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 fifth interview, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt discuss the seventh and eighth arcs of the series, “Not the Bullet, But the Fall” and “Hell and High Water”.
If you missed the previous interviews, you can find them here:
1. “Cold Dead Fingers” and “Crossroads”
2. “Bound” and “A Town Called Penance”
3. “Winter Wolves” and “Ghost Dance”
4. “Sons of the Gun”, “Days of the Dead”, “Dust to Dust”, and “Valley of Death”
There’s a sense of closing the circle here, the story returning to Brimstone where it all began. It brings back memories of reading the early pages of “Cold Dead Fingers”.
Brian Hurtt: Obviously, that wasn’t accidental on our part. Our first page when return to Brimstone in this arc is a recreation of page one of the very first issue. It’s basically telling everyone that we’ve come full circle and we are now at the beginning of the end.
Cullen Bunn: This arc is really the beginning of the end, so we wanted to make a callback to the very beginning.
Before we get into the serious stuff, I have to say I love Nidawi’s outfit in this arc. She looks awesome.
Brian: Oh, thank you! This is my favorite version of Nidawi as well. I make a point with every arc to find a way to adjust the “costumes” of the individual characters as a way of marking time and showing the start of a new chapter. I was happy with how she turned out here. I also liked Kirby’s fur-collared mackinaw coat.
Brian: That idea was all Cullen. Once I knew it was going to happen I was just itching to get to draw it!
Cullen: It’s funny, because Brian drew it so amazingly that I would’ve said it was his idea!
As horrifying as the snake-stuffed Missy corpse was, that was nothing compared to the devastation unleashed in this book. Nahuel. Asher Cobb. Gord Cantrell. You killed off half the group in one fell swoop. I was particularly upset about Gord since he’s my favorite character.
Brian: He’s my favorite character as well! It was supposed to hurt. We wanted to do two things with his death in that particular issue. First, kill off Asher early in so that no one would be thinking that another death would be coming so soon on its heels. The other thing we wanted to do was have this scene where Gord is being a bad-ass and handling himself pretty well in a tough fight with some of these snakemen. Then just as you think it’s over he has prevailed he gets murdered in a most down to earth way. Brutal and mundane (as far as “The Sixth Gun” goes).
Cullen: Yeah, we wanted this issue to really hurt. These are characters we’ve spent a lot of time with. Hell, I love all of the characters so much. But it’s important to me that no character is safe.
Cullen: I definitely wanted to give each character a good moment before the end. That doesn’t mean they have to go out guns blazing and taking down tons of bad guys. In some cases, it could mean a moment of pure tragedy.
Of course, you revisited Gord later when Becky used the Sixth Gun to speak to him in the past, giving him the goodbye he deserved.
Cullen: That’s the great thing about a fantasy world like this. Sometimes, the end is not quite the end. I think Becky using the gun to speak to Gord made his death all the more painful and tragic.
I’m inclined to agree.
Then there was Nidawi’s “death”. She doesn’t actually die here, but somehow leaving her behind and mortally injured spoke more to me about the desperation of their situation than all the character deaths that preceded it. Then having her return possessed by Screaming Crow seemed like such a violation.
Cullen: So true. We were being real jerks in this arc. As the story wrapped up, no one was left unscathed. After seeing so many characters die, having Nidawi possessed by the spirit of Screaming Crow was just a twist of the knife.
Another violation was having Billjohn turned against Becky and Drake, especially after his spirit has lingered for so long after his death protecting both of them.
Cullen: Well, the hope is we’re inflicting such torment on the characters so that they can come back triumphantly at the end. Unless we’re really just leading the readers down a dark, dark path. But we couldn’t possibly be that sick and twisted, can we?
Brian: I remember this sequence really sticking with me. I was feeling all the feelings as I had to draw our lovable Billjohn beating the holy hell out of Drake. This is one of those instances that I had no idea was coming until I read the script and coming to it blind like that really allows me to be impacted by it the way a reader would.
You knew your ending for this story very on, and knew that as you approached it, you’d have to shrink the book’s cast. Was this something you were mindful of when you introduced each character? Were you plotting their demise even as they were still coming to life?
Cullen: I don’t know that we were planning how each character would die as they were created. We did know, however that not everyone would make it out of this adventure. We just didn’t know the details of their deaths until the story sort of brought the morbid details to light.
