Welcome to The Harrow County Observer, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated “Harrow County” column. In our latest installment Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook explore “Hedge Magic” and hint at what’s to come in “Dark Times A’Coming,” starting later this week. And as always, T.T. Wosker explores the dark corners of Harrow County.
Cullen, a little while back you did an interview in which you mentioned that while you did not yet wish to disclose when “Harrow County” would end, it had passed its halfway point. This arc, “Hedge Magic,” is the first time I’ve been aware of a looming ending, even if it may still yet be far off. Pitting Bernice and Emmy against each other is something I was both eager to read and yet dreaded too. I assume this is a moment you knew was coming right from page one of the series.
Cullen Bunn: I don’t know that I had the idea for a confrontation between Emmy and Bernice from the very beginning. At least not such a cataclysmic confrontation. I think the seeds of this story were definitely planted even if it was unconsciously. I knew Bernice and Emmy would clash throughout the series, but I thought of it as an argument between friends. It wasn’t until we were a few issues in that we started thinking of Bernice becoming a witch in her own right. In the end, Bernice and Emmy still argued, but we amplified it with the use of magic.
Definitely past the halfway point now, though, and everything that is about to happen in the series has been planned for a while.
This was a tough arc to write, because I hate seeing Bernice and Emmy fight.
Yeah, me too, but the stakes are that much higher when Emmy’s clashing with a friend. And of course, things always get bigger as the end looms.
Tyler Crook: I remember Cullen calling me while my wife and I were driving around running errands. He was like, ‘I hate stories where the main characters are gods, but we should make a whole bunch of god-like characters to fight Emmy.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I hate god characters too, but we should totally do this.’ That was how I learned about the Family and how they were going to come for Emmy. Not long before this conversation, I had a vision in my head of what the last panel for “Harrow County” should be so I pitched it to him and he liked the idea. I’m not sure how close it was to Cullen’s original vision of the ending, but it seemed to feel right to both of us. Now that I’m recalling that conversation, I think we also started listing all the characters that we thought we should kill before it was all over.
Back in issues #10 and #11 you did a two-issue story with Bernice as the lead character, a rare thing for “Harrow County” since all but one other have been about Emmy. Since then, most of Bernice’s evolution has occurred off-panel with Emmy (and by extension the reader) catching up on all of that development over the course of “Hedge Magic.”
Cullen: Bernice quickly surfaced as a favorite character for both Tyler and myself, so we thought it was important to give her at least a couple of issues in the spotlight. Those issues let the reader know (if they hadn’t realized it already) that Bernice was a major, major player in the series. But then we needed to shift the focus back to Emmy. This is, after all, her story.
At San Diego Comic Con, I was asked four or five times if I thought Bernice could carry her own spinoff series. I think she definitely could, but I’d love to hear what others think!
I’m with you. I’d love to see that.
Tyler: I think in a lot of ways, Bernice is a more interesting character than Emmy. Bernice has a built in conflict between what she wants to be doing and what she ends up having to do. She hates all this ghost stuff but she has to deal with it anyway and the best way to do that is by becoming a witch. But this is Emmy’s story and we do want to wrap up her story eventually so we gotta keep some sort of focus.Continued below
So in this arc things kick off with Emmy learning that someone is hunting the haints. This comes off the back of #19 and #20, in which men with hunting dogs and guns came into Harrow County set on killing the Abandoned. This did not end well—all those men died. So right away, we’re conjuring up something worse than those men, especially since this hunter is obviously much more savvy.
Cullen: Right. Those hunters helped to set up expectations for the reader. They were experienced hunters. They were well-prepared and well-supplied. And they died quickly and horribly. So, when we return to the idea of the hunt and realize that someone or something is actually killing some of these creatures, we know that whoever it is is the real deal.
Seeing the hunter only in the light of the acts that have been committed was especially powerful. There’s no face or character except what we create in our heads, so when it’s revealed to be Bernice, we’re forced to reconcile these two characters, which isn’t exactly an easy thing to do, especially when we can see the impact on a haint like Priscilla (who, I have to add, was nicely fleshed out in the four-part short story with Aud Koch.)
