Welcome back to Haunted Trails, Multiversity Comic’s annotation column for Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun. This month kicked off with a new spin-off, The Sixth Gun: Dust to Dust, featuring Billjohn O’Henry. And yesterday Hell and High Water came to an end. The final arc is looming ever closer.
This month’s column is going to be a little different. As usual, I’ll be interviewing Cullen Bunn, but this time we’ll be joined by Brian Hurtt. We’ll be talking about things much more broadly than usual, with a big focus on what’s to come…
Brian Hurtt: I wouldn’t necessarily call it uplifting, but you’re right, it’s not as grim as it could have been. These are characters who know they may be on a one-way trip but they have resolved themselves to it―this is their fate, if you will. And, of course, the reunion with Gord is pretty bittersweet.
Cullen Bunn: By the time Hell and High Water ends, our heroes have gone through a pretty rough patch. The last two arcs have been brutal. The final chapter might not be oppressively dark, but that might only be in comparison to the ordeals we’ve seen in the last eleven issues! The world is ending, after all! Drake, Becky, and Nidawi needed a bit of a breather before the final battle, I suppose.
There was a great line in this issue from Drake, “I don’t mind the dark. I’ve seen near about all of this world I want to and I’d rather remember it the way it was once the fighting starts,” spoken as he and his company walked through water with corpses drifting by. It was beautifully somber.
This was a quiet issue, one heavy with foreboding. It feels like all the chess pieces are where they need to be for the final arc.
CB: Much like the characters, after all the chaos and action over the past several issues, I think Brian and I both needed a few quiet moments to refocus. What lies ahead is a really epic conclusion. This is the calm before the storm.
It’s kind of like in films when they turn down the volume on the other sounds effects right before an explosion.
There was another reunion in this book too, a rather disturbing one: Griselda and Oliander. I’ve been wondering what happened to Oliander ever since he vanished from the Sword of Abraham’s stronghold.
BH: I said I never wanted to draw chains again after the epic Battle of the Maw in issue six! But, dammit, the General is such a cool character that I actually enjoyed revisiting “the chains”. This was also a sequence that, as I was drawing it, I was excited to see what Bill Crabtree would do with it once it was handed off to him. He never fails to impress―I loved this whole sequence, and the colors on the splash page with General couldn’t have been better in setting the mood, in my mind.
It also adds that kind of circular feel to it, bringing back elements that propelled the story in the early days.
BH: Yeah, I’m a big fan of that kind of “circular” narrative and, like Cullen said, we always knew the General would, in one way or another, come back for the final act.Continued below
CB: No bones about it, we’re making it very clear that this is the end of the series.
This arc had some incredible set pieces in it, things you guys have clearly been laying the groundwork for for a long time: the extermination of the Sword of Abraham, the battle with the Thunderbirds, and of course, the beginning of the end of the world. What’s it been like turning these far-off story beats into scripted pages, and then finished comics pages. Especially in your case, Brian, how long have you known Cullen had all this in store for you, and how do you even begin to prepare for it given the scale of these moments?
BH: The “Ride of the Thunderbirds”, as we often referred to it in conversation, has been something that we’ve had in mind since probably the first year of the series. I’d been itching to put our heroes on the backs of some Thunderbirds and then have this pitched aerial battle! I’d like to think that we’ve created the best aerial battle to ever feature in a western!
The other big set piece was the flooding of the town and that was something that we knew was going to happen before I even started drawing issue one. It’s been in the outline that long! With both the flooding and the Thunderbird battle I had had these ideas and visions in my mind for so long that when it came to doing the actual issues I realized that I had to make some sacrifices to what I could actually get on the page. To do everything I wanted I would have needed a couple more issues! And that wouldn’t have worked from a story point of view―it would have been for purely selfish reasons.
All that said, after talking it over with Cullen, I was able to add a few pages to issue forty-six to get more of the flood action in there.
Actually, in the first hardcover collection, in the pitch documents section in the back, there’s was a scene with the a room being flooded and the characters running up the stairs. So that’s what that was.
In the third part of this arc did this really cool thing with the layout, beginning with big, broad panels, building to denser pages in the middle, and then pulling it back to a splash page at the end. It was a nice bit of symmetry and it gave the occasion an appropriately grand feeling. It was the issue that said “this is the stuff of legend.” How did this layout come about?
