Welcome back for the latest installment of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This is the feature in which CBR invites creators to stop by and talk about their most recent releases, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It'll be just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.
This week, we bring to you the first issue of Oni Press' new miniseries, "The Damned: Prodigal Sons," a sequel to the acclaimed 2006 graphic novel. Both writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt (“Gotham Central,” “Queen & Country”) are here to discuss their new start, including some bonus art you haven't seen before.
A costume drama set at the turn of the last century, filled with tommy guns, pinstriped suits, and ornate floor-length gowns, "The Damned" started out with a high concept something along the lines of "The Sopranos Go To Hell." Or, to put in more 1999-esque terms, "The X-Files Meets The Godfather." The story follows Eddie, who has a tendency of not staying dead. Certainly, this has at times been convenient for Eddie, as walks treacherous lines between Prohibition-era mob families, demons and humans, and our world and a dark afterlife. Unfortunately for Eddie, after years of jumping back and forth from every side of the dark and violent wold of “The Damned,” there are some who are determined that he stay dead this time.
In "The Damned: Prodigal Sons," this universe expands, the relationships develop, and the little pesky demons come along for the ride, too. There's a rich background to the series that develops over the pages, and in this edition of THE COMMENTARY TRACK - the most thorough we’ve yet published -- Bunn and Hurtt will point out the relationships, tease at where it's all heading, and explain more of the process that went into making this story. You'll learn about the connections between the original miniseries and this one, how simple scenes can be the hardest to draw, how the original draft of this issue was ten pages shorter, the limitations of monthly comics, the creepiest parts of the book, and a whole lot more.
And, if you stick around long enough, you'll see how it all related back to "Weekend At Bernie's."
As always, this COMMENTARY TRACK contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. You've been warned.
Cullen Bunn: The theme of "Prodigal Sons", overwhelmingly, is family; the lengths one will go to in order to protect them; the sacrifices one will make on their behalf. What better way to kick that off than with a portrait of Eddie, Morgan, and their mother? Noticeably missing from the picture is Eddie and Morgan's father, although he appears in the initial flashback a couple of pages later. Everything Eddie does in this series is tied to family, and soon enough we'll learn that blood ties have been a driving force of everything that has happened and will happen in the world of "The Damned."
Brian Hurtt: Loved drawing this whole sequence. It was great to show Eddie in happier, simpler times and it was nice to just draw some kids horsing around. It's a nice contrast to the rest of this world we've created in "The Damned". Page two is one of my favorite pages from the book and panel one is probably my favorite shot on the page. I think it establishes and gets across the rambunctious energy and playfulness that plays out over the next several panels. I feel like I rarely open a scene with a close-up of walking (or running) feet (a trope of the cinema) but I feel that it works in this case.
Panel 4 and 5
CB: These two panels are quite telling in regards to Eddie and Morgan's relationship, Eddie's role in the story as a whole, and the fate that is quite possibly awaiting the brothers. My favorite characters have always been bastards, and Eddie fits the bill. And the stories I like most usually don't have happy outcomes. This light-hearted moment between Eddie and Morgan foreshadows that things will most likely end poorly for our heroes.
CB: While it caused a little bit of confusion in "Three Days Dead", I like the notion that Eddie's mother and Sophie (Eddie's doomed love interest from the first series) look a hell of a lot alike.
BH: Well, we have no choice but to like it. I take full blame for any confusion caused (and there was some). The only two female leads in the previous series were both attractive, average-sized brunettes. My bad.
That said, Cullen is right - guys often end up with women who remind them of their mothers.
BH: It can sometimes be a pain finding historically accurate dresses for the ladies. Doing visual research for the 1900-1929 time frame can be tedious. It's so much easier to find stuff from the earlier Victorian age and everything after 1930 gets easier. But we picked one of the most challenging visual eras of the last 125 years. Yay! Sometimes I just have to make educated guesses on wardrobe and such based on what I can find. In this case, I'm pretty sure Mom's dress is lifted almost 100% from an actual dress from the period. Her necklace is also.
BH: I love how dejected Morgan and Eddie look here. If I could go back and tweak this I would have Morgan's wooden sword literally dragging on the floor.
