Welcome to Interviews With The Industry, a monthly series from Comical Musings. Each month we interview different personalities in the exciting world of comic books. We believe that everyone who contributes to our favorite art form is valuable from creators to retailers and we celebrate them here. This month we are privileged to steal a moment of time from a very busy writer. When I say very busy, what I really mean is that he has multiple creator-owned titles at Oni Press and manages a small corner of the Marvel Universe with Television programs in development and a kid at home to boot. This month, we interview Cullen Bunn!
Writer of THE SIXTH GUN, HELHEIM, VENOM, FEARLESS DEFENDERS, and CROOKED HILLS;
lucky husband and father; formerly world’s youngest hypnotist.
Scott: Hi Cullen, thanks for agreeing to do this. We know that you have a busy schedule and appreciate your time commitment. My first question is, what is your official place in comic-dom?
Cullen: I guess I have two “home bases” in the land of comics. On one hand, I have my creator-owned series, like “The Sixth Gun,” “The Damned,” and “Helheim.” On the other hand, I write a couple of ongoing series and limited series for Marvel.
I feel pretty lucky to be where I am.
Scott: How long have you been writing comic books?
Cullen: That’s a question with more than one answer, really. I was writing and drawing comics when I was very, very young. I still have the original art for the first issue of “Matter Man,” a book I did when I was 8 or 9. Around that time, I was also writing and drawing a monthly comic book, “The X-Lazer Knights” (with a “Z”) that I distributed to all the kids in my class. A few years later, I started a micro-comics publishing company, Hero Comics, and published “Captain Cosmo” and “Fat Man,” copies of which I still have in a folder somewhere. But I was doing comics even earlier than that.
My first published comic book series was “The Damned” from Oni Press. That series started in 2006. I was still working a day job at that time, though.
I’ve been a full-time comic book writer for two years now, writing books for Oni Press and Marvel.
Scott: What made you want to get into the business? Was there one moment where you realized that this would be your career?
Cullen: This is something I’ve pretty much always wanted to do. I’ve loved comics since I was a kid. Even if I wasn’t writing comics, though, I’d want to be doing something creative. I just want to tell stories, and that’s a bug you just can’t shake.
Scott: You have quite a body of work. The Damned, The Sixth Gun, a short run on Batman/Superman, The Tooth, Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe, Deadpool Classics Killustrated, Crooked Hills, Fearless Defenders, and Helheim…I forget anything?
Cullen: There are a few others you might have missed. “Helheim” is a new series that’s coming out next month from Oni Press. It’s a Viking era Frankenstein story with demons and black magic thrown in for good measure.
(A video trailer and more information on the series can be found here)
I also write “Venom” and the upcoming “Ultimate Comics Wolverine” series for Marvel, and I’ve written “Captain America,” “Captain America and…” (the Cap team-up book), and “Avenging Spider-Man.” There are probably some I’m missing.
I like to stay busy.
Scott: With the Superman/Batman issues, you chose to work with The Shadowpact (one of our favorite concepts that DC has ever rolled out). Was this a Shadowpact story that you had up your sleeve where you added Superman and Batman or a chance to do anything that you wanted with Superman and Batman, so you said “why not Shadowpact?”
Cullen: When I was asked to pitch for “Superman/Batman,” I came up with four ideas. The “Sorcerer Kings” story was my favorite of the bunch, and I approached it with the idea that if this was the only DC story I’d ever write, then I wanted to use all my favorite supernatural characters—Shadowpact, Klarion, Etrigan, Detective Chimp, and even Scream Queen from Scare Tactics.
Scott: The Sixth Gun is one of my FAVORITE comic books that I have ever read. I consider it to be the best representation of the Weird West genre, to include The Dark Tower series. It seems to be meticulously laid out and everything fits, with never a step missed. Did you have the whole story planned out when you pitched it to Oni or are you writing as you go?
Cullen: I originally pitched “The Sixth Gun” as a six issue limited series. That’s how I approached it when I started writing it. Around the time I was writing the fourth or fifth issue, the idea for the longer story arc took shape. At that time, I wasn’t sure how many issues I’d need to tell the story, but I was definitely working toward a specific ending. These days, I know that the series will end with issue 50. It’s hard to believe! I just finished writing issue 32! I’m over halfway to the end!
Scott: The Sixth Gun has a pilot on order from NBC. It is obviously not developed yet, but if that takes off (we hope that it does), do you see yourself doing for Oni Press what Robert Kirkman has done for Image Comics?
Cullen: We’ll see. Anything that draws more eyes to the book is a good thing. The series has always been a strong seller, but we saw a pretty sizeable jump just from the announcement of the pilot. I don’t care how people find the book… as long as they find it!
Scott: Are you thinking that you would want to be pretty hands on with it?
Cullen: I’ve been much more involved than I ever expected, but this is definitely the producers’ ball game. The fact that they’ve included me in conversations only shows that they are committed to being true to the original concept. My job, though, is to focus on writing the book.
