Alongside the release of this week’s “The Sixth Gun” #29 is the first issue of the title’s first spinoff, “The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun.” The five-issue Oni Press miniseries tells the story of the General’s four horsemen, covering events between the end of the Civil War and the first issue of its parent series. “Sixth Gun” creators Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt are writing the miniseries together while Bill Crabtree colors the book just as he does the ongoing series. Joining them on art is Brian Churilla, whose miniseries “The Secret History of D.B. Cooper” comes out in hardcover in May.
CBR News gathered the four men together to talk about the book, the coloring and how the miniseries differs in tone from the main title. They also tease what’s to come in the mini’s remaining four issues while giving a little insight into the current status of the Carlton Cuse-produced pilot of “The Sixth Gun” and more.
CBR News: What is “The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun?”
Cullen Bunn: Since the first arc of “The Sixth Gun,” our readers have been fascinated by General Hume’s four horsemen. I think they struck a chord with readers right off the bat. Readers liked the look of them, they liked the mysteries that surround them, and then I killed them off in the first arc. [Laughs]
Since that time, we’ve been asked if we’ll ever reveal more about those characters. This series is the story of the horsemen during the time between the death of the General at the end of the Civil War and the first issue of “The Sixth Gun.” It’s the story of what happened to those characters and will give you some insight into who they are, and, as much as these black-hearted villains can be, it humanizes them a little. You’re going to see a side to these characters that will make you root for them, but you will know at the end that you have been cheering on some very despicable human beings.
Why did you decide to tell this story as a stand-alone miniseries and not an arc or series of stand-alone issues?
Brian Hurtt: I think we’ve always seen “The Sixth Gun” main series as more or less Becky and Drake’s story. We’ve had a couple flashbacks, but only to fill in characters such as Asher and Kirby that add color and backstory, and to tell a little about their motivations moving forward. Because this is a prequel to “The Sixth Gun,” it made sense to do it as a standalone miniseries.
Cullen and Brian, I know that you have been friends for a long time and worked together for years, but how did you two end up co-writing “Sons of the Gun?”
Hurtt: I wormed my way onto the miniseries. [Laughs] Originally I wasn’t supposed to have any involvement at all. It just felt a little odd it being a “Sixth Gun” book and me not having any involvement so I kind of begged Cullen to take me under his wing and let me try my hand at doing some of the writing.
How is it different from how you two worked together on “The Damned,” which the two of you both wrote?
Hurtt: It’s actually much different from “The Damned” because on there I only had story credit. It was something Cullen and I built from the ground up and I had a lot of input into the book, but when it came down to it, it was Cullen’s story.
Bunn: I was writing the scripts on “The Damned,” but with this series we’re writing the scripts together. Brian, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is your first foray into writing scripts.
Hurtt: Absolutely. I’ve written a scene here or there, and Cullen knows what my sense of storytelling is. That’s one of the reasons we get along so well creatively; we’re on the same page quite a bit in our storytelling impulses. But yeah, this is the first script I’ve directly written. I knew if I was ever going to write something, I definitely wanted Cullen to hold my hand through it. [Laughs] It’s been fun. There’s a lot of trading scripts back and forth, and each script’s been completely different in the way we approach it. It’s very nice to have Cullen here helping me out. You know what I mean, Cullen.
Bunn: He means completely reworking everything. [Laughs]
You guys have been working together for years and now you’re writing a script for someone else. Is that a big adjustment, writing for someone who doesn’t know all the background and have the shorthand that you two share?
Bunn: I don’t know that I approach the scripts any differently because I write full scripts even for Brian Hurtt, who I’ve been working with for so long. The scripts he sees are the same as the scripts I would write for anyone else.
Hurtt: Yeah, there is no shorthand in the scripts. Trust me, they’re exactly the same — if anything, I’m more demanding. I make sure that he numbers the balloons. [Laughs] I don’t ask Cullen to change anything because I work well from his scripts. I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it a hundred more, but when he writes his scripts, it’s like he’s painting a picture for me. I envision it in my mind’s eye and then I’m trying to translate it. I like to be inspired that way.
What made Brian Churilla the right artist for the miniseries?
Bunn: He’s cheap and we could afford him! [Laughs]
Hurtt: We’ve been fans of Brian for a while now, even before “The Secret History of D.B. Cooper.” He was somebody that Cullen and I had looked at and said, “This guy is great and we’d love to work with him sometime.” When it came time to do the miniseries and Oni asked us who we’d like to work with — correct me if I’m wrong, but Brian was at the top of the list.
Bunn: What’s interesting is Brian Hurtt was probably going to be the tougher sell on any artist because I knew he was going to be very picky about who was going to be drawing these characters. Churilla was at the top of our list. I don’t know if he remembers this or not, but years ago, when I was first writing and pitching the book “The Tooth,” I contacted Brian Churilla through e-mail and asked if he’d be interested in working on the book.
Hurtt: And he turned you down, outright. [Laughs]
Bunn: He was nice about it, but yeah, he turned me down. He was busy doing another project at the time, but I’ve been a fan of his work for a while.