BH: This might be my favorite image from the book. It definitely turned out the way I wanted and has evoked the kind of responses that I wanted. Almost every time someone picks up the book and flips through it they will stop on this page and be like "Aw man, that is creepy." Mission accomplished. I think some of the unease comes from the sense that you as the viewer are peeking though the door with the boys and seeing something you shouldn't. The shadow of the door across the towering figure of the Verlochin is intended to give the viewer that sense of voyeurism. I probably picked that up from that scene in "Rosemary's Baby", where a woman is observed sitting on a bed talking on a phone. The camera is down the hall a bit and the way the image is cropped so that the character is just barely visible making the audience want to tilt their head to peak around the door. It gave the viewer the wonderful sense that they were eavesdropping on the scene.
BH: I tried talking Cullen into letting me split this panel in two. I wanted the second panel to show Morgan having wet himself. Cullen resisted and I think the scene plays better for it.
CB: Would I wet my pants if I saw a big demon? You bet! Would Morgan? Not even as a little kid.
BH: We bookend this scene with the same image we ended Eddie's final scene in the previous series: a slightly gloomy family portrait of Eddie, Morgan and their mother.
Hmm. . . where's daddy?
Sketch by Brian Hurtt
CB: In "Three Days Dead", it took several issues for my favorite demon family to make an appearance. This time out, the Verlochin show up right away, and their ties to Eddie's family become a little more interesting. We know they cursed Eddie, but now we're learning that they've been involved in his family in a much bigger way.
For me, Brian pulled off one of the creepiest, most evocative panels of the entire series thus far with this rendition of the demon looming over Eddie's wheelchair-bound father. When we saw the Verlochin in "Three Days Dead", they had fallen on rough times, and their attire was rather ratty. Here, the big-headed demon's wardrobe is a little spiffier, as the Verlochin haven't fallen from power just yet. Speaking of wardrobe, this demon was the first I remember Brian sketching when we started kicking the idea for the series around - only in the original sketches he wore a pinstriped suit and carried a tommy gun.
CB: Here's our introduction to Morgan as an adult. Morgan almost made it into the first series, but the character didn't quite fit into that storyline. "Three Days Dead" was a grim noir mystery, and Morgan's an action hero. "Prodigal Sons" is a tribute to the high adventure of the pulps, and we needed a tough do-gooder to put through the paces. Morgan's our Indiana Jones . . . our Doc Savage.
In the first panel, we see that he bears some strange marks on his skin -- the evidence of his own curse. Originally, the plan was to have these symbols all over his body -- including his face -- and the markings were to "crawl" and wriggle across his skin. This, of course, would have been a pain to draw, so I considered having Morgan wear bandages to conceal his features. After much discussion, Brian and I decided that the symbols didn't crawl, nor did they mar Morgan's good looks.
This isn't the first time those symbols have appeared in the series, by the way.
Sketch by Brian Hurtt
BH: I actually stole the design of Morgan. Stole him from myself. I had designed a detective character named Harvey Moon who had been floating around my sketchbooks for years.
BH: Who needs dialogue? I love that look that Morgan gives Eddie. I love the silences on this page. Silent panels can often say a lot more than any dialogue can. Sometimes I add the panels to give a little room to a scene or to add a little tension. In this case, though, it was scripted just as you see it. As great as Cullen's dialogue is, he also knows when to shut up. I think that's a sign of someone who knows what they're doing.
CB: We don't get into how Eddie and Morgan's mother died just yet, but this exchange between the brothers is intended to highlight that at the very least Morgan blames Eddie. Whether he is deserving of blame or not, that's for a later day.
BH: I'm reminded as I look at these pages from Morgan's intro that this was the first scene I inked. And the fourth scene I inked. I always ink one scene at a time and I tend to start with the second scene first. I do that because I don't want the first pages of the book that people see to be the pages I warmed up on. The pages tend to get better as you go along so I often save the first scene until after I'm in my groove. So anyway, I inked this scene and then moved on to others. When I came back to it later I was very disappointed in how it had turned out. It was too light and airy -- there was no weight or atmosphere to it. So I went back in, thickened up some lines and added a lot more black and shadows to the pages. I'm much happier with the final product now.
