Welcome back to Haunted Trails, Multiversity Comics’ column exploring the world Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s “The Sixth Gun” and “Shadow Roads.” This time we’re looking at the latest arcs of “Shadow Roads,” ‘The New World’ (“Shadow Roads” #6–7) and ‘Birthright’ (“Shadow Roads” #8–10), which will be available in a trade paperback collection this December. Joining us to discuss these arcs we have writer and ‘The New World’ artist Brian Hurtt, ‘Birthright’ artist and ongoing artist on the series A.C. Zamudio, and colorist Carlos N. Zamudio.
I should warn you, spoilers abound in this interview.
What was it like to take “The Sixth Gun,” a series that ostensibly defined itself as a western, and create a sequel with a global canvas on which to play out its stories?
Brian Hurtt: Honestly, opening up the world of “The Sixth Gun” and expanding its scope was the impetus for Cullen and I to do this series—we both loved the world we had created in “Sixth Gun” and didn’t want to say goodbye. Over the course of working on the original series, we found that we had an unending stream of ideas and stories set in this world. But we were focused on telling the story of Becky, Drake, and the Sixth Gun and there wasn’t the room for all those ideas. Through the miniseries spinoffs we were able to explore the world a bit outside of the main “Sixth Gun” storyline and they only made us want to do more. In fact, I kind of see the miniseries ‘Days of the Dead’ and ‘Valley of Death’ to be prequels to “Shadow Roads”—they feature large parts of the backstory of our characters Abigail Redmayne and Buzzard Wife.
I definitely see that, especially in ‘Valley of Death.’ Both stories really expanded the world’s mythology in ways that were separate (or at least distinct) from the Six.
BH: The main hurdle we encountered in opening up the world for this series was trying to settle on where to start! We did know that in the first arc we wanted to bring our main characters together in the American West—acknowledging the genre and aesthetic that this series is born from—but we also knew that from that first arc on, we wanted this to be a globetrotting series. We loved the idea of broadening our cast and exploring the world of magic that still exists in the aftermath of “The Sixth Gun.”
Though we have story ideas for where we want to go with this series, when it came time to do the second arc, we asked A.C. where in the world she wanted us to venture. That’s how we ended up landing in Bombay, India.
A.C. Zamudio: Well, I wanted to go to India for a few reasons—mostly because it’s a striking foreign culture on the other side of the world marked by English influence. Cullen and Brian endeared me to Henry as a protagonist with a really unique experience with racism, and I knew that Henry’s Fae ancestry was inspired by European faeries, so Colonial India was the perfect place to go to explore both the mystery of Henry’s ancestry and his racial identity amidst such intense racial conflict. And on a personal note, I feel some attachment to Indian culture since I was raised in a Hindu-inspired religion. So this was an opportunity to explore a little of my own roots as well.
Anyway, it’s all about taking the spirit of “The Sixth Gun” and expanding it to incorporate other cultures. You can make stories that feel Western without setting them in the Wild West.Continued below
Carlos N. Zamudio: Yeah, I definitely agree that the combination of a shift to a global scope and the addition of Henry as a protagonist were huge draws for me as well. As a Latino, one of the constant obstacles of getting into comics was how alienating the pervasiveness of the North American setting and perspective were in every book I’d pick up. The other one was that they were all wrapped in plastic at the stores, but that’s a whole other thing. Having a mixed blood character who wants to get in touch with his heritage such as Henry does was really cool! Izzy’s hair is my second favorite character by the way. Henry’s point of view made me want to explore and learn about both the western setting the series spawned from and whatever new setting we’d be jumping into. I also grew up on monster of the week cartoons, so having a new setting and cast of creatures to check out on every new arc is my jam! It provided us all with chances to mix it up here and there with various environments, characters, and scenarios.
How do you approach designing “Shadow Roads?” After all, while A.C. is the artist on the series, I know Carlos did some work on the first arc designing the Hunter’s hounds, and Brian, you established this world through your work on “The Sixth Gun” and even drew two issues of “Shadow Roads.” It seems quite collaborative.
A.C.Z.: Yeah, I love how our team encourages collaboration. I guess I’m spoiled with this group because I hear it’s not as prevalent as I’d hope. I think it stems from our mutual passion for the story. Brian often sends me sketches and Carlos is always spitballing design ideas with me. I like designing monsters, and I did design Mason, but I think Carlos’ expertise with creature design is often too good to pass up.
