Here at BCP Headquarters, we’ve been huge fans of Dark Horse Comics’ Harrow County since its very first issue, calling it “a series that crawls under your skin and stays there”, and “as tender as it is twisted, as beautiful as it is bloody, as sweet as it is sinister.”
Well, with the second arc currently in full swing, and the collected first volume set to go on sale in December, we thought this would be the perfect time to sit down and have a chat with writer Cullen Bunn about the series, its inception, the simply stunning artwork of Tyler Crook, and what we can expect from the story as it continues to move forwards.
Big Comic Page: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us again, Cullen. For readers who may not be familiar, can you tell us a little about the basic premise behind HARROW COUNTY?
Cullen Bunn: HARROW COUNTY is a horror/fairy tale set in 1930s North Carolina. It is the story of Emmy, a young woman who has grown up in a legend-haunted neck of the woods, a place just crawling with ghosts and strange creatures. On the eve of her 18th birthday, Emmy discovers that she is connected to these beings in a way she never would have imagined–she might very well be the reincarnation of the witch who created them.
BCP: One of the challenges for any new series is world building. What research did you do for the period and background?
CB: I grew up in rural North Carolina, so a lot of research was already taken care of for me. I simply drew on childhood memories. I feel that was effective, because those memories have this almost surreal, dream-like quality that works well in this book. Beyond that, I’ve done a bit of research on everything from day-to-day life in the 30s to games kids played in the 1930s to folktales and legends.
BCP: As a reader, HARROW COUNTY to me feels tinged with the worlds of Steinbeck and Baum’s Kansas. Who would you cite as major influences on your work and on this series in particular?
CB: Steinbeck is a good call. I’d also look toward the work of Faulkner. But my primary influences are Joe R. Lansdale and Robert McCammon. Lovecraft, too, who was as much of a regionalist as a horror writer.
BCP: Why do you think that fear is such a driving theme in so many of your comics?
CB: I feel like fear is such a strong emotion… one that every reader can easily understand… and it can drive (and be driven by) so many other emotions. And–heck–I’ve just always been thrilled by “things that go bump in the night”.
BCP: In Tyler Crook, you’ve brought a relative newcomer to the attention of a lot of people. How did you first come to work with him, and what drew you (sorry) to his style?
CB: Tyler and I worked together on several issues of THE SIXTH GUN, and I knew I wanted to work with him on something a little bigger. He was doing some amazing horror stuff with Dark Horse, and they asked him if he’d be interested in working on a creator-owned book. He contacted me about developing something, and we kicked a few ideas around. We landed on HARROW COUNTY because the setting, characters, and themes really spoke to us.
BCP: You work a lot with the “Big Two”. Do you enjoy the pressures of writing a creator-owned comic or a “big franchise” comic more?
CB: I enjoy playing in both arenas, actually. Writing characters like the X-Men is an absolute joy, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. But there’s a different kind of joy that comes from telling your own stories, creating your own worlds, and setting your own characters loose into the world.
BCP: The last couple of years have seen a lot of very strong, varied horror comics hit the shelves. Why do you think the market’s so hungry for them?
CB: I think the horror stuff that’s coming out now is really pushing the preconceptions folks have about what horror is. There’s dark horror, humorous horror, horror adventure. There are so many great kinds of scary reads! Readers are seeing that a good horror story CAN be told in comic form–stories that might not rely on “jump scares” but can still have a haunting quality and linger with you for a long time to come.
BCP: Dark Horse has some amazing talent in its stable. Who would you like to work with in a writing or art capacity, on this or another project, that you’ve not done so before?
CB: That’s always a tough question, because there are many, many artists I’d love to work with. Years ago, one of the first creator-owned thing I pitched was with Chris Samnee. But the two of us have never had the chance to work together. I think that would be great.
BCP: Dark Horse’s comics often skirt around the edges of the Cthulhu Mythos. Is this something that might be lurking in the darkness for this?
CB: HARROW COUNTY has its own mythology that we’re going to be slowly building. I don’t think it’s necessarily a Lovecraftian mythos that we’re developing, but maybe there are a few touches here and there that hearken to some Lovecraft stuff. I love the Cthulhu Mythos, but I’d rather create my own mythologies. I have another project I’m working on right now, one that has some heavy influence from Cthulhu and his ilk, but I’m still creating my own elder horrors.
BCP: The first story arc ends with a mysterious figure not unlike our heroine, in a giddy deco glitz. Will we see more of her, and a more Gatsby-style, urban setting?
CB: Kammi (Emmy’s twin) plays a huge role in the second arc of the series. She shows up in Harrow County and introduces a whole new world of danger and horror. I don’t know that you’ll see much more of the city where Kammi grew up, though. We have HARROW COUNTY mapped out to its ending, and we’d like to keep the focus on the region we introduced in the first issue. But never say never.
BCP: Are you going to be working on this title for the foreseeable future, or is there an end date to your involvement in sight?
CB: As I mentioned, we have an end-point in mind for the series. We know how the last arc plays out and we know some of the milestones along the way. That said, we don’t have a set number of issues in mind just yet. We wanted to give ourselves just a little wiggle room with the story.
BCP: What else can we expect to see from you in the months to come?
CB: Well, I’m wrapping up THE SIXTH GUN with issue 50 in 2016.
I’ll be continuing HARROW COUNTY, of course. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, it is now available on ComiXology and the first trade paperback comes out in December, so it’s a perfect time to order it.
In addition, I’m working on a number of new creator-owned projects that I’ll be excited to announce when the time comes.
I’m also launching the new UNCANNY X-MEN series with Marvel in January.
BCP: Final question, because we love a pun over here at BCP. What comics (or creators) do you think are under-appreciated at the moment – the real dark horses (sorry, again!) of the industry as it stands?
CB: I’ve worked with so many amazing talents who I don’t believe get their due. Tyler Crook, Brian Hurtt, Joelle Jones, Drew Moss, Bill Crabtree, Nick Filardi — all folks who deserve wider recognition for sure.
BCP: Thanks again for your time, Cullen.
Don’t forget, the latest issue of Harrow County goes on sale from Dark Horse Comics on November 11th, and the trade paperback (collecting the first five issues) will hit stores on December 2nd.