Welcome to The Harrow County Observer, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated Harrow County column. This installment we interview Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook as they discuss Twice Told (Harrow County #5–8), then T. T. Wosker explores newly discovered haints, then Cullen and Tyler talk about the covers Harrow County.
Twice Told, the second arc of Harrow County, ended last week in stunning fashion. As quickly as she appeared, Kammi was gone. Though there’s still a lot of questions about Kammi. Who took her away from Harrow County as a baby? And why? And how did she uncover what she is when Emmy only recently learned about her link to Hester Beck? While Kammi is gone (for now), I suspect you still have plans for her.
Cullen Bunn: I don’t think someone like Kammi walks into the life of someone like Emmy without leaving a long-lasting impression. Her impact on the story—and on Emmy’s life—will play a significant role on the series going forward. And in a place like Harrow County, where ghosts walk the earth and a young woman can reshape reality with a thought, there’s a lot of potential for where that might lead. At the absolute very least, we’ll see answers to the questions you posed, but that’s just a starting point.
I actually feel pretty bad for Kammi, and wasn’t expecting too. I mean, she’s a really nasty piece of work, but that was a grim way to go (even if she did deserve it). Tyler really captured the horror in her eyes.
Tyler: Kammi was so cool and collected right up until the end. It was kind of satisfying to see her reaction when she finally understood what kind of powers she’d been playing with.
Cullen: In all the best monster movies, you feel a little sorry for the monster. I think Kammi is pretty tragic. She was less naïve than Emmy, I suppose, but in the end she really knew much less about what she was dealing with.
Kammi’s a larger than life character, so it would be easy to say this is Kammi’s arc, but this was still more about Emmy for me. Every time you defined what Kammi was, there’s that element of Emmy in there. Everything that’s in Kammi is in Emmy too, but the difference is her choices.
Cullen: Yeah, to some degree, this is a Nature vs. Nurture scenario, with Emmy growing up in a loving, caring environment and Kammi growing up while being groomed for something greater. Keep in mind, too, that you haven’t seen the last of Kammi. We will at least be exploring a bit of her backstory in future issues. She may be gone, but she left her mark on Emmy.
I’m certainly curious about that, especially the questions of who was grooming Kammi and why…
Looking back at the beginning of this arc, issue five was a big departure in tone after the darkness and pain of Countless Haints. It’s an issue full of blue skies, with a much happier Emmy. Of course, this was thrown into stark contrast later when Kammi arrives, but even without that, I enjoyed seeing Emmy rebuilding herself, how she chose to deal with the haints, and how that didn’t necessarily fit with the residents of Harrow County’s expectations of her.
Cullen: I kind of feel like readers needed a chance to catch their breath and relax a little after the darkness of issues 1–4. Also, I felt like the issue—being a little happier—served as a bit of misdirection before we threw out the sucker punch of Kammi’s sinister nature.
Tyler: Part of the blue skies and green tree was that we wanted to show that a little bit of time had passed since the first arc. Changing the woods was a pretty clear way of doing that.
That first issue had my favorite scene for this arc. It’s probably not the most dramatic scene, but it was a character beat that rang particularly true. It was when Emmy meets up with Bernice. These two haven’t seen each other since the last arc, and so the two of them just lay things out there and patch things up. And then Bernice mentions how she’s the granddaughter of a man Hester Beck simply created. She’s been quietly struggling with what she even is.Continued below
Here’s a situation where it would have been easy to emphasize the differences between these girls, but instead they find their common ground with each other. So yeah, I just really loved that scene.
Cullen: I’m glad that one stood out for you. That’s one of my favorite scenes, too. I love all the monsters and ghoulish goings-on, but this is a story about people and how they interact with one another. I wanted this scene to really highlight how Bernice might feel about the weird revelations that have been thrown at her. Both Bernice and Emmy are struggling with identity to some degree.
Readers will be seeing a lot more from Bernice during the next arc.
I’m looking forward to it.
Most of this arc was wrapped up in issues of identity. With Emmy in particular, I liked seeing the way she dealt with haints in this story, especially the Abandoned. That the Abandoned would fight for Emmy was not something I expected, but it was a turn of events I very much enjoyed.
