After six years, The Sixth Gun is coming to an end. To mark the occasion, Haunted Trails is looking back at this journey we’ve taken. Six guns, six interviews.
In the second interview, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt discuss the third and fourth arcs of the series, Bound and A Town Called Penance.
If you missed the first interview, you can find it here.
Bound is a particularly interesting arc in the series for several reasons. Most notably, it’s not really a single arc. Issues 12 and 13 form an arc about the train attack, 14 is a stand-alone arc about Asher Cobb, and 15–17 focus on Becky and Gord. Crossroads felt like a bonding arc that brought Drake, Becky, and Gord closer together as a team. This arc splits them apart.
Cullen Bunn: With those issues, we were really starting to play with the format and do some very different things with the series. The first two arcs were pretty traditional in that they featured the entire cast dealing with very specific challenges. Here, we wanted to break them up so we could give each of these characters more focus. And we wanted to explore a little more of the world, too. Telling shorter stories, focusing on the supporting cast—we really wanted to show how many different directions this series could go.
Brian Hurtt: This is still one of my favorite arcs of the series for all those reasons. The Gord story was one that we had been discussing since the introduction of Gord in the first arc and I was really happy with how it turned out. It has this real Southern Gothic vibe and a weight of tragedy to it. It goes a long way to fleshing out this character of Gord and I was really happy with our execution of it. It’s one of those rare moments as an artist where you feel like the story lived up to how you envisioned it.
This was also the first time we featured a guest artist. This too had been built into the structure of the series from the very beginning. We knew that we would do these single issue side stories that would focus on a supporting character from the book. These stories were designed to compliment, or even illuminate, different aspects of the overall story. As soon as Tyler agreed to do this issue we immediately locked him down for the other two guest artist issues that we had planned for the series. This was the issue where we fell in love with Asher Cobb (and by we, I mean both the readers and the creative team). Tyler was no small part in making that happen. At the time, I remember being a little jealous because I thought this was the best issue to date, and I had nothing to do with it!
With each new arc, the world gets bigger and bigger, but the new pieces never feel tacked on. They always feel like a natural extension of what came before. The Knights of Solomon and the Sword of Abraham play a big part of this arc, and they’re not the sort of thing you’d expect in western, but you threw in a Templar’s ring all the way back on the third page of the first issue, so it works. And you told us about a nine-foot-tall mummy too, so when Asher Cobb appears, as weird as he is, he makes some sort of sense. I feel like this stuff works because you get readers to ask an unspoken question first, so that when these elements are introduced, you’re not just throwing some random, weird thing at them, you’re answering that question, giving the reader something they’ve been craving.
How do you both prepare the reader for the weirder stuff in the series and make it feel like it belongs? How do you find that line where the reader willingly goes along for the ride?
Cullen: Actually, the Templar ring appeared before the first issue—in the illustrated bookend to “Them What Ails Ya”, the prose short story we released before the comic book’s release. Seeding little nods to what might lie ahead goes a long way toward easing the reader into that bigger world you mentioned. I’m a big believer in throwing the reader into the middle of the world and not rushing to over-explain every little detail. The characters in the world just accept that there’s a Nine-Foot Mystery Mummy in existence, so the readers do, too. Eventually, yeah, some of these weird elements are explained, but by that time they’re already part of the reality of the comic.
Brian: The simplest explanation is that if both Cullen and I believe it and commit to it then we believe the reader will as well. I’ve always operated by that rule, and I truly believe that a creator’s connection to the material and belief in the material is felt by those who then read it.
Brian, you once made a comment in an interview that The Sixth Gun owes as much to The Lord of the Rings as it does to any western. It’s a fantasy set in the west. I noticed another similarity too.
All through The Fellowship of the Ring, the story was relatively linear, but then the Fellowship was broken and in The Two Towers the book was divided in two. In a time where I can conduct an email interview with the pair of you on the other side of the globe, it can be difficult to impress upon the reader what it means to be cut off without communication. This is the genius of The Two Towers. While we follow the story of Aragorn and company, we have no idea what’s going on with Frodo and Sam. The split format gives the reader that experience.
This is exactly what Bound does with Drake. He suddenly drops out of the story, and we’re left wondering what happened to him. I think it was a powerful narrative choice to take a lead character out of the story.
Cullen: It’s interesting. I definitely see where we drew inspiration from Lord of the Rings. I would probably say this series is even more heavily influenced by Michael Moorcock’s work—the Elric and Corum stories.
Taking Drake out of the story really draws a line in the sand. For all we know at this point, he’s dead and gone. This is when we’re really saying that this story may be Becky’s or Gord’s.
And having the story split the way it does makes the world seem more alive. There are things happening even if you don’t see them on the page.
Brian: Just to echo what Cullen said, for me the removal of Drake from the story was done to disabuse anyone who held the notion that this was his book. The cast was growing and it was becoming clear (even to us a little bit) that this was a more of an ensemble book. Though one that had a lead, or co-lead at the very least, in Becky.