Cullen: First of all, yeah, that Priscilla story was great! And you haven’t seen the last of the little goblin!
I liked that readers might have been picturing someone really horrible stalking the haints, and then they find out it is Bernice—which, for Emmy, was pretty horrible.
Tyler: I think it makes for an interesting contrast between Emmy, who is always trying to find the good in everyone and wants to find solutions that benefit all sides, and Bernice, who wants to get the bad guys the hell out of Harrow County.
I think one of the other things this really hammers home is how (understandably) distracted Emmy’s been of late. While she’s been wrestling with gods, things have changed so much right under her nose.
But there’s some satisfaction there too. After all, Emmy’s magic is sort of intuitive, so her getting better at what she does feels accepting a part of herself. Whereas Bernice getting better shows a lot of hard work—she really has to earn it—and so to see her transformed into someone so proficient has tremendous impact. That comes through especially clearly with the keyhole ghost sequence.
Cullen: Yeah, Emmy and Bernice are on very different paths here, one learning magic, the other accepting her inherent gifts. I think it touches on how friends change and grow over time, especially around the ages of Emmy and Bernice. And sometimes—oftentimes—they grow apart.
Tyler: The way we show Emmy using magic has always been sort of understated. There’s rarely any sort of flashy effects when she does magic. She just sort of raises her hand and stuff happens. So it’s really fun to see how Bernice uses more conventional witch tools and enchantments to get stuff done. It’s fun to show that her magic has a kind of logic and forethought to it that Emmy’s doesn’t.
Way back in the first issue of “Harrow County,” there was a conversation between the two girls in which Bernice seems excited about being old enough to leave Harrow County, while Emmy expresses a desire to stay.
Over the series we’ve seen this reinforced in the girls, especially with Odessa trying to convince Emmy to let go of Harrow County. Meanwhile Bernice has been studying, yearning to go elsewhere.
But, like Emmy, she also shares a strong sense of responsibility. I get the sense she always knew that when Lovey passed, she’d never be able to leave Harrow County. So Lovey’s funeral took on a whole new meaning. Not only was this saying goodbye to a character that meant a lot to Bernice, but it was laying out her future. Every word said about the deceased Lovey adds to the burden on Bernice’s shoulders.
That whole sequence was my favorite moment in this arc.
Cullen: We’re seeing Bernice and Emmy change their opinions on Harrow County and their role in it. This is a theme we’ll be revisiting in a big way in an upcoming story. These two characters have a lot more to wrestle with—and a lot more to sacrifice—before the end.Continued below
Tyler: Yeah, in a lot of ways that’s sort of the essence of the story. Characters who have a natural inclination to live their life one way, but the world sort of forces them to live their life in a way that is counter to that. Emmy wants to live a quiet, normal life, but ends up having to deal with this god-like ‘family.’ And Bernice is excited to go off and explore the world, but is called on to stay and defend Harrow County.
One of the big developments in this arc was the release of all of Hester Beck’s snakes. We’ve seen how much damage a single snake can do, and now they’re all loose.
Tyler: My wife, Ma’at, grew up in North Carolina and has a deep rooted fear of Cottonmouth snakes. So every time she’d freak out a little.
Cullen: Like Ma’at, I grew up in rural North Carolina, and an encounter with some snake or another was a pretty common occurrence. My dad told wild stories about brushes with nests of Cottonmouths, and those always stuck with me. The snakes in Harrow County are nasty, evil things, but they’re probably more symbolic of the evil Hester brings with her than anything.
Yeah, I remember Ma’at’s backup story “Sleeping with Water Moccasins” in issue #3. The evil in human hearts is worse than the water moccasins.
Tyler: Yeah! Can you imagine how bad of a person you have to be worse than one of the most venomous snakes on the planet?!
It certainly seems like Reverend Worley has been taken by a snake. I must admit, I’m curious what you guys have planned with this character, because he’s been around since issue #1. He was there when Hester Beck was hung, and he’s shown up a few times since, mainly just to wave at Emmy and say hello, but he’s always there. I can’t imagine Hester would like him very much.