Cullen: The Abandoned has a big role to play in the series, and I don’t think readers will ever know quite where his allegiances lie. One day, he might fight for Emmy. The next, he might be against her. Emmy’s interactions with the haints is really one of her defining qualities. At least, her viewpoint when it comes to these strange creatures was one of the first aspects of her character I settled on. Almost everything else about her is at least informed by that.
Both Kammi and Emmy were strongly defined by their actions this arc. I rather enjoyed how you let us believe Kammi had fooled Emmy, only to reveal Emmy was much more shrewd than we’d given her credit for.
The series is taking a break next month and returns in February with a one shot about the Skinless Boy with Carla Speed McNeil on art duties. (Comic Book Resources has an interview with Cullen Bunn and Carla Speed McNeil on the subject. There’s also a preview of her penciled pages.) Considering the art is such a huge part of Harrow County’s identity, I’m curious to see what she does. Will she be working in watercolor too? What do you look for in a Harrow County artist?
Tyler: Carla is drawing it and Jenn Manley Lee is coloring it digitally. I’m such a fan of Carla’s work. It’s been a huge treat to see those pages coming in. Everyone owes it to themselves to read Carla’s Finder series. It’s one of my favorite books of all time.
Cullen: I think Carla’s work on the book (which is absolutely fantastic) will be a terrific compliment to what Tyler has been doing. It’s different, yes, but this particular story is a little different, too. Colors this time around will be handled by Jenn Manley Lee, and they look absolutely amazing. I’m really excited for folks to see this issue!
And I’m excited to read it.
Following the Skinless Boy one-shot, Tyler will be returning for a two-issue arc. We have a first look at the cover in the segment below, and it looks as though Bernice shall be playing a major role…
Cullen: Since the beginning, we’ve been looking forward to arcs of the book that would feature Emmy as a supporting character and Bernice as the lead. Bernice is a character I fell in love with straight away, and I knew there were stories to be told from her perspective. It gives us a different view of Harrow County, and it shows (I hope) just how many stories can be told in the setting.
Dear readers, at the risk of seeming unhinged, I’d like to pose a question: do you feel that?
A number of weeks ago, I was overwhelmed by a bone-deep chill. It was as if I had awoken beneath the shade of a great and malevolent force. Some thing has arrived in Harrow County, of that I am certain. What its intentions are, I cannot say. Maybe one of our more psychically-sensitive readers have gleaned answers from the grey ether that hangs above our fair county? Answers that I cannot divine for myself. If you are one of these readers, please contact me for further discussion.Continued below
So what of the unknown, yet not unfamiliar, forces that have long inhabited the periphery of our collective vision? The possibly ancient beings that settle into the spaces we seldom visit? Let us once again attempt to tally the countless, to know the unknown. Let us gaze into the world of our Harrow County Haints.
It is possible that the most terrifying of the haints I have encountered is The Shade Seeker. While this being may be considered a lesser-demon, the Seeker is still to be considered dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. The problem, however, is that this dark creature may be difficult to keep at a distance. You see, its nature is to find narrow, dark spaces to call home. It is also drawn to warmth and seems, to my eye at least, to be drawn to the low rumble of our daily lives. It is because of this that, more often than not, Seekers tend to settle into the in-between places of our homes.
I’ve heard tell of Seekers being discovered in attics and crawl spaces. I also have it on good authority that one was discovered to be living in the space between the walls of an elderly woman’s home. If a seeker can find a place in the home that is out of the way enough, it is possible that they can live for years, even decades, without detection. But if you happen to inadvertently discover one? Well, I happen to know that they do not take kindly to being discovered.
Pools of tar have been sighted in the deepest wilderness of our county, according to sources. Now, natural tar pits are not an unheard of phenomenon in the world. But what is unheard of is for these pits to vanish within hours of discovery.
The Tar Witch is one of the haints that I have long sought information on, but have never found much to report on. Until now. I have personally discovered one of these disappearing tar pools no further than a mile from my home. It bubbled and appeared to shift away from me as I approached it. The tar seemed to radiate cold, chilling the air that lay around me. That is when I heard it, a low hiss.
