I recently had the pleasure of engaging in conversation with Mr. Cullen Bunn, horror comics writer extraordinaire, creator of Dark Ark and Harrow County, regular writer of Deadpool, and genuinely all-round nice guy. Here’s what we chatted about during his appearance at MCM London Comic Con in late May:
First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to me; how are you finding the convention so far and how is England treating you?
It’s been great, I’ve only been here for a day and travelling in was not the best but the convention has taken good care of me. My flight lost all my clothes and everything so the convention hooked me up with clothes stuff, so they’ve taken good care of me so that’s really good.
How have the fans been so far? I know it’s been a bit quiet so far today.
Yeah it’s been a little quiet but there’s been quite a few people come by, and yeah they’ve been really great, its been nice. Everybody seems to be very apologetic when they bring a stack of comics, which never bothers me, it’s just always funny when people are apologetic because I’ll sign what ever people bring, and they’ll bring, you know people will come by with two or three comics and they’ll be apologising that they brought so many, and I’m happy to sign them.
We can’t help it, it’s just what we do!
So obviously you are really famous for your horror comics, and you’ve also done a lot of superhero work. What is your favourite thing to write, is it the horror, is it the superheros or is it something completely different? Not comics?
I love writing comics, they satisfy different needs I guess. I grew up reading superhero comics, I’ve always loved them and I enjoy writing those from the perspective of I’m doing, it’s like playing with your favourite toys, and that’s always a lot of fun but most of my horror stuff has been creator owned, and there is no comparison between creator owned and a writing comic for another, that someone else owns everything to it. It’s nothing against writing comics for the big two, or for other companies or licensed properties, I love doing all that, but at the end of the day something that is solely mine, creator owned is always going to be a little more special. So from that perspective, I guess the horror stuff, because most of my creator owned stuff definitely is towards the darker, darker stories.
I’m actually a massive scaredy cat and I can’t read Harrow County, because its too scary for me!
Really? Harrow County is one that I think, I think you should give it a try, because I think it’s a horror story for people that don’t like horror stories. It’s got some scary stuff in it but I see it as more of a fairy tale really.
Now you’re selling it to me because I love fairy tales!
I think you should give it a try, the first cover of the first book has a human skin crawling out of a drawer. It looks really creepy but I think that may be a little misleading, there is a flayed human skin that crawls around and stuff, but he’s very sweet. He is, really, he’s a very sweet character. I definitely think it’s more of a fairy tale than a really terrifying horror story. It’s a fairy tale with some dark elements.
Okay, I will give it a try then.
I love Dark Ark, it is one of my favourite books coming out at the moment, so with things like Dark Ark, where do you get your inspiration for that? Do you read lots of books on mythology, do you just go “hmm, that’s a terrifying looking creature, lets put a Naga in there”, where does it come from?
I read a ton of stuff, from fiction, non-fiction, books on history, books on folklore, and I always have. I mean I’ve always been fascinated since I was a kid, and so a book like Dark Ark it comes from somewhere, it comes from one of those things, or a mixture of those things, but I don’t know exactly where it is. I remember being at a convention, walking around and just out of nowhere the idea for Dark Ark came to me and I was like “oh wouldn’t that be funny”, and it was always a story that I kind of amused myself with, and I never thought I would do a comic, for years and years I just would think about what would happen on this dark ark, but I always thought the name was kind of silly, I thought the concept was a little absurd, so I just didn’t think we’d do a comic on that, and then Aftershock asked me for you know the types of books I’d want to do and just on a whim I threw Dark Ark in there and they were like “yeah, lets do that”, so it was kind of a book that I never, I always intended it to just be something that was fun for me to think about, and now I’m getting to tell the story and it’s just as fun as I thought it would be!
Is it going to be an ongoing story, do you have an end in sight, because obviously the next story arc is now coming out
Its ongoing but I do have an end, so it’s not a book that going to run hundreds and hundreds of issues, it’s a book that I definitely have an ending in mind for, and the kind of way I’ve been seeing it is that in all honesty every creator owned book is a limited series, depending on sales and you know, its just the nature of comics, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get five issues, but there was enough interest to go ahead and let us do a second arc, and I’m already planning the next arc after that so, hopefully we’ll continue going for a little while, although eventually, with the nature of that story, eventually something, it has to end in some way, right?
Well yes, something has to happen! Awesome, well I’m glad that it’s going to keep going on for a bit longer.
You’ve sort of already answered this question, but how does working with the smaller publishers like Aftershock differ for you from working with the “big two”?
The biggest difference with the creator owned stuff and the smaller publishers I have an editor, and those editors will offer notes, sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s my story, and I can say “well this is what I want to do with it, and this is the direction we’re going”. But when you’re working with a character like Deadpool, well maybe not Deadpool so much, there’s a little more creative with Deadpool, but when you’re working with characters that you don’t own, like the X-Men or Spider-man, or Batman, Superman, the company has a vested interest in those characters and they can put you know, I may have differences of opinion with my editor and I often voice those differences of opinion, but at the end of the day they can say “no this is what we are doing” or “you can’t do this”, and that’s the biggest difference.
