Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt Discuss the Sixth Gun
There are a lot of comic books available currently. Comic books for any genre and any mood you want. Many of them are good. Some of them are great. Some of them have runs that are far too short and we want them to go on forever. Some of them you just can’t wait for Wednesday to come so you can read about the next adventure of your favorite characters – drawn to perfection.
When I think of a comic book exhibiting those characteristics my mind invariably closes in on one in particular – The Sixth Gun. Created by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, The Sixth Gun has been a favorite for comic book readers since its publication in 2010. Since then, it has been nominated for three Harvey Awards and two Eisner Awards. It has spawned at least four mini-series and two beautiful hardcover collections (the first collecting issues 1 – 11 and the second collecting issues 12 – 23).
The Sixth Gun takes place in the Old West around the end of the events of Civil War. It centers around six magical pistols, each one instilled with dark powers. Whomever is in control of a particular gun gains its ability until his or her death. The first gun strikes with an ungodly force; the second spreads the fires of perdition; the third spreads a flesh-rotting disease; The fourth raises the dead; the fifth provides eternal youth and the ability to heal from any wound; and the sixth gun gives its owner the ability of prophecy.
The main protagonists in the series are Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief. Becky is in possession of the titular Sixth Gun as the story begins while Drake helps and protects her at every turn. One of my favorite elements of the story is the vast assortment of characters and diverse cast. Even the villains appear as perfect counterparts to the heroes.
Sadly, The Sixth Gun has just concluded its eighth and penultimate story arc, Hell and High Water. The ninth and final story arc, Boot Hill, is set for a spring release this year and will be three issues in length; beginning with issue #48 and concluding Drake and Becky’s storyline with issue #50. According to Cullen, the final issue will be a massive book and larger than the usual double-sized comic we are used to seeing.
Equally amazing, and in perfect concert with the writing, is the art and color that bring to life each and every page of The Sixth Gun. Brian Hurtt (Tyler Crook was the artist for issues 14, 23 and 41) does an extraordinary job at showing this world in all its Wild West glory. His crisp lines and inventive illustrations of The Sixth Gun world are an excellent compliment to Cullen Bunn’s unique style of writing. When you add the incredible coloring style of Bill Crabtree you get a harmonious relationship that creates a spectacular comic book each and every month.
I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with the two creators as the series comes to its inevitable, dramatic finish. The full interview is below and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. I encourage anyone looking for a new story to begin reading to pick up the hardcover editions or the trade paperbacks; I promise you will not be disappointed with this fantastic adventure story.
I was asked once if I could describe The Sixth Gun with one word and, without hesitation, I replied, “fun”.
Cullen Bunn: The Sixth Gun is an epic high fantasy tale set in the old west. It follows the legend of six cursed pistols, each of which has its own terrible power. The Sixth—and most powerful—of these weapons has fallen into the hands of an innocent farmer’s daughter, turning her into the deadliest gun in the west and setting the forces of darkness on her trail.
Brian Hurtt: Something that I’ve found really interesting is that we’ve had a lot of people coming up to us in the past year or so saying that this comic has been a gateway book for them. Either back into comics, or coming to comics for the first time. We have a lot of couples who read this book together and have to fight over who gets to read it first! All of this is a long way around saying that if you aren’t already reading the book, you may be surprised at how this book defies your expectations.
GP: You have created such an amazing Western world with The Sixth Gun, was there any special inspiration for the story? Especially for the unique and interesting characters.
CB: I’ve always loved supernatural westerns. One of the first short stories I ever sold was a cowboys-meet-ageless horror yarn. I’ve drawn inspiration from Joe R. Lansdale’s novella “Dead in the West” and short stories like Karl Edward Wagner’s “Hell Creek.” But I think it’s pretty obvious that this story was influenced by Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Corum novels.
In regards to the characters, I wanted to start them off as pretty standard western archetypes—the dark and mysterious gunfighter, the wide-eyed farm girl, the gruff bounty hunter—and then start expanding them in significant and unexpected ways. As the cast grew, we wanted to add characters who brought something unexpected to the world.
