Dealing with Devils: Bunn, Hurtt & Crabtree on the return of The Damned

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Jun 14, 2017

Eddie just can't seem to stay dead. While that might seem like a good problem to have, it's actually a much more troublesome condition than it sounds. Eddie is cursed, so that once he dies, whoever touches his body next dies in his place, and he returns. He's cursed, and it's made him quite the person of interest to the multiple organized crime families that run things in town.

And did I mention that those crime families are families of demons?

Welcome to the world of The Damned, the supernatural-crime-horror series from Oni Press. Much like its protagonist Eddie, the series has recently returned from a long absence, though it wasn't because of a curse. After the first volume of The Damned, writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt created their western fantasy epic The Sixth Gun, along with colorist Bill Crabtree. Now, they've brought Bill back with them for an all-new full-color run of The Damned, and you absolutely cannot miss it. It has laughs, chills, action, beautifully shadowy art complimented by moody colors, and a unique, compelling world of horned hitmen and menacing mobsters. It's also a completely accessible story, not requiring you to read the previous issues to jump on. The Sixth Gun is one of my all-time favorites, and this is shaping up to be just as good.

But you don't have to take my word for it, you can get it straight from the source! The very busy creative team took the time to answer a few of my questions about this week's issue #2, and shared a preview of it as well. We discussed their return to the series, whether demons can get drunk, and how much Brian Hurtt's soul would cost (not much, as it turns out).

Read on for the interview, along with a preview of issue #2, which is in stores now. And be sure to leave your accursed comments below!

Issue #2 sets up a classic scenario, with Eddie being dragged out to the woods for a clandestine meeting with Big Al. The way the scene escalates is very tense, but visually it's also a really fun scene. Without spoiling anything, what was your favorite part about creating that scene?

Cullen Bunn: For me, that scene was an exercise in playing with expectations. What would the readers think is about to happen? How do I turn that on its ear and surprise them? The Argent clan, introduced in that scene, came out of that pondering and brainstorming. They were created "on the fly" so to speak, and I absolutely love them.

Brian Hurtt: For me, that scene represented the opportunity to introduce (or re-introduce, if you had read Vol. 1: Three Days Dead) the character of Big Al. On top of being such a great character, I also feel that he embodies the aesthetic, or the vibe, of the series. The image of this giant, classic red-horned demon in a bespoke suit, chomping on his cigar really strikes me. I love his casual intimidations and his "speak softly but carry a big stick" attitude. In this case, "he" is the big stick

Bill Crabtree: I enjoyed thinking about the different types of light the characters would be in. It's night time in the woods, so you have of course moonlight, but there's also light from the cars' headlights as well as gunfire.

Being set in a version of the Prohibition, part of this issue involves a deal over moonshine. This brings up an important question: can demon's get drunk

CB: I'm pretty sure demons can get drunk, but I think it takes a lot more booze to make it happen. After all, they have been getting lured in by the very vices they use to get humans to sell their souls. I wanted to show that moonshine deal, though, to illustrate that the world of crime in this story isn't limited to the infernal by any means. The demons are still "not of our world" and they need mortal pawns to help their business along.

Brian, I've always really loved the way you designed the monsters and creatures in The Sixth Gun, and now the demons in The Damned. I particularly liked the one that Pauly Bones gambles with in this issue. How do you approach the designs so that they look cohesive, but also like individual people?

BH: First of all, I just love designing characters, be they human or monsters! In the case of the demons of this series I design them first from the macro perspective—that is, I start with the families. We have three distinct demon families in The Damned and they each have their own look. For each family I have a series of images and ideas that I use as touchstones for each of the families.

For instance, the Roarke's have a look that is attributed/inspired by deer, goats, and rams. Their coloring is browns and grey and they have a very fine fur to them. The Alighieri's are more leathery and bull-like. But they are also the ones that look most like "classic" demons or devils. Then there is the Verlochin. To me they are the things out of my nightmares—all shadow and odd angles.  They are inspired by the things that freak me out: rays, cockroaches, bats.

With the demon that appears in issue 2 opening, we knew that we were in a new locale and we wanted to introduce this idea of a new family whose power lies in this proxy-Atlantic City. To that end, I wanted to create a family that had a look different from the other families. So I landed on a family that is more amphibian or marine-based in their look than the other families. So I worked along those lines, drawing on frogs, sharks, seals to create that look.

And when it comes to drawing/creating characters, I can't help but try and make every character an individual—that extends even to background characters. Because, for the world to feel real to me, then everything and everyone in that world must also feel real.

What has been your favorite thing to draw so far, upon returning to the series?