“Leeeave thisss placcce. Do not briiing meee upooon youuuu…”
Let it be known, I apologized for any unintended offense and made with hast for my home.
The Tilled Field Men fill me with a blinding sense of dread. Unlike any other haint we’ve discussed, these creatures live in the soil that feeds us. Freshly turned topsoil, especially after seed has been laid, can attract these wretched beings. I have not been able to ascertain whether or not the farmer who sows the field has any effect on if an infestation will occur, but I have a strong feeling that this is the case.
What would it mean to eat produce grown in haunted soil? What if you have an unknown, unwelcome guest living in the walls of your home? What if you stumble across a chilled, black pool on your morning jog? With these questions I cannot aid you. All I can do is share my writings, and hope that you never find yourself in need of an answer to any question raised by this column.
Until next time, reader.
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 COVERS OF HARROW COUNTY
Right from day one, Harrow County had a cover that demanded my attention, with the boy-skin haint reaching out of Emmy’s bottom drawer with a starkly pale arm. It really is the most perfect cover for the first issue.
Of course, you could have put Emmy on the front cover—after all, she is the main character—but I think this cover speaks so evocatively to a core theme of the book: dark things are hidden away, but they’re coming out…Continued below
Tyler: Well, thanks! This image of the skin in the drawer was going to be on the second issue originally. But when our editor saw this he insisted that we make it the cover of our first issue. And I think that was the right call. I was initially worried that it didn’t express enough what the series was about. I thought it should show our main protagonist, Emmy. But in hindsight, we didn’t need any of that. We just needed to scare people.
For a convention this past summer, Dark Horse printed up posters with this image on it and at times it was hard to give them away because people didn’t want to touch them! That’s when I knew for sure we had made the right decision to make this our first cover.
Cullen: The cover for the first issue sticks with you, doesn’t it? I remember at the convention Tyler mentioned that a husband and wife came by to grab one of the posters. The wife said she was going to hang it over their bed, to which the husband stammered, ‘Oh, Hell no, you will not!’ She smirked at him—kind of evilly—and said, ‘We’ll see.’ That’s the kind of mischievousness Tyler’s work brings out in people.
I’m curious, what were the original cover concepts like for this issue?
Tyler: For issue #1 or issue #2? The winning idea for issue #1 ended up being the cover for issue #2. That’s the one with Emmy running through a graveyard with ghosts on one side and townspeople on the other side. A lot of my early ideas were kind of montage things where we show different aspects of the story all stuck together. I think Mike Mignola makes some of the best covers in the business and I’ve wasted so much of my time trying to emulated his cover style. Haha! He can cram so many ideas and elements into a single image and they all feel perfectly natural and cool looking. But I just can’t do that very well. The thing that seems to work best with my painting style is a simple tight focus on a single idea. You’ll see that more and more as the series progresses.
Yeah, that tight focus works well for Harrow County. You seem to have a knack for finding the right image to evoke the rest of the issue. And there’s always that element at play where the reader is always going to see this cover before reading the issue, so you want to be careful about the kinds of expectations you’re setting up.
Tyler: One of the things I kind of struggle with is how literal I should be with a cover. Like should I depict a scene from the issue or make up something that evokes a mood or what. When I was a kid, comics always had those fake-out covers where Superman is murdering somebody but when you read the story you discover that Superman was collecting mannequins for charity or something equally stupid. So I worry that readers will feel ripped off. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure that one out. Probably, I’m the only one worrying about it.
Cullen: You’re not the only one worrying about it, Tyler. Those fake-out covers always drove me crazy as a kid. Now, looking back at them, I love them. I can see it now—the cover depicts Emmy kicking puppies… but inside we learn they were really mannequin puppies! Anyhow, I think your covers do a great job of hinting at what we’ll see in the issue and setting up an initial mood.
