C2E2 2018: When The Haints Speak – A Conversation With Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook
by Hannah Means Shannon
When The Haints Speak: A Conversation with Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook Panel at C2E2 was hosted by Dark Horse Editor Daniel Chabon, and as the title implies, brought fans Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook to talk about their long-running horror series as it nears its last stretch of storytelling.
Chabon said the series has been underway for three years, during which time it’s been nominated for several awards and has won quite a few. The series has also generated attention from television, including the Syfy channel.
Asked how they decided to end Harrow County and why it’s ending soon, Bunn said it’s always been what they had in mind, and “now’s the right time”. He didn’t want to “pad the story” to lengthen it. They’ve been building to this from the beginning. There was flexibility and “wiggle room” but they’ve been building to it.
Asked how they came to be partners on this project, Crook recounted that he worked with Bunn on Six Gun. He was then talking to Chabon about what books to work on after some Mignolaverse work, and he decided to talk to friend Bunn about ideas. Bunn brought up his prose novel-in-progress, Countless Haints. Crook was really intrigued by the idea of the woods, since he has recently moved into a forested area, but by now, three years later, it’s like “no more trees please!” Chabon knew Crook in Portland, Oregon, and recalls that they started talking about the project at a karaoke bar.
Discussing process, Bunn said they talk about arcs ahead a little bit, but he tries to hide things from Crook, and do something each issue that he’s not aware of. If there are things he’s not sure Crook will want to draw, he does give “fair warning”.
Crook has more of a philosophy like improve acting, with the “yes, and”, rule. The person who is a partner can’t say “no” to something the first person suggests, but must build on it. “Yes, and blood!” is Crook’s philosophy, he said.
Asked what their biggest influences were on this project, Bunn said he used to live in a farmhouse in North Carolina that had locust and rat problems. He had a memory of the Sheriff speeding down a country road, stopping at their house with the lights flashing, and yelling to them in the house that aliens were abducting people. And that kind of experience was common, he laughed. That’s definitely part of Harrow County. He also once saw a person crawl out from under his house, pick an apple, and then hide under the house. It turned out to be an itinerant farm worker who had been living under the house. “Random acts of weirdness” is stuff he associates with that time living in the country.
Crook merely had lots of cats living under his house, he laughed.
Asked about what they’ve found most rewarding about working on the project and seeing it come to life, Crook said that a fan recently came up to them “practically screaming” about how much they loved the series. And often it’s people who don’t really like horror, and that’s interesting. Bunn said that the reaction from readers is “genuine”. It’s not like someone’s love of Batman, but this specific story. They love the characters, “which makes what we’re about to do them so awful”, Bunn laughed.
Asked who from Harrow County they’d like to be friends with, and why, Crook said the dogs that were on a hunting party and end up wild in the woods. German pointers were used for reference. Levi the pharmacist is someone that no-one likes and probably eats pickled pigs feet. Bunn said that The Abandoned would be a great friend to have. He would back you up and scare bullies. He’d also like to be friends with Bernice, Emmy, and even Kami, Bunn said.
Bunn said he’d think he could “fix her”. Both Crook and Bunn said that she’d be someone you called when you were “really bored” or needed to “get rid of a body”.
Asked if the entire arc of the story was planned from the beginning, or if there was evolution, they said “both”. They had specific milestones, and knew where things would end, but left some room to focus on other characters. Crook said they made of list of people once who “definitely had to die”. But how and when were less planned. Bunn assured that “not everyone dies, just probably your favorites”.
Asked if the two of them will work together again, Bunn said “definitely”. They are already talking about possible angles on Harrow County in the future. The story they are telling so far is ending, no matter what’s next.
Harrow County #30 comes out in April, with two more to follow, and the last issue arrives in June 2018. Then there will finally be hardcover collections, with the first arriving October 24th, and it will collect 2 trades per hardcover, at 9 by 11, and they will finally collect all the backmatter that appeared in the single issue comics. Also they’ll have a ribbon and a dust jacket.
Asked about the relationship between Death Follows and Harrow County, Bunn said that he actually wrote the prose novel Countless Haints, and Death Follows is an adaptation of a short story, actually a novella, that was self-contained. It does have a lot of similarities, and Bunn describes it as a “neighboring county” and 50 years in the future.
Asked about his art process, Crook said he pencils, inks, then paints right over his inks in watercolor. He’s not really sure where the ideas for that came from, but recalls discussions early on about the “mood” of the book, and they started calling it a “fairy tale”. To make woods creepy, he said, all you do is make is amazingly beautiful, then put a person there, and it becomes a “savage place”.
Crook feels that Bill Sienkiewicz and Jill Thompson have influenced him, and other artists who do painted material, particularly Thompson who also does watercolor. His very first watercolor book was called Bad Blood with Jonathan Maberry. When he was asked to color it, he didn’t want to do that on a computer, so asked to paint it. It was his “training ground”.
Asked what in Harrow County is drawn on real folk tradition, Bunn said that the Snake Doctor tradition is “real” that he heard as a kid. Recently, he heard more developments and variation. The story of the keyhole ghost is one he heard as a kid. But much is made up and is meant to have “felt authentic” from that time and area. But even Hester Beck goes back to a childhood story Bunn was told that an “old woman” would run across the roof of the barn at night.
The Abandoned was based on a “mean bull” and if you crossed the field, it was going to “get you” and “trample you”, which was something he was told as a kid.
Crook said that technically the comic is set roughly in the 1930’s, but he thinks of it as “grandpa days”, sometime his grandfather was live. It was Crook’s choice to set the series in the past, since originally it was modern-set. He wanted to do a period piece, since he finds that “so much more fun”. It transports you “someplace else”. Having a story without smart phones or the Internet was also helpful to the narrative.
They said they haven’t yet had cosplayers visit them at their table as characters from the comics, so take that as a challenge! Their next show is San Diego Comic-Con 2018.