Interview: Cullen Bunn


A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the first issue of Cullen Bunn’s (The Sixth Gun, Wolverine, Helheim, Magneto) new four-issue miniseries, The Remains, which is being published digitally by MonkeyBrain Comics. It’s a straight horror yarn, about a farm in need of a helping hand, but the man who answers their call is anything but. After reading the first issue several times over, I was lucky enough to get to talk to Cullen Bunn himself about the story.

Heave Media: First of all, thanks again for doing this. As a general starter, can you tell me a little more about The Remains, and what inspired you to write it?

Cullen Bunn: The Remains was actually a prose novella I wrote a few years ago. It appeared in a couple of anthologies and collections, including my own short story collection, Creeping Stones And Other Stories.

It’s one of those stories that, as I was writing it, I realized I was onto something that I felt was pretty special. I’ve always thought it would make a great comic book.

It’s the story of a family living on a dying farm. They’re struggling, but they are happy. That all changes, though, when a stranger wanders onto their property looking for work. Cole Jensen, the “hired man” as we call him, brings a sense of dread with him. Warning bells start to go off in the head of our main character, Birdie, as soon as he shows up. And she would do well to listen, because the dead grow restless not long after he arrives.

HM: Now, in spite of doing comparatively little in this first issue, Cole exudes this sense of menace that I find really fantastic. What particularly did you have in mind while designing him?

CB: You know how there are certain people that, as soon as you meet them, you just get an uneasy feeling? You just know that not only are they thinking bad thoughts… not only are they up to no good… you also need to walk on eggshells around them because they are downright dangerous? Well, that’s what I wanted to get across with Cole. I’ve met people like him, and I wanted to do everything in my power to get the Hell away from them as quickly as possible.

A.C. Zamudio took that several steps further, of course. After she read the novella, she sent me concept sketches for Cole. She really captured that uneasy feeling I described and made it a physical thing.

HM: Certainly the shot of him grinning at Birdie with all those teeth really stuck with me. Another image I found really evocative was the dead rats dancing. Did you know when you were writing it that that was how you were going to frame the first issue?

CB: For the most part, yes. Before I started scripting the comic, I took the novella and broke the story up and rearranged certain scenes to give them the most impact in each issue.

HM: As something that started off as a novella, what in particular did you have to consider when re-adapting The Remains as a comic?

CB: There were a few things I thought about. I wanted to make sure that if someone had read the novella, they could still enjoy the comic (and vice versa). I also had to think about what elements of the story would have the most visual impact. And, as I mentioned, I had to rearrange certain scenes to make it work in a four-issue format.

The biggest change was that the protagonist in the comic was a boy. In the comic, we changed the character into Birdie. When A.C. and I talked about it, we thought it would actually make the story even darker.

And A.C. drew the sisters–Birdie and Abigail–so wonderfully, we knew readers would identify with them right away.

HM: Having read the script for The Sixth Gun #1 that you put up on your website, I noticed you put a ton of detail into character and scene descriptions. How do you balance the amount of detail you give in a script while still giving the artist a little bit of space for interpretation?

CB: Typically, I speak with the artist beforehand, letting them know that, while I might describe a scene or character in a certain way, they still have plenty of creative freedom. They’re the artist and I trust them to bring the story to life. That said, I write my scripts in a way that is, hopefully, entertaining to the artist and the editor. I try to elicit a mood and an emotional reaction with the way I write those scripts. I believe that helps the artist convey those same emotions on the page.

HM: To sort of go off of that, are there any scenes in particular in issue #1 where, even having spoken with her beforehand, A.C. Zamudio managed to surprise you with her art?

CB: I think she surprised me with every scene, actually. I knew she was a talented artist. Still, when I got those first few pages, I was absolutely blown away.

One scene that I worried about (and would have worried about with any artist) was the confrontation between the dog, Jerry Lee, and the rats. I thought that might be a difficult scene to pull off, but she nailed it!

HM: Jerry Lee looks downright vicious in those scenes! I’d like to double back and talk about Abigail and Birdie though. To me, they seem about the furthest thing possible from a character like Drake Sinclair [from The Sixth Gun], who’s essentially steeped in the occult and the supernatural from the moment we meet him. Without spoiling too much, are the girls’ relative youth and innocence going to be a hindrance or a boon to them in the upcoming issues of The Remains?

CB: Those girls are definitely a departure from Drake Sinclair.

I think their youth and innocence is a hindrance for them, actually, because Cole is the kind of despicable beast who thinks those qualities make someone “easy marks.” It also poses a problem in that no one will really listen to them once they start telling others that something is wrong on the farm.

For me, that’s part of what makes the story frightening. Being trapped in this terrible situation without anyone listening to you.

HM: And to be frank, The Remains certainly seems like more of a straight horror story than The Sixth Gun. As sort of a final thought, how did you decide on releasing The Remains digitally through MonkeyBrain?

CB: Yes, while The Sixth Gun has horror elements, it’s much more of a fantasy. The Remains is straight horror. It’s intended to scare the reader.

I have been talking to the folks at MonkeyBrain for a while. When I first spoke to them, I couldn’t pursue additional creator-owned projects. As soon as my schedule would allow it, though, I started thinking of books I could do with them. I was fascinated by their publishing model and the quality of the books they publish. I felt like I had to be a part of that.

HM: It seems like they’re doing really good work in creator-owned online publishing. Any last words or plugs you’d like to make before I let you go?

CB: I think that’s it. The Remains will be a four-issue series, and it only costs 99 cents to jump in.

So what are you waiting for? The first issue of The Remains is only 99 cents on Comixology, and it’s fantastically written and drawn. If you’re at all a fan of horror comics or Cullen Bunn (which, frankly you really should be), I’d highly recommend checking it out.