Cullen Bunn, JÃ¶elle Jones and Nick Filardi discovered a bloody, violent recipe for success when they teamed on the Oni Press-published “Helheim” in 2013. They enjoyed themselves so much, in fact, that the band has reunited for a new series set to debut in October. “Brides of Helheim” continues the adventures of their undead Viking warrior Rikard, and marks the second miniseries in a planned trilogy.
With the collected edition of the first story — “Helheim: The War Witch” — set to hit stores later this month, CBR News connected with the creators for a discussion about the next adventure awaiting Rikard in the new series. In addition to behind the scenes info on the comic, the trio also provided CBR with an exclusive preview of “Brides'” first issue, featuring a beautifully violent battle between Rikard and a truly monstrous bear!
CBR News: To lead into our conversation about “Brides,” can you give us a quick refresher course on what happened in the first “Helheim” miniseries?
Cullen Bunn: In the first miniseries, we introduce a wonderful character — Rikard — who is brave and noble and honorable and is really the best hope of his people. Then we brutally killed him in the first issue. That was not the end for Rikard. He was raised from the dead as a draugr, which as we’re interpreting it is a sort of Frankenstein monster in the Viking era. He goes on a rampage against these two witches who are feuding and are responsible for his condition.
The title, “Brides of Helheim” — I immediately thought of “Bride of Frankenstein.”
Bunn: That was the intent. It started as a joke. On the last page of the script to Issue #6 [of the first miniseries], I just wrote a quick note: Coming Soon, “Brides of Helheim.” Even though it started as a joke, I liked it so much — and I think everybody liked it enough — that we wanted it to be the title. It actually fits pretty well with where we’re going in the next series.
Did you always have larger plans for these characters and this world beyond one miniseries?
Bunn: Most of the time, any story I work on I can’t help but think of a bigger story. I want to develop the world and the characters and take the story further than say, six issues. I’m always thinking that way. I wasn’t sure when I pitched “Helheim” that it would be a story that would have legs enough to continue on, but it’s something that’s always in the back of my mind.
JoÃ«lle, when “Helheim” came out, you joked that this was your chance to get bloody and violent. Besides more of that, what are you enjoying about the new miniseries?
JoÃ«lle Jones: It’s a continuation, the chance to see the story through. Seeing the characters growing and moving and constant changes. I get to expand on a world that I really enjoy being in.
You’ve never done an ongoing series before — are you enjoying jumping into another miniseries like this?
Jones: It’s been really great to jump right back into it as opposed to hopping around to a bunch of different books, because I already know the characters. A lot of the heavy lifting of starting a new project has already been done, so now I get to just really enjoy moving the story forward.
By this point, do you two have an easier working relationship, knowing how each other works?
Bunn: I don’t know. I’ve been asked this with other artists that I work with. I don’t know that I change my style with longer stories. I still write similar scripts regardless of what I’m doing. I think with the first series, it was a pretty comfortable relationship between all three of us. I thought it went pretty well. There was only one time JoÃ«lle wanted to kill me. [Laughs] For the most part, it was a pretty good collaboration between the three of us, and I wanted to make sure that continued.
Nick Filardi: You don’t hear anything on my end, that’s the thing. All my complaining goes right to [editor] Charlie [Chu]. [Laughs]
You only wanted to kill him once in six issues? That’s not bad.
Jones: I think that’s pretty good. [Laughs]
Bunn: One death threat per miniseries. We’re trying to beat that this time. [Laughs]
Nick, you colored the first miniseries, and you’ve colored JoÃ«lle on other projects as well.
Filardi: Yeah — we’ve done a couple other things but [“Helheim”] was the first thing that JoÃ«lle and I ever did together. Even though it was larger in scope than the other projects that we’ve worked on, it was still when I was finding my way, so I’m excited to do a new arc to try new things now that I’m comfortable with her art a little more.
As you say, you’ve been working on a few other things, including an issue of “Batman ’66” which just came out. Coloring is often invisible — unless it doesn’t work, which is when everyone notices.
Filardi: I think it comes around. When you start and you’re bad, everyone notices. Then, when you’re good, nobody notices. When you’re great, it starts to come back around and people pay attention. It’s tough to be invisible and I wish that coloring got a little more respect from fans, but it’s starting to get its due.
When coloring JoÃ«lle on different projects, what’s the same because you’re dealing with the same artist and what’s different because the project is different?
Filardi: The same kind of strengths carry over. JoÃ«lle’s art really shines in the expressions of characters, in the acting and so I endeavor to play that up where I can. That’s going to happen in any book that we do together. The things that change are, “Helheim” is a project that’s grim and gritty and kind of surreal and I try to make it moody, make it strange with color choices. Like green fire and things like that. Whereas with “Batman ’66,” I go in the other direction, where everything got bright. It’s that whole ’60s vibe. The suit that Batgirl wears is all bedazzled, or — I don’t know what it is. I wanted to capture that, because that’s pretty critical to the show. She’s the only one that has that in the show, so things like that are going to happen in “Batman ’66” that are obviously not going to happen in “Helheim.”
Bunn: Now I’m putting Rikard in one of those bedazzled suits. [Laughs]
Do you guys talk a lot as you’re working, or are you very much just doing your own thing and trusting each other?
Jones: On my end, it’s definitely like that. It seems to me like we’re all left alone to play our strengths.
