Writer Cullen Bunn has been working in comics for years, releasing a mix of critical favs including the Oni Press horror noir "The Damned," but as 2010 draws into its final leg, Bunn's name is finding its way on more and more comic series, meaning the scribe may not be a cult favorite for much longer. This week sees the release of "Deadpool Team-Up" #888, Bunn's latest work for Marvel Comics, and over at Oni, he and frequent collaborator Brian Hurtt's ongoing series "The Sixth Gun" is racing towards the wrap of its first Western-meets-horror fantasy arc in November's issue #6. Bunn spoke with CBR about both projects and how they're continuing to spread his name further in the minds of fans.
"You can do anything you want with Deadpool," the writer said at the thought of bringing his personal creative sensibilities into the Marvel Universe. Bunn last year wrote an issue of the publisher's "Immortal Weapons" series focusing on the creepy heroine Bride of Nine Spiders, but when he got his first Deadpool gig as part of the Merc With A Mouth's absurdist issue #1,000, Bunn realized it "was a completely different monster since it was an 8-page story. You have to really think about what you're going to fit into that, not to mention writing a Deadpool story is vastly different than writing a Bride of Nine Spiders story.
"So the #1,000 story I did was essentially Deadpool versus a bunch of Chupacabras. It was a blast to write, and as that was coming about, we started talking about a 'Deadpool Team-Up' issue. I loved those kinds of books as a kid; 'Marvel Two-In-One' and 'Marvel Team-Up' were great books because you get two great characters together for a single issue and then they go their separate ways. I love those types of stories."
Bunn was invited to pitch as many team-ups as he could to his Marvel editors, and he took advantage of the opening. "I sent them the biggest list of insane ideas I could possibly come up with – I even pitched them on Deadpool meets the left half of Ares [after 'Siege.'] But the interesting thing was, the one I really wanted to do was Deadpool and The Thing that went back to Thing's roots in wrestling from his book in the '80s. I really wanted to do that. It was the one story I was hoping they'd like, and it was the one they wanted me to work on, so we were on the same page on what we wanted out of the issue."
Teaming with artist Tom Fowler on the project helped Bunn amp up the wild nature of a professional wrestling league populated by superheroes. "I've been really spoiled with the artists I've worked with so far in my time in comics. I couldn't be happier with Tom," he said. "It's a crazy story. I kind of debated which way I wanted to go with that – if I wanted to focus more on a straight Thing story with some Deadpool zaniness or not. But it's a pretty crazy story by its very nature: what would wrestling look like if it were real in the Marvel Universe? It'd look awesome! So it's great to introduce these crazy-looking characters. I created a lot of wrestlers that are in the league now. I was able to throw caution to the wind. I really wanted to go for a fun comic. I love some of the darker, more serious things, but I like the fun elements of comics too. I wanted it to be something where someone could pick it up never having read a comic and have fun with it."
Meanwhile, Bunn and Brian Hurtt continue to plug away at their epic Western horror fantasy "The Sixth Gun," published through Oni Press. The writer explained that the team's focus on the title has been to keep readers engaged within the pages of a book where cursed pistols rub shoulders with undead hoards and giant Native American spirit monsters while also keeping the price low and awareness high. "It's really tough. With an indie book, the first hurdle is getting people to pick up the book in the first place and take a chance on something that's new. Money is tight, and everybody's got things they like, so we have to look at it as though my writing the book and Brian's drawing the book is only half the battle. The other half is keeping it out there and doing some interesting things to promote it and keep it in people's minds," Bunn said, explaining that November's issue #6 will contain 12 extra story pages at no extra cost as they welcome the arrival of new series colorist Bill Crabtree of "Invincible" fame.
"Adding extra pages to the book – well, for one Brian and I are long-winded and like extra story – but we also thought it would be a good way at the end of the first arc to do some extra pages and to do something a little different with how the story is presented. I think people are really going to get a kick out of how the story's turned out."
"The Sixth Gun" tells the tale of confederate soldier turned professional cad Drake Sinclair, whose quest for a cursed pistol led him to cross paths with its former owner – the undead Southern General Oliander Bedford Hume – and his band of mercenary cutthroats. Over the course of the first arc, Sinclair has become unlikely protector of reverend's daughter Becky and card sharp Bill John, leading all three into an old timey shootout at a Western prison beset by Hume and a ghost army empowered by the strange guns that grant everything from eternal youth to magical hellfire.
