Family blood takes on a whole new meaning when you have the ability to control the crimson fluid running through other people's veins, but that's just the way of life for Roman Black and his family, who are on the verge of a massive change (while surrounded by seemingly spontaneous combustions) in Manor Black, the new comic book series from writers Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt and artist and Tyler Crook.
With the first four issues of Manor Black now available as a trade paperback from Dark Horse Comics, we caught up with Bunn, Hurtt, and Crook for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the family politics, southern gothic horror, and intense sorcery of their compelling comic book series.
You can read our full Q&A with Bunn, Hurtt, and Crook below (as well as preview pages from the first issue), and to learn more about the trade paperback release of Manor Black, visit Amazon and Dark Horse Comics' website.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Cullen, Brian, and Tyler, and congratulations on the first four issues of Manor Black! When and how did the idea for Manor Black come about? Was this an idea that you guys wanted to bring to life for a long time?
Cullen Bunn: Brian and I have been talking about this idea, in one form or another, for years. We are both fans of gothic horror and ensemble pieces and magic-rich mythologies. So, every few months we would start discussing the notion of a secluded family of sorcerers dealing with family life and internal politics. Eventually, we decided the time was right, and we started talking to one of our favorite artists—Tyler—about bringing it to life.
Brian Hurtt: I genuinely think we’ve been discussing this story in one form or another for about 10 years! I actually remember Cullen and I hanging out at his place and brainstorming around this idea of a southern gothic horror. We were both into the idea, but that first conversation was pretty vague. Over the next couple days, he and I were independently brainstorming this concept. The next time we met—and neither had known the other was doing this—we ended up exchanging each of our rough pitches. What was astonishing was how much crossover there was between the two. We decided then and there that we would just combine the two pitches… and that’s how babies are made.
All three of you have worked together on previous comic book series. At this point, does it feel like you have your own creative shorthand when collaborating on something?
Cullen Bunn: I think we may have ideas about the kind of characters and stories the others gravitate to, but we really don’t use any kind of shorthand in communicating with each other. Every step of the way, we’re working in as much detail as we would with any other collaborator.
Tyler Crook: I don’t know if I’ve ever developed a “shorthand” with anyone I’ve worked with. Even with someone you’ve worked with for years, it still takes a lot of effort to communicate all the ideas in your head. On a single project, it does get easier, but it has less to do with working with the same person and more to do with becoming familiar with working in that world and with the characters.
Brian Hurtt: Cullen and I don’t necessarily have a shorthand, but we do share a creative wavelength—or something—when it comes to storytelling, inspirations, and so on. We have an ability, from a creative standpoint, to complete each other’s sentences. Years of collaboration have strengthened that muscle, though it’s something I feel we’ve had for as long as we’ve known each other.
There’s some great humor in Manor Black, but there’s a lot of horror as well and the stakes feel real. How important was it for you to find that balance between dark humor and dark fantasy?
Cullen Bunn: We didn’t want the story to be so horrific that it became oppressive. Instead, we wanted the fun moments, the lighter moments, to punctuate the horror and the danger.
Tyler Crook: I think it’s important to have that contrast. If a world is 100% horror 100% of the time, then that horror loses its horribleness. It just becomes the norm.
This story feels like Nightbreed meets Dark Shadows, while still maintaining its own identity. Were you influenced or inspired by any other comic books, movies, or TV shows while working on this series?
Cullen Bunn: Dark Shadows was definitely a big influence for me, as was the ’90s TV show American Gothic, which I don’t think many people remember. I hadn’t thought about Nightbreed until you mentioned it, but I can definitely see some Clive Barker influences, as well as some Lovecraft.
Brian Hurtt: There’s a little bit of the gothic, Hammer horror films in there as well and a touch of the dark soapy-ness of Twin Peaks.
Even after all the events that happen in the first four issues of Manor Black, it feels like you’re just getting started with these characters. How many story arcs and future issues do you currently have planned?
Cullen Bunn: I don’t know that we have a set number of issues in mind. More? We have several more stories that all tie together into a much bigger overarching plot.
Brian Hurtt: We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the Black family, and there is still much to learn about Roman and the family’s history. And what’s the deal with these different “houses” of magic? How many are there? What is their purpose or their mission? And where does Ari fit in now? I’m really looking forward to jumping back into this sandbox!
