Welcome to Read This Next, an ongoing feature designed to help you find more comics to love. We take a comic that's a big hit with readers, a comic that's been in the news lately, or both, talk a bit about why it's great and why it's noteworthy, and then steer you toward other comics connected to it in some way. Whether you're a new reader looking for a guide to more than just that one series your friend recommended, an old reader hoping to find new stuff, or just someone looking for something to read, we're here to help.
This week, we look at the supernatural work of Cullen Bunn.
IF YOU’VE READ: The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt and Tyler Crook
There have been many genre cocktails in comics but in recent memory, no one has mixed up a successful concoction that’s as heavy with the classic western as it is with the supernatural like The Sixth Gun. Created by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, the Oni Press series is a trip back to the post-Civil War era where there’s a struggle to control six mythical pistols blessed with dark magic. Those who wield each pistol are enhanced by specific abilities until they die. When brought together, impending doom arrives. Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief star as the series main characters, trying to stand in the way of those who desire to take the world down with the guns, and with each passing year the stakes have risen to a new height.
The supernatural elements that Bunn introduces just work, including a mummy, ghost wolves, and occult curiosities. Hurtt's intricate art does an immeasurable amount of world building and roots the wildly imaginable concepts so that you buy it for this world. Just know it is a western first and it retains that Sergio Leone heartbeat throughout. There seems to always be a comic that stirs up the love for any one genre. Saga did it for science fiction, 30 Days of Night did it for horror until The Walking Dead came along. Not since Preacher has a “weird” western fit so right as much as The Sixth Gun.
Back in 2013, Syfy tried to make a TV show out of it, then passed it to NBC, where it eventually did not make it past the pilot stage. Despite that bump in the road, the comic marched on and maintained its high level of consistency to this day. It’s been nominated for two Eisner Awards and three Harvey Awards, but all good things come to an end, and probably by the end of year we’ll see final three issues of The Sixth Gun released. That would make it a total of 50 issues plus four spinoff mini-series to close what has been a fun five-year run.
So while you wait or catch up, what else should you read in the meantime?
READ THIS NEXT: Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
Since Sixth Gun started, Bunn has been a prolific writer in comics, as the Big Two have showcased Bunn’s character-driven superhero work with lengthy, compelling runs on Sinestro for DC Comics, Venom, Magneto, Moon Knight and a bevy of Deadpool projects for Marvel, to name just a few. But it’s with his variety of creator-owned genre work that impresses me the most, and Bunn’s latest shows how far he’s grown as writer since entering the medium in 2006.
Set in the backwoods of the south, Harrow County is a yarn telling Emmy’s journey into witchdom on the eve of her 18th birthday. She’s always felt connected to spirits and whispers – or “haints,” as they are referred to in the South – around her daddy’s barn, but lately, her extraordinary abilities are intensifying. Unbeknownst to her is that her power is tied to a witch that died around the time of her birth.
Inspired by real childhood ghost stories (which are shared in the inside cover and end of each issue) told to him by his father and Uncle Hugh McKay, Bunn began writing a serialized novel called Countless Haints but shelved it when more work-for-hire jobs fell on his lap. However, when he spoke to Eisner Award-winner Tyler Crook about working on a book together, he knew the artist’s talent would allow readers to feel the chills crawl up their backs at the sight of those never-ending forests of the South, breathe in the dust of the barns and hear the livestock roaming the grounds. Harrow County is one of the best new books to come out the Dark Horse stable, and it hits its stride very early. I spoke to Bunn recently at San Diego Comic-Con and asked him about what is different in the recent boom of quality horror stories in comics as opposed to the dearth of the genre within the medium, 10+ years ago.
“The big difference is the definition of horror (in comics),” Bunn explained. “Horror used to be one thing, and I think that’s starting to broaden–there can have subgenres and other things can be going on in a horror story. In comics, you’ll never get the ‘BOO’ effect in a comic; you can go for mood, atmosphere and personal tragedy to build the horror elements and sense of dread. I think that’s what a lot of comics are doing now that they weren’t doing before, and I think that’s why the appeal is growing.”
Boy, has Bunn built up the personal tragedy in Harrow County. It only takes the first issue to see how Emmy's innocence had protected her from the sad sentence life has dealt her. She bears the weight of obligation often found within farm culture but wants to experience life, her father is more than happy to keep her where he can keep an eye on and be sure to scare off anyone suspicious of her abilities. What she doesn’t know is the townsfolk don’t take kindly to the occult and that doesn’t bode well for Emmy. As the eerie story builds, the rural South is its own character, extending one hand of charm, while the other holds a pitchfork behind its back. Bunn looked to his youth spent in North Carolina to explain why the American Gothic setting was such a rich bed for a horror story.
“Up until a couple years ago, my parents lived in a neck of the woods that people don’t realize that kind of area still exists, something so archaic. But if you go out on the country spend a lot of time on decaying farms and you see a lot of crumbling tobacco farms and wandering the woods, there’s something beneath the surface, there’s something older… more sinister.”
The story of Harrow County is larger than just Emmy’s experience, though. Bunn told me that after three issues in, the series has surpassed what he completed for the novel, and it’s going into new territory. By the third story arc, the story will branch out to other areas of Harrow County and through the eyes of different characters. If it sounds like it’s a television series waiting to happen, know it’s already been optioned for development through Universal Cable Productions. Whether or not the show sees fruition, time will tell, but the comic is here to enjoy right now, besides who doesn't love a bedtime haint story?
HONORABLE MENTION: Want more? Check out these titles:
Helheim by Cullen Bunn, Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi – For those of you looking for a supernatural-Vikings mixed drink, check out Bunn’s first collection, entitled Witch War and the current mini-series, Brides of Helheim. They are violent, chock-full of monsters, and each page is spectacularly drawn by artist-on-the-rise Joëlle Jones.
Breath of Bones: A Golem’s Tale by Steve Niles and Dave Watcher – Niles is another master of the horror genre who brings new eyes to the classic tale “The Golem of Prague,” but here presents a powerful story about a young Jewish boy finds the courage to stand up to the Nazis with the help of the golem, a metaphor for the enduring spirit of those who fought back.
Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson – Anthropomorphic and intelligent pet dogs and cats take care of the Burden Hill neighborhood’s paranormal problems. This title doesn’t quite cut the all-ages distinction, but it has broad appeal thanks to Dorkin’s wit and Thompson’s painted art that’s both macabre and adorable at the same time.