I tried to capture the personality and classic look that Brian gave to his characters and settings in “The Sixth Gun,” though it’s quite the challenge. I insisted the setting be as immersive as possible, so I, in my usual fashion, spent arguably too much time researching the setting and period. Especially since Colonial Bombay presented so much delicate subject matter, I prioritized depicting it faithfully.
C.N.Z.: As the rest of the team already knows, cuz I won’t shut up about it, I love me some monsters and demons. There’s no easier way of getting me interested in checking out something than telling me it’s filled with unique-looking and interesting creature designs! On paper my job has always been colors for “Shadow Roads,” but when I saw that the first arc and by extension its villains were gonna hail from Aztec/Mexican culture, I had to ask the team to let me on creature design duties. I really wanted to do something different with the hounds and the hunter since Latin American inspired designs will more often than not just consist of slapping a jaguar or Dia de Los Muertos coat of paint on and calling it a day. But yeah, I had the base design of the Hunter that A.C. made take some visual cues from the animal hide armor of Aztec warriors when he got more monstrous after Izzy’s flashback, and the hounds had their overall design inspired off of death whistles, this eerie Aztec instrument that can replicate a human’s death rattle. I can’t help but cross my fingers that the Hunter and the hounds manage to escape the prison they’ve been put into just so we get to use them more later in the series.Continued below
B.H.: A.C. puts so much work into—and is so invested in—every scene that it really keeps me on my toes. And Carlos is just as invested. Apart from the color art and doing many creature designs, he is just as engaged in the script and storytelling side. And I love that neither of them hesitate to challenge me or offer up their own ideas. It’s something I encourage as it’s how Cullen and I work and how I think all successful collaborations should work.
A.C., the Fae strike me as an interesting design challenge since they have to look like nothing we’ve ever seen in the series before, while still feeling like a part of the established world. And as you say, there’s a cultural aesthetic to it too.
C.N.Z.: Thanks, Mark. I had been looking forward to working on those pages when I got the script for the book. That one flower trail panel was a lot of fun! Cullen and Brian really emphasized the otherworldly feel that they wanted to get out of the Fae world, and I liked the idea of flattening out the image to make it look like a fairytale book.
B.H.: I just have to hop in here and say that the Fae moving through the trees and foliage like they do was all A.C.’s idea. When she pitched me the idea I remember not being able to completely envision it, but I told her that if she believed in it and could make it work, then I was all for it. And, as you can see, it worked great! That is generally the collaborative process for this team—no one is going to say “no” to a better idea.
A.C.Z.: Yeah, I thought the script left room for a strong visual ability from these guys, and I thought it tied the choreography of the scenes together too. Admittedly I was a little worried the effect wouldn’t be easy to read, but Carlos’ colors helped a lot.
Carlos, I’m curious how much planning goes into coloring these issues ahead of time, since color is such a big part of making each location distinct to orient the reader, especially since the story jumps to so many different locations in these issues. What’s your process with A.C. like?
C.N.Z.: Brian and A.C. often have notes during the script and inking stages of how they envision some scenes, but most of the time I’ll get feedback from them and our editor, Sarah [Gaydos], as I finish a batch of pages. Oh! One of the things that A.C. is constantly helping me keep track of is what time of day it’ll be whenever we jump from one part of the world to another. I’m really bad at keeping track of that with how much we bounce around in “Shadow Roads.”
As for planning, I usually give a cursory look over the whole issue and assign a single color to each setting or scene that calls for it. There are some places, such as Abigail’s manor, that already has a set palette from previous issues or from “The Sixth Gun,” so I make sure to stay consistent with those, and that no other scene treads on their established palette either. That tends to go pretty fast, so most of the planning really goes into figuring out new places that call for special treatment such as the scenes in the Fae world.
A.C.Z.: Yes, I always note the time of day when world hopping! I usually don’t have many notes for Carlos ahead of time aside from “Could you please add some smoke here?” or other effects where I know I had shortcomings. I informed him about my research on historical clothing, and I occasionally bounce ideas off him. You know we live together, so we’re in constant communication about the project and share approximately the same vision for it. Since Carlos and I work in the same room back to back, we’ll often just turn to the other and ask for a second opinion, mostly when we have doubts. Sometimes I flat for him too. Our process has become pretty fluid and supportive nowadays.Continued below
When I think of “The Sixth Gun,” I can’t help but think of the location and costume design and how story motivated the choices in the designs were, and this is something I see in “Shadow Roads” too, and why I think A.C. is such an excellent match for the material. Especially as “Shadow Roads” introduces other peoples and cultures, you can take advantage of the comics medium to let the art do the heavy lifting.
