An Interview with the Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead Creative Team

For Free Comic Book Day in 2010, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt debuted The Sixth Gun,a supernatural western tale about six guns with the power to reshape the world. Creating a huge cast of heroes, their allies and their villains, all of these characters’ stories became too big for the main series so Bunn and Hurtt have enlisted the aid of artists to tell some of these stories in spin-off miniseries.  The first miniseries, Sons of the Gun, was drawn by Brian Churilla and told the stories of four desperadoes who worked for one of The Sixth Gun’s earliest villain.  Mike Norton is joining them for The Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead, a story that focuses on Jesup and Brother Roberto, two men from the main series who have tried to get the six guns for their own benefit.  But this miniseries takes place years before the adventures of Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief, in a time when Jesup and Roberto could actually be partners and heroes.  A third miniseries called The Sixth Gun: Dust to Dust drawn by Tyler Crook will be out later this spring.

Cullen recently joined us to discuss one of his other Oni Press series Terrible Lizard and we’re happy to have him, Brian and Mike all joining us to discuss The Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead.  

Panel Patter: Cullen and Brian, this is the second miniseries (with a third on the way later in 2015) you’ve written spun off from The Sixth Gun. How does Days of the Dead fit into The Sixth Gun saga?

Cullen Bunn: In the main series, we’ve always proceeded with the idea that the world of The Sixth Gun was much bigger than what we were seeing, that the characters and locales and artifacts we see are only part of a much richer history. With Days of the Dead, we get to explore some aspects of that. We see Roberto and Jesup, two characters who have had big roles to play in the series, meeting for the first time, long before Becky Montcrief’s adventures began. We see a little more about what makes them tick. We learn why Jesup hates Drake Sinclair so much. We finally reveal the answers to questions surrounding Drake Sinclair and Abigail Redmayne. This is a story that enriches the main storyline.

Brian Hurtt: Like Cullen said, this story informs the main story of The Sixth Gun but also opens the door a little wider on the world of The Sixth Gun. This is a story filled with characters who've had an impact on both Becky and Drake but who are engaging in a storyline that has no attachment to the Six (any of the different aspects of The Sixth Gun and the other five guns). The world of The Sixth Gun really lends itself to all manner of supernatural, fantasy, action and horror stories. This is just one of many that we would love to tell over time.

PP: Cullen, in the main series, Jesup and Brother Roberto are Drake and Becky’s adversaries. Here, they are the heroes and partners thrown together by circumstances. What’s the difference in writing them in this story compared to how you usually have to deal with them?

Bunn: Both of these characters are vastly different than how they’ve appeared in the main series. Roberto was seen as this gruff man, bound by his faith. Here, though, we see him as a little younger, a little more restless. In the main series, Jesup is a real bastard, but here we’re seeing him before he went bad. He’s a heroic figure, almost romantic. Even though these depictions are a departure from what we’ve seen, there are familiar notes sprinkled into the characterizations. They’re the same people, but at different stages of their lives.

PP:Mike, you’re following Brian’s character designs closely while still keeping this recognizable as your own artwork. What has it been like to step into this world? How have you maintained the look and feel of Brian’s art while also keeping your own style in it? 

Mike Norton: I'm a fan of the book, so I'm not interested in changing any of the stuff that I already like about the look of it. I think Brian is one of the most underrated artists out there now. He has a way of making things look so natural yet clearly cartooned that I don't think I can quite achieve. So, if there's a difference in how my version and his looks, I'd say it was that. I'm trying not to think about it too much... Brian is intimidating.

PP:Brian, what is it like seeing other artists like Mike draw these stories?

Hurtt: I love it! I will say very early in the series run Cullen and I had discussed other artists drawing the world of The Sixth Gun and I was all for it but with one caveat—no one else was allowed to draw the main characters. At that time, that meant to me, no Becky, no Drake, and no Billjohn. Everyone else was on the table. But just in this past year I've loosened up a bit and we've had Mike Norton drawing Drake in a few scenes in Days of the Dead and now Tyler Crook has drawn a whole mini-series featuring Billjohn. In both cases I've been super happy with the results! Tyler draws an amazing Billjohn, bringing the gentle humor of the man as well as the sadness. And Mike's Drake has been fantastic. He really gets across that darkness that Drake has and, in my mind, Drake has never been more dashing and handsome looking! But, the character I was most excited by was Abigail—Mike really gives her that aristocratic look and a cold beauty that I can't quite capture as well as he does. It's great.

PP:Mike, your series Revival with Tim Seeley from Image is a similar type of story, with one foot firmly planted in the horror genre. What is it about these kind of stories that you enjoy drawing?

Norton: The thing I original liked about drawing Revival (and now, The Sixth Gun) is that it was such a different thing for me. I'm not normally known as the "zombie guy", but it's kinda been the only thing I've drawn for the past two years. I guess there were some pugs here and there in between. Aside from being horror stories, I really like how original the concepts are. That fires me up.