Scott: The thunderbird in the first story arc is one of my very favorite things about the whole series. When it does it’s thing, there is a moment where you have to decide to suspend disbelief and come along for the ride. In your creative vision for the television property, might we see that character/situation appear in the show or do you think that it would be too risky?
Cullen: I don’t know. Television audiences are different than the comic book audience, obviously, and some things will need to be planned and executed carefully. Comic readers will accept some things that the typical TV viewer might not. I don’t know if there’s anything that’s “too risky,” but I think some of the crazier elements will need to be evaluated carefully before making it to the screen. Of course, if there’s a crew that will take some big chances, it’s this one!
Scott: As an already successful creator at Oni Press, how did you end up getting into Deadpool minis?
Cullen: That was something that came up in one of my earliest conversations with Marvel editorial. Basically, they asked me what I would do with a book titled “Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe,” and I gave them my pitch. That series was so successful that they greenlit the follow-up, “Deadpool Killustrated.”
Scott: I recently listened to an interview with Jonathan Hickman that was conducted on the Comics Alternative Podcast. In the interview, he discussed how it can be difficult to work within the boundaries of a mainstream publisher (where nothing can really change) part time and a more creator-owned situation other times. I don’t see this as a problem for you, because you seem to get free-reign with your Deadpool books. Is this something that was in the pitch to always be a little kooky?
Cullen: This problem doesn’t arise with the Deadpool books because, like you said, I have free reign with those stories. But there’s definitely a learning curve when you’ve been working on creator-owned projects, where you have complete control over the direction of the story, and corporate-owned projects, where the publisher has a much greater influence on the writing process.
Scott: Dumb question…Drake Sinclair with his 5 guns versus dimension-hopping Deadpool in a fight. Who wins and how does it go down?
Cullen: Drake wins, hands down. He wouldn’t even need his guns. Drake’s much more cunning and mean than Deadpool.
Scott: So your new stuff is Fearless Defenders for Marvel and Oni Press’ Helheim, coming March 6th. Both are getting a lot of love. With Fearless Defenders #1, we see an all-female team and an average rating of 3.5 on Ifanboy.com. Even though they are a couple of “tough broads,” was it challenging to write multiple female perspectives?
Cullen: I don’t think it’s any more difficult to write a believable, diverse all-female cast than it is to write any other group of characters. The trick is to approach them as people first. I think where a lot of writers trip themselves up is that they try too hard to write WOMEN and they fall back on stereotypes. It’s more important to write a strong character than a strong female character.
Scott: Misty Knight is an interesting character as she has been in many features, but rarely taken the spotlight and been “featured.” Did you lobby for Misty or was she given to you?
Cullen: Misty was on one of the original suggested team rosters I created. For this book, I definitely lean toward characters who rarely see the spotlight. Once my editor saw Misty on one of the possible team rosters, she definitely encouraged me to use her.
Scott: When you get a roster of arguably “C to D list characters” to play with, is it daunting, challenging, or exciting to craft a comeback?
Cullen: Yeah, it’s a challenge. I know that it is a risk putting these characters in the starring role, but every A-list character started somewhere, so I’m having fun giving these characters a vehicle to introduce (or re-introduce) them to readers.
Scott: I love what you do. I feel like you have a clear voice as a writer and that that is a hard thing to do. When I read the open to the last issue of The Sixth Gun, I found myself thinking, “This is just beautifully illustrated, top-notch literature.” Do you have any thoughts to expand the Cullen Bunn brand?
Cullen: If I have a goal with what I do, it’s simply to tell stories the reader can have fun with.
Scott: I think that you could easily pull off prose books, TV, larger “event” books at DC or Marvel. Is that something that you would be interested in?
Cullen: Well, Crooked Hills is a middle reader prose horror novel, and I’m working on a couple of other prose projects right now. I’ve written a few screenplays and I have irons in those fires. As for bigger events in comic books, it’s something I’d love to take a shot at if the opportunity presented itself.
Scott: Last question, if you could leave us with one piece of advice for aspiring creators, what would it be?
Cullen: It sounds like boilerplate advice, but writers need to write. Don’t let anything stop you. There are many people who want to “have written” but they don’t actually want to write. Write every day, network, and don’t be a jerk… You’d be surprised at how far you can get by being easy to work with.
Also, I’ve got loads of process information on my website. If you’re interested in comics, I’ve got examples of my scripts and series proposals for aspiring writers to pillage as they see fit.
Scott: Well Cullen, I look forward to seeing what your long career has in store for us all. Thanks again.
There you have it. No Cullens were harmed in the making of this interview. We would encourage you to go pick some of Cullen’s stuff up and give it a shot. I am excited every time that I pick up a Cullen Bunn story. He defined the concept of Weird West for me, with The Sixth Gun, and turned it into my favorite genre. I am not exaggerating, I literally picked up issue 29 of The sixth Gun a couple of days ago and was shocked about it and enamored by it. Cullen Bunn has great depth as a writer and shows a zeal for creating. You can purchase all of Cullen’s titles at your local comic store or if you don’t have one, Instocktrades.com is a good way to get collections at 40% off. Help put his kid through college. You won’t regret purchasing a Cullen Bunn book.
~ Scott Deaux ~