BH: Every new page! It's not so much the "what" I'm drawing as it is the approach to those drawings. I have a very different approach to the art in this series than that of The Sixth Gun. This is a heavier and darker book and as such my approach to my line work is different — more brushlike — and I'm having more fun playing with the heavy noir-ish shadows and thinking about the mood of a scene. The other answer is monsters in suits. I'm loving drawing the gangster demons.

The Damned plays on gangster tropes in some pretty clever ways. Were there any movies or books that you look to for inspiration when thinking about the story or visuals for this series?

CB: So many movies and books! I read a lot of hard-boiled detective novels around the time we launched The Damned, just to get the tone right. I also watched a lot of Humphrey Bogart movies in an effort to find Eddie's voice and get a handle on the snappy dialogue expected in this setting.

BH: Like Cullen, I have drawn from many sources for the visuals and the tone of this series. I'm a big fan of Boardwalk Empire but the Coen Bros' Miller's Crossing will always be a touchstone for me as that movie is one of my all-time favorites. There's also a bit of fantasy and horror stories that have provided inspiration for me, in particular, the classic Universal Monsters films.

BC: I didn't consult anything specifically, but Boardwalk Empire was definitely in my mind as I colored. I listen to a lot of audiobooks while I work, which helps remind me of the importance of mood/ ambiance in a story.

Cullen, returning to The Damned after such a long time, was there anything that you'd learn writing so many other titles that you were able to apply to this book?

CB: Even though I'm extremely proud of that original run on The Damned, I feel like I'm a better writer now than I was then. I don't know if I could pinpoint any one "trick" that I've picked up along the way, though. I tend to learn something with every book. When I wrote the original series, I was locked into this idea of consistency, meaning if I started with a certain storytelling tool, I stuck with it for every issue. If I didn't use some storytelling tool (say flashbacks) in the first issue, I didn't use them throughout the series. Over time, I've come to realize that consistency like that isn't always king. It can be useful in its own right, but I've learned when and how to break away from it for the sake of the story.

And speaking of all those other titles, how many are you writing right now? It seems like a crazy amount. What made you eager to add The Damned to the workload?

CB: I don't like to think about it. There's no doubt I'm a little over-committed right now, and I'm looking forward to the day (soon ... very soon) where some of these books drop off my to-do list. But I've been anxious to return to The Damned for years. I hate leaving a story unfinished, and that's how it has felt to me. Weirdly, though, when I'm way too busy (like right now) is when my brain starts spinning and new ideas and projects and goals start to really take shape for me.

Bill, you use a much more restrained color palette in this series than in The Sixth Gun. Was it a challenging shift to make, having to shift the tone so heavily, despite working on the same artist's lines?

BC: No, not really. I'm aware I'm shifting the tone, but to be honest it just kind of happens without my thinking about it that much. Cullen and Brian give me such evocative material to work with, I just respond to what the pages suggest.

You three have been working on comics together for over seven years now, what do you think makes you such a good team?

CB: I think we're all really good collaborators. We all have a voice in our projects and we want to work together and challenge each other in equal measure to make our books the best they can be.

BH: Our enormous egos play well with each other! Every one of us has a healthy understanding of what it means to collaborate and what we each have to offer. Each step of the way, our duties are about honoring the intent of our fellow collaborators while also trying to do what we can to enhance the story. A creator doesn't need to think about making their mark or adding their own "voice" to the mix. That will happen without design and as a byproduct of trying to make the best story — together — that we can.

BC: I pretty much second what Brian and Cullen said. I think there's a level of trust and respect between us that allows each of us to do our own thing with confidence.

What has you most excited about upcoming issues of The Damned?

CB: The current arc — "Ill-Gotten" — is such a different kind of story from what we've done before. It is so full of twists and turns and double-crosses and plans gone wrong. I'm excited about the final notes of how that story plays out. Also, way back when we were doing the original series, we did a three-issue arc called "Prodigal Sons." We always intended to follow that arc with a piece called "Daughter's Dance" which is super creepy and fun and really leans into the world-building of the series. I can't wait for readers to see that!

BH: I don't want to spoil anything for readers! But I can say that I'm really looking forward to the twists and turns we have planned for the series. It's a book, like The Sixth Gun, that will never be exactly what you think it's going to be. Also, more monsters, more violence, more double-crossing and triple-crossing, more mystery, and more tragedy.

BC: I've been told things are going to get weirder. I'm looking forward to coloring that.

If you were in the world of The Damned, do you think you'd sell your soul to a demon?

CB: Of course I'm going to say no in a published interview! But—really—it would probably be tempting. I mean, that's what makes demons so successful, right? What they have to offer sounds great until you read the fine print, and the demons are very convincing.

BH: Sold! I wouldn't think twice about it!

BC: No, we all know how that story plays out.

The Damned #2 is on sale now from Oni Press. All art by Brian Hurtt with colors by Bill Crabtree.