Cullen Bunn was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer a few question I had. Cullen is a super talented writer and has some amazing books out there, honestly too many to name. Take it away Cullen…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start writing ect.)
Well, I grew up in North Carolina, the son of a stage hypnotist who also happened to be a natural storyteller. From a very young age, I wanted to tell stories. I didn’t care if that was through writing novels or movies or even just spoken-word. I just wanted to tell stories. I also loved comic books, so naturally I wanted to tell stories in that medium. I was creating comics for myself and for friends when I was in elementary school and middle school. Years later, I went to college for a degree in Creative Writing. I guess you could say I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
You have been fortunate enough to work for most of the major publishers in the comics world. How does it all work, do the publishers come to you with an idea, or do you pitch them? For us peons outside looking in, can you talk a little about the process?
It all depends. If you’re talking about creator-owned work, it’s always a case of me taking an idea to a publisher. If you’re talking about licensed work or “superhero” work, then it is most often a case of a publisher approaching me and asking what I would do with a certain character or a certain title. Sometimes, the publisher has no idea what they want to do beyond a title or very high-level concept. Sometimes, they have specifics about what they’d like to do. From there, I typically write up a pitch for the editor I’m working with. If it’s approved, it’s off to the races.
You have written on so many different titles and characters, how do you keep from using the same type of story more than once? Is it a challenge to come up with something new as a writer for each new character you write for?
Yes, that can be a challenge. And—hey—I’ve often found myself exploring similar themes in two very different comics I’m writing at the same time. In the end, though, I feel as if the characters I’m writing are all very different. Exploring whatever story I’m telling through the eyes of that character at that moment helps to shape the stories in different ways.
I am sure it is cool to work on popular and famous characters but do you prefer to work on your own characters, or does it matter to you?
It is cool to write the famous characters I grew up reading and loving. It feels as though I’m contributing to something that has been around forever. But I do not own those characters. Even characters I create can be taken in directions I have no control over. With creator-owned books, the stories live or die with me and my collaborators. It is very satisfying to take a story like THE SIXTH GUN and create a 50-issue narrative that is 100% the vision of the collaborative team. You can’t beat the thrill of doing something like that.
Looking through your bibliography it appears that you have written the most stories for Deadpool. Was this by design or did this just accidentally happen? Is this a character you have always wanted to write for or what?
It was all an accident. When I was “breaking in” at Marvel, they tested me out on a bunch of Deadpool short stories. These turned into Deadpool limited series. And one Deadpool limited series turned into many Deadpool limited series. When I first started writing the character, I knew very little about him. I wouldn’t say he was a favorite, but I have certainly grown to appreciate him now.
It looks like you dabble in quite a few different genres, horror, superhero, mystery, what is your favorite to write, do you have a preference?
I always tend to lean toward horror and dark fantasy. Even in a lot of my superhero stuff, I seed in elements of horror. That is the genre I feel most comfortable in, definitely where I find it easier to get an emotional reaction from my readers.
You have worked with so many different artists across tens of dozens of stories, how do you go about picking an artist? Do you ever think that an artist’s style is not what you envisioned for the story, or find an artist’s and style that you think is perfect?
With a book controlled by the publisher, the editor usually casts the talent on the book. Sometimes (but not always) they ask for my opinions, but they don’t have to take my advice. With creator-owned, I’m usually much more involved with the artist hunt. Sometimes, a book is born through collaboration with an artist from the start. THE DAMNED and HARROW COUNTY both came about because the artist and I were trying to develop something together. Sometimes the editor helps to find an artist. And, yes, I have been assigned artists I don’t think are perfect for a book or for the story I’m telling. Or maybe they just don’t mesh with me very well. In those situations, I just have to make the best of it. I might have to adjust the story or my way of telling it to better fit the artist’s style.
On your site you have some pointers and tips for writing. Can you talk about a few of those and what is most helpful when you sit down to write? When it comes to writing a comic vs a novel/short story is there any difference in your technique or do you just have to write and sort it out later?
