It’s no small miracle when a new comic book series becomes a staff pick in Diamond’s holy grail publication, Previews, where — it’s no exaggeration to say — the careers of many creators and publishing houses are first discovered or relegated to obscurity. It’s an even greater miracle when the series is not about superheroes, and it comes from an indie house. With the release of The Sixth Gun this Saturday, as part of Free Comic Book Day 2010, that’s exactly what’s happened to Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, a veteran comic book making duo that have steadily built a reputation for bringing fresh takes on tired genres, with an eye toward snappy plots, clever dialogue and utterly stunning visual storytelling.
Most of you will know Messrs. Bunn and Hurtt as the creative team behind Oni Press’ 2006 supernatural noir series, The Damned, and its follow up, Prodigal Sons. The series has been optioned for film, and a third comics installment is due later this year.
But their star’s rise doesn’t stop there. Mr. Bunn has written for Marvel (The Immortal Iron Fist) and IDW (La Cucaracha with Francesco Francavilla), as well as screenplays and prose horror fiction, Heaveworld, and an upcoming prose dark fantasy series, Raze, with co-author Shawn Lee. Mr. Hurtt has illustrated DC’s Gotham Central, Hard Time, and Greg Rucka’s acclaimed Queen & Country, among others.
We spoke with Messrs. Bunn and Hurtt about the new ongoing series, to be published by Oni Press, their penchant for genre smashing and how they have managed not to kill each other during the creative process.
Cullen Bunn: Basically, The Sixth Gun is an epic dark fantasy set in the old west. The story revolves around “The Six” — a set of magical pistols that surfaced during the Civil War. Each of the weapons possessed a unique, terrible power. The Sixth Gun was the most powerful of the lot, and it vanished at the end of the War. Now it has resurfaced in the hands of an innocent girl.
The story follows a few major players. Becky Montcrief is the young woman who comes into possession of the Sixth Gun and the powers it bestows. Drake Sinclair is a gunman with a sketchy past, and we’re not really sure what he’s up to as he enters the story. Is he a hero or just another villain? Speaking of villains, we’re first introduced to Missy Hume, or “the Widow Hume.” Her late husband, General Oliander Bedford Hume, was the madman who armed his lieutenants with the Six. Missy’s sending her minions out to find the gun and another “valuable.” There’s a nasty group of hombres who play a key role in the story, too, but I don’t want to say too much about them just yet. Just keep in mind, handling guns of such evil power are bound to change a person …
AO: The Sixth Gun seems similar to The Damned in that it’s a clever mash-up of genres; in this case, horror and the classic western. What attracted you and Brian to this particular combination?
CB: I’ve always loved westerns, maybe even as much as I love a good horror story. Both of those genres are so rich with possibilities. And while this is a mash-up, I think it’s quite different than The Damned … and not just in terms of characters and plot points. The Sixth Gun definitely has its own unique rhythm, its own language. And while Brian drew both books, The Sixth Gun and The Damned look vastly different for a number of reasons.
Brian Hurtt: We both made a concerted effort to have this book be very different in the aesthetics and language of The Damned. While they may both be genre mash-ups on the surface they are both very different in tone. Where The Damned is more of a moody, brooding, horror noir The Sixth Gun was designed to be this epic, swashbuckling, high adventure story with dark fantasy elements put in the mix.
As for what attracted us to these two genres, I’d have to echo what Cullen said. We’re both big fans of the two genres listed, and interestingly enough, when Cullen called to tell me about this idea I was in the middle of watching a string of westerns and trying to think up a good supernatural based approach to the genre myself (to no avail). But there is also a third genre not listed that is very influential on this book and that is fantasy. There is the aspect of the quest to this story and there are hordes of creatures our heroes have to overcome and there may even be a dragon, or dragon analog, that shows up along the way. Or not. You’ll have to read it to see.
AO:The Bunn-Hurtt creative team is quickly becoming a staple of American comic book culture. Can you walk us through how The Sixth Gun came to be? How the “magic” between you and Brian works?