Filardi: In the beginning, I was touching base with Charlie a lot and getting input on the colors and trying to find the direction. I work on a lot of different books as a colorist, and a lot of what colorists do is to try to amp up the ideas and themes that the artist and writer want to make. There’s a lot of communication in the beginning, and then you’re off leash.
Bunn: As far as I’m concerned, the best collaborations are when there’s trust between the writer and artist and colorist and editor. I don’t want to be the guy who’s getting in the way of people who are much more talented than I am. I trust JoÃ«lle and Nick to bring their A-game, and they always have. It’s a nice place to be. It’s very comfortable when writing the book, because I don’t have to stress over it. When changes have been made between the art and the script, it’s always been for the better.
In making a sequel and returning to this world, the heavy lifting is done as far as the world-building and establishing characters, but otherwise, is the process the same for you?
Bunn: I think the process is still the same. I’m speaking for JÃ¶elle and Nick, but I think there are some differences with this series. We’ve made a jump in time of a few years. The characters have changed a little bit. Some of the characters are older. Rikard’s appearance has changed quite a bit from the previous series. We’re introducing several new characters. There’s figuring out what these characters will look like, but at the same time, we don’t do a lot of back and forth as far as the design of these characters because I know JoÃ«lle’s going to rock it. I’m waiting with baited breath to see how JÃ¶elle depicts the villain of this series. I haven’t seen him, and I won’t see him until the pages come in where he first appears.
You just know she’ll do her thing and you can trust that.
Bunn: I think there was only one character for the new series that JoÃ«lle sent me and asked, is this what you had in mind? Beyond that, it’s exciting for me because I get to see it when the pages show up, for the most part.
Jones: It’s been fantastic. Any script, he always leaves a lot of information to go off of and then I fill the details, which is a fun way to do it.
You mentioned there was a time jump. Where and when does the first issue of the new miniseries open?
Bunn: The first issue of “Brides of Helheim” opens where the first issue of “Helheim” opened — in Rikard’s old village. That village has fallen into decay and ruin and it’s this place of fear and dread. A lot of ghost stories are told about that old village. There’s a new village in the shadow of the old village that is facing some dark times. One brave soul, this girl, Sigrid, goes to the old village to see if the stories are true. That’s where we start the story, but from there, we take it in a much bigger direction. We’ve got these witches from the first series. In this story, we find out that they had a teacher, years back, the person who corrupted them, and Rikard has been dispatched to take him down once and for all.
Do you have an end point in mind, or is it somewhat open ended?
Bunn: There’s definitely an end point in mind. We talked before about how if everything worked out, we would do three miniseries that would wrap the bigger story up.
Do you have a favorite moment or scene from new miniseries?
Jones: I do. I haven’t drawn it yet, but I’m excited to get to it. I don’t know if I can say what it is.
Bunn: I already know. You can say it.
Jones: It’s a monk orgy. [Laughs] I’m super excited to draw that. And sea monsters. I’m really excited about sea monsters.
Filardi: So am I. I’m really excited about the sea monsters.
Jones: It’s going to be awesome.
Bunn: Like JoÃ«lle, I’m really looking forward to monk orgy. [Laughs] I think the reason I like that so much is that the series has always been aimed at a more adult audience, but when I was writing it, I thought, this is taking it a little bit farther than we’ve gone before. When you see it in the comic, it’s dark and creepy and strange and it puts a very fine point on what we want to do with the new series.
As far as characters, I’m super excited to see Catlin again because she’s a character I really liked from the first series, and I think readers liked her. I had a few people tell me that they liked the character and wished I hadn’t turned her into a bad guy at the end, which I think is a very narrow view of the character. This series starts up, she’s a little older and — I’m not going to say she’s a good guy, but you can see she’s not an evil character. And this new character, Sigrid, is pretty awesome all around.
I have to ask, how many pages into the first issue until first bloody death?
Bunn: It’s a little ways. There’s dead bodies in the first few pages, but we’re pacing this one a little differently. The first one started with a battle, and this one starts on a little more of a subdued note — and then there is a huge battle at the end of the first issue.
As far as pacing and approaching the new series differently, can it stand alone without reading the first series?
Bunn: Oh, yeah. That’s something that’s always on my mind. I’m writing this so that if someone were to pick it up without ever reading the first one, I think they would be able to follow along pretty easily. It’s not a comic that’s heavy on exposition as to what happened in the past, but I don’t think the reader needs that. It will have its own beginning, middle and end, just like the first one did.
Is there anything else I should be asking about what’s to come in the new series?
Bunn: Do you want to ask if the cute fluffy sheepdog appears in the series? Because he does. A very important character.
Jones: [Laughs] We’re very excited to see him back.
Bunn: That sheepdog is probably my favorite deviation. Actually I don’t even think it was a deviation. I wrote in the script for the first series, a dog appears. In my mind, I pictured this skinny, gnarly-looking, almost wolfish dog. When JoÃ«lle drew it, it’s a sheepdog, this fluffy adorable dog — which is great, because of the brutal, graphic scene in the final issue of the series. It was a nice juxtaposition of a cute dog doing something horrible to someone. Those are the moments I really love about working on the series.
Jones: I don’t know how I got that type of dog into my head. Somehow I convinced myself that that was the dog I had to draw. I didn’t even question it. I just went for it. Then I got a note back from Charlie saying, that’s an odd choice. [Laughs]
Bunn: I think it’s great. I love that dog.
“Brides of Helheim,” by Cullen Bunn, JÃ¶elle Jones and Nick Filardi, debuts in October 2014 from Oni Press.