BH: My whole mission statement, as it were, from the get-go was to not make a standard western. That is, I wanted to avoid all those earth tones or sepia colored scenes. I wanted to embrace a rich color scheme and bring more of a “pop” aesthetic to the book. If anything, I’m drawing on the four-color superhero books of my youth. From colorful characters with very specific, singular, designs and color schemes to big sound effects on the page. As much as I love westerns, I was doing everything I can to set it apart from certain expectations. I’m drawing more from cartoons, comics, fantasy films and so on.
GP: Considering all of the characters of The Sixth Gun, which were your favorite to create and develop and which were the most difficult to say goodbye to?
CB: Billjohn O’Henry is my favorite character in the series, with Becky being a very close second. It was tough to say goodbye to Billjohn, but I have a habit of being the most merciless to the characters I like best. It’s hard, in one way or another, to say goodbye to any character. I’m always left feeling like there is so much more story to tell with them. Nahuel, for example, is a character I really liked for both his sheer ferociousness and the hint of a backstory we had seen. I would have loved to do more with him.
BH: I’m pretty much on the same page as Cullen here. I love Billjohn–both as a character and as a charcter design. He’s still my go-to sketch at shows when I’m left to my own devices. Nahuel is also a favorite character for the same reasons Cullen said and, as with Billjohn, he is so fun to draw.
The rest are like my babies, so I have a hard time picking. It changes from day to day, but I’d say that Gord is always up there at the top of the list. He always seemed like the grown-up of the group, even a bit of a mother hen. And his arc in Vol 3 of the series is one of my favorites.
CB: We knew how the story would end while we were working together on the first arc, and we started guiding the ship in that direction very early on. We left some wiggle room along the way, and some minor elements or story beats have changed along the way, but we’ve always had a specific target in mind.
GP: I have noticed that quite a few fans consider Drake Sinclair to be the sole protagonist of the story. I feel that Becky should be and Drake as sort of her guide and protector. What is the best way to consider their relationship relative to the story and to each other?
CB: At the very least, Becky is the co-lead of the story. We knew going into it that readers would think of Drake as the hero. We even show him rescuing Becky like a damsel in distress in the second issue. By issue 21, though, we see a complete reversal of that dynamic, as Becky is rescuing Drake.
The relationship between the two has changed a lot over the series as well. At first, Drake saw Becky as a means to an end. For a while, he was like a mentor or protector, maybe even a father figure. Now, toward the end, they are friends.
BH: It was an interesting lesson in storytelling for me to see that many took to Drake as the lead. I found that as he was the first main protagonist introduced in issue one, he was the one seen as being the lead. Even though I always saw Becky as the character through whose eyes we are introduced to this strange world. So, yeah, I see Becky as the lead, but I’m comfortable calling her the co-lead of the series with Drake as well.
I have a favorite scene that relates to the dynamic between Drake and Becky. I believe it was just one page at the end of issue 8 where she comes back to the saloon and runs into Drake and Gord. The scene plays out like a family dynamic with Drake sounding like the father to this young woman and Gord (as I said above) seeming like the mother in this group. It didn’t hit me until I was drawing the scene but it definitely informed how I saw (and drew) those characters going forward! I will agree with Cullen that the dynamic has shifted between Drake and Becky over the series and I see them now as friends, equals and maybe even a bit of a big brother thing going on with Drake now.
GP: With only 1 story arc left, are there any special plans for the final stretch of The Sixth Gun? Maybe an extended issue or an issue showcasing The Sixth Gun Universe?
CB: The final arc is going to be epic in nature. It is so epic, in fact, that a normal-sized issue wouldn’t be able to contain the last chapter. The final issue will be massive. Not just double-sized. Simply massive!
GP: One thing that stands out for me is the coloring by Bill Crabtree. How do you come about choosing him as the colorist and what influence has he had on the book?
CB: A lot of people don’t realize that Brian colored the first 5 issues of the series. When we decided to bring in a new partner, it was very important to both of us that the colorist would share the sensibilities he had already brought to the series. I knew Brian would be pretty tough to please in this regard, but Bill came onto the project with guns blazing (to use an Old West term).