Manor Black is a very cinematic story, and I feel like this would translate really nicely as a TV series or movie. Have there been any talks about an adaptation? Do you have any dream casting in mind for your characters?
Cullen Bunn: I try not to spend too much time focusing on dream casts, mainly because that kind of thing starts to drive me a little crazy! I remember doing a conference call with Tyler and Brian—very early in the development—and we threw out some actors to use as inspiration for character design, but I can’t recall who they were now. Tyler took the suggestions and created something wholly new!
Brian Hurtt: I never think of my characters in terms of actors as a like to “discover” them on my own—either through scripting or sketching. But it’s still fun—after you know the characters a bit—to play the casting game.
I do remember that some actors came up in our early conversations when we were trying to convey the vibe of Roman Black to Tyler. I know that Christopher Lee was mentioned, as was Billy Connolly.
Tyler Crook: Haha. I barely remember that. The only actor I remember thinking of with the character designs is Lupita Nyong'o for Ari. I remember referencing some photos of her, but not wanting to make her look exactly the same.
What has it been like to continue working with Dark Horse Comics to release Manor Black to the world?
Cullen Bunn: Dark Horse has been terrific to work with, and I’m so glad that they’ve taken chances on stories like this one.
Tyler Crook: Our editor Daniel Chabon has been very supportive.
Brian Hurtt: Dark Horse is the perfect home for a book like Manor Black and they have been champions for this kind of genre storytelling for decades. It’s been a great working experience and I’m looking forward to doing more with them!
Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from Manor Black?
Cullen Bunn: As always, first and foremost, I want readers to be entertained—whether that means they laughed… or were terrified… or are haunted by the story we tell. There are some themes and undercurrents that I hope they’ll think about after putting the book down, but I want that to be secondary to having a damn good time.
Brian Hurtt: Echoing Cullen’s sentiments—the main thing any storyteller hopes for is for the reader to feel engaged. Engaged with the story, the characters, the world. That’s the ultimate goal, in my mind.
In addition to Manor Black, you all have other comic book projects that you’re working on. How do you balance working on multiple stories at the same time?
Cullen Bunn: Lots of folders and to-do lists and scheduling and coffee and bourbon and sitting at my desk for long, long hours.
Tyler Crook: Man! I wish I could work on more than one project at a time! To get anything done, I have to alternate between them.
Brian Hurtt: I suck at multitasking. The best way to do anything is one thing at time. But it’s unavoidable in this industry that schedules will shift and overlap and I’ll find myself trying to jump between multiple projects. The only strategy I’ve ever developed is brute force. Extra hours, lots of coffee and just go in headfirst.
What advice would you give to aspiring comic book writers trying to break into the industry?
Cullen Bunn: Don’t wait. If you want to create a comic book, let nothing stand in your way. There are plenty of options—big publishers, small publishers, crowdfunding. Write the comic, draw it (or find someone to draw it), find a publisher or self-publish it. The most important thing is getting those first projects out there at all costs.
Brian Hurtt: Cullen and I get asked this all the time and our answer is pretty consistently “just do it.” Don’t wait for permission. Don’t worry about the gatekeepers. Put your work online. Self-publish. Do what you have to do to get it out there and do it consistently. Doing the work is the only way to grow as a comic artist or writer, so you don’t have time to wait for someone else to give you that permission to grow.
With the first four issues of Manor Black out now in trade paperback from Dark Horse Comics, what other upcoming projects are you excited about, and where can our readers go online to keep up with your work?
Cullen Bunn: I have several new projects getting announced in the next few weeks, some from Dark Horse, some from other publishers. I couldn’t be more thrilled, because they are all books that I think really represent me as a creator. You can always keep up with my upcoming projects on Twitter—@cullenbunn.
Brian Hurtt: I have multiple projects in various stages right now, but nothing I can announce just yet. I’m currently wrapping up a book of short stories—the “HEK Treasurey”—that I’ve done with my studiomates (Matt Kindt and Marie Enger). As soon as that wraps, I’ll be jumping into my next project. Scripts are already waiting for me!
Tyler Crook: Right now, I’m working on a project with Jeff Lemire called COLONEL WEIRD: COSMAGOG. It’s part of the BLACK HAMMER universe. I’m @MrTylerCrook on Twitter. And you can sign up for my newsletter at my website www.MrCrook.com.