Cullen, I’ve spoken to you before about the Grey Witch story, so I’ll limit myself to one question on the subject. This was the book that explained the history of the Great Wyrms, creatures that are pulled further and further to the fringes of existence with each remaking of the world. In fact, the suffering the Great Wyrms caused humanity to summon the Six in the first place. I assume Drake was one of the six people that originally took up the Six, and I’m willing to bet it was he that remade the world the first time the Six were used.
And yet the Great Wyrms lingered. The fearsome memory of them was so strong that they burrowed into the very bones of creation. They are weakened with each remaking of the world, but never truly gone. It makes me wonder if Drake has become the anchor that keeps them tethered to the world. Some dark memories of his keep working their way into the creation of the world, like a self-fulfilling nightmare. Would that be accurate?
Cullen: That’s a pretty good assessment. One of the things about the world-shaping power of the Six is that it’s controlled by a human (at least most of the time) and a human is going to have lingering thoughts and connections to the world. Memories haunt them. And those memories bleed into each new version of the world.
It must have been an interesting experience drawing a sequence you began visualizing back in… I guess it was 2009 or 2010.
Brian: It was awesome. It was one of those moments where I couldn’t believe we had made it this far. The whole existence of this book has been a case of us getting to do everything we wanted to do with no push-back. This scene kind of epitomized that. We had dreamed of it years earlier and here we were doing it and doing it exactly the way we had seen it.
I’m always surprised how the slaughter of the Sword of Abraham by the Knights of Solomon worked. On paper we have an organization that’s been built up since the second arc completely wiped out in six pages, which taken at face value is a recipe for disaster. But it works. I think the reason for that is the focus on a single act of murder, and how intimate that act was for both the killer and the killed. When we get to the King of Secrets standing before all his mirrors, everything we’ve just experienced is multiplied a hundredfold. Without seeing each murder, we see all those faces in the mirrors and imagine so much more than we’re shown.
The same is true later when we see the train wreckage. It suggests an epic conflict we never saw. I feel like if we’d seen these conflicts, the impact would have been lesser though.
Cullen: I’m glad that worked the way it was supposed to! From the beginning, we wanted the world of “The Sixth Gun” to be much, much bigger than what you’d ever see on the page. I feel like that goes a long way to making the world seem real.
I think one of the most telling signs that the story is coming to an end was that Drake lost his hat. We’ve followed it since issue 1, but now it’s gone and there’s no replacing it.
Brian: I would say that that is both intentional… and unintentional. As it happened it was obvious that it meant something to the character (the same can be said of Kirby’s scarf from the second arc). But the reality of it was that he had lost it a couple times before and it always came back into his possession. We just felt that we had reached a point where we couldn’t have it come blowing back into frame like Indiana Jones’s hat one more time. I do like that he loses the hat in the same scene that they lose the guns though. I like to think of it less as perfect planning and more like kismet.
Cullen: If we could have figured a way to bring Drake’s hat back that wasn’t so contrived as to be ridiculous, we would have done so. There was a moment after he lost the hat that Brian and I were talking and realized that we’d never see Drake wearing that hat again.
Brian: And of course this led to one of my favorite moments where it looks like we are doing just that kind of contrived scene: Drake sees a hat very similar to his own, picks it up, brushes it off, then puts it on his head… and it’s too big for his head and flops over his ears.Continued below
Brian: I just have to say that outside of the character moment I had been looking forward to drawing “Snake Kirby” ever since issue #23 where I had drawn a sketch version of that cover with Kirby as a snake.
Cullen: One of the most tragic moments in the series, in my opinion, and we really wanted to play against what you might be expecting when you hear that Becky is going to kill Kirby.
As crappy as everything went for Becky and Drake in this arc, it was a truly pleasant surprise to have Nidawi back. I honestly thought the group would be whittled down to just Becky and Drake at the end.
Cullen: Nidawi still has an important role to play, all the way up to the final issues. And in bringing her back, we had one more tragic loss to the group as Screaming Crow was banished once and for all. Less tragic, I guess, since Nidawi comes back to the fold.
And we got to see Gord again. I’m sure you both know how important it was to me to give him a moment to say a proper goodbye to Becky and Drake.
Brian: Again, with Gord being probably my favorite character, that moment was big for me as well.