BH: We got very lucky in getting Bill to work on this series. Like Cullen and I, Bill is a storyteller first and a lot of thought and care is put into his color-making decisions. Just like with story, Bill is concerned with the flow of the color. The ups and downs, the juxtaposition of mood and atmosphere between scenes and so on. We all have a great working relationship and we intend to keep that going even after the Sixth Gun!
GP: Have there been any recent developments for TV Series, or any other kind of Media related to The Sixth Gun?
CB: I’m not sure what’s going on with the TV side of things of late. I’ve been more focused on driving the book to its conclusion.
GP: Do you, Cullen or Brian, have any future projects coming up that fans can look forward to? Either together or separately?
CB: Brian and I will definitely be working on a few projects together post-Sixth Gun. We’ll be revisiting the first book we worked on together, The Damned, and we have been cooking up a few new ideas as well.
In addition, I have a new ongoing series from Oni titled Hellbreak. That starts up in just a couple of months and is illustrated by Brian Churilla, who did the Sixth Gun mini-series, Sons of the Gun. And I am working on a series from Dark Horse titled Harrow County that will be illustrated by Tyler Crook, who also worked on several Sixth Gun issues and an upcoming Billjohn-focused mini-series!
BH: I am currently writing the third issue in a 3-issue Sixth Gun mini-series that immediately follows Cullen’s. I will also be writing and drawing a web comic that will run as part of Scott Kurtz’s Table Titans series. That should start running in the next couple months and go for a few months.
I’m also currently working on an all ages graphic novel with Matt Kindt called Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon. He has written it and is doing watercolors on top of my line art. I’m pretty excited with how it’s turning out and I think that will be coming out next year from Dark Horse.
After Sixth Gun is in the can, Cullen and I will be returning to The Damned, as he said, and we have a couple other things brewing. But, without a doubt, there will be more original worlds to be seen from us in the next year or so!
GP: How has the creative team dynamic changed over the creation of the series?
CB: I don’t think the dynamic has really changed that significantly since we first started working together. Brian and I have always had a pretty open style of collaboration. 95% of the time, my scripts are written exactly the same as they usually are. I don’t shorthand or anything. I guess if there was any change in the process, there have been two scripts recently where Brian wanted to do more of a old-school “Marvel” style of scripting. There were certain things he wanted to do with the art and the different scripting style helped make that happen.
BH: It’s honestly been a pretty smooth working relationship from the very beginning. A lot of that has to do with how closely aligned our sensibilities are, from storytelling, to genre, to work ethic. It also has a lot to do with Cullen’s commitment to the comics form as a medium of collaboration.
GP: Is there anything you’d have done different now that you’re reaching the end of the series?
CB: I’m not sure I would change much about working on this book. I’ve been pretty proud of it from issue to issue.
BH: Found Bill Crabtree earlier?
Naw, no regrets.
GP: Will we see anything more in this world?
CB: We have a couple of more mini-series planned in the near future. The Dust To Dust, series, for example, will give readers a new Billjohn story. There are some other projects on the horizon that haven’t been announced yet, but I don’t think you’ve seen the last of the world of The Sixth Gun.
BH: Short answer? Yes. Maybe sooner than later.
GP: There’s been a few mini-series on top of the main series. Was this always the plan or did they grow out of what you were doing?
CB: The idea of the mini-series occurred to us while working on the main series. It wasn’t always the plan. Brian and I started talking about other stories we could tell, other corners of the world we could explore, but we didn’t want to hurt the momentum of the main series. Doing a few mini-series allowed us to follow histories and characters we might not have otherwise been able to visit.
BH: It’s kind of our curse. As we start developing a world, we can’t help but fall in love with all these characters and all these unexplored corners. We had the same problem when we first did The Damned and it’s to an even greater degree with the Sixth Gun. We both know that we could just tell stories in this world forever. We have so many ideas and directions we wanted to go, but, like Cullen said, we never wanted to break up the momentum or narrative flow of the main series. I do think that in the months and years ahead we will have the opportunity to scratch that itch a bit.