I think with covers, it’s important to have honesty in it, whether it be to plot, mood, character… and this is in every one of Tyler’s covers. It’s like the flaming skeletons on the cover for issue 3: the way they’re behaving is not the way they literally behave in the story. You get away with it because Emmy and Bernice initially perceive them this way. It’s true to the characters. Plus it toys with expectations, which I think always makes for a great cover. I believe good stories are a game between the teller and listener. Covers are certainly a part of that.Continued below
Tyler: Well, thanks. This cover for issue 3 still kind of cracks me up. It reminds me of an old Nancy Drew–style cover. Which makes me kind of happy.
Cullen: There is absolutely nothing wrong with old Nancy Drew covers. Now that I look at it, it also reminds me of some of the covers to DC’s House of Mystery. Some of those covers featured a group of kids investigating strange happenings. The kids never appeared (that I know of) in the comic itself, but their ghastly adventures on the cover were always delightful. They told a little story all on their own.
I find it fitting that the first issue of the Countless Haints arc showed the Boy-Skin, and the last showed the Skinless Boy. The character bookends this arc. The cover for issue 4 always makes my skin crawl. I got my hand slashed open as a little kid, and the horror of seeing the tendons in my hand never really faded away.
Cullen: I hadn’t thought of it until right now, but when I was a kid, my hand was badly cut by a jointer in wood shop. The machine just peeled all of the skin away from the fingers and palm off my left hand. The loose skin dangled from my wrist like a glove. Maybe that’s where inspiration for the Skinless Boy came from.
Tyler: Oh, my god, Cullen. That’s terrible.
Ever since I started drawing the Skinless Boy, I’ve had to keep at least one anatomy book within reach of my desk at all times. I actually ended up penciling that cover twice. The first version, the Skinless Boy was just crawling on the walls, which is pretty creepy. But our editor wisely recommended that the boy be reaching for the viewer. It gives you a chance to check out all those tendons and stuff. And it’s more menacing. This is also one of the few times when I’ve used such a limited color palette.
While I’ve got you on the topic of color, you did a timelapse video of your cover for issue 5. I find these fascinating to watch. However, every time you get to the coloring stage, even knowing that the piece turns out spectacularly, I can’t help but feel a bit of trepidation. I mean, when you put color to these pieces, you really have to commit to it. There’s no undo button. Can you talk about the preparation you do for a cover like this?
Tyler: Often, I’ll do a really quick color comp in Photoshop. But that’s only if I’m not sure what I want to do. Occasionally I’ll print out a small copy of my penciled or inked cover and do a watercolor comp. But that’s pretty rare and mostly just to test that what I’m planning to do will work with the paints I have. But more often than not, I can just take what’s in my head and go straight to the page with it. I personally find watercolor to be a very forgiving medium. It remains water soluble, so you can usually re-wet and rub out big mistakes. And because it’s transparent you can build up layers and change and adjust as you go. I think of working with watercolor as more of a controlled fall than it is a strictly planned endeavor.
This is a great piece, by the way. The ‘hidden’ skull was a nice touch.
Tyler: Thanks. I wish the skull popped out a little more but nothing I do ever lives up to the pictures in my head.
Now we come to the creepiest damn cover of them all. You didn’t hold back at all with this one.
Tyler: Haha! Yeah. That’s one that I did and turned in and got printed and when I got my printed copies I looked at it and went, ‘Woah! That’s super gross. Maybe that shouldn’t be on the cover!’ My original sketch was just the hands digging in the dirt. I felt like that was a nice, creepy moment in the book. Once again It was our editor, Daniel, who said we should see Hester’s corpse in the dirt. When I was working on it I was thinking of Pushead and how he draws skulls and then kind of doing my own version of that. It turned out really gross though, so Yay!Continued below
It’s not just the skull in the dirt, it’s the insects crawling out of Hester’s mouth, the roots growing into her face, the rope still wrapped around her neck… That corpse is in agony. This is one of my favorite covers, but I don’t like to look at it. I’m glad Daniel Chabon pushed it into this uncomfortable territory.
Tyler: Haha! Great, more covers that people don’t want to look at!
The next cover is rather beautiful by contrast: your Sound of Music cover for issue 7. This one is my favorite, I must confess. It totally gets into Kammi’s crazy head.