"After issue #6, the arc reaches an end in terms of the story of Drake Vs. General Hume. But we also set up several threads of what's coming in the future," Bunn promised. "I started setting up some things about the purpose of the guns. There's a seal at the bottom of this prison [they're battling over], and when the guns are laid into it, it's like a locking mechanism. I don't fully explain it all because what goes forward after this is about the purpose of these guns. Why were they even brought into the world? What are they doing? Even though issue #6 wraps up the Drake Sinclair/General Hume storyline, it's not the end. It's not the last you see of those characters. They play a role going on to what I see as the true end of the series.
"There are forces at work beyond General Hume. He's one piece at work, but there's a much bigger picture."
Next year, the book's second arc will begin to test the mettle of its unlikely trio of protagonists. "I don't want to give too much away, because issue #6 does have some pretty big events in it, but what it does is set Drake's role up in terms of what propels the story forward. All the characters have gone through a change – Becky, Drake and Bill John are all different by the end of the issue, and they're going to be cast in roles where they'll have to figure out how to carry that forward. The second arc, which I've written all but the last issue of, really deals with the idea of 'How do we move forward with the cards we've been dealt? How do we escape our fate if we can? And if we can't, what does that mean for us?'"
Bunn said that the idea of casting an epic fantasy in the West spurs on much of what "The Sixth Gun" will become over its life as a series. "I'm kind of shoring some of the traditional fantasy elements and tropes with American folklore as well. That's one of the things I got really excited about. There's so much you can do, and there are so many different types of stories to be told," he noted, adding that he and Hurtt have worked out a list of awesome American legends, myths and folklore to build upon arc after arc. "My hope is to do some things that will surprise people. I don't want them to think, 'Oh, it's a genre mashup of the Wester and horror, or the Western and fantasy, so it's going to have these things.' I want to do some things that may catch people off guard.
"My initial pitch for 'The Sixth Gun' was vastly different from what you see coming out right now. The initial pitch for the story was very much a grounded story. There were no Thunderbirds and things like that. There were six cursed pistols, but that was the only supernatural element in the story. Other than that, it was a straight Western. Drake Sinclair was the villain of the original pitch. He was the main character, but he was 1,000% a bad guy in the original. As we started working on the story and thinking about it, I got excited about some of the possibilities and started to think about how we could make it bigger. I was trying to be very grounded, but then I started thinking in terms of setting it in an epic fantasy world only in the Old West. Then things really started to come together and change completely."
As all those ideas come together, the creators are committed to keeping their book on a regular shipping schedule with the aide of colorist Crabtree. "Brian does all the heavy lifting, and it's very important to us that this book comes out on a monthly basis, and we don't ever want to worry about it shipping late. The one x-factor in that was the coloring. Brian was knocking the ball out of the part every time with the colors, but it took a lot of time and was very taxing. That's when we talked to Oni about finding another colorist to give us a hand. Brian and I were adamant that it had to be a real high-level of quality. We wanted someone who would fit with the style Brian had previously established, so Bill coming in with the stuff he's done has been amazing. Brian's already knee-deep in issue #7 now, so we're sure the books not ever in danger of being late."
As for his own future, Bunn promised that more mainstream work is in the offing at both Marvel and DC Comics, but his next major release will team him with one of the indie world's biggest artists. "I did a book cowritten by Shawn Lee and illustrated by Matt Kindt called 'The Tooth,' and it'll be coming out from Oni next year in a nice, big graphic novel format. They may release some of it online. It's a monster Monster story – sort of like if I were writing Monster comics for Marvel in the '70s, it would have been 'The Tooth.' I think people who really like Matt Kindt's work, who's a terrific writer and great storyteller, will be surprised to see how much fun he's having with this. He told me he's never drawn this much insane monster action in all his life. It was a challenge for him but a fun one. That's all done and will be out next year."
"Deadpool Team-Up" #888 is on sale this week from Marvel Comics. "The Sixth Gun" #6, the final issue of the opening arc, ships next month from Oni Press.