Welcome to the Harrow County Observer, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated “Harrow County” column. It’s good to be doing this column again. I’ve missed it. In this latest installment we’ll be discussing ‘Death’s Choir,’ the first arc of the new “Tales from Harrow County,” with writer Cullen Bunn, artist Naomi Franquiz, and co-creator and letterer Tyler Crook.
Cullen Bunn: This was something that was “top of mind” for me. With this story, especially, I wanted it to be a story that was not bound to the original. I wanted new readers to be able to enjoy this tale. At the same time, though, this is “Harrow County” and we want longtime fans to feel a sense of familiarity. We wanted to make sure they felt welcomed by an old friend. I hope I did a good job walking that line.
Tyler Crook: It feels important that we let “Tales from Harrow County” be its own thing. I mean, it’s obviously got to be based in the mythology of the first series, but we need to be able to take the story in new and exciting directions. There are some trappings of the original series that we wanted to hold onto like the double-page spread that opens each issue and the style of the lettering. I think that does a lot to make it feel like a “Harrow County” book.
Naomi Franquiz: With comics being such a visual medium, I knew going in that fans of “Harrow County” would inevitably compare it to the original work. That’s just the nature of the beast. That being said, I tried not to stress so much about making it look like Tyler’s style and instead tried to find an angle I could experiment with while still keeping the sort of raw energy that watercolor inherently provides. Nothing too polished, but enough visual information to direct your eyes. I think the major similarities really lie in the shared medium of watercolor and comics, and was just enough to keep it within the same aesthetic universe.
It’s more than just the watercolor though. In Tyler’s pages, he always invested time into character’s reactions. Those emotional beats are such an important part of making “Harrow County” feel like “Harrow County” to me. While reading the first issue of ‘Death’s Choir,’ I’d see those moments again and again for these emotional beats where people are missing their loved ones—but given the subject matter, I expected that. It was when that same approach was used for smaller moments that really hit home that the series was back. Like the two-panel beat with Doc Cavett smiling. There’s real investment in character beats like this, and they may seem small, but they make such a big difference.
NF: Credit where credit is due—Cullen was amazing to make sure to write little emotional and expressive moments like this into the script. I love drawing them more than most types of scenes, so I’m very happy that they carried through successfully! Stories like this really need to make that emotional connection, and I think we’re definitely the kind of creators who enjoy showing/acting it out on page when we can.
CB: I think these little moments of emotion and humanity go a long way toward making “Harrow County” more than just a horror story. I’m lucky to work with creators who really love to lean into this kind of work.
TC: That was exactly why we wanted Naomi to draw this series. She’s got a real nack for getting her characters to emote. If you can get the reader to understand the emotional state of the characters at a glance, then you are halfway to telling a great story. Naomi is really, really good at that.Continued below
Naomi, you got to partake in a bit of a tradition on the “Harrow County” books, drawing those double-page title spreads. What was that like, especially having to find a way to work the title into the art?
NF: I was actually super excited to tackle this challenge, and happy when I found out it was going to continue! Sneaking the title into the environment, designing an illustration that would make the right impact—it was a task I was eager to take on as an illustrator because I knew I could take my time on it and really make those details pop. This shot from within a dark Piggly Wiggly’s was a fav just from a research standpoint, but the fourth issue’s spread was just a joy to get lost in the details, haha. Painting the font in the waters was a surprisingly relaxing assignment.
Cullen and Tyler, I assume you had a bunch of ideas kicking around in your heads for more “Harrow County” stories. What made you zero in on this one to launch the “Tales from Harrow County” series?
CB: We discussed a lot of possibilities, including tales that were much more in the vein of the short stories you mentioned. Those tales would have featured all new casts, even less of a reference to the previous “Harrow County” series, etc. I even had an idea for a new character who would become this sort of traveling occult investigator in Harrow and beyond. But I thought it was important that we see a familiar face, even though the story was something unconnected to the previous arc.
TC: We may eventually branch out even further with the characters and the kinds of stories we tell but I think starting with a solid Bernice story is a great way to slowly open up the world of “Harrow County.”
One thing that really impressed me in the first issue was how Bernice and Priscilla were the only familiar characters, yet by the end of the first issue, I’d already found a bunch of new characters to latch onto and care about. You did this with such efficiency too.
CB: Thank you! We absolutely wanted to create new characters for this new world. Some of the characters we met only get a short amount of “panel time” but I think it’s safe to say you’ll be seeing more and more of them in the future.
NF: I love when stories get to introduce new characters like this. I get to spend a lot of time with them—seeing as I have to draw them repeatedly—so I am equally as attached and so glad readers can enjoy them as well.
Yeah, while the arc was focused on Bernice, it also showcased the community of Harrow County in general. ‘Death’s Choir’ tells us a lot about the folks that live there. So I want to talk about the newcomers, particularly I want to talk about Georgia. The Bernice–Georgia relationship was hands down my favorite part of issue #1. I always felt bad about Bernice being stuck in Harrow County because of the role of protector she’s taken on. But having this moment about finding someone wonderful that makes staying a pleasure, not a burden, was so beautiful.
CB: When we were working on the original “Harrow County” series, Bernice became a hands-down favorite character. I couldn’t leave her lonely and miserable! I absolutely wanted there to be some happiness in her life! What’s interesting is that I can already see Georgia becoming a favorite character for me! I can’t wait to see where their relationship goes!