CB: For almost every issue, I write full script. In the case of the issue you mentioned, though, Brian asked if I’d do something a little looser so he could do some interesting things with the layout. For that issue, I wrote an overview of what would happen on each page and the accompanying dialogue. Brian just went nuts from there.
BH: We had been talking about this issue for a while and had discussed trying to do something a little different in terms of the format. The first idea we had was to do an all splash page issue―as we are both big fans of Walt Simonson’s issue of THOR where he did that and we’ve always wanted to attempt that. But after going back and forth we really couldn’t make it work or make sense from a story point of view. So, I proposed going the other way―doing an issue with a ton of panels. As we discussed how the issue would open and how it would close it just became more of an organic decision to give the issue some symmetry. Opening epic with the double-page spread and slowly adding panels every page to give a sense of frantic action and fast pacing. Then we slow it down at the end and end on a large moody splash page. Like the silent issue we did, that one was a fun experiment with the form and with the collaboration aspect of making a comic.
What I like about this and the silent issue, is that in both cases these experiments serve the story. Like you said about the all-splash issue, you didn’t force it when it didn’t work from the story point of view.Continued below
BH: I could probably rant about this for awhile. I have certain unwritten rules that I abide by. One of the biggest ones is to never let the art compete or get in the way of the story. Comics are not about the art. They are not about the writing. They’re about the intersection of the two and neither of those elements should ever take precedence over the other. It’s nice when I can get an issue like this in which the narrative allows for me to scratch a certain creative itch but neither Cullen or I would ever force something like that just for the sake of being clever. The second we are not true to the story in our creative motivations, then I believe that is when you lose your reader or take them out of the story.
In both cases they felt like they came from the story itself and were necessary to tell it.
CB: I thought now was an appropriate time to bid a fond farewell to my favorite character, Billjohn O’Henry. While Billjohn’s been a constant presence in the book, we only rarely get to see him while he was alive and well. Dust to Dust gives us to see Billjohn in his healthier days. I think it also helps to show the broad range of stories we could tell within this world.
Tyler Crook, who has drawn a few one-shot issues of The Sixth Gun in the past, is handling art duties for this one. There’s a few panels in there with these hazy watercolour images referencing events to come, such as when Kid Bedlam died and his corpse was lying in the same position Billjohn’s was in The Sixth Gun #6.
Tyler’s done a few special panels of a similar nature before back in The Sixth Gun #14 when Asher Cobb had his visions, so I can’t help but wonder if this story element was the reason he was chosen to handle the art for this miniseries.
CB: I don’t know that those particular scenes were the reason Tyler was chosen. I think the choice was pretty clear and it boils down to Tyler being awesome. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also been a big part of the world of The Sixth Gun. Those panels you mentioned were scripted as being “set apart” from the rest of the comic. It was Tyler who decided to do them in the watercolor style. Keep an eye on those images. They have a greater meaning within the miniseries as a whole.
In all the previous spin-offs, you both handled writing duties. However for this latest spin-off and the next, you departed from this approach. Cullen handled Dust to Dust, and Brian, you’re handling Valley of Death, which will come out in June. I believe this is your first time writing solo. How are you finding it?
All that said, working on this new mini-series has been a real learning experience. For the first time, I’m working from an outline that―for good or bad―is solely my own. Right now, I’m in the process of writing the third issue and I feel like I’ve already learned so much from the first two issues. It actually has me excited at the prospect of taking what I’ve learned and applying it to a new project… and then making a series of brand new mistakes!Continued below
I really am pretty pumped about this book and I’m working with an artist, Arielle Zamudio, who I think is an immensely talented storyteller and I’m excited for everyone to see her work on this!
I was just about to ask about Arielle. Cullen worked with her before on last year’s The Remains for Monkeybrain Comics, which I believe was her first miniseries. What do you feel she brings to the world of The Sixth Gun?
BH: Every new artist brings their own voice or vision to a project and that’s kind of one of those indefinable things. Best to let her art speak for itself there. I will say that I was sold on her after only seeing the first few pages of Cullen’s The Remains. What she was doing was not splashy but it was highly competent. There was great gesture in the figures, and characters seemed to be existing in a place, but most importantly, I saw that she was an amazing storyteller. She gets it. She’s engaged in the story and is there to help tell it―to elevate it, even. A lot of comic artists are guilty of just drawing the script. That is, they look at the panel descriptions and the go through them like a checklist. Never really being immersed in the stories themselves. I feel like you can tell when that is the case. With Arielle, it’s obvious that she is engaged. And, now that I’ve been working with her, it’s apparent in the notes and questions that come back to me. She challenges me and asks hard questions and I love it.