CB: Bruno played second fiddle to Big Al in the "Three Days Dead". In this series, he's the driver of much of Eddie and Morgan's woe.
BH: I like this intro page of Bruno's. I'm especially happy with the first two panels.
Doing a floppy comic, we are more limited by space. Most of the time, this isn't a problem. It forces us to keep the story moving and to get to the essence of a scene. That said, if there were more room I would've built the mood, anticipation and isolation of the scene and setting more by beginning with panel one (as is) and probably ending with panel two. These two panels would have bookended a series of panels of this black car moving through the dark woods like a predator. But it was either that or getting more story on the page and we picked more story.
BH: I like panel one here but it fell a little short of what I was going for. I wanted to light from inside the garage to be brighter. The end result was to be for Keegan (the figure standing in the garage) to be more silhouetted than he is here and for all else outside the interior of the garage to fall into shadow, save for Bruno Roarke. Still. . . not a bad panel.
CB: A couple of new characters make their appearance here. Keegan, the one-eyed demon henchman, appeared as a background character in "Three Days Dead", and we liked him so much we decided to give him more of a role this time around. Keegan's a brutal, sadistic fellow, and he's got his eye on moving up in Bruno's organization.
Maura, Bruno Roarke's half-breed daughter, almost slinks across the page. My hope is that Maura, who plays a huge role in future stories, adds a whole new level of both sexiness and creepiness to the book. I think I described her as a hellish version of Angelina Jolie in the script.
BH: Ah, Maura. A fine blend of creepy and sexy. And did I mention creepy? I remember that I had to go back and do a patch on Maura's face in this panel. Her face didn't match up with her appearance in the latter panels. Both a function of having been the first time I drew her and a sloppy ink job.
Also, I like that Bruno decorates his office with a battle axe. You'll be seeing that again.
Panels 1 - 4
CB: I wanted to explore the dark side of Maura and Bruno's relationship, but only in a subtle way. These few panels are intended to hint that this isn't the most wholesome father/daughter relationship. For reasons we haven't revealed at this point, the demon world isn't overrun with women, and Maura uses her wiles to get what she wants from her old man, just as she does with everyone else. Knowing what I have planned for Maura, Brian threw in the sidelong glance Maura gives Donovan as Bruno pulls her along.
Like Maura, Donovan is a demon half-breed. He's just so big and tough that he's managed to climb the ranks as one of Bruno's enforcers. He only gets a few panels of face-time at this point, but I wanted a bruiser character to be a physical foil for Morgan later on. Keegan and Donovan are both threats for Morgan, but in different ways. Keegan is just plain mean. He is to Morgan as Michael Ironsides was to Arnold in "Total Recall". Donovan, on the other hand, is Bennett from "Commando".
Promotional art by Brian Hurtt
BH: Daddy's little girl. I did mention creepy already, right?
Donovan actually showed up in some promo art we did for the first series. We liked the design so much we decided to give the guy a name and use him in this series.
Panels 1 - 4
CB: Eddie's curse fuels a number of questions, not the least of which is "how is coming back from the dead a bad thing?" In "Prodigal Sons" (and the next series), we're really getting down to business in regards to why, exactly, the Verlochin cursed Eddie in this way. As thuggish and dim-witted as he might appear, Bruno is pretty savvy, and he knows there is more to Eddie's curse than others may realize. The secrets he has rattling around in his noodle are disturbing enough that he's willing to go against his truce with the Aligheri family in order to make sure Eddie dies and doesn't have a body to come back to.
BH: Perhaps my favorite single panel from this ish. The only time I've ever really yearned for this book to be full color was when drawing this scene at the Roarke estate. Every time I see those canaries I want them to be brightly colored - something beautiful in the dark place.
And then she eats them.
Page 16 and art from "The Damned: Three Days Dead"
CB: Morgan's visit to the Gehenna Room mirrors Eddie's from "Three Days Dead", although Morgan feels much more out of place among the city's elite. Even though Morgan dismissed Eddie earlier in the series, but here he is coming to his brother's aid. That pretty much sums up their relationship. Morgan may dislike his brother, but in the end he simply can't leave him high and dry.
