Welcome to The Harrow County Observer, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated “Harrow County” column. In our latest instalment Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook explore “Dark Times A’Coming” and discuss the upcoming finale, “Done Come Back,” starting in March. T.T. Wosker also has some dire warnings.
In the last Harrow County Observer, Tyler mentioned your “kill list” for the series, and in ‘Dark Times A’Coming’ you crossed a significant number of characters off that list, so it’s fair to say we’re going to be talking about death quite a lot this time.
How do you approach an arc like this, knowing that you have so many deaths to deal with, and each should have its impact? And how do you avoid making your readers numb to death after death?
Cullen Bunn: Well, if we’ve done our job, each character death stings in a different way. It’s not something I take lightly, though. This isn’t treating death as a gimmick. This is death as a natural, often tragic, part of the story. I don’t think we ever sat down and said, “We need someone to die here.” Instead, it just happened because it was the right thing for the story.
Tyler Crook: A huge part of this is not just showing a character dying but also making sure we show the ramifications of their death. The way other characters react or don’t react is an important part of the deal.
I’d definitely agree with that. None of these deaths were flippant. It’s narratively satisfying to spend time with the characters in the wake of a death. And none of these deaths were an isolated event either.
Let’s talk about the death of Emmy’s father. I think it’s fair to say we knew what was coming before Emmy did—readers will most likely recognise this sort of “killing of the parents” structure (whether literal or metaphorical) in any coming of age story—and I like the way you used this to generate tension.
Tyler: I like the way we set it up to mirror the moment in the first arc when Pa tried to strangle Emmy. Pa was my problematic fave. So it was hard to see him go.
Cullen: Yeah, I hated to see Pa go out like that, but I felt like it has been coming since Kammi first showed up in Harrow County long, long ago. Pa represents what Kammi hates most—the love Emmy was surrounded with as she grew up. Of course she wants to destroy that!
And Kammi is vicious in this scene! She doesn’t simply choose to kill Emmy’s father, but she chooses to kill him while pretending to be Emmy. It’s not just about hurting Emmy, but about destroying her in the eyes of those she loves.
Cullen: A truly horrific moment in the series, I think. The real tragedy here is that Pa might’ve died thinking it was Emmy who killed him. I like to think that he knew it wasn’t Emmy in those final moments, but deep down I know that’s not true. I felt like Kammi’s deception here is what really sets her apart as a nasty adversary.
Tyler: Yeah, I hope we made it clear enough: Kammi is a bad guy!
It’s a point you make with a sledgehammer really. Kammi is utterly consumed by her rage. Given the time she spent underground in the embrace of a corpse though, it makes sense though. I’m surprised how far you could push her while still retaining some element of humanity and relatability. If anything, I find that spark of hurt in her makes her scarier and more dangerous. Was it challenging to find that line between human and monster in her portrayal?
Cullen: I think what keeps Kammi from being a complete “mustache-twirling” villain is that there’s so much of Emmy in her. Like Emmy, she really only wants to figure out who she is. She wants to know her place in this great big world. Unlike Emmy, though, she’s turned very, very bitter because she hasn’t gotten what she deserves. I think most people can relate to that kind of bitterness about something. No, we don’t take it as far as Kammi does, but most of us have felt the sting of jealousy and hurt as it starts to turn to anger and loathing. We know Kammi is the bad guy, as Tyler says, but we can also imagine the steps she took to get there.Continued below
Tyler: The other thing about Kammi is that she was raised a lot differently than Emmy. For all of his flaws (and attempted murders) Emmy’s Pa only ever wanted Emmy to grow up to be a good person. I don’t know if we will ever see exactly how Kammi was raised but it’s clear that she never felt real love in her life.
In the case of the skinless boy, this was a character that you established as a haint born from a nightmare (“Harrow County” #9), in which a child has to run through thorns that tear the skin from his body. In ‘Dark Times A’Coming’ this nightmare was brought to life. The skinless boy is torn up horribly throughout this arc before he’s finally killed. It’s truly gruesome, but I don’t think it ever crosses the line into being gratuitous. The horror always reflects an aspect of Emmy, the skinless boy, or Kammi.
And as horrible as everything the skinless boy goes through, there’s a crucial difference between the nightmare he was born from and the fate he faces here. In the nightmare, he was running from vicious dogs, but here there is nothing forcing him into the thorns. He chooses to go into his worst nightmare purely out of loyalty to Emmy. I think Kammi was trying to break that bond, to make him hate Emmy.
