Cullen Bunn is no stranger to the supernatural — especially when it comes to comics. Whether it’s fusing magical elements with the wild west in “The Sixth Gun” or combining Asgardian mythology with superheroes in “Fearless Defenders,” Bunn has a lot of experience with bringing the supernatural to sequential storytelling in interesting and fun ways. But when it comes to “Horror County,” his new Dark Horse Comics creator-owned series with artist Tyler Crook set to drop in April 2015, he’s approaching the supernatural in the context of a backwoods horror story.
Co-created by Bunn and Crook, “Harrow County” follows the story of Emmy, a teenager on the verge of becoming an adult, who realizes that the ghosts, ghouls and goblins that surround Harrow County and her secluded farm are all too real — and when the townsfolk realize that Emmy has a connection with the creatures that lurk in the shadows, they put her on the run for her life. Part coming-of-age tale and part horror story, “Harrow County” promises to present a unique take on traditional horror.
CBR News spoke with Cullen Bunn about the concept behind “Harrow County,” reuniting with occasional “The Sixth Gun” collaborator Tyler Crook, how Emmy deals with running for her life and discovering her own identity as an adult, the challenges she faces along the way and the major supernatural elements of the story.
CBR News: Cullen, what’s the basic concept behind “Harrow County” and who are the main players involved?
Cullen Bunn: This is what I would call a backwoods horror story, which really falls into my sweet spot as a creator. It’s the story of this girl, Emmy, who is on the verge of adulthood. All her life, she’s grown up on a secluded farm, and she’s kind of been kept away from everything else. All she knows is this farm, her father and the numerous legends and ghost stories and this feeling that the things that go bump in the night are very, very real. Every shadow she looks at is full of ghosts and ghouls. She lives in this world where she accepts that the supernatural is lurking all around. As this story begins, she finds out that the townsfolk of Harrow County believe she is more connected to the supernatural than she believed. It puts her on a run for her life.
The late teens is a tough age for anybody, but it seems like it’d be especially difficult when people are gunning for you.
Well, you’re absolutely right. It’s an interesting time for anybody. When I think about growing up myself, it’s about that time when you start realizing that even your family’s not exactly how you’ve pictured them. Things are different. Life is different than you realized. Your family’s different, you’re not as immortal as you think you are. That happens with Emmy in a big way. She’s seen as a danger by the people who live around her. She starts to see things about her father that she’s never seen before.
I’m curious — how long has this project been in the works for you? When did it start developing?
“Harrow County” has a very strange origin story. I guess it’s similar to some of the other things I worked on. I used to do a lot of prose and a lot of fiction. Years ago, I would say it’s bordering on 10 or 12 years ago, I wanted to do a serial novel on the web. I called that novel “Countless Haints.” I never finished the novel online. Other things got in the way, I decided I didn’t like the platform I was using to publish it, so I kind of put “Countless Haints” aside. But it was a story that I really wanted to tell. When Tyler Crook and I first started talking about what we wanted to do together, we pitched a number of ideas back and forth. One of the ideas I threw into the mix was “Countless Haints,” and Tyler really liked it. He changed a few things up from what I had originally written — I maybe had written 10,000 or 12,000 words of what would be a serialized novel. But “Harrow County” is the reincarnation of that novel I was writing so long ago.
Considering the title of the book is “Harrow County,” tell us a bit about Harrow County the place. What makes it such a nexus for the supernatural, and what’s Emmy’s relationship to it as a whole?
That’s a tough question to answer for a number of reasons. Emmy’s connection to the county and the people that live there runs very deep, and as the series progresses, you’ll see that Emmy is very much at the center of everything at this town. Now, the people of Harrow County have a point of view of the danger Emmy presents. It may not be exactly right, but they’re not wrong in that she’s connected to forces beyond their comprehension.
You describe it as a backwoods horror tale, but it also seems like a coming of age story that explores many different themes including family. How does the series give you a platform to explore a lot of diverse concepts through the scope of the story?
