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‘The Damned’ Interview With Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

Nearly ten years after its debut, The Sixth Gun creative team revives the undead horror noir comic The Damned at Oni Press. Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt joined us to talk about the concept, working together on longterm stories and some behind the scene insight about getting into comics.

Issue #1 is available at stores for $1 and issue #2 hits shelves on June 14th!

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FOG!: Thanks for joining us again! Both of you are very busy, tell me, why is this a good time to revisit The Damned?

Cullen Bunn: For me, it was always a good time to return to The Damned except for one small problem: time.

Brian and I have been working on The Sixth Gun for several years now, and there just wasn’t room in the schedule to return to the world of mobsters and demons. But even while we were working on The Sixth Gun, we were always discussing what we would do with The Damned when we had the chance. It was never a question of “if” we would do it.

Now, I hope that readers who enjoyed The Sixth Gun will give The Damned a try. After all, the entire creative team is moving on to this project. I also hope that new readers will take a chance on this series. A new issue #1 is a great jumping-on point.

Brian Hurtt: As Cullen said, it’s been a world that has never been too far from our minds since we last played there. For me, there was also a thrill at the idea of returning to something that I helped create and being able to apply all that I’ve learned in the intervening years to this book. It’s both and challenge and an artistic exercise to see how I can both honor the work that I did earlier in my career while also being true to how I’ve changed as an artist. In a way, though, it all came together pretty smoothly. It was like not having seen a friend in years and falling right back into the same comfortable space—like it was all just yesterday.

This is also a good time for people to get aboard The Damned train, I for one am one of the people going back to read the first series. Is it easy to get caught up with Eddie and his story? Is this ongoing?

BH:  Get on The Damned train!

CB:  I feel like we’ve made it a breeze to jump onto this series. We released the first trade, collecting the original series (now in color), for just $10. It’s a great primer for the series. But you don’t have to read it! The first issue of the ongoing comic sets the stage perfectly for new readers. You can jump on with the trade or the first issue and enjoy the ride in the same way.

BH: Doesn’t matter where you jump on—issue one or the volume one trade—just jump on!

What would you say your strengths are, working together for so many years on story and art? I’m always more interested in the behind-the-scenes, be it for musicians and especially in comics. Having that special synergy between longtime collaborators sings on the page.

Cullen, do you use shorthand or do you allow for Brian to do his thing on the art? Same question in reverse for Brian. Unless you are both writing from the germ of the story until the final pages…

CB: I probably shorthand my scripts for Brian, but I definitely don’t do so. My scripts for him look the same as almost any other script I write. I feel like Brian and I have a knack for world-building that comes across in the books we work on. It’s more than just a knack. We love creating myths and histories for these weird worlds. I also think that after working together so long, we kind of know what each other is thinking story-wise. We’re usually on the same page (or can get on the same page quickly) because our storytelling sensibilities are so similar.

BH: I would be upset I were to get anything less than the full “Cullen Bunn Experience” when reading his scripts! Cullen is so good at painting a picture and telling the story through his scripts that I would be injured to have him start using a shorthand with me.

Also, the script is the only chance I have to enjoy the book as a fan! It’s the story—straight from the source—before I get my dirty paws on it!

What appeals to me about The Damned is it combines my love of gangster movies and history with the supernatural. It seems like there was a lot of actual occult and more of a widespread belief in magic and the bizarre in the culture back then. Did that come up in any research or did you both decide to fly blind and combine these two genres?

CB: I’d love to tell you that I did a lot of research, but I did not. I did just enough research to make me dangerous (and that’s usually the case with anything I work on) and then I just tried to make the gangster world and the occult elements feel authentic.

BH: I think for both of us that we feel more creatively free if we avoid getting too “sticky” with real history. It’s more fun to do a little research and then just let your imagination run wild with it. In research, if you get too deep into the weeds it can sometimes kill your creative energy a bit. You then drifting from fictional—or “genre”—storytelling and into a documentary. Not a place I feel comfortable in. Not my wheelhouse. I’ve got monsters to draw and cars to blow up.’

I also like the They Live element, whereby Eddie and other cursed ones can see demons, but regular humans can’t. And we’re dealing with gangsters and demon gangsters. It’s a double layer of underground activity. How does Eddie toe the line between his reality, running a nightclub and his entire other life?

CB: The ability for lost souls to see the demons for what they are is a relatively new addition to the mythos. In the original story, we didn’t address that at all. But over the years Brian and I started to think that we should have some reason that the average person on the street couldn’t see demons.

As for Eddie, his ability (or inability) to tow the line between club owner and thug is a big part of the “Ill-Gotten” story arc. Eddie’s not really cut out for life as a club owner, and that lifestyle is starting to rub him the wrong way. He’s walking a tightrope… if the tightrope was really a burning fuse leading to a wheel of dynamite.

BH: Kudos for the They Live reference. Cullen and I both have a deep and lasting love for Carpenter—it’s one of the ties that bind us! I love this idea of the “double layers” of things. It’s a theme that plays out a lot through The Damned.

Sometimes, in very stark and literal ways—like with the demons and the faces they show only to The Damned—but it’s also there through all these different worlds that Eddie navigates. There are a lot of characters who have that kind of dual identity.

Whether it’s the person they were versus the person they are or it’s that face—that thing—that they keep hidden and that which they present to the world.

Eddie’s old friend Pauly is back in town, but the demon families are after him.

Without spoiling anything, can we expect Pauly to get Eddie into some bad business or will Eddie have to learn to trust him?

CB:  Hmm. Both? Eddie and Pauly go way back. There are ties there that cannot be broken, even if Eddie wants to break them. But both men have lived in a world of double- and triple-crossing for a long time. Their friendship—if you can call it that—is not immune to double-dealing.

BH: Also, Eddie is never going to learn to trust ANYONE. That’s part of what makes him Eddie. He kinda has a history that lends to that attitude.

Any advice for new writers and artists out there trying to pitch around to the publishers?

BH: We get asked this all the time and the answer is easy but not sexy at all: Just do it. There is NOTHING stopping you. All the tools are at your fingertips. Including your fingertips! Or your toes. If you’re so inclined. There has never been a roadmap to get into comics. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t barriers and gates and tolls. But all of that is falling away. It’s never been easier to get your work out there and into the eyeballs of people.

Printing is cheaper and more accessible. Digital is practically free! Don’t wait for an audience, build one.

CB: I’d tell writers not to wait for a publisher’s validation. If you have a story to tell, just tell it. Find an artist (which can be tough, admittedly) and publish online or self-publish the book in print. Then, you have a book that is true to who you are as a creator, something that represents you perfectly and shows that you can actually finish a project. Get that completed work into the hands of publishers and editors.

Something like that is better than any business card you could ever print.

The Damned #1 is available now.


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