It's a trait Eddie doesn't hesitate to exploit.
On this page, Morgan also catches his first glimpse of Darcy, our new female lead. My idea is that of the entire cast, Darcy and Morgan are really the only truly good eggs.
And they'll suffer for it.
BH: For a page that is basically just a guy talking to himself, I think we did a pretty good job of keeping it dynamic. Giving him a prop (the gloves) helped. I think also breaking the basic style of panel construction for the series helps. I rarely stack my panels as I did here with panels six and seven. I tend to find that a more classic construction (more or less three rows no full bleed) seems to work best for my storytelling. Fancy construction is usually (not always) the sign of someone more worried with trying to make their art "dynamic" than actually concentrating on telling a clear story. I feel like I'd have a hard time getting away with this style working on a "company" book.
CB: I think I described a lot more blood in the script -- like "Evil Dead 2" amounts of blood, but Brian tempered that a bit. I much prefer the way this turned out, and it's my favorite page in the book.
For some reason, when I wrote this, I was sure Brian would hate the idea of Eddie killing himself. Occasionally, I just get the notion that Brian's gonna think I'm going too far off base with some of my ideas. Almost always, though, he's on board with what I have in mind.
BH: This macabre page seems to be another favorite of folks. That kind of disturbs me. . .
BH: How can you not comment on this panel, Cullen? I would think that this is "Cullen Candy". You have blood and gore galore! A guy's face is being cooked on a stove top! Another has been de-fingered on the chopping block - the offending demon redefining finger food! And who knows what that demon in the background is so calmly stirring in that pot?
CB: A few weeks back, Brian and I were at a convention, and Brian had some of the art for the book on display. A mother and her young son approached, and the mother started showing the kid the artwork. It was interesting to watch Brian's mounting discomfort as the mother turned towards this page. At the last minute, he could take it no more, and he stopped her, politely telling her the next image might not be suitable for young audiences.
She sent the kid away and looked for herself.
BH: We haven't stated it explicitly in the book thus far but Cullen and I both know that demons won't eat anything but meat - and it has to be bloody raw meat at that.
CB: Right, and when Keegan later complains about "the stink of this place" he's talking about the smell of seared, bloodless meat.
Panel 5 - 7
CB: I like that Keegan doesn't even wait for this poor bastard to answer the question before he ices him. "Why a spoon, cousin?"
BH: Sclck! Sclck! Sclck! Never before have sound effects said so much. This violence is off-camera, but there is little confusion about what's happening.
Cullen didn't mention it but there's the subtle idea that Keegan, a one-eyed demon, has a fetish for eyeball violence.
CB: You'll notice Eddie appears a little more "solid" in the netherworld than he did during previous visits. The idea is that the more time he spends in Purgatory, the more real it becomes for him. Also, since he killed himself this time, he's becoming more rooted to the place.
BH: I have a love/hate relationship with these "Purgatory" pages. My first reaction when I get to them is "Thank God! No more cars. No more buildings. No more reference. And I only have to draw two characters." Then I remember that after drawing these "easy" pages I have to tone them. Add the speckles of dust. Add the fog. Color and do gradients on the branches. Fade out the borders. And hand letter everything the Harvester says. In the end they take longer to do than the other pages. Still, I wouldn't go through all that trouble if I wasn't happy with the way that they turn out.
BH: Now here is where the issue originally ended. These top three panels were the original panels from the last page. They were originally followed by a large panel showing the demon brute squad standing outside the door bearing their weapons and preparing to bust down the door. It was definitely more of a "ticking time bomb" cliffhanger (as Cullen puts it) but I think it was the right decision to add some fisticuffs to the issue. It really helps to balance out this issue as a whole.
CB: Yeah. Brian's right about that, now that I think about it. I'm glad we were able to add a little more action to this issue, too.
BH: This was originally one panel. I decided to break it up for two reasons. One: I love the image of the blood dropping (plip) in the bucket. For practical reasons I had to get in close to make that work and in doing so I couldn't also get the bleeding wrist. Two: Breaking up the panel slows time and builds the tension. It makes us wait just that much longer before the inevitable action starts.