Fan base of the two is kind of different, there’s some surprising differences in the fan base. With creator owned stuff the fan bases are always very supportive, super exited, and that’s often also the case with the Big Two comics, although the people that don’t like it really, really don’t like it. The people who love it they’re awesome in the same way and they’re excited about it but you hear more from the people who don’t like it when it comes to the Big Two stuff. That comes from the same place you know I’ve been reading comics all my life, they have too probably and they get vested in these characters, if they’ve been reading Spiderman since they were five years old, they feel invested in the character and that’s where that passion comes from. Really it’s a similar passion, it’s just shown in different ways, depending on the characters.
We’ve spoken about horror comics and superhero comics, is there any other genre of comics that you’d like to try, do you want to do a massive space opera, is there a fantasy book in you, or are you going to stick with what you’re so very good at, which is terrifying people like me?
Not long ago I thought to myself “what kind of writer do I want to be, do I want to be a horror writer?” and I definitely made a conscious decision to put a stamp on dark stories and horror stories. Within that though I think that there’s room, like I do want to do a fantasy epic, but I think a fantasy epic has plenty of room for horror elements. Some of my favourite fantasy, like the Michael Morcock Elrick books, those are horror novels, wrapped in a fantasy package, and that’s the kind of stuff I like doing.
I’m doing sort of a space opera book that comes out next year, but it’s very heavily a horror comic too, it’s a fusion of them. So, I have a lot of interest in doing, you know, definitely fantasy is an itch I want to scratch, but space opera, maybe some comedy stuff, a lot of it probably will be horror, or have some horror tinges at least.
I don’t know if you have time, because I’m hogging your time at the moment, but is there any chance you could tell me the cougar story?
(laughs) It’s a long story but I’ll tell it! I’ll try to keep it brief. My wife is looking at me right now saying “there’s no way he can keep it brief”! She’s heard it about ten thousand times. So, years ago when I was eighteen years old, I was visiting a friend, in North Carolina, and we were getting up early to go somewhere, I don’t remember where we were going, and I came out and my friend was on the telephone, and I thought that was odd, he’s on the phone at six in the morning. And he said “Cullen, look out the back window”, and he had a big sliding glass door, and when I looked out there was a cougar walking back and forth on his back patio and I thought “wow that’s a cougar, I’ve never seen one out in the wild, that’s really cool”, and I walked off, and then a little bit later, I went off to do other things, them my friend called me and said “the cougar ran off, can you go outside and check on it, I don’t want it to get on the Highway”, and he was on the phone to the police trying to find out what you do with a cougar. So I said “okay, I’ll go outside and check on the cougar”, so I walked out his house and I walked around the house looking for the cougar and I didn’t see it anywhere, I walked all the way around the house, didn’t see the cougar anywhere and I got back between the sliding glass doors and some tobacco barns, a little ways from his house, and as I was walking back towards his house and I look over, I see the cougar in the shadows of the tobacco barn, and he was crouched down, he was staring right at me, his eyes were as big as pie plates, and his tail was wishing back and forth just as fast as it could, so I called to my friend and I was like “Eric, I see the cougar”, and he was like “great, great, just keep an eye on it, don’t let it get hurt on the Highway”, and I went alright, and I was like “Eric, it’s watching me”, and he said “it’s okay, don’t worry”, and then when I turned back and looked again the cougar was running at me as fast as it could, full speed ahead, dirt coming up out from under its feet, it came up to me, it was maybe two, three yards from me and it leapt in the air at me and I didn’t know what to do so I just held my arm out straight in front of me, trying to stop it, as you do when a cougar jumps at you, and the cougar pounced on me, it threw me back several yards into some bushes, crawled up on top me with all four feet, and my friend Eric let his dog out, and the dog came running at the cougar and the cougar hit the dog and sent it flying across the yard.
And then I realised I was not dead, and I was not seriously injured, and the cougar was just gumming me with the side of it’s mouth, and I yelled, and I told my friend not to worry, “I’m okay, I’m okay”, and I pushed the cougar off of me, and after that it was just very friendly, it was like a kitten. It would rub up against you like a kitten does, it was purring it was just being a very playful, friendly, giant cat. What we came to find out was that in North Carolina you can actually own a cougar as a pet until it is 18 months old, and this cougar was the pet of someone in the area, and it was almost time for him to donate it to a zoo, and it had slipped out and the cougars name was Eight Ball, so the guy ended up showing up in a little tiny two-seater sports car, and he put the cougar in the sports car next to him and he drove off with it.
(At this point Cullen’s wife Cindy leant over: “I have known him since 2001, I have heard this story countless times, and it the exact same story every time, so I really do believe it is true!”)
I used to have pictures of this cougar, but I don’t have them any more. It was pre-phone, if I had had a phone back then I could have taken a picture on my phone, but I had a little print out of a picture of me standing next to the cougar, sort of edging away from it. It did jump on me six or seven times like a cat playing with you after that, but after that I don’t know where that picture is any more.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, you’ve been great.
That my friends is all we had time for this time round, but tune in again soon for more talks with comics creators, voice actors, a special Dr, and more…