It sounds like you’re both pushing each other to greater heights. I can’t wait to read it.
BH: There will definitely be six strips in total. I’m pretty sure that the last three will be running with the Valley of Death issues. I’m loving what Cat has been doing! Her style is great and we first saw her do this approach in a sketch she had done and shared with us. That was all it took―we were hooked and wanted to see more! What is unintended, and yet kind of nice, is that these lighthearted gag strips are running as we have brought the world to an end in the series. Things are dark―it’s kinda nice to have these strips there to help soften the blow!
CB: I love those Lil’ Sixth Gun strips. There was talk early on about Brian or me writing them, but we both knew Cat would do a much better job than either of us! Those stories are her take on the world of The Sixth Gun, and it’s exciting for me to see!
Another book you have upcoming, and this one I’m very excited about, is the second hardcover collection of The Sixth Gun, collecting the third and fourth arcs of the series. In fact it’s only a month away now.
CB: Yes! The second hardcover―and the second Gunslinger edition―is right around the corner. I loved the way the first book turned out, and the second one is just as awesome. There are tons of cool extras in this beast!
BH: I’ve got my advance copy sitting in front of me right now! If anything, I may like it even more than the first! The design by Keith Wood is just amazing and elevates our work to a new level. On top of that it has Gord’s “homecoming” arc―which is a personal fave―as well as the silent issue. I’m really excited for people to get their hands on this!
Gord returning home was a favourite of mine too. And I can’t wait to see the sketchbook section. I never seem to get enough of that stuff.
Speaking of which, Brian, you’re quite active on Instagram and Tumblr, posting teasing images of what you’re working on. It’s been fun following the progress of this latest arc, and lately you’ve even been showing some of your work for the third hardcover too.Continued below
BH: Yeah, I’m trying to be better about sharing process stuff on social media. It’s a habit I’m trying to form and right now I’m really loving it. It’s so cool to share the work-in-progress stuff and to get immediate feedback from people!
Like you said, I’ve been spending my time recently working on new art for the third hardback and I’ve been sharing that online. It’s been really cool because I’ve been doing some things that are new to me as well, like watercolors. I’m basically learning on the job. And in front of hundreds of people!
Seriously? Man, I was looking at those images and I was so impressed. I’ll be very interested to see the final arc, Boot Hill, as it comes together on Instagram.
Speaking of Boot Hill, as I understand it, a boot hill is a cemetery where those buried there died in battle, with their boots on, so to speak.
The term has also been mentioned in the books before, back in Not the Bullet, But the Fall. Gord had discovered from Krieg’s book that the Six could be destroyed at Boot Hill… the original Boot Hill, “The place where the very idea of death first took root.”
So it’s a rather ominous title, isn’t it?
CB: Yeah, it’s a… pardon the pun… grave title. It fits, though, because we’ve been building toward a showdown at Boot Hill for some time. References to the place can be found even earlier in the series. You just need to know where to look.
I’ll be rereading the whole series before the last arc. I’ll keep my eyes open.
BH: I would also point out that there is a reason the mini-series, Valley of Death, comes out right before this final arc. It does not tie directly in with this story so much as set up and illuminate this Spirit Realm that serves as the location for the final arc.
As with the arc I just finished, there are many things in this final arc that I’ve been looking forward to drawing from very early on in the series. Some are ideas that we had before even starting issue one! There are some cool character beats and some surprising moments that I can’t wait to share with readers. We’re hoping that this is a finale that does this series justice!
You can follow all the latest updates for The Sixth Gun via Cullen Bunn’s Twitter and website, Brian Hurtt’s Twitter and website. Or you drop in on Cullen’s Tumblr and ask him a question, check out Brian’s Instagram and see The Sixth Gun evolve from sketches to final inks, or swing by The Sixth Gun Facebook page.
The Sixth Gun: Dust to Dust #2 will be on sale on the 15th of April with The Sixth Gun – Volume 2 hardcover coming out the following week.