These last five issues had a lot of information to impart, so it’s certainly nice to know, for example, that you can rely on the art to tell us about the Fae while the text tells us about the functions of the Crossroads and the Pathways. How do you find that balance of telling through text versus demonstrating through imagery?
B.H.: I don’t think A.C. gets enough credit for the amount of heavy lifting she does in this series—especially when she’s working from my scripts! They’re rather dense with information and she has to communicate so much visual information all while making sure the storytelling is paramount.
Anyway, I’ve been taught that if the text and images give the same information, then it’s just repeating itself, so you want to show something that adds to the text. I’m always looking for moments to add subtext or something to give a little extra insight into the story. Like that panel where Henry looks in the mirror before heading out to meet his mom—it might’ve been a bit on the nose, but I was really proud of finding the opportunity to make that moment.
Henry’s parentage is a huge focus of this arc and it brings with it an entirely new corner of this world. Brian, can you tell us a little about the kinds of conversations you had with Cullen Bunn when you first came up with the idea to introduce the Fae folk?
B.H.: They were surprisingly short, honestly. I remember pitching Cullen this idea of a Faerie realm in the universe of “The Sixth Gun” and, though I could visualize it and see how it’d work, I was afraid I was going to have to give him the hard sell. But he saw exactly how it’d fit in this world and was on board from the jump.
Now, this conversation actually happened years ago while we were still in the middle of working on “The Sixth Gun.” We were discussing a character that we know exists in this universe but who has yet to make an appearance in either series—though they have been referred to! And that’s all I can say about that right now.
I already have my suspicions…
Brian, you both wrote and drew “Shadow Roads” #6–7. Was there a particular reason you came on as artist for those two issues? And do you find easier or harder to write for yourself?
B.H.: We already knew we were breaking these five issues into two stories and we knew that A.C. was going to need more time for the India arc so we started thinking about bringing in someone else to draw issues #6 and #7. The more we talked about it the more I started to think maybe I could do it. I was excited about returning to the world of “The Sixth Gun” and also working from my own script.
Let me flip that latter question about whether it’s easier or harder to write for myself—it is definitely harder to draw from my own scripts. I found myself cursing the writer more than I usually do. But it also was an incredible learning experience for me and I hope to do more of that in the future.Continued below
What really stood out to me in these latest issues was how the links to “The Sixth Gun” were much more prominent; “Shadow Roads” #6 literally opens during the finale of “The Sixth Gun.”
But you use this to show contrast more than similarity. If anything, it really impresses how “The Sixth Gun” was rather narrowly focused and in “Shadow Roads” there’s so much more of this world to explore. I especially enjoyed the supernatural realms, like the interior of the Mizadori’s hotel.
B.H.: You weren’t the only one surprised by how prominent the links to “The Sixth Gun” were! Our intention with “Shadow Roads” had always been for it to act as a vessel for exploring the world of “The Sixth Gun”—to see how this magical world is reflected around the globe. Yet, we hadn’t intended to have it tie in as closely as it does. But when we cast Gord/Kalfu and Abigail in the series we kind of forced our own hand! When I started writing these issues I found that there were certain things that needed to be addressed—at least partially, right now—like Kalfu and Abigail’s relationship to one another. I agree about “The Sixth Gun” seeming narrow in focus in comparison to “Shadow Roads.” Cullen and I always saw it that way and we often described it like being on a train—twists and turns and stops along the way, but very little sightseeing as we have a destination to reach. In contrast, “Shadow Roads” is more like a series of road trips that allows us to explore any corner of this world that we care to. It makes for very fertile storytelling opportunities in a world that we love to spend time in.
It’s also a powerful way to introduce the Cabal and the kind of power our protagonists are up against. What can you tell us about the Cabal?
B.H.: I can’t tell you anything too specific about the Cabal or who make up their number. What I can say is that this is a global collection of powerful magic users in this world who are united in amassing as much mystical power as they can. We’re talking about a supernatural SPECTRE or like a conglomeration of magical fat cats. Their ultimate goal with this power is still unknown.
A.C.Z.: They have a great eye for decor.
The “Shadow Roads – Volume 2” trade paperback will be in book stores from December 8, 2020.
Story by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt
Written by Brian Hurtt
Illustrated by Brian Hurtt and A.C. Zamudio
Colors by Carlos N. Zamudio
Lettered by Crank!
In a time of great magical upheaval, a group of disparate outsiders were brought together to defeat the Hunter–a creature of apocalyptic power. In the aftermath of their victory over him, the survivors find themselves scattered–forever changed by recent events and walking separate roads. But is fate done with them? Are they done with each other? Or will their roads converge again?