The Asher Cobb issue was certainly one of those world-expanding issues. Not only did the story dive headfirst into a very intimate tale about a character we barely knew, but there’s lots of little details hinting at things that wouldn’t be revealed for a long time yet, like the Grey Witch. I love the way she creeps into the story.
Brian: It’s one of the great things about knowing where the story is going—it allows you to plant seeds for things that will pay off further down the road. I actually think that these “seeds” make for a really rewarding second reading of the series!
Cullen: I’ve always been a fan of the long game when it comes to storytelling, taking time to sprinkle in little details here and there that lead to something much bigger down the road. More than any other series I’ve worked on, The Sixth Gun gave us the chance to do some of those things.Continued below
This was the first issue of The Sixth Gun that wasn’t drawn by Brian, and I feel like the story really took advantage of having a different artist on this issue, especially with Asher’s visions. How did this issue with Tyler Crook come about?
Brian: I don’t remember exactly how it came about other than we were both fans of his work, which at that time I think was just Petrograd. Since Petrograd was published by Oni as well, we had had the opportunity to meet and get to know Tyler a bit. It helps that not only is he immensely talented, he’s also just one of our favorite people.
Cullen: I remember when we were discussing having a different artist draw this issue. Brian and I got together at a Starbucks and made a list of all the people we thought would be a good fit. It basically boiled down to the two of us gushing over the work of all these very talented people, but it was important to both of us that whoever we worked with would be a good “fit” for the series as a whole. I still have the list (scrawled in one of my notebooks somewhere) and Tyler was right at the top. He’s an amazing talent and, as Brian mentioned, an all around awesome guy.
The story with Gord and his family in the last three issues of this arc is the one that made Gord my favorite character. I have a lot of love for this story. In particular, I love the way the visuals showed Gord was experiencing something other than literal reality. Every time I go back to this story, it blows me away. I really appreciated the feature in the second hardcover collection with the script and notes from both of you. The back and forth exchange on certain layout choices was particularly fascinating.
Cullen: That’s actually one of my favorite stories in the series, too. It’s something completely different than anything else that appeared in the book. At the time I wrote it, I was pretty nervous about it because I knew it was going to be tough to balance what was going on in “the real world” against the ghostly happenings, and I wasn’t completely sure readers were going to be happy with a story that was paced more slowly than what they had seen before. It all worked well, I think, thanks in large part to Brian’s visuals.
Brian: That sort of collaboration you got a peek into in the second hardcover is pretty standard for how we work and it’s the reason we keep working together. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again, but Cullen is one of the few writers working in comics who understands that this is a collaborative medium and that the best work comes when both storytellers are fully engaged in a project. He doesn’t let his ego get in the way of listening to other’s ideas or doing what is best for a story.
I think that really shows in this story where so much is said in the images. Cullen seemed really confident in your ability to say what needed to be said.
OK, before we move onto the next arc, I’m going to ask about a particular plot detail I’ve been curious about. So, in this arc Becky has a moment where she talks to her father through the Sixth Gun. Of course, he’s dead, so she’s talking to him roughly a decade in the past. Is this a conversation you knew was coming back when you both put together issue one? I’ve often wondered how this would affect him in the years that followed, knowing he’s fighting the inevitable.
Cullen: We didn’t know we’d be coming back to the this scene when we were working on the first issue. While we had most of the story mapped out from very early on, we left lots of wiggle room for ourselves for certain details. In this case, I wanted to start exploring the powers of the Sixth Gun beyond simple prophecy, and it seemed like a perfect fit for the themes of the story. Gord was encountering ghosts from his past, so I wanted to show Becky do the same.Continued below
Brian: I loved the scene with Becky and her father in this arc. Like Cullen said, we’ve mapped out a lot of the series in advance but it’s pretty broad and there is lots of room to follow your gut as a storyteller. This was one of those scenes that I had no idea about until I read the script and it had me so excited. I loved the connection between the two characters and the weight of sadness in that hung over the scene. Like I’ve said before, if I can feel a connection to a scene then I feel it translates to the page. This was definitely one of those times.
As an interesting aside, Tyler Crook actually owns some of these pages with Bex and her father. He has said that it is one of his favorite scenes in the whole series.
A Town Called Penance feels the most like a classic western to me, especially kicking things off with a mysterious stranger riding into town, suspicious townsfolk, a scheming sheriff, and some no-good varmints causing trouble. Becky is even offered whiskey instead of water when she wants a drink. Was that the intention with this one?
Cullen: Absolutely. We wanted the beginning of this tale to feel very much like a classic western. Even the title of the arc could have worked on an old school western I might have watched with my dad on a Sunday afternoon.
Brian: My favorite scene is the two-pages where Becky rides into town. All silhouette and mystery. She’s kind of taken on the role of the “Man with No Name” in this scene and I loved drawing that.