CB: The Sixth Gun is an idea I’ve had, in various incarnations, for years. When I first started thinking of these magical guns, I was trying to come up with a modern crime story. I tinkered with it and changed it around, but it just wasn’t working. When I started to think of it as a western, though, it just came together. Still, over the years the story changed and grew. Characters changed or were done away with all together … plot points were altered or expanded … and the set pieces and action sequences started exploding!
BH: I know it sounds corny, but I do think that there is a sort of “magic” that happens in this creative pairing. We both have very similar sensibilities but at the same time we have enough that separates us that we can bring something different, a different perspective, to the table and challenge one another. It’s the perfect amount of creative friction.
CB: I was really excited when Oni suggested that Brian and I work on this book together. After working with Brian on The Damned, I knew that he’d knock this one out of the park. What was really a lot of fun with this book is that Brian basically told me to really challenge him, and I think I did! But Brian’s a guy who seems to thrive under pressure, and he simply outdid himself on this book.
BH: One of the things that drew me to this project was the ability to do something I’ve yet to do. I wanted to draw something a little more epic, I wanted to draw cowboys. I did not want to draw horses…but, whenever I feel something is going to be challenging to draw I find that it fuels me. I’ve learned from very early on that when I’m tasked to draw things outside my comfort zone, or my wheelhouse, I come out the other end a better artist. I can only hope I’ve met the challenge here.
AO: The danger in becoming known as a certain kind of genre writer or artist is that you may repeat yourself or fail to add anything new to a genre’s tradition. With The Sixth Gun, you have the pressure of innovating in two tried-an
d-true genres, not to mention similar comics out in the marketplace — most notably High Moon and more recently, The Guns of Shadow Valley. How did you and Brian approach the task of bringing something new to the table?
CB: Yes, this is a dark fantasy in the old west, but I don’t think any of the other genre mash-ups out there are anything like The Sixth Gun. This book isn’t a western disguised as a dark fantasy, nor is it a dark fantasy dressed up in chaps and a cowboy hat. One of the things Brian and I try to do is build a realistic world around these wild concepts, and I think readers will be pleasantly surprised by how natural this all feels.
BH: Without trying to sound arrogant, I think that the thing Cullen and I feel is our strength is the ability to make a world, and its inhabitants, feel real and natural. My hope is that you don’t read our books and feel that there is just this surface, fun concept, but that you believe that no matter which road you take, this world is full of this same richness and depth. I think we accomplished that in The Damned and I feel the same way about this book. One thing people say when they read this book is how quickly they feel transported to a fully realized world. I’ve had friends, on several occasions, point at characters and say “What their story? You should do a whole story about that guy”. And Cullen and I feel the same way — that’s why it never gets boring for us playing in these world’s we’ve created and I think that’ll translate for the reader.
CB: Another thing I think we have going for us is our cast of characters. I think we’ve given readers a group of heroes they can root for (and worry about) and some villains they’ll really love to hate.
AO: Are there additional runs ahead for The Sixth Gun?
CB: The Sixth Gun is an ongoing series, and we’ve got a ton of ideas for things we’d like to do in the book. There are countless stories to be told in this world. I’ve already started work on the second story arc.
BH: We had a meeting a few weeks ago about the second story arc in the series and I’ve gotta say, as much as I love the first arc, the second has really got me excited! Cullen has come up with some great ideas for where we go from here and I can’t wait to bring them to life.
AO: In addition to The Sixth Gun, can we expect any new stories about Eddie and the world of The Damned? What other projects are ahead for you?
CB: You can absolutely expect to see more stories of The Damned. That series is near and dear to the two of us, and we have plans for it. The next three-issue series, Daughter’s Danse, has been outlined, and I’ll probably start scripting it shortly. We’ve mentioned this before, but Brian and I have a grand scheme for the series, building towards an … intense conclusion. We’ll get there, but it will take some time.
BH: Yeah, there’s no way that we won’t continue on with more of The Damned. We’re both itching to get back to it―it’s just a matter of finding the time and balance between these two series. The Damned is a book that will get done no matter what. As Cullen said, we have a “grand scheme” and even if it takes us another 10 years we plan to see that whole story play out. Right now, though, The Sixth Gun has our full attention and the two of us couldn’t be more excited about it!