Welcome to the Harrow County Observer, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated “Harrow County” column. This month writer Cullen Bunn, artist Tyler Crook, and editor Daniel Chabon join us to discuss “Harrow County” #32, the final issue. Obviously, spoilers ahead if you haven’t read it yet!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this column. If you’ve missed any of our previous instalments, you may find them in the links below.:
• Countless Haints
• Twice Told
• Snake Doctor
• Family Tree
• Hedge Magic
• Dark Times A’Coming
• Done Come Back (Part I)
• Done Come Back (Part II)
• Done Come Back (Part III)
Cullen Bunn: Honestly? I kind of hate it. I hate saying goodbye to these characters, even though it is the right thing to do and the right place to end this story. Still, it hurts like Hell.
Daniel Chabon: It feels kind of sudden. We knew it was coming for a long time, but when it finally did arrive I suppose we still weren’t prepared for it.
Tyler Crook: Yeah, it’s a bummer. I’d be happy to keep making “Harrow County,” but I’m also looking forward to doing some other things. And also taking a bit of a break.
It was a gorgeous issue. I loved the “farewell tour of Harrow County” section with Emmy wandering the woods one last time, but it added so many pages. Did you have to twist Daniel’s arm to get the space for those?
Cullen: I don’t think there was much twisting involved. I mean, this is a farewell to book we all loved making. So, he was all for it as I recall.
Daniel: No arm-twisting involved. Lots of blackmail, but no literal arm-twisting.
Tyler: The hard part was convincing myself that I had time to draw all those double-page spreads!
Let’s talk about that final battle with Hester and Emmy. This is a tricky thing in fantasy, two characters dueling with magic. You don’t want to just have the characters firing bolts of lightning at each other, otherwise it feels like it’s just a regular brawl, but you don’t want to get lost in the complexities of the magic either. And most importantly, you want to maintain the character struggle throughout. Just in terms of blocking out this sequence, there’re many challenges with a lot riding on them because it’s the ending!
Tyler: It was not easy to stage. It had to feel big but even with our extra pages, there wasn’t a ton of room. It would have been so rad to do a three-issue fight scene or something. But it was more important that we get to the emotional part of the fight and figure out what it means for Emmy and the rest of Harrow County.
Cullen: For me, it was more important to show off the internal struggle versus the magical battle. I wanted it to feel sort of dark and oppressive versus cataclysmic. Tyler’s right, it could have been a much, much longer battle, and that would have been kind of great. But I’m not sure it would have fit in with the story we’ve been telling. For a story about ghosts and goblins and reality-bending witches, this is kind of an understated story, and the fight needs to fit in with that.
I was really surprised that the spark of defiance that dealt such a powerful blow against Hester came from Kammi and not Emmy.
Cullen: We kept playing with this idea of if the connection between Kammi and Emmy was a weakness or a strength. I wanted Emmy’s actions in earlier issues to have a big impact on that final conflict, y’know?Continued below
Tyler: I’m not sure the choice came from Kammi directly. It seems more likely that Emmy’s earlier choices regarding Kammi led her to make that final decision.
It was nice to see the lynching scene in there—wow, that’s a strange thing to say—it brought the story back to the prologue from #1. Emmy was born through the events of that lynching and burning in #1, and with the lynching and burning here she’s reborn. I really liked that.
Cullen: Absolutely! I think I always knew the hanging would come back in the story. It just felt right that it would show up again. And it felt even more right that it would come back at the end of the story.
Tyler: I always find bookending stories like that to be very satisfying.
A lot of characters died in this final arc, but as you’ve shown in the past, even that isn’t something Emmy can’t undo. Her powers gave such control over her world, and when she gave them up at the end, there was an element there of her giving in to the inevitability of death. All the damage that Kammi and Hester, and at times even Emmy, can’t be undone now. Those lives are truly lost.
To you, what is the significance of Emmy giving up her power and leaving Harrow County? What made it the right ending for Emmy’s story?
Daniel: I think it gives rest to Emmy’s chapter in the series. The forfeiture of power. Now she can truly move on with her life.
Cullen: Emmy has been struggling with who she is and where she fits in with the world since the beginning of the series. Her connection to the magical world has been at the center of that struggle. She’s always wondered… is she Hester? Is she Amaryllis? Is she Emmy? Giving up her magic is a way for Emmy to say she is becoming her own person.
Tyler: I think Emmy was feeling how her power had interrupted her process of self discovery and growth and she needed to find herself on her own terms and not on the terms dictated by the Family or her powers.
Of course, you’ve all undertaken a journey with this series too. How has working on “Harrow County” changed you?
Daniel: That’s a hard question. I’m not really sure how much I have changed along with the project because of the project more than that I just feel lucky and honored to have been able to play a part in the making of it with Cullen and Tyler.
Of course all of us have had some serious occurrences in our lives happen during the making of the book. So I know balancing those issues while working on an ongoing series can be quite a feat.
Tyler: It’s been a really long road. So much has changed for me personally and so much has changed out in the world. This is the first creator-owned book I’ve worked on in long time and the amount of work involved is staggering! I have definitely learned a lot about what I’m capable of as an artist and I learned a lot about what I want out of a project.
Obviously a bit of time’s passed since “Harrow County” #32 came out. How have you found your readers’ reactions to the finale?
Tyler: It’s hard to gauge. Most of the reactions I’ve seen online have come in the form of crying face emoji. Which is what we were shooting for, I guess?
Cullen: I think people liked the way the series ended, and—like me—I think they’re sad that it’s ended.
