We’re taking a break from ROBOT 6’s exclusive new serialized Sixth Gun tale for a brief chat with creators Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt about, among other topics, the release last week of the oversized-hardcover collection of their Oni Press supernatural Western.
Given that the book includes the Christmas short story “Them’s What Ails Ya!” and the strip on ROBOT 6 takes place during the holiday, I was curious to learn what draws them to that setting. Sixth Gun fans will also be happy to learn there’s a new limited series planned, and, more immediately, The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun trade paperback arrives next week.
Tim O’Shea: Last week saw the release of the hardcover edition, and you all did a signing in support of its release. What was the best part of seeing this hardcover come out, and was there a particular highlight for both of you that sticks out from the signing event?
Cullen Bunn: Right before we left for the signing, I was in Brian’s studio, and we were looking at the first six trades of The Sixth Gun. It was an almost surreal experience, seeing all those books sitting next to one another on the shelf. Then we headed to the signing, and saw all those hardcovers sitting next to one another. I didn’t cry … at least not in public … but I might have gasped with amazement. We’re both really proud of how amazing this book turned out.
Brian Hurtt: I've been anticipating this book for so long now -- holding this massive tome in my hands for the first time, I had a really strong sense of achievement. I felt like a proud papa. The size and the quality of the book design seemed equal to my passion for the project.
The thing that stands out to me about the signings were all the people who stopped by to pick up the book and commented on how pretty the whole production was. That reaction kind of echoed my own when I first saw the book: I was expecting it to be nice but was surprised by how much it exceeded my expectations (and this would be a great time to give a shout out to Keith Wood, who put a LOT of time and passion into making this book what it is).
What were you most pleased about getting to include in the hardcover?
Bunn: I love all the back matter that we were able to include with the hardcover: a cover gallery, a great deal of Brian’s original concept art for the book, and The Sixth Gun short story I wrote. With some of that art, you can really see how the story has evolved, even from the earliest days. The hardcover includes the first drawing Brian ever did for The Sixth Gun, a black-and-white piece he drew before he was even attached officially to the project. You can also see some designs for characters who never really made it into the book, like this wild-eyed Reverend and Becky’s little brother.
Hurtt: There are a few pages of penciled pages in the back as well as some sketchbook stuff. While it horrifies me to see my sketches in there, as an artist and a comic fan, I always love seeing that stuff.
My favorite thing about the book though is not any specific content but the size itself. I was really happy to see that the art doesn't lose anything at the larger size and, if anything, it's a much more immersive reading experience.
Brian colored the first five issues, but then Bill Crabtree joined the team in Issue 6. What do two you think the series gained with his addition?
Hurtt: Whoo-boy. That's a tough one to nail down. I mean, from my point of view, it's not the Sixth Gun without Bill. I have absolute faith in his abilities and his choices. Cullen and I were looking at a page I had just drawn the other day and he commented that "Yeah, that's pretty cool but. Bill is going to make it look awesome." And I totally agreed. Bill has NEVER turned In a page that didn't exceed my expectations. My favorite thing about working on this series is when the colored pages start dribbling in -- it's like a week of Christmas every month for me.
What makes Bill so good is that he understands that color tells story as well and he approaches each scene from a storytelling point of view. I think that is what makes us all a good team is that we are all focused on the story and the storytelling. No one is using this book as a portfolio piece or a tryout for another book.
Bunn: Bill is an amazing colorist, one of the best in the business. Like all great colorists, he actually adds to the story, helps add layers to the characters and the world itself. And I’ve never seen an artist and colorist work so well together as Brian and Bill.
Also … I think Brian did an amazing job on the first five issues, but bringing Bill on saved his sanity!
The series recently hit the 35-issue mark. I’m curious over the years of developing this post-Civil War era story, have the two of you learned a great deal more about the era than you ever expected you might? Also, when you first started Sixth Gun in 2010, did you have hopes of it being something you were working on in 2013?
Bunn: I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War and post-Civil War era, and I had done a lot of reading and research (both on my own and as part of my college life). But there is still a great deal to learn and, yeah, a lot of new things have come to my attention! We’ve always said that in the tug of war between fantasy, reality and history, fantasy will win with The Sixth Gun, but we want this world and these characters to be rooted in something close to reality. That’s where the research comes in!
As for the longevity of the series, Brian and I can’t help but brainstorm the world and the characters we’re working on. We always dream big and come up with stories that could take years to tell. But we try to be realistic. If you look at the first arc, The Sixth Gun could have wrapped up with the publication of the sixth issue … but that would have left a lot of story to tell!
Hurtt: I've picked up bits here and there, but for me most of my research comes from the visual side of things. So, I have a better sense of how a wagon operates, or a team of horses is harnessed, but I tend to think of this as an alternate fantasy reality when drawing it, and most of my knowledge and inspiration comes from photos, illustrations and movies.
The hardcover features a Christmas story “Them’s What Ails Ya!” -- and the story we’re serializing on ROBOT 6 is set during Christmas. What is it about the holiday that attracts you to setting two stories during that time of year in the Sixth Gun universe?
Bunn: I only write Christmas stories in order to appease Santa Claus. He gave me a coloring book that I didn’t like when I was four, and I’ve always felt overwhelming guilt for that. Actually, I just like the “magical” feeling of an old-time Christmas. This time of year … for this type of story … it just feels right.
Hurtt: I just love Christmas. If I had the time, I'd do a "Very Special Christmas Story" every year, no matter what the project. I'm sure this won't be the last one you see us do.
Over the 35 issues, can both of you point to members of the cast who have grown on you more than you initially expected them to when they were first conceived for the series?
Bunn: Asher Cobb and Kirby Hale are both characters I never expected to become regular members of the cast. But I connected with them and fans seemed to love them, so they became key players in the story. We’ve had the beats of the entire series plotted out for a long time, but the characters who have become important to the story have surprised me from time to time.
Also, I miss the General.
Hurtt: I DON'T miss the General -- all those chains!
I agree with Cullen: Both Kirby and Asher were a surprise – especially Asher. He just grew on us. and I think it was Cullen's standalone issue (#14), that he did with Tyler Crook that really sealed the deal.
Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Bunn: In addition to the hardcover, Oni Press has released a limited-edition Gunslinger Edition of the book. It comes in a box designed to look like General Hume’s coffin, has a new dust jacket and a faux-leather cover, comes with exclusive art prints, and has a signed tip-in sheet. For the collector, it’s worth a look, and it is available exclusively through Oni Press.
Fans of The Sixth Gun should keep their eyes peeled for a new limited series (similar to Sons of the Gun) in the near future. And the current arc of the main series, titled “Not the Bullet, But the Fall,” is going to be big! Huge! Hold onto your saddle tightly!
And if you’re in the Chicago area, Brian and I will be attending a Sixth Gun hardcover release party at Challengers Comics on Friday night!
Hurtt: And speaking of Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun, the trade hits shelves next week!