PP:Cullen and Brian, this story features a number of characters that are familiar to your readers, including Drake Sinclair even though it is a prequel to his story. What made you want to tie this story in so closely to the main series?

Bunn: In the main series, we’ve introduced a number of mysteries, chief among them the animosity between Jesup and Drake. While a reader doesn’t need to know more than “Jesup hates Drake” to enjoy the story, we felt it was time to provide some of those answers. And we didn’t want to derail the main book with a lengthy flashback sequence. 

Hurtt: It wasn't so much a choice about tying the story into the main series as it was a necessity—this story grew out of the main story we were telling in The Sixth Gun. As soon as Cullen had written that one-panel flashback scene in The Sixth Gun, I knew that we had to tell that story. It was just too evocative and mysterious to not address it. But, like Cullen said, as we talked about how to answer that question, we realized that we couldn't do the story any justice without derailing our main story, which is the journey of Beck and Drake. It then became an opportunity to service other characters that we wanted to know more about—Roberto and Jesup and their respective organizations, the Knights of Solomon and the Sword of Abraham. And these are characters and forces that play into the final arc of the main series in a big way.

PP: Brian, can you describe your collaborative storytelling with Cullen in Days of the Dead? Is it different than it normally is when you’re also drawing the story?

Hurtt: It's both very different and also quite similar. It starts out like it always does, with the two of us just talking out different ideas, generally in pretty broad strokes. In the main series we have these discussions at the beginning of every arc but from there Cullen goes off and takes these broad ideas and general milestone moments and he sculpts out the story and the characters, adding a LOT of elements that are new to me and dropping some that didn't fit or work. 

In the case of this series and the Sons of the Gun mini-series, the collaboration is all over the map.  One of us will take the lead on plotting in some instances and the other will take it and run from there. It can change from scene to scene and from issue to issue. Some issues are Cullen's plot with me writing a majority of the issue. Others have Cullen writing a majority of the issue with me maybe having some input on scenes and such. At the end of the day, Cullen is the voice of the series so he always gets the final pass on anything I've written. I will say that we are pretty fortunate in that we have worked together for so long that it is a pretty natural and fluid process. It's not always clear where one of us begins and the other ends...creatively speaking.

PP:Mike, how has it been joining this creative team of Cullen, Brian and colorist Bill Crabtree who have been working together for a while now?

Norton: Other than the intimidation of stepping into Brian's seat, it was easy and fun. I've known Brian almost as long as I've known anyone in comics, and Cullen is awesome. Working on The Sixth Gun has been one of the smoothest projects I've been part of.

PP:Cullen, so what’s next for Jesup and Brother Roberto? Will their story here have any impact on their stories in The Sixth Gun?

Bunn: Absolutely! Jesup has been raising Hell for a while now, and we’ll better understand his motivations. Those same motivations will inform his actions in our final arc. Brother Roberto, on the other hand, has been trapped in the Spirit World for some time, but he’ll be re-entering the main storyline in a big way.

PP:Cullen and Brian, you’ve got another miniseries coming up in 2015. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Bunn: “Dust to Dust” is the story of my favorite character, Billjohn O’Henry. Again, we’ll be seeing him before the events of the first story arc of the main book. This will be Billjohn out on his own adventure. It’s a story with a completely different feel, I think. It’s quirky and humorous and bittersweet and sad. In a way, it’s a farewell to Billjohn as the main series comes to a close. And it is drawn by Tyler Crook.

PP: For everyone, can you tell us a bit of what other work you have coming up in 2015? 

Norton: Drawing Revival and writing/drawing Battlepug regularly, as well as a few Marvel things coming up in Spring.

Bunn: Sadly, I’ll be wrapping up The Sixth Gun, but Brian, Bill, and I are cooking up some new projects. I’m also launching a new ongoing series with Oni Press titled Hellbreak. It’s the story of highly trained mercenaries running rescue operations in Hell. For Dark Horse, I’m launching a new horror/ghost story series with Tyler Crook called Harrow County. And I’m still writing Sinestro and Lobo for DC and Magneto for Marvel.

Hurtt: As Cullen says, we'll be wrapping The Sixth Gun this year but we are already mapping out the next couple years. I think Cullen and I may write something else together and we have a project that we are going to picking back up after The Sixth Gun. I've also been working with Scott Kurtz on his online comic, Table Titans. In the next few months I'm going to be doing a spin-off story that will feature on the Table Titans site and will be me doing both writing and art—I'm really excited about that. I'm also about halfway through an all ages comic that I'm doing with Matt Kindt. It'll be published by Dark Horse and be out sometime this year or next. There are several other things on the back burner but there's no telling which I'll tackle next. All in all, I'm very excited about the prospects of the next several years. I'll definitely be staying busy!