NF: Bernice was the most relatable character for me in the original “Harrow County” story, and I always felt bad when she was left behind or when Emmy seemed to lose sight of her. Giving her a girlfriend only strengthened that for me, especially a woman like Georgia. As a nurse, she could be the grounded real-world point Bernice needs. She also seems like a real ride-or-die kind of gal, and in a time and place like this, that’s so important.Continued below
TC: Like Naomi said, Georgia is the grounded one in the relationship, which is interesting because that’s the role that Bernice used to play for Emmy. So I think she shows how Berniece has changed and grown into her role as an adventuring witch. But the fact that Georgia and Berniece are in a real relationship I think illustrates how Berniece is more committed to Harrow County than Emmy was. She’s finding reasons to stay.
Naomi, I love that you kept Bernice’s injured ear from “Harrow County: Done Come Back.” It’s the kind of thing that makes Bernice feel connected to the same character from ten years earlier, ever though she’s grown and changed.And it’s good to see Bernice with allies. Georgia and Priscilla, obviously, but also Doc Cavett. He could’ve easily been the stereotypical doctor that butts heads with the magical healer, and I loved the way you promptly showed that storyline the door by having the two work together right from the beginning. You even took it further by having him defend Bernice. I don’t know much about him yet, but he’s already won me over.
CB: I felt like that showing that little bit of acceptance, even from just a few of the key players in the story, was important to the spirit of the original series. That may seem strange, considering the beginning of that story was about a girl the people in the area wanted to put to death, but the way Emmy just… accepted the supernatural… the way she accepted Bernice as a friend… was an important part of the feel of that world. I wanted to make sure we had some nods to that sentiment.
Of course, there’s also the local Reverend. I really don’t like this guy, but I appreciated that you still made him more than just his attitude toward Bernice. In the fourth issue, he’s holding a mass for the lost souls, trying to help who can. This isn’t performative either. He’s not doing this to impress anybody—he’s alone except for the dead and he appears to be genuinely trying to help them. There’s complexity there to explore.
CB: Yes! The Reverend is a complicated character, and he has a bigger role to play. I think readers will go back and forth and back again in terms of how they feel about him. I’m not sure I like him, either, but I like writing about him!
And then there’s the finale. You did this interesting thing where you had the big monster fight in issue #2, which really showed off how much Bernice has grown in her confidence and abilities, but then the real problem she had to tackle in issue #4 was a very human one.
CB: My hope was to keep the readers guessing. I didn’t want anyone to really figure out what kind of story they were reading or where things were headed. And I wanted to showcase that sometimes the biggest challenges in life aren’t necessarily the life-threatening ones.
You totally had me expecting this arc would be a tidy visit to Harrow County, at the end of which everything would be nicely wrapped up… but then you had to go and drag Priscilla into the goblin realm! Instead of finishing this wondering when the next arc might take place and who would be its main character, I urgently need the next arc as soon as possible so I can stop fretting about Priscilla. You were sewing in ongoing threads all along.
I’m not complaining at all—I love having my expectations messed with—and this ending opens up some exciting possibilities for the future.
NF: I remember literally out loud gasping when I read the script and saw what happened to Priscilla. My levels of anxiety for a little goblin gal know no limits right now, haha.
CB: It sounds like I’ve done my job! The events that have befallen Priscilla will inform the future of “Harrow County.” When I came up with this little bit of story, I realized that I had started down a path toward a new mythology—a mythology that will define the “Tales from” world, but also add some really nice touches to the previous series. It’s new and exciting and builds the world in some exciting ways!Continued below
Yeah, you mentioned in an interview with Fortress of Comic News that the series was going to follow the series of miniseries “Hellboy” model going forward. I hope that’ll also mean some short stories too. I have very fond memories of ‘The Butler’ and ‘Priscilla’ shorts that were serialized in the back of “Harrow County.”
CB: I love those short stories, too. It all depends, I guess, on what our readers want to see!
TC: One of the ways that “Tales from Harrow County” is different from the original series is that we had a clear idea of how Emmy’s story was going to end. With “Tales,” we have some story arcs in mind but the future is wide open as far as the characters and stories that we are going to tell.
Cullen, I know Dark Horse isn’t ready to announce more “Tales from Harrow County” or “Manor Black” yet (you always seem eager to talk about it, but frustrated you can’t), but one thing we can talk about is the upcoming omnibus editions. As I understand it, Dark Horse will be releasing a pair of paperback omnibuses collecting all thirty-two issues of “Harrow County.”
CB: Haha! I’m always eager to talk about expanding every story! Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Sales and interest are the deciding factors. But—yes!—there will be a pair of beautiful “Harrow County” omnibus editions coming out. Those books will collect hefty chunks of story in one convenient place. I love that “Harrow County” has been presented in numerous forms—floppies, digital, trade paperbacks, library editions, and now the omnibus editions. I am so happy that readers can get this book in whatever format works best for them!
The “Tales from Harrow County – Volume 1: Death’s Choir” trade paperback collection will come out July 8, 2020. And the “Harrow County Omnibus – Volume 1” will come out July 29. The omnibus will collect “Harrow County” #1–16 (the first half of the series).