In the last 3 years if you’ve read a comic starring a favorite villain of yours, it was most likely written by Cullen Bunn. His work on Sinestro and Magneto may be his most notable to date, but his original comics like Harrow County and Hellbreak are also captivating readers. Now he’s bringing his expertise to Dark Horse’s new series, Conan the Slayer. Here we discussed Conan, Sinestro, and where it all began.
BIC: What was your first comic book?
Cullen: I’m not sure I can pinpoint my very first comic. I’ve always been surrounded by them, really. My parents loved garage sales, auctions, and flea markets, and they were always bringing boxes of comics home for me. I vaguely remember reading an old issue of X-Men, but I couldn’t tell you which issue. I also remember reading a lot of Charlton horror anthologies. There were also a number of issues of Iron Man and the Avengers I was reading back in the day.
BIC: How did you know you wanted to become a comic writer?
Cullen: I’ve always wanted to tell stories, and since I’ve also always loved comics, it just seemed to make sense! Way back when, before I could write a complete sentence, I drew my own comic book titled War of the Monsters. It featured Godzilla and King Kong and Mothra, among others, attacking the world. In that book, humanity defeated Godzilla by flying over him in a helicopter and dropping a sword on his head. I also wrote and drew a 12-issue series when I was in 5th grade. It was called X-Laser Knights, and it starred all my friends as space heroes. And a little later I self-published some comics (Captain Cosmo and Fatman) that I sold at small comic shows. It’s something that’s been with me for a while.
BIC: What stories, comics or otherwise, influence you the most?
Cullen: I draw inspiration from so many different sources–short stories and novels, comics, news stories, movies–but I think I draw most of my inspiration from weird old ghost stories and legends that I seemed to hear all the time as a kid.
BIC: Congratulations on the launch of Conan The Slayer! What made you want to tackle one of fantasy’s biggest badasses?
Cullen: Conan is a character who has been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve been a fan of the character forever. Around the same time I was reading all those garage sale comics, I had a Mego Conan toy, and I was reading those great old comics frequently. Later, I fell in love with the short stories of Robert E. Howard. He’s one of my favorite writers, and his Conan stories are a big reason for that.
BIC: What are some of your favorite iterations or previous works featuring the character?
Cullen: As I mentioned, the original Robert E. Howard stories are my absolute favorites. There’s really no comparison. I also loved the old Marvel comics. In particular, I really, really liked the Savage Sword of Conan stories. More recently, I think the Kurt Busiek run on the book is absolutely amazing.
BIC: Are there any other fantasy epics or legends that influenced your take on the Conan character?
Cullen: I might cheat with this answer and say… Maybe. I have read a great deal of fantasy over the years, so it is completely possible that I’ve pulled inspiration from stories here and there. Nothing in particular I could pinpoint, though.
BIC: How is working with the art team of Sergio Davila and Michael Atiyeh?
Cullen: You asked this at just the right time, because I just received an e-mail with some more pages for the series. It’s so great! So exciting to see! I love how this team really makes Conan brutal and cunning.
BIC: A lot of your books are geared towards Horror and suspense. How do you separate the slower, scarier horror in a book like Harrow County from the more lighthearted and action-oriented horror in Hellbreak?
Cullen: I’m a huge horror fan, and that includes all kinds of horror. Sometimes I enjoy really dark horror. Sometimes I like humor/horror mash-ups. Sometimes I like surreal tales of terror. I don’t see it so much as balancing the various kinds of horror. Instead, I think it’s just a matter of keeping things fresh and telling different types of stories. Even Conan has a lot of horror elements. After all, the original Howard stories were full of horrific imagery and situations.
BIC: Between your work at Dark Horse and Oni Press you have several creator-owned’s under your belt. When do you think an idea is ready to be pitched, and what do you think it takes for an original comic to succeed on today’s stands?
Cullen: I have definitely pitched stories that weren’t quite ready in the past. It just happens. I get really excited about an initial idea and I want to share it with the world. If I’m taking a more measured approach, though, I wait until I have at least a first story arc mapped out in my mind. I think it’s important to know where a story is going to go and how (in broad strokes) I’m going to get there. As for what makes an original comic a success, I think it boils down to the things that make a good story in any medium–a good plot, strong characters, a sense of world-building. Of course it also requires word of mouth, so creators have to talk about the books as much as possible. Readers, too, can get in on the action. All it takes is talking about the books they love.
BIC: You have a unique talent for writing sympathetic and compelling villains and anti-heroes, why do you think it’s important for there to be comics from an antagonist’s perspective?
Cullen: I definitely tend to write a bunch of villains and anti-heroes. I think it’s nice to see a different side of these types of these characters. I like telling stories that help readers empathize (if not sympathize) with villains. If I can tell a story where the reader roots for the bad guy even though they know they shouldn’t, I’m happy.
BIC: Your critically-lauded run on Sinestro may be the most in-depth exploration of the character we’ll have for a long time. How does it feel to have contributed so much to one of comics’ most iconic villains? Do you think you’ll ever return to the character?
Cullen: Sinestro was one of my favorite DC projects. I dearly love the character, the supporting cast, and the universe we were building. I would have loved to continue working on the character, establishing him as something more than a mustache-twirler (although he does have a helluva mustache). I’ll never say never, but I kind of doubt I’ll ever return to the character. I’d love to, but I doubt that’s in the cards.
BIC: And finally, what are you currently reading?
Cullen: As you might expect, I’m re-reading a lot of Conan stories, as well as some biographies of Robert E. Howard. I’m also re-reading Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon and the Hap and Leonard novels by Joe Lansdale. Seems like I’m revisiting a lot of favorites right now!
Thanks again to Cullen for taking the time to discuss all things Conan the Slayer and comics in general with us. Don’t forget to pre-order Conan the Slayer #2! It hits comic book shelves on August 24, 2016!