Bill, I want to get you into the conversation. The first issue of the miniseries has more of a typical setting for a Western than “The Sixth Gun.” Can you describe the challenge in using color to evoke the setting and using a color scheme more typical of what you utilize in “The Sixth Gun” main book.
Bill Crabtree: It’s not challenging; it’s just a little bit of a departure. Brian Hurtt was very clear at the beginning of us working together that he didn’t want a sepia brown palette. He wanted it to be dark at times, and muted, but also to have bright colors here and there. When I first started talking to Brian Churilla about coloring his work on “Sons of the Gun,” he wanted something a little more restrained and at times a little more monochromatic, and so it’s trying to find a balance between the style in which he prefers to be colored and the established look of the book.
Hurtt: What you’re not saying is that you probably have the hardest job of everybody on the book in that you’re the bridge between the writing and the art — the one visual constant between the two series. You’re trying to keep Churilla happy and take a different approach with the colors, while at the same time being true to the look that’s already established on the book. I’m hyping Bill because he’s not going to do a quality job doing it for himself.
Crabtree: [Laughs] Another difference is that when I was coloring Tyler Crook on those stand-alone issues that he did, #14 and #23, he wanted me to use more of a textured, almost a charcoal drawing feel. As if you’re working on paper that has a grain to it. And Churilla asked me to color him that way, too. Besides the change in palette, there’s also a change in the approach. I color Brian Hurtt more cleanly because his art is a little more streamlined.
Hurtt: Bill, would you say that coloring Tyler influenced how you started coloring me after that? Because I feel it did, the way you experimented with texture.
Crabtree: Maybe a little bit. The way I color the book has definitely evolved over time. I’ve been wanting to do more painterly stuff so as it seems appropriate, I’ve been doing more painterly backgrounds in particular and still keeping the almost animation cel look for the characters; keeping it clean and simple, and maybe a little more textured and complex in the backgrounds. “The Sixth Gun” is often described as a horror/supernatural western, but I feel like between the content of the stories themselves and also Brian Churilla’s old EC Comics style of drawing, it does seem to me like this is more of the “horror” than the “supernatural.” It has more of a “Tales from the Crypt” feeling to it, which isn’t something I noticed right away, but it’s coming out that way, I think.
Bunn: I think our approach to this series is a little darker. “The Sixth Gun” is often billed as a horror/western, but we’ve started thinking of it more as a fantasy western. “Sons of the Gun,” because of the subject matter and the characters that are featured and our approach to it, is definitely much more of a horror series. I think the first issue is dark but two and three are very dark. It gets progressively more sinister.
Hurtt: I was going to say, four is dark, too, isn’t it?
Bunn: They’re all pretty dark. And that EC feel comes across from the beginning.
Crabtree: They have this twisted cautionary feel to them. I didn’t notice that right away.
As the series progresses and you’re moving into the second half, has the tone of the book shifted a little?
Hurtt: I don’t know. It’s getting darker, but at the same time, it’s also getting bigger and more epic and even more like a fantasy.
Bunn: I do think in a lot of ways “Sons of the Gun” serves as a signal that things are changing in the main series. The main series, as Brian says, is becoming bigger and more epic, but I think there’s a shift in tone coming up. Maybe “Sons of the Gun” is our way of whetting the readers’ appetite for that a little bit.
Hurtt: Yeah, if you like tragedy, you’ll love “Sons of the Gun.” [Laughs]
Bunn: “Sons of the Gun” is not a happy story.
Well, we know what happens to the horsemen, and it doesn’t end well.
Hurtt: That’s true.
Crabtree: One of the things I like best about “The Sixth Gun” is, it’s not an endless soap opera that goes on forever. It’s a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end, which I think strengthens it. We’re over halfway there now, so we’re more and more playing for keeps as the story goes further along. I have to say, I try not to know too much ahead of time, so I’m seeing the pages as Brian turns them in, and that’s the first I’m hearing about some of these things. So getting some of those pages for “Winter Wolves” where there’s that huge stag with all those heads impaled on its antlers — when I get stuff like that, it’s like, “whoa.”
Hurtt: What a cliche. Another giant stag with heads on its antlers. [Laughs]
Crabtree: I have those moments regularly where I thought I had a sense of the scope of this book, but I was completely wrong. I get that regularly.
Bunn: And you’re coloring the new arc now, right?
Crabtree: I’m intentionally not talking about that stuff. I’m using an example of something that’s already in print. But yeah, it just keeps getting turned up to eleven every time.
It’s interesting you say that, Bill. I’m curious why, because obviously, if you knew what was coming, you could plan out color ideas or shifts in style over the course of events.
Hurtt: Let me just interject and say that Bill knows about as much as we know in advance. He knows the general outline and where things are going but sometimes Cullen doesn’t know what he’s going to write until the day before I get the script. The stag scene is actually an example of that, a last minute addition.
Bunn: Actually that’s true of a lot of the stuff in “Winter Wolves” that a lot of people really liked, if I’m being honest. I just did not know what I was going to do with the story until I said, “I’m just going to throw a stag with heads on the antlers.”
Of course. That’s perfectly logical.