Tyler: I think in the first issue the script just called for a sort of generic preacher. I designed him with those pockmarked cheeks and slicked back hair and kind of fell in love with him. I feel like every chance I get I tell Cullen we need to see more of him.
Cullen: There are bigger plans ahead for the good Reverend. We’ll definitely be seeing him in an arc that’s coming up. Will it be the last of him? Well, Tyler loves him, so I figure he pretty much has to die.
Ah, another for the kill list.
Of course, Worley isn’t the only one that’s been taken by a snake. All the way back in the first arc we met Mr. Sorrell, who’s been living with a snake in his head for at least eighteen years now and was ‘tasked with a sacred mission.’ He vanished from Harrow County, but I can’t imagine we’ve seen the last of him.
Tyler: I don’t know if I’m remembering correctly, but it seems like originally, Hester whispered in Mr. Sorrell’s ear and vine or a root or something crept into his head. But I think it was Daniel Chabon (our delightful editor) who recommended we make it a snake, which opened up a whole bunch of possibilities as far as Hester’s influence beyond the grave.
Cullen: Yeah, I think the snakes really sprang from that suggestion from Daniel. The original idea was that roots were spreading out, Evil Dead–style, through Harrow County, representing the spread of Hester’s influence. But snakes were definitely a much more visual and sinister and creepy approach to getting the same idea across!
Tyler: They remind me of those little mind control bugs in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Those freaked me the hell out when I was a kid!
Yeah, I think the image of a snake coming out of Hester’s mouth into Sorrell’s ear is seared onto my brain. It’s creepy as hell.
The really big reveal for this arc was that Kammi is back after being dragged alive into the mud by Hester Beck’s corpse back in issue #8. This is a character that I have so many questions about. This far into the series, we still have no idea who took her out of Harrow County and raised her in the city. And after being buried with Hester for so long, I imagine she has a much better understanding of what she is now and potentially who Emmy really is too.Continued below
Cullen: I’d love to tell you we’re going to answer all the questions about Kammi, but we’re probably not, at least not in the immediate future. I think most of the answers are there, but they are buried a bit. Kammi’s return ushers in the darkest chapter of “Harrow County.” Trust me when I say, the last time she showed up to cause chaos was a walk in the park compared to what she has in store this time around.
Tyler: I feel like the stuff we have planned for Kammi will have people screaming ‘WTF’ at their comics.
In service of this column, I often put myself in great danger. Armed with my trusty camera, my meticulous journal, and a reliable lantern, I walk in the woods from midnight to the witching hour. I see things no other human eyes will see, for all traces will have vanished before sunrise. I am a living witness and record of that which many would prefer to be ignorant of.
Do you remember, nearly twenty years ago, I wrote about the Crib Vulture? Vicious, she was, even for a haint. An evil like that has no right to live among God’s creations. Some of you may even have prayed for her demise, and it would seem your prayers have been answered, for I found her only a few nights ago.
Dear readers, I have spent many years exploring the twisted shadows of Harrow County and the countless haints that hide there. I have written about them here in the Harrow County Observer as best I understand them. As my most dedicated readers will attest, I am not always right—we are, after all, dealing with the unknown—but I am always learning more. I understand the haints better now than when I first wrote this column thirty-five years ago. There are few in Harrow County that could boast such knowledge on the subject as I, and fewer still that would remain as humble either.
But, in the light of the dangers we now face, I cannot afford to be circumspect. Do not celebrate the death of this creature. This act is not of an angel in service to the Lord. The death of the Crib Vulture is the herald of a new evil, a witchy haint so terrible it even hunts its own kith and kin. It will treat us no different. I’ve already seen some of its work: stones painted red with blood in circles in the woods. Do you think it a coincidence Lady Lovey died recently? That old witch was competition!
The wolves are loose in Harrow County. Protect yourselves however you can! Bar your windows, lock your doors, and get yourself to church every Sunday. The good Reverend Worley has an eye for evil, and if he spies it, he’ll tear it from the earth root and all.
Mark my words, dear readers, there are dark times a’coming.