Regardless of all those tips and tricks, there’s only one thing that is going to help you “become” a writer. You have to make time to sit down and write. Turn off the TV, stop going out with your friends, stop playing video games. Sit down and do the work. Many people will say they just don’t have time to write even though they want to be a writer. Hell, I used to say that. But you will always make time to do something that’s important to you. Some people get very angry when I say that, but I’m not sure I give a damn. It’s the only hard and fast rule. You can’t be a writer if you don’t actually write.
There are so many differences between writing omics and prose. They are vastly different and require you to flex vastly different muscles. For me, the biggest difference is that a novel or short story isn’t as limited as a comic. You can sit down and start writing and just keep going and going. A comic is limited by the number of issues in a series, the number of pages in an issue, the number of panels on the page. In both novels and comics, outlining is important, but it is much more important in comics.
Well, it kind of died on the vine as a serialized novel. I just got distracted by other projects. Then Tyler Crook and I started talking about what we might work on together, and I sent him the chapters I had written. He latched onto it, and that’s how the story came back to life!
I always find it fascinating when men create strong willed female characters. I am a man so I know how men think, and I struggle to write female characters. Can you talk a little about how you came up with the character Emmy from Harrow County especially her strong willed personality?
I guess I’m not really sure how to answer this question. I thought I knew. I used to say, “I don’t write these characters as men or women. I write them as people.” But I have seen other creators say similar things and get bashed a little for it. The truth is, every character should have different personalities and thoughts and belief systems and outlooks on life. I try to get a handle on those elements and I try to respect each of those characters for the things that make them different. Ha! I guess I’m still answering the question in the same way! So come at me, haters!
I have read that Harrow County is one of, if not the scariest graphic novels out there. How does that make you feel as a writer to see one of your stories labeled as the scariest?
It’s gratifying as long as the intent of the story was to scare! I’m thrilled that these stories creep people out or scare them. But when I see someone say “this is the scariest book I’ve ever read” I take that as a challenge and say to myself “I can do better.”
You originally wrote the story and did so for a few issues. Now the artist Tyler Crook has taken over writing the story. Can you talk a little about that transition and if you follow the story how has it differed from your ideas?
I’m still writing every issue of Harrow County. Tyler has written some of the back-up stories, and if he ever wanted to write a full issue, I’d be down with that. But as if right now, I’m writing all of the main book.
Recently I read that Harrow County was possibly getting a television show, do you have any updates on where that stands?
No real updates. There is a script out there and the “powers that be” are looking over the pitch for a series. Those wheels turn very slowly… until they don’t. Believe me, as soon as I hear something I can talk about, fans will be the next to know!
I’m always working on a number of projects at any given time. I’m continuing to write HARROW COUNTY for Dark Horse and THE DAMNED for Oni Press. I’ve launched my first Image book, REGRESSION. I’m writing THE UNSOUND for Boom! and UNHOLY GRAIL and DARK ARK for Aftershock. I’m co-writing THE TICK for New England Comics and X-MEN BLUE for Marvel. And I have a number of unannounced projects in the works.
Who is your biggest influence?
Besides my storytelling father, I’d say Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale, Clive Barker, and Stephen King.
What story that you have written, are you most proud of and why?
That’s a tough question. I guess I’d have to say THE SIXTH GUN, because I’m very proud of the way Brian Hurtt and I told a 50-issue story in our own way, bringing it from the beginning to the end in an epic fashion. It’s very satisfying to be able to do something like that with an independent title.
Is there anything else you would like to add? (Please include any social media links so readers knwo where to find and follow you.)
You can always reach out to me on Twitter at @cullenbunn. That’s the best way to interact with me, I think. I’ve also started a Patreon campaign to support the creation of a new serialized novel. It includes novel chapters and short stories, but also behind-the-scenes comic stuff, sample scripts, outlines, and essays on the writing life. You can check it out at https://www.patreon.com/cullenbunn.
Also to find out more abut Cullen check out his website cullenbunn.com.