Bunn: Believe me, if I can throw in a mystical stag with severed heads on its antlers, I’ll do it on every book I write. [Laughs]
Brian’s right. While we know where the story of “The Sixth Gun” is going, the individual issues surprise us. Even “Sons of the Gun” as a miniseries, some of the things that happen, we weren’t aware they were going to happen until we actually wrote those pages. I like that as a writer because if I don’t know where our story is going, that makes me believe that the reader isn’t going to guess where it’s going either.
Hurtt: But don’t let him fool you, there is a road map. We’re taking the scenic route on that map.
Brian, just to get you into the conversation, you’re coming off last year’s “The Secret History of D.B. Cooper” miniseries which you wrote and drew. What attracted you to drawing “Sons of the Gun?”
Brian Churilla: It was a no-brainer when I was offered it. I thought it would be a lot of fun and definitely one of the biggest challenges of my career, for sure. Just drawing horses alone. [Laughs] I have turned down literally about half a dozen projects because there were horses in them. This, I just couldn’t pass it up. I’m a big fan of both Cullen and Brian.
Was the appeal for you that you weren’t just doing a fill-in but a miniseries, and something different from the ongoing series?
Churilla: Yeah, it was its own thing. Not just a one-shot, but a commitment. I was just excited to do something in that world and also to not be doing everything was very appealing for me. With “D.B. Cooper,” I wrote it, drew it, inked it and colored it.
Hurtt: Did you letter it?
Churilla: No, thank God.
Hurtt: You’re so lazy. [Laughs]
Churilla: [Laughs] It was nice to be one of the cooks in the kitchen as opposed to just the only person in the kitchen.
Brian, a few years ago, you drew “The Anchor” for BOOM! Studios, which Phil Hester wrote. Like you, he writes and draws and jumps between creator-owned projects and corporate comics. Is that the kind of career path you’re interested in?
Churilla: Yes and no. I like the freedom of not being locked into something for a long time, but I also see the advantages of that. There’s a good chance I’m going to be doing something more long term in the future, but I can’t say anything about it now. I see the advantage of creators who have a home base where people can always find an artist. Like Ryan Ottley; his home is “Invincible.” Mike Mignola’s home is “Hellboy.” It’s cool to have a title that you hang your hat on for a lot of years. My attention span is that of a horsefly, but I see the advantage of both sides, so we’ll see. Phil Hester is a really dear friend and he has just so much output. He’s a great cartoonist and he’s a fast cartoonist and a prolific writer and creator, so he has his output, just tons of stuff. In the long term, I would like to be known for doing my own bizarre solo work, but I’ve got a lot of years to do that stuff.
Bill we spoke earlier about how you have a different approach and style for different artists. What distinguished how you colored Brian Churilla?
Crabtree: It was primarily just what he was asking for. Also, honestly I don’t think too much about it. It just comes out the way it does a lot of the time for me. I don’t really use a palette, I just make all the colors on the fly as I go. And I’m always rethinking my overall approach — sometimes I make a guess based on whatever comes to me, and sometimes I get specific notes for something like, “make this scene like this,” and other times, I just look at something and get a very clear idea of what I want to do with it. Churilla’s work has a little more texture, it’s a little more visceral and fleshy than Brian Hurtt’s stuff. Even if he hadn’t requested it, I probably would have handled it a little more in a painterly style, because he gets down into the nooks and crannies in that Bernie Wrightson/Kelley Jones kind of way. Brian Hurtt is a little more reductive and streamlined and precise, so it makes sense to color him in that way.
Churilla: I was coming off of “D.B. Cooper” where I colored myself for so long, and going back to having a colorist color my work was definitely hard on my end. I made him pull his hair out a couple times, just because I’m not being used to working with someone again —
Crabtree: I still have a lovely head of hair. [Laughs]
Churilla: — but after a while, I trusted him. He knows what he’s doing. And when I color stuff, I don’t have any foresight into coloring, I just wing it. It’s nice to leave it to the pros. He did a really nice job.
Meanwhile, you have the ongoing “Sixth Gun” series coming out as usual, and there’s a hardcover collection of the series coming up.
Hurtt: There’s no date, but look for it this year.
I have to ask about the television pilot, which is being produced by Carlton Cuse who wrote and produced “Lost” and also co-created and produced “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” I know they’re casting the show now, but do you know anything about what’s happening?
Bunn: I think you pretty much summed it up. I know they’re working very, very long days right now and doing location scouting. They’ve hired a director, and they’re in the process of casting. That’s all we know. I mean honestly, when it’s posted on Deadline Hollywood, that’s either fifteen minutes after we’ve heard about it or fifteen minutes before we hear about it. That’s how quickly things move.
Hurtt: Obviously it’s a pilot, and we’ll be hearing a lot of news in the next few weeks.
Do you feel good about it? Have you had conversations with them and do they seem to get the book and what you’re doing?
Bunn: I’m really excited about it. Going into these things, you never really know how your work’s going to be interpreted, but we’ve had discussions with Carlton. The show is his ballgame, but he’s very excited about it, and he’s excited about the book. I think the show will be very true to the spirit of the series.