BH: And "SMASH!" - here we go. That's how you make and entrance! This panel is notable for being the first panel I ever hand lettered the sound effects onto the board -- integrated into the art. Before this panel, I would hand letter the sound effects on a separate piece of paper and then composite it onto the page in Photoshop (this includes the other SFX on this page in panels three and five). That approach worked fine but the SFX never felt fully integrated into the art. After doing this panel the old fashioned way I'll never work the other way again. Something about doing the SFX on the board also makes the act of drawing the panel that much more exciting and fun. In a way, the SFX inform the way I draw the rest of the panel. From here on out all the SFX in this book were done on the board.
CB: The action sequence was originally intended to kick off the second issue, but when we were given more pages to work with, we decided to end this issue with a bang.
I love the idea of Morgan having to protect his brother's corpse while using Eddie as both a weapon and a shield. It's one of the perks of having a character who is cursed with coming back from the dead. When I first came up with the idea for this story, I described the action sequences as a high octane "Weekend at Bernie's", with Morgan lugging Eddie through all sorts of wild adventures. Eddie is going to take a lot of damage in this series.
BH: Ha! There you go -- we beat you to it! "Weekend at Bernie's" with demons! Now you know where we got the idea.
BH: Now we get to see Morgan do what Morgan does best: Bust heads! As much as I love drawing the atmospheric scenes, and setting the mood, building the characters. . . I'm not going to lie -- drawing this balls-to-the-wall action stuff is a blast. I think you can probably see how much fun I'm having on the page.
CB: When I wrote this, I cringed a little. Ouch! Seeing it on the page made it all the more real and painful. Morgan likes to slam demons into things, and he doesn't mind roughing them up. He may have sworn off violence, but he hates the infernal with a passion.
Panels 4 and 6
BH: I think I need to address something here. It's the Stormtrooper accuracy of these demons and their pistols. First of all, moving and shooting a pistol accurately is not nearly as easy as the movies make it look. Pistols are highly inaccurate and if you're not trained or standing in a proper stance with both hands on the gun you're going to have a much harder time hitting what you're aiming at. Secondly, these demons are stumbling all over each other in a blood rage trying to get at Morgan. Thirdly, speaking of blood rages -- demons are a little more primal and they instinctually want to rip and rend with their teeth and claws and opposed to shooting with a gun. They're just not gun people. And lastly, it's a comic book. We're here to have fun. Ultraviolent fun.
CB: Right. How much fun would this type of story be if Morgan got plugged in the back of the head right out of the gate. Besides, he's big, but he's quick!
In the end, though. It's pulp. No other explanation is needed.
BH: Pain. In. The. Ass. This whole sequence involves choreographing Eddie, Morgan, and five distinct demon characters. Not as easy as it looks. And then we throw in Darcy. I might say it's even harder than shooting or drawing a conversation with seven people sitting around a table (it's hard, trust me) because in this case the people keep moving. Nonetheless, it may have been a challenge but it was a satisfying one because, in the end, I'm happy with how these turned out.
BH: This is kind of representative of my shifting style. There is definitely a much cartoonier style of mine coming to the fore. I'm actually holding it back a bit so as to keep a sort of visual continuity to this series. It'll be a gradual evolution. I'm sure that in a few years there will be quite a shift if you were to look back at the first issues of this series.
Look close and you'll see that one of the bullets has missed Eddie and passed through Morgan's jacket as it trails behind him.
CB: Honestly, I wrote myself into a bit of a corner here. If Morgan steps away from the door, the demons rush in. If he doesn't, Darcy's a goner. It took me a while to figure out how to make that work in a way that felt right. I think I managed it, but you'll have to wait until next issue to find out.
Thanks to Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt for stopping by this week to give such a thorough look at their work . We're certain this COMMENTARY TRACK has given you new appreciation for "Prodigal Sons" #1, or if you haven't read it yet, inspired you to pick it up. "The Damned: Prodigal Sons" #1 is in stores now from Oni Press.
If you have any titles or creators you'd like to see a commentary track from, or you’re a creator with book due out that you’d like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!