Again, a lot of it hinges on the character of Emmy. We’re seeing this story through her eyes and we’re seeing how her world is changing and how her views on the world are changing. With the very first issue, we’re at the point where she stands on the verge of her life turning in a number of possible directions. Because of who she is and because of her age, she had this cloistered view — she’s been kept on a pretty short leash for the most part — we get the chance to experience all that for the first time through her eyes and right along with her, and see her struggling with these choices, making the wrong choices, and doing all the things we’ve all done. All the mistakes and the successes and the failures that we all experience when we’re growing up because the situation is a heightened awareness is what’s going on around her.
In many stories, there’s usually a clear protagonist and a clear antagonist, but I didn’t get the sense that’s the case in “Harrow County.” What kind of challenges does Emmy face during the story and how do those challenges manifest themselves?
You’re right — this isn’t a story where you necessarily have the big bad looming on the horizon. We do, to some degree, but it’s in a very non-traditional sense. The challenges start with these townsfolk who want to do her harm — including her father — and going on the run to flee from that danger. She flees from that right into a very supernatural world where she’s seeing ghosts and spiritual creatures that she’s having to interact with in a way that she hasn’t before. She’s already heard of these things, she knows that they’re out there, but now she’s interacting with them. And it’s not just one supernatural force — there are dozens and dozens of these presences all around her, and she’s going to be encountering many of them.
You’ve dealt with some magic and occult themes before — “The Sixth Gun” comes to mind, especially as does “Fearless Defenders” — but “Harrow County” seems like a fairly new direction for you. How does “Harrow County” differ from some of your other work the delved into similar themes?
Those kind of stories and themes ring very true with me. I think it’s something I tend to gravitate towards. The difference is — “The Sixth Gun” is a very pop-fantasy type story. There’s a lot of action and swashbuckling. “Fearless Defenders,” for instance, is absolutely a superhero story. It has all the trappings of that kind of tale mixed in there with the occult and the supernatural. “Harrow County” on the other hand, is definitely a horror story — a supernatural horror story. There’s some pretty serious stuff going on in Emmy’s life, and it’s not a situation where you’re going to see Emmy with a sword, fighting these creatures. Despite the fact that we’re dealing with all these supernatural elements, Emmy has to deal with them in a very grounded, very real-world kind of way. She’s not a superhero, she’s not an action hero — she’s a very down-to-Earth girl. We’re going to be seeing her interact with these forces in a completely different way than other characters that I’ve written. There are elements that will seem very much like a creepy fairy tale. It starts off on some pretty creepy footing from the very beginning.
With all the options out there for independent projects, what influenced the decision to go with Dark Horse for “Harrow County?”
I love so much of what Dark Horse has done — they’ve done some of my favorite books. And I love what Tyler has been doing at Dark Horse. He’s been doing some really amazing stuff. I’ve always wanted to work with Dark Horse and never had the right project. About a year ago, I started talking to the editors at Dark Horse and pitching books that didn’t happen for whatever reason, but then as Tyler’s schedule opened up and he wanted to work on something creator-owned, it just seemed like the perfect fit. He was already working with with Dark Horse and they were open to seeing projects from me. It was just the right time and good timing.
Tyler Crook helped co-create “Harrow County” and is also on art. Was is it about his style that made you both want to specifically collaborate on this series?
I first became aware of Tyler when he was working on “Petrograd” for Oni Press, which I thought was a great book, I thought it was very clear, very clean. I had the opportunity to work with Tyler on several occasions — I worked with him on a story for Dark Horse, for “Creepy,” and also three issues of “The Sixth Gun.” I just feel very comfortable working with him. When it came to “The Sixth Gun,” Brian Hurtt and I were pretty much sticks in the mud about who we would work with. We would only work with artists who could really tell a visual story and could bring some of the creepy aspects to life without overdoing it. There was a certain grounded quality we wanted in the middle of all that craziness. He just did that perfectly. I’ve always wanted to work with him on something bigger than just the few one-off projects that we’ve done.
What aspect of “Harrow County” are you most excited to introduce to readers?
Some of the first spirit entities that Emmy encounters stick with her and follow her throughout the story. There are these two entities that she latches onto — or latch onto her — and I love how Tyler is portraying them. I’m really interested to see what readers think of these characters. They’re going to inspire some chills and I’m pretty excited about that.
“Harrow County” #1 hits stores in April 2015.