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Writer Cullen Bunn On Gothic Tales And Superheroes

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Jason Brown
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As a comic book author, Cullen Bunn puts words and thoughts to a lot of powerful characters. He’s written stories for iconic heroes like Captain America and Superman. He’s the current writer of ongoing series for Magneto and Sinestro. He’s also had success with characters he’s created, perhaps most famously so for a series called The Sixth Gun, which will conclude this year with issue # 50. Bunn was in Cape Girardeau for this year’s Cape Comic Con and I had the opportunity to speak with him about some of his ongoing projects. 

Jason Brown, KRCU: Tell me about Hellbreak.

Cullen Bunn: If you can picture a SEAL team, a team of crack mercenaries, but their job is to infiltrate Hell and rescue lost souls. And every time they go into Hell it’s a different version, it’s a different infernal realm. So every drop into the infernal realm they’re encountering something new, different challenges. It’s an ongoing series, so we’ve got a big story, there’s a lot of mystery we’re weaving into it in terms of why someone would want to do this. There’s a corporation that’s developed this technology that allows people to crack into Hell. Obviously, when you deal with big corporations dealing with something that’s literally super-shady, there’s a lot of questions about why they’d want to do that. So we’re going to be weaving those kinds of elements into it, and a lot of interpersonal drama with the team and things like that.

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Credit Brian Churilla
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Hellbreak #1, from Oni Press. Cover art by Brian Churilla.

Brown: I think it’s really interesting for you to talk about a really fantastic concept, but then you talk about very real things that we all recognize, like mega-corporations, and profit motives, and I wonder, do you think about these sorts of things when you write?

Bunn: Definitely I’m always thinking about those things. I love the idea of a big concept, the idea of a big, flashy idea, but in the end, if I don’t weave in other elements that make the story real to the reader, things that they are going to identify with, then it’s just a gimmick, and I don’t want to write a gimmick-comic, I want to write a comic that will actually have some weight and some meaning to people as they go forward.

Brown: Talk about another new book that you have, Harrow County.

Bunn: It’s a book I’m doing with artist Tyler Crook. I’m calling it a sort of Southern gothic fairy tale. It’s full of creepy, really bizarre horrific elements, but at the same time includes the sweetest character I’ve ever written. It’s the story of Emmy, who is on the verge of her 18th birthday. She lives in this backwoods area, and she’s always known that there are ghosts and goblins living out in the woods, and she kind of just accepts these things. But as she’s getting ready to turn 18 she’s discovering that she’s connected to these elements in a way she’s never imagined, and it actually turns her world upside down. It turns the people who she kind of feels have always been there for her, like her own father, against her at this time. So it’s a story about growing up and realizing that the things that you may have taken for granted are not necessarily the way you’ve always seen them. But it’s also a story about witches and ghosts and lots of creepy-crawly beasts, and it’s all set in this 1930’s backwoods North Carolina area.

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Credit Tyler Crook
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Harrow County #1 from Dark Horse Comics. Cover art by Tyler Crook.

Brown: You currently live in the St. Louis area, where did you grow up?

Bunn: I grew up in rural North Carolina.

Brown: So you’re familiar with the kind of place that Harrow County is?

Bunn: Definitely a lot of Harrow County is drawn from things I experienced when I was a kid and we were always out running through the woods and exploring old tobacco barns, and just out wandering, and then stories my dad used to tell me about growing up. My dad and my uncle Hugh McKay, who has the greatest name ever for a country tale-teller, used to tell me all these stories about ghosts and legends, and the story really draw a lot from that. Then when I was 18 or 19 we moved to the Missouri Ozarks, right on the Arkansas border, so there’s a lot of that in there too. Harrow County, while it’s set in North Carolina, there’s a lot of Missouri Ozarks flavor mixed in there as well because I can’t help but right about that stuff that way.

Brown: Talk about the differences between writing a creator-owned work, and writing for one of the big two publishers, Marvel and DC.

Bunn: The biggest difference is with a creator-owned project, I completely that property (with the artist). We own those characters, the world, the story, and we can do pretty much what we want to it. We always work with an editor who may have story suggestions, or who may help us try to shape the tale we’re telling, but in the end it’s our decision and these are our characters to do with as we please. When you work with one of the big two, like Marvel or DC, the difference is you’re working with characters that in my case I loved as I was growing up, so there’s definitely an excitement there. But, and the same time, I always describe it like this: imagine that you’re  kid, and you open a toy box, and here’s all your favorite toys, but you can’t break those toys too much; you have to put those toys back in the box the way they came out. So it’s the chance to work with these characters that I love. But at the same time we’re dealing with what might be corporate plans for a character, or plans that another writer or editorial team may have for a character, and it’s not a situation where I can say “well I’m writing Magneto and I want this to happen.” Editorial could say, “No that can’t happen, because that’s against our plans for Magneto or our status quo for Magneto, it would change the character in a way that we don’t want to change it.” So I’m definitely working with some else’s characters in that case. But taking nothing away from it, it’s a lot of fun to work with those characters.

Brown: I want to talk to you about Magneto, and this question might get into the process of how a writer gets an ongoing book with a major publisher, but does Marvel approach you or do you approach Marvel?

Bunn: With Magneto, Marvel came to me and asked me what I would do with a Magneto title. Most of the time when you’re dealing a big two publisher, that’s how it works, at least that’s how it’s worked for me. They come to me and say that they have this character, or this title, and they’d like to see what I’d to do with it. In the case of Marvel and DC, they both found me through my creator-owned work. They saw that, they liked what I was doing there, and they wanted to see what I’d do with their characters. With Magneto in particular, the editor, who I had worked with on other projects, contacted me and said they’d like to do a book that features Magneto on his own as a solo character, and he asked me what I’d do with that character, and from there I pitched an idea of where I would take the series and the tone I would want the series to have, and then we just hit the ground running.

This is part one of a two-part series, you can check out part two here

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