We’ve spoken before about how while this is the end of Emmy’s story, there’s room for more “Harrow County” stories in future, and with the library editions on the way, you’re not entirely done just yet, but you’re definitely looking ahead to new projects now. So what’s next for you?
Cullen: Are you talking about what’s next for Tyler and me? Secrets indeed. I can’t say what those secrets might be, but my work with Mr. Crook is not over.Continued below
Tyler: I’ve already started working on my next project. It’ll be a Comixology Original book called “The Stone King.” We don’t have a solid release date yet but I think it’ll be this year.
Tyler, I notice there aren’t any trees on that cover…
Tyler: Naw, I’m not into trees any more. Lately, I’ve been more into rocks.
And Cullen, you’ve always got heaps of irons in the fire. “Bone Parish” with Jonas Scharf just started up last month, you’re currently working on “Metro” with Brian Quinn and Walt Flanagan, and “Cold Spots” with Mark Torres begins this week.
Cullen: What can I say? I like to stay busy. I’m in a weird place right now, because it feels like my career in comics is mutating and changing. I don’t know that I’m ready to unpack that just yet, but it’s time to shake things up a bit.
“Harrow County’s” had a long journey to the comics page. In fact, in its original form it wasn’t even destined for comics. Cullen, you were releasing it in serialized fashion on your blog as a prose story. You only ever got as far as mid issue #3, when Pa starts strangling Emmy (at the time called Madrigal), but I’m assuming you already knew where the story was heading. How did the trajectory of the story change when it became a comic?
Cullen: Yeah, I had a plan for the novel, but I don’t think it was very similar to what we got in the comic. Kammi (or a character like her) was set to appear in the book, and there were little bits and pieces that made it into the comic over time, but the story was quite different. The introduction of the Family and Amaryllis was a big change. Old Lady Lovey and Bernice becoming a hedge witch was new. I think some parts of the story became much more phantasmagorical than I originally intended, because that works so well in comic book form.
It’s strange to think there was a version of this story without Amaryllis! She seems like such a core element now. But then I guess Madrigal’s ultimate journey would have been different from Emmy’s.
Cullen: Agreed! It is weird to think of that now. But, I think it would have been a disservice to the comic book if I had tried to make this stick to what I originally had in mind for the prose story. Actually, who knows where the prose story might have gone? It would have changed along the way, too, just as the comic did. In the end, they would have been so vastly different anyway!
Not to mention the collaboration with Tyler is obviously going to change the story. You both put so much into this and it shows.
Tyler: Despite the image Cullen tries to cultivate, he is remarkably pleasant to work with. I don’t know how many of my story ideas made it into final comic, but I know Cullen always heard me out and made sure that I was happy with the direction of the series.
Cullen: Wait a second! I thought my image WAS that I’m remarkably pleasant to work with!
Daniel, in the last Harrow County Observer we spoke a little about your job as editing on the book on a micro scale, so this time let’s step back and look at it on the macro level. How did you acquire “Harrow County” for Dark Horse?
At some point later they both came back to me with this pitch for a series to be called “Countless Haints,” which was previously written as a short, unfinished, prose story by Cullen, about a young girl named Madrigal who had magical powers—there was no town at that point called Harrow County. After the project was approved by Dark Horse we spent some time trying to come up with a new title for the series as I think we initially just didn’t think having “haints” in the title would work as most folks wouldn’t know what a haint was. I remember we spent some time trying to cook up creepy sounding town names thinking that we could make the location iconic like an Elm Street, Crystal Lake, Silent Hill, etc and Cullen is the one who threw out “Harrow County.” Other titles thrown out were:
• Dare County
• Hyde County
• The Dare County Apparition
• In the Woods
• The Ballad of Emmy Crawford
• The Black
• Shadow of Evil
The rest is history.
Cullen: I totally forgot all those other titles! God, I hate coming up with titles. I still like “Countless Haints” as a title, and that’s why we used that as the subtitle for the first trade paperback. But, yeah, “Harrow County” was a close second for me.
Tyler: I had this very specific memory of looking at a map of all the counties in North Carolina and seeing Harrow County and agreeing with whoever came up with the title was right. Of course, the is no Harrow County in North Carolina. I must have been looking at a haunted map or something.
Of course, after you pitch the book to Dark Horse, you then have to essentially pitch it to readers. In this stage before issue #1 comes out, how involved are you all in the marketing side of things?
Cullen: I think that these days the creators must be pretty heavily involved with a creator-owned title like this. Talking about it non-stop is about the only way to get attention in a world with so many books coming out. Dark Horse did a good job setting up interviews and releasing promotional materials. I did a LOT of podcast interviews, print and web interviews, and convention appearances to spread the word about this title.
I remember at one convention Dark Horse had printed out free posters of the first issue’s cover. Tyler and I set up at the Dark Horse booth and were giving them away. This was months before the book would be released. The expressions on people’s faces when they saw Tyler’s awesome rendition of the Flayed Skin crawling out of a drawer… I loved them!
Daniel: Cullen and Tyler did an outstanding job talking about the comic during the orderability period of the first issue. There’s so much noise out there these days online that it’s hard to break through and make a dent, but these guys talked about Harrow County relentlessly and I think that helped a lot. We created this cool promo piece of art seen below that we passed around to our comic creator colleagues to share on Twitter to encourage retailers and comic buyers to preorder the first issue.
It’s hard to know what branch of the marketing tree is the thing that’s going to get folks to preorder, but it seemed to have helped us here.
Tyler: The marketing side of things was a real eye opener for me. It’s amazing how important it is for creators to make a fuss about their own books.
I’m sad to see a series I love so much come to an end. I looked forward to “Harrow County” every month.
Thanks for all those Wednesdays.