Interview: Cullen Bunn

"Her viewpoint on this world is innocent, even though she's faced with flaming ghosts out in the middle of an old graveyard."

At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con I got to sit down and interview writer Cullen Bunn. His credits include The Damned, The Sixth Gun, Terrible Lizard, Deadpool Kills Deadpool, Fear Itself: The Fearless, Sinestro, and his latest hit Harrow County. This interview took place at the Dark Horse booth on Saturday, July 11.

Prior to this interview, on Thursday, July 9, at the Dark Horse Presents panel it was announced by Mike Richardson, President and Publisher of Dark Horse Comics, that Fox had optioned Harrow County for a television series.

SciFiPulse: The television deal with Fox went fast. Two issues in and it clicked. How do you feel about that?

Cullen Bunn: It’s exciting. When you get in these kinds of deals it can be where the publisher can go out and really try to push it, but this was a matter that someone found Harrow County and came to us and said, “This is something we’re excited about.” It’s gratifying and exciting, and a little humbling. It did happen very quickly, and it’s all so very fresh in my head and my head is still spinning.

SciFiPulse: I was at the panel on Thursday when the announcement was made, you said you thought the book was a Southern Gothic Fairy Tale. The audience was a little taken aback at that. I think that readers can get the Southern Gothic element of the series, but how would you explain the Fairy Tale elements?

Cullen Bunn: The Fairy Tale aspect is something that came to me while I was working on it. It really comes from our protagonist Emmy and how she views the world around her. It’s a magical world that she’s exploring. She goes out into this environment and it’s not ponies with butterfly wings, but it’s a dark magical world that she’s exploring. The thing that I love about this character is she sees everything with eyes wide open. Her viewpoint on this world is innocent, even though she’s faced with flaming ghosts out in the middle of an old graveyard. She approaches all of this with an innocent and almost welcoming way. It’s that sweet quality in Emmy that lends itself to a fairy tale world to me.

SciFiPulse: She is very sweet, but I hadn’t caught on to that “fairy tale” aspect until I went back to the issues to prep for this interview, and it is a fairy tale just like The Wizard of Oz. Oz is a pretty terrifying place.

Cullen Bunn: Right.

SciFiPulse: It would be an entirely different experience for an adult to travel through that land than a child, though Emmy is becoming an adult, she’s eighteen. I really like the relationship, the really strong relationship, between her and her father. He comes into the book as the protector of his daughter, but dad’s got a secret that Emmy doesn’t know about yet.

Cullen Bunn: A big part of the story for me is the moment in every kid’s life when you realize your parents aren’t necessarily the people you’ve seen them as your whole life. It’s when you realize your dad’s not invincible. I wanted to really explore that there’s a difference that she’s never seen — a side of Pa she’s never seen. That’s a big part of the story for me. I think it’s definitely a part of the story where we’ll go into directions people don’t expect as the series goes on.

SciFiPulse: How many issues do you have planned?

Cullen Bunn: We’re going to keep going with it for as long as we can. We’re working on a third arc right now. We have a lot of different stories we want to tell and a lot of characters we would like to explore. The third arc focuses on a different character, but Emmy still plays a big part — it’s just going to be seen through the eyes of a different character. We want to show that it’s a county, that it’s more than just the patch of land that Emmy lives on.

SciFiPulse: Will those characters of the other arcs be introduced in earlier stories?

Cullen Bunn: Oh, yeah! For instance, Bernice, Emmy’s friend, she’s a character that Tyler (Crook) and I have very strong feelings about. We love her and we want to do more with her as a character. She has a presence from the beginning and we thought it would be nice to see a little bit more of her family and where she’s from. Emmy will still be a part of the story. We’re just tilting the focus a little bit, so you’re seeing it through her eyes.

SciFiPulse: Bernice seems to be a little more aware of what’s going on in the county, compared to Emmy.

Cullen Bunn: Yeah, she does. She is a little more alert that there’s something wrong. Emmy’s got a bewildered quality, a naivete, while Bernice is a little more grounded.

SciFiPulse: I’d like to talk about the one pagers at the end of each issue.

Cullen Bunn: Yes.

SciFiPulse: They’re incredible. To get that much story in such a short space and get that much tweak in it for the reader is really powerful.

Cullen Bunn: It’s also very difficult! (Starts laughing) They are extremely hard to write.

SciFiPulse: What brought those on?

Cullen Bunn: They were actually the suggestion from our editor, Daniel Chabon, who wanted to do some stories about ghosts and add a little something extra to the books. It was his suggestion and we want to keep doing them. I’ve written four or five of them and Tyler Crook has written some himself. It’s just a way for us to introduce new levels of creepiness and new stories. I think horror works really well in short stories. One pagers are a real challenge for me.

SciFiPulse: That’s what makes them so impressive. The one at the end of the second issue had a nice little gut punch in it.

Cullen Bunn: Good! They are really fun to write. It’s a challenge, but I like doing them. I’m really excited to see what Tyler does in his. He just turned in his first pages and it was such a good story. I can’t wait for people to see it.

SciFiPulse: Now that the series is so successful, would you be open to other writers coming in, besides yourself and Tyler, or have you got enough stories for a while?

Cullen Bunn: That’s a “never say never” type of thing. Right now I’ve got plenty of stories I want to tell, but maybe sometime in the future if other people want to play around in that world. I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

SciFiPulse: It’s worked pretty well for Mike Mignola.

Cullen Bunn: (Smiles) I’d say he’s managed to make it work.

SciFiPulse: I wanted to talk about the text pieces at the end of the books. That’s some childhood you went through. That was a big reaction you got at Thursday’s panel.

Cullen Bunn: (Laughing) Well, I grew up in the country and there’s weird things that happen in the country. That’s some of the stuff I want to share in the series. Tyler is writing some of the text pieces in upcoming issues, and we have some other people coming to write some of those and share. There are some bizarre things that happened in my childhood and someone actually asked me one time…I’ve done other stories and sometimes certain themes come to the surface. Someone asked me if I have this thing about people hiding under my porch. It’s happened in a couple of my books — I’ve got people hiding under the porch. The things that happen in Harrow County are a little more out there. That’s the story I told at the panel. When I was a boy, I looked out my back window, and I was four or five years old, and someone crawled out from under my house, picked an apple off a tree, and then crawled back under the house. That stuff sticks with you. It inspires you.

SciFiPulse: I’m going to end this interview Barbara Walters style…

Cullen Bunn: Oh boy…Here we go…

SciFiPulse: The one thing that stuck in my mind after reading the first issue was the visual of that tree in Emmy’s yard. Mr. Bunn, if you could be a tree…

Cullen Bunn: (Laughter)

SciFiPulse: …what tree would you be?

Cullen Bunn: The way I feel right now, I’d be an oak, but a sickly oak, starting to crumble from the inside out, realizing I’m not as strong as I used to be. This late in the game at Comic-Con, I’m feeling a little worn thin inside. (Laughter)

I’d like to thank Mr. Bunn for the interview and Dark Horse Comics for providing the opportunity.

The photo of Mr. Bunn accompanying this interview was taken at the Dark Horse Presents panel at Comic-Con.




Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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