Cullen: Exactly! The Skinless Boy was Emmy’s friend, not just some summoned creature. It loved her in its own way and would do anything for her. I think that helped keep us out of the gratuitous violence area. The Skinless Boy suffered—horribly so—but he did it for love.
Tyler: You can contrast the skinless boy with Kammi’s familiar, her butler guy. He was loyal to Kammi and did her bidding, but it was clear in his final moments that he hated her.
That’s pretty cool. I hadn’t considered that comparison.
Cullen, I find this is something you do a lot, setting up a story element that creates a stark contrast for a later story. You did it a lot throughout “The Sixth Gun,” especially as you neared the end of the series. In this arc of “Harrow County,” you did it with Mason Hollow. You introduced it back in issue #10 with Emmy and Bernice singing as they walk along the multi-colored glass path—it was an idyllic location. In ‘Dark Times A’Coming,’ this location becomes a scene of horrific violence. At one point the glass fragments are lifted out of the earth and flung at the Hollow’s residents. Something beautiful became weaponized.
Cullen: I wish I could say these moments are always planned out, but I’d be lying. In fact, many times when I plan something like that, it tends to fall apart before execution. Instead, I have sort of milestone moments planned. For example, the plan might read “Emmy and Kammi visit Mason Hollow” in an early issue, then “Kammi attacks Mason Hollow” at some later point. Along the way, I try to find characters, moments, and events that stick with me and leave sort of an emotional mark. I like to think that if they stick with me, they stick with the reader, too. Then I revisit them. I might play at the same sentiment again, or I might turn it on its ear.
The other reason these moments tend to play so well is that they’re tied to a strong visual element. The glass path was something Tyler could showcase, and when it’s turned on its ear, it opens up the comic for some spectacular visuals. Tyler you really knocked the Mason Hollow sequence out of the park. Is there anything about Cullen’s script for ‘Dark Times A’Coming’ that summoned up particularly strong visuals for you?
Tyler: I don’t know if there was anything in particular. I mean, it was Cullen’s idea to use the glass and stuff like that. For me the important thing was making sure this felt like a turning point. I worked really hard to sell the destruction of Mason Hollow as something terrible.Continued below
I tease Cullen that he’s always writing things like “a million dragonflies drop out of the sky.” Because that’s a lot of work for me and no work for him. But in this case it was important to show that Emmy called down more dragonflies than we’d ever seen before. So I’m always trying to take what Cullen has written and try to build on top of it to sell the ideas as hard as I can so the reader really feels all this stuff.
Cullen: Ha! I saw a Twitter exchange between Tyler, Brian Hurtt (artist on “The Sixth Gun” and “The Damned”), and Joëlle Jones (artist on “Helheim”) the other night. They were all ganging up on me because I’m such a jerk for writing stuff like that. The thing is, I can’t argue. I am a jerk for writing that sort of thing. I never put that stuff in a script lightly because I know it’s a crazy amount of work for these folks. But Tyler (and Joëlle… and Brian) have always sold these crazy concepts in ways so far beyond what I imagined. I truly love these people and am in awe of their talent. In a way, though, they are rewarding bad behavior. All they need to do is suck a little more and I’ll stop writing this kind of thing.
You hear that, Tyler? Cullen says you need to suck more. Seriously though, this arc had some absolutely crazy pages in it. Right from the opening splash Kammi underground, caught in the embrace of Hester’s corpse, you had me. One thing that jumped out at me was how you used the textures of the water colors to communicate fury and chaos, most notably in that page of black after Kammi kills Pa. It reminded me of the way Mike Mignola sometimes uses a blank panel (often red or black) to punctuate a particular mood. But this pushed the idea so much further. This wasn’t just a panel; it was an entire page. And this isn’t a solid, ink black; there are textures in there. Given the context, I can’t help but imagining fury in that black. The splotches on the page summon up the idea spittle dripping from Kammi’s angry maw.
So I guess my question is, Tyler, were you drooling on the page?
Tyler: Haha. When I thumbnailed that page, I thought I was being very clever. I thought it would just take me 10 minutes to finish. Three hours later, I’m rewetting the page to try to get the little black drops to bleed into the blue and red just right. This stuff is never easy.
OK, we really need to talk about the mind blowing moment at the end of this issue. After Kammi is defeated, Emmy eats her body. I was totally stunned by this. I mean, I know you’ve been foreshadowing it for a long time now, but I somehow it still hadn’t sunk into my brain that you’d actually cross that bridge and burn it behind you. Eating another person is obviously horrific as it is, but this particular act has meaning to it beyond just that. In previous issues this has been portrayed almost like the cannibal is giving up a crucial piece of their humanity and giving into some dark animal desire.
