a different story, but it picks up the moment this one ends. And it continues the theme of family, which is something that we explore throughout the series. That and people getting torn up and shot and run over. There’s lots of that.
MM: So it’s the Family Circus with demons.
BH: [Laughter] Yes, it’s the Family Circus with buckets of blood.