Tyler: Yeah! That’s one of those where I worried about how it didn’t reflect a specific scene in the book but I really liked what it said about Kammi. That’s very specifically inspired by The Sound of Music, although I don’t know why I made the connection. I guess maybe it’s the corruption of something that presents itself as wholesome. I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out though.
There’s certainly the corruption there, but the joy is retained. And yes, I suppose technically this scene isn’t in the book, but I feel like there was a scene in there where it was playing in Kammi’s head along with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music.
Tyler: ♫♪ The hills are alive with the sound of screa-ming! ♫♪
OK, I have to ask… Wal Foster?
Tyler: Haha. I wrote that pretty small. That’s HAL Foster. For those not ‘in the know’, Hal Foster created one of the longest running newspaper strips of all time, Prince Valiant. Around the time I was doing this cover I was reading some of the Fantagraphics reprints (which are absolutely beautiful by the way). And when I was working on sketches for this cover, I was reminded of this panel I decided that I should swipe… er… make this cover an homage to that panel. Prince Valiant and Emmy even have the same haircut! How perfect is that?
I think this is my favorite cover so far. I really like these characters and seeing Emmy marching off to take care of business like that is so satisfying to me!
That’s really awesome. I like when artists tip their hat to their influences.
Plus it’s very satisfying to see Emmy marching off to war with Kammi, surrounded by a host of haints—some we’re seeing for the first time. I hope we’ll get to know them better in future.
Tyler: Maybe, you never know. Harrow County is a mysterious place where anything can happen! You never know what lurks in the dark! In Harrow County the most dangerous thing you can be… is curious! I’m just going to keep making up promo tag lines until you tell me to stop.
Cullen: Every time Tyler designs some great, seemingly one-off monster, you can bet I’ll write it into an issue.
You may end up with a longer series than anticipated then. There were lots of great monsters in this arc.
OK then, let’s get to the new stuff: the cover for the Skinless Boy one shot. You’re keeping your cards close with this one I see. No hints as to where the story might be going. But as usual, creepy as hell.
It really is strange to have developed quite an affection for a character than makes my skin crawl. Come to think of it, he makes his skin crawl too…
Tyler: Haha. Yeah. I was thinking about the skinless boy a lot last night. And for some reason, it struck me how friggin’ weird that character is! Cullen is a weird dude to come up with this stuff. This cover is one I wanted to do almost from the start. Going back through my files, it looks like I first submitted the sketch for this for the second issue. I like the way this one turned out but there’s something about the sketch that just creeps me out still.
Cullen: In many cases, I surprise myself with characters that resonate with readers. I’m thinking of the mummy, Asher Cobb, in The Sixth Gun. That was a character I didn’t expect readers to relate to and want to see more of, but he became a major player in the series. With the Skinless Boy, though, I set out to create this strange creature that, hopefully, got a lot of sympathy from the readers. He (or is it ‘they’) is (or is it ‘are’) sort of innocent and gentle to a point. I think this issue is a real deep dive into the character, and we’ll see him in a whole new light.Continued below
There’s an aspect of the character I hadn’t considered: divided each part can possibly develop independently.
OK, last one…
I’m very glad to see Bernice take center stage on this one. She’s a character I’m eager to learn more about. This one has me thinking of creepy rats… Not just because of the glowing eyes in those jars, but the way this cover is from a low angle, like a one has escaped from the jars.
Tyler: It’s going to be fun to reveal what’s in those jars. I like how Bernice has a much stronger aversion to the super natural. Having a story that focuses on her and how she deals with this stuff is going to be real fun.
Cullen: You’re close.
But those aren’t rats.
I think Tyler designed three versions of this cover, and I thought any one of them would have been perfect. The issue obviously features Bernice heavily, but it also draws on legends my dad used to tell me about a mysterious old woman who used to live in the woods near his house and mason jars filled with moonshine.
Spoiler: that’s not moonshine in those jars, either.
Harrow County – Volume 2: Twice Told will be available in trade paperback from April 13, collecting issues 5–8.
Harrow County returns in February with a one-shot with guest artist Carla Speed McNeil, colored by Jenn Manley Lee.