It’s shocking to Emmy pushed to this level of desperation, but even more shocking is that when we get to that moment it’s understandable. As bad as it is, Emmy doesn’t cease to be the character we’ve known these past twenty-eight issues.
Tyler: I can’t remember exactly how we came up with the idea of the Family eating each other but I think our very next thought was “Emmy has to eat Kammi”. Haha.
Cullen: I don’t remember how that came to pass, either. I know the idea of Emmy devouring Kammi’s flesh came about during a phone call with Tyler. So I’ll blame him. Anyhow, that scene is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve written in the series. It was a challenge, because it has to be handled in a way that is not character assassination for Emmy. But I thought it was a necessary scene to show that Emmy is not just a human, even if that’s what she wants to be. She can’t really escape that she’s part of this Family. It also showed that she is scared and desperate, not just because of the otherworldly challenge she might be facing, but because she really isn’t sure who she is. She’s never felt… whole.Continued below
You’re going into the final arc now, ‘Done Come Back.’ As I understand it, it’s going to be the usual four-issue arc, but with an extra big final issue. Cullen, this was something you did with “The Sixth Gun” series too, and I loved it. Brian Hurtt had the space to go as epic as possible. I must admit, as sorry as I am to see “Harrow County” coming to an end, I’m really excited about what the two of you will do, especially after an arc like ‘Dark Times A’Coming,’ which had so many jaw-dropping moments.
Cullen: This finale will be a little different in tone than that final issue of “The Sixth Gun.” Tyler called me up with an idea for something he wanted to do visually in the issue, and—while I will not spoil it—I’m super excited to see it.
You and me both.
Tyler: Yeah, I think this is going to be a good ending.
I’ve said it many a time before, but the Observer readers are a cut above those that read that dreadful rag, The Harrow County Morning Caller. Oh, everyone living hereabouts knows something funny’s going on, but the Caller would have us believe it’s caused by city visitors and rowdy teenagers. Nonsense!
Observer readers know the truth. I’ve said it far too often to be ignored. Countless Haints walk the woods of Harrow County, and lately they’ve been stirred into a frenzy of activity. For too long we’ve had a demon at our door and these past months its been walking among us. I speak, of course, of Emmy Crawford. Oh, I know there are doubters, even among my faithful Observer readers, but how long do you think you can deny the truth? The child consorts with haints. There are those that say she’s a good witch. Do they not notice the ludicrous contradiction? A good witch! I thought we had all learned such foolishness was pure fantasy all those years ago when Hester Beck was on the prowl in our fair county.
I live close to the Crawford farm and I’ve seen things that would make your blood run chill. I understand these things intimately, for I’ve made it my thankless duty to study haints and those that associate with them. As I have confessed before, with Emmy I denied her evil for far too long, and I got far too close to her before I could no longer deny what I always knew.
But these are just words. Words will not convince my doubters. So I present you with evidence—a photograph I captured at great personal risk. Behold, the cannibal witch of Harrow County!
This is what has been allowed to fester in the dark places of Harrow County while we all turned a blind eye. Dear readers, I urge you to take action! We must follow the example of the Reverend Worley all those years ago, who clung to the words of the Good Book and burned the witch Hester Beck. Do not bury your head in the sand like those dunderheaded Caller readers. Take heed and take action today! If not, there may not be a tomorrow in Harrow County. Evil done come back and we must burn it out.
T.T. Wosker is an author of great renown and reputation. A life-long Harrow County resident, Wosker’s published works include “Are There Haints on the Moon?” and “When the Boy Did Not Return,” both available in paperback.
The “Harrow County – Volume 4: Dark Times A’Coming” trade collection and “Harrow County” #29 both come out March 21. Don’t miss ’em.
Also, in case you haven’t heard, this year’s Free Comic Book Day will feature the first issue of “Shadow Roads” from Oni Press. Written by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt and with art by A.C. Zamudio, “Shadow Roads” is a spin-off from “The Sixth Gun.” We’ll be talking a little more about this upcoming new series in a future instalment of Haunted Trails.Continued below
Written by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt
Illustrated by A.C. Zamudio
Colors by Carlos Zamudio
At the Crossroads, a mythical plane that serves as a doorway throughout the universe, Gord Cantrell assembles a team of adventurers throughout the Wild West, brought together to fight back against the creatures that would endanger the sanctity of all creation. The spiritual successor to The Sixth Gun, set in the universe that exists after the apocalyptic events of The Sixth Gun series.