Yeah, that’s one of the iconic moments the series. It’s the page I was looking at when I wrote the question. Becky is transformed in that sequence.
While separated from Drake, relying on herself, Becky’s grown into a formidable figure. She’s unquestionably the hero now, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see her accomplish so much. Can we talk about how Becky has grown up to this point?
Cullen: I feel like Becky’s definitely the hero now. In the first arc, we see Drake rescue her. In this arc, Becky’s rescuing Drake. That was a flip of the script that we wanted to come across loud and clear. I’ve always envisioned Becky as someone who could adapt to any given situation very quickly. She was taken by surprise early on in the series, but she’s come out the other side stronger and more capable and less likely to be caught unaware. She’s lost people she cared about. She’s been betrayed by Kirby. The attempt (by the Knights of Solomon) to imprison Becky might have worked on the wide-eyed farmer’s daughter from the first issue, but it would never work on Becky now, not when she discovers that her friend, Drake, is imprisoned by another secret organization. She’s a woman of action now.
Brian: Even if it is a bit on the nose, I love the image of Becky now wearing Drake’s hat. It was obviously intended as a nod to the notion that she has come into her own as a “gunfighter”—that she is, at the very least, every bit Drake’s equal.
Her look in this arc is still my favorite of all her looks throughout the series.
In my mind, each arc of The Sixth Gun has a visual identity that sets it apart from the others. A big part of that is the set-piece moments. In this arc, it’s the underground hideout of the Knights of Solomon, and it’s my single favorite location in the series so far. The place looks amazing.
I especially love that we have a few issues getting to know the place. Later, when Becky comes to rescue Drake, this place becomes the stage for a huge action sequence, and it seems that part of the reason that sequence works so well is that each major section of the location had already been pre-established, and each was visually distinct. Like the best action films, the action seems to come naturally from the location. So how did this come together?Continued below
Cullen: I’ll leave this one to Brian to explain in detail. We knew, though, that issue 21 was coming up, and Brian had some very specific ideas for how he wanted to work on that issue, how he wanted me to script it, and how he wanted to depict some of the action. He designed the locale with a lot of his plans in mind.
Brian: I think the idea of the locale (an underground village/hideout) came from Cullen and I batting around different ideas for locations that would be unique. We also knew that we were going to do a big set piece with this location so that was absolutely kept in mind as I designed it.
That’s not to say that I put more thought into it than other locales (environment is just as important to me in story and design as characters), but just that I designed it with specific actions sequences in mind. I set it up as a multi-leveled environment because I’ve always felt that great, swashbuckling action works best when you are operating on different levels (a variety of heights). There’s a reason the “sword fight on the castle stairs” is a classic. Leaping on a train, swinging from a rope, or even falling through the air—these are all things that you need a “set” with different level. It gives you more options for dynamic camera angles, and setting scale, as well as raising the stakes.
The script, honestly, was just like any other script that Cullen has written with the exception that it had no dialogue or sound effects. The story, character beats, and the action is all set up there. We both understood that, with this being a silent issue, there would be more latitude in me adding or combining panels for the sake of clarity. But Cullen has always trusted me in that regard anyway. The biggest change to the normal routine was that as I went and thumbnailed the entire issue I found myself feeling two things: One, that I was worried it would read too fast and, secondly, that a lot of ideas I had for action sequences just didn’t fit in the final script. The only solution was to add more pages, so I asked Cullen if he would mind if I just “freestyled” about six pages in the back half of the issue to open up the action more.
The pacing on that issue felt very natural. I didn’t even realize it was longer! I think part of what worked to slow it down was it made readers think about what they were seeing. The images aren’t necessarily as immediate as a standard action scene. So instead of showing Becky shoot someone, we’ll see a corridor and then a flash of light. There’s a certain amount of processing there, and it makes the reader sit up and pay attention.
Brian: Again, I think this is a case of environment being an equally important player in the story. Having a thought out space that people exist in and interact with also pulls the reader into the comic and has them more engaged panel to panel. As opposed to characters operating in an amorphous or vague environment. Without dialogue, I think that latter approach would have the reader skimming the art and feeling unfulfilled.
This lack of dialogue puts all the onus on the imagery to tell the story and if you want to get the story (and there is story) then the reader has to be fully engaged and paying close attention.
I wish we had a little more time to talk about this arc, but I’m afraid that’s all we have.
Boot Hill, the final arc, begins in The Sixth Gun #48 coming out April 20 (this Wednesday).
Bound and A Town Called Penance are available together in The Sixth Gun – Volume 2 hardcover along with interviews with the creators, and an enormous gallery section including sketches, covers, and a breakdown of the script for The Sixth Gun #17.Continued below
The Gunslinger Edition comes in an Asher Cobb slipcase, with a new dust jacket, and a tip-in page signed by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, Tyler Crook, and Bill Crabtree. Limited to 500 copies.