Looking to 2013, with a new arc starting in issue #30 of the Oni Press series, the continued development at NBC of a live-action show, and a miniseries on the way, "The Sixth Gun" co-creator and writer Cullen Bunn teases fans that the next year will be like reaching the peak of a rollercoaster.
The next arc, "Ghost Dance," is the beginning of what Bunn says is the final confrontation between the heroes and villains fighting for the ancient, possibly apocalyptic weapons of the series' title. With artist Brian Hurtt, Bunn says that he'll be pushing "The Sixth Gun" towards its endpoint. "And not everybody makes it," Hurtt adds.
And that's the way an epic goes. But "The Sixth" wasn't always a sprawling Western fantasy--a mix of "Lord of the Rings" and "For A Few Dollars More." In my interview with Bunn and Hurtt, the duo talk about the series' horror origins (it was originally much darker), beating the expectations of a comic Western (the secret: add color), and what's happening with the TV series (short answer: they can't say much).
A little background on "The Sixth Gun": the series sprang from a love and respect for the pulp fantasy and action classics "The Sixth Gun" creators grew up with. "'The Sixth Gun' was kind of a tribute to all of the things I liked and that made me who I am not only as a writer but as a fan of a number of genres," Bunn explains.
He and Hurtt poured in their love of horror and Westerns in what as initially a very different pitch for the series, with Bunn uncertain he'd even be able to get his collaborator from "The Damned" to join him on this project.He jokes that he wasn't sure that Brian would want to work with him again, but Hurtt leaped at the opportunity to work on what was initially planned as a five-issue miniseries that was just straight horror. But Drake Sinclair, the series' roguish lead wouldn't allow them to do that. The character--a rider alongside the supernaturally evil and seemingly undying General Hume--was simply too charismatic and interesting for them to allow to fade away in a miniseries. Although there are some moral grey areas to the character as he's currently conceived, Bunn says that in the original pitch, there was no doubt about how evil he was.
"That dark version of Drake is still there," Bunn warns, lurking in the corners of the book's anti-hero. That ambiguity is part of the appeal for Bunn: "You don't know what Drake's endgame's going to be." He recalls a meeting with one of the book's editors and Brian where they were asked what it would be like if Drake just suddenly killed Becky. Bunn asked what made them think that wasn't actually in the cards.
When I asked who they would absolutely hate to kill, the duo laughed the question off, saying that if there was a character either of them admitted to really liking, chances are they would end up six feet under. "As a writer, I feel like your favorite character shouldn't be safe," Bunn explained, adding that he's already had to end one of his favorite characters early in the the series' run, Drake's partner Billjohn--"He didn't even make it six issues," Bunn laughs about the bearded gunman. Hurtt adds that he gets worried when he gets too attached to a character, because as soon as he starts drawing one he loves, his partner will in all likelihood kill them. And the series has been a parade of dead bodies since it began, with both heroes and villains meeting their end in the endless, bloody conflict over the guns.
Starting in February of next year, fans can expect to see some of those dead character rise again--for five issues, anyway--with the start of the miniseries "The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun," which will explore the history of General Hume's four evil lieutenants, which Hurtt is co-writing as "The Secret History of D.B. Cooper" creator Brian Churilla handles the art chores. According to Bunn, the series will focus on the lieutenants' time after the Hume's first death at the end of the Civil War up through his resurrection.
From the sound of it, both men were eager to work together at the series' inception. Hurtt attributes their simpatico to both men enjoying "some of the same sensibilities." For him, knowing that they're both in pretty much the same head space when it comes to their work allows him to follow Bunn's lead. "When we start working, I give the drawings my two cents," Hurtt tells me, "but [Cullen's] the captain of the ship and I follow where he goes."
When the duo sat down to talk about the book, before even putting anything on paper, they saw that there were so many avenues for the story of "The Sixth Gun" to take. "We realized that there was a bigger world to explore," Bunn says, and he and Hurtt began to expand on the fantasy aspect of the series, growing it out to the full ongoing that it is now. It was around the fourth issue, with he introduction of the lightning beast the Thunderbird that Hurtt says the concept and scope of the series really opened up for him.
As the vision for the series began to develop, they also wanted to avoid the trope of the sepia-toned Western, according to Hurtt. "I wanted it to be colorful and bright and have sort of a pop-y feel to it," Hurtt says of the book's art style which moves out of the deserts and canyons and into the cities and overgrown swamps of the South. For Hurtt, it was important that the book draw on the visual language of superhero comics and fantasy, with big, bold colors and dynamic sound effects. "I tend to draw it [as] a fantasy comic that just happens to use the language, and the clothing, and the archetypes of the Western," Hurtt says. Bunn says that moving outside of the expected locales of the Western also gave them the chance to build up the world as another character in "The Sixth Gun." Again, returning to the original pitch, the story was mostly confined to one territory, something Bunn seemed to find unsatisfying for the story he wanted to tell. "We tried, with every arc, to make sure they had their own feel visually and thematically," Bunn adds, "[and] every arc is just like its own novel in that world."
Development on the live-action series is churning along, but there's really not much new for Hurtt or Bunn to share at this point. They said they've thrown out some ideas and begun lobbying for actors, but they're not ready to share those details at this point as NBC makes the early steps in getting the show produced.
As for non-"Sixth Gun" work, Bunn is also busy with a couple of Marvel projects, joining his recent runs on "Venom" and "Captain America" with the start of "Fearless Defenders" in February. He's also partnering up with "Madame Xanadu" artist Joëlle Jones on the supernatural viking action story "Hellheim" beginning in March.
In the meantime, you can grab "The Sixth Gun" digitally and in print from Oni Press and "Sons of the Gun" will begin in February of next year.