For a guy writing a comic called “The Empty Man” at BOOM! Studios, Cullen Bunn sure has a full schedule. In addition to a variety of Marvel and Oni Press projects, the writer will work with “Hit” artist Vanesa R. Del Rey on the six-issue, June-launching miniseries which takes place in a world devastated by a virus called The Empty Man.
The series stars Walter Langford and Monica Jensen who both work for a joint task force between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Center for Disease Control to combat The Empty Man. While they do their best to figure out how to stop the virus, other people have built entire cultish religions around this new world devastated by the plague.
In addition to Marvel’s “Night of the Living Deadpool” and “Magneto,” Bunn continues to pen his long-running Oni Press series “The Sixth Gun.” As if that weren’t enough, Oni recently announced several new titles from the busy writer including “Hellbreak,” “Brides of Helheim” and “The Sixth Gun” prequel “Days of the Dead.” He’ll also be spending some time at Dynamite Entertainment to pen “The Shadow.” “The Empty Man” marks Bunn’s first published work at BOOM! Studios.
CBR News spoke to Bunn about the genesis of “The Empty Man,” why BOOM! was the right home for the story and how he keeps all of his projects on track.
CBR News: The title “The Empty Man” refers to a virus that has torn through the world. What can you tell us about what the virus does and how it has changed the world?
Cullen Bunn: Imagine a contagious insanity. It manifests in ghastly hallucinations, homicidal rage, suicidal depression and endless catatonia. But this spreads from one person to the next in a way that has not been identified. So, this is “our” world, only if everyone on the planet had lived in the terrifying grip of this mind-crushing madness that might strike out of nowhere. That in itself is enough to drive many people insane with fright, and the strange nature of this “disease” has led many to look upon it with an almost religious reverence.
Who are the main characters in “The Empty Man” that readers will be following as the series progresses?
There are a few characters who will be quite important to the readers. First up, we’ve got agents Walter Langford and Monica Jensen. They are part of a joint FBI/CDC task force focused on The Empty Man. They’re a bit of an odd couple both in terms of how they view the mysterious virus and how they approach the job. Langford’s a little more laid back, while Jensen is all business. They both have interesting connections to the Empty Man that we’ll be exploring as the series progresses.
In addition, we’ll meet Abram Markoff, who was a small time faith healer in the early days of the Empty Man, but has become one of the nation’s most powerful televangelists in the days since the first reported case of the virus.
What can you tell us about the murder cults that are taking root in the wake of the virus?
As I mentioned, there are those who have developed faith systems around the Empty Man, but not every group views the virus in the same way. Many have strange — and often dangerous — practices. There are groups with names such as the Witnesses and the Ghost Movement and the Order of Light and Shadow and the Void Children — and that’s just a few of them! While the authorities avoid the term “cult,” that’s really what they’re dealing with here. Cults. And a lot of them.
You’ve done a lot of interesting world-building in your books. Were there any particular challenges in making this one or interesting bits of research you came across while working on “The Empty Man?”
When I started working on “The Empty Man,” I didn’t necessarily foresee that there would be a lot of world-building. Books like “The Damned” and “The Sixth Gun” both have settings very far removed from the “real” world. This story, though, is set in the world we know. But once I started digging in, I realized I was creating something new here as well. It might look like our world, but the presence of this worldwide virus changes things drastically. The religious impact, the methodologies of the government agencies and the changing attitudes of the general populace set this world apart.
How did you hook up with Vanesa R. Del Rey and what made her the right artist for “The Empty Man?”
Funny enough, Vanesa is an artist I had discovered while looking around online for individuals I wanted to work with. But I had not approached her about “The Empty Man.” BOOM! came to me with the suggestion, and I couldn’t have been more surprised or thrilled! It was meant to be! Vanesa does dark, moody horror like no one else! Somehow, she makes the surreal moments in the book — and there are quite a few of them — even more surreal.
You do quite a few books through Oni, but what made BOOM! the right place for “The Empty Man?”
Oni has been great to work with, obviously. I’m at the point in my career, though, where I had to start expanding my “footprint” a bit. I mean, Oni can’t publish everything I do! “The Empty Man” is a weird “police-procedural-meets-J-horror” comic, and I knew I needed to work with a publisher who wasn’t afraid to let me really cut loose on some of the really surreal elements of the comic. The folks at BOOM! didn’t flinch away from it at all.
How important is it to you as a creator to continue doing creator-owned comics like this in addition to writing for Marvel?
What’s important, I think, is for creators to keep doing the things that make them happy. Some creators are perfectly content to work on only creator-owned stuff or only Marvel or DC books. For me, I just want to tell stories. In some cases, those stories are with Marvel. In other cases, they are creator-owned books. I think at this stage, though, I’m moving toward stories that are truer to who I am as a writer — in particular stories with a bit of a horror vibe.
With so many projects in the works, how do you keep yourself organized and on track schedule-wise?
Most importantly, I work every day from 8:30 to 5:00, just as I would if I had a “real job.” That’s the key, really. This is work, so I treat it that way. I have a calendar of upcoming due dates and a manager who keeps me on target, making sure I’m tackling projects in the right order. Once upon a time, I managed pretty well all on my own, but these days it’s nice to have someone giving me a kick every now and then to keep me on target.
I looked back at an interview we did in 2011 and you had just announced that you were quitting your day job on March 11 of that year. How have things changed for you in the intervening three years?
Well, the biggest change is the number of publishers and artists I’m working with. I think I have projects coming out — or soon coming out — with every major comic book publisher. That’s an exciting change of pace from those early days. In addition, my network of super-talented artists who are willing to work with me has really grown dramatically. I have several creator-owned books coming together right now, all with some amazing artists.
“The Empty Man” #1 from Cullen Bunn, Vanesa R. Del Rey and BOOM! Studios hits on June 11.
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