I've been interested in Dark Horse's Harrow County since before the series came to print, having seen some promo artwork, and then hearing about the folklore aspects and rural setting. I wasn't disappointed in the least, in fact the series has far exceeded my expectations and become one of my most anticipated reads as each issue arrives. The tensions that the story has established so far are so emotive and the stakes are so dark that it's hard not to feel that writer Cullen Bunn and artist Tyler Crook are creating true horror here, albeit in a way readers never find predictable.
I caught up with my fellow North Carolinian, Cullen Bunn, at San Diego Comic-Con, having just read Issue #3, and he warned me quite soundly that Issue #4, which arrives on August 12th, is going to really take the series in a new direction and Bunn and Crook are going to "up the game in a big way". Now you've been warned, too. In honor of that, the artwork that appears in this article is from Issue #4. Here's what he had to say…
[Cover art for Issue #4 by Tyler Crook]
HMS: I read the most recent issue on the plane, and everyone around me probably thought I was crazy, looking over my shoulder because #3 is so bright and shocking.
One of the things I think is really interesting about this comic is that you have a character who doesn't really know themselves. And so you have the potential for development there where she will suddenly see or hear something in herself that changes the way that the reader might view her.
Did you make a particular decision that you were going to have a character who had gradual revelations like that?
Cullen Bunn: Yes. One of the things that I thought would be really interesting about Emmy is that she doesn't have amnesia or anything, but she doesn't know who she really is. There are steady moments where she's getting these pieces of a past and a future fate that she has never expected. I also wanted her to come across as wide-eyed, welcoming, maybe even naive, with a sweet innocence. I don't know that it was a conscious decision, but when I was writing the first issue, I started thinking, "This is what I really like about Emmy". I like that the reader is learning along with Emmy as they go along.
CB: Yes, absolutely. I didn't even necessarily intend for her to be so sweet. I call her that a lot because I think she's one of the sweetest characters I've ever written. I didn't necessarily expect that when I started writing the comic. It came about organically.
HMS: I remember way back before this book came out talking to Scott Allie about it and he commented that the book already had a novel-like quality and density to it that also worked well in installments. Did you plan it all the way out like that?
CB: Well, I'll tell you how I think that came about. Originally, I was writing a serialized novel on the web, years and years ago, that was called 'Countless Haints'. I wrote about 11 installments of it, but those 11 installments are in Harrow County. We've already bypassed them, but originally it was a serialized novel, and I think that translates into the comic as it's coming out.
CB: The names have changed, but it's definitely the same story. If you were to read it, you'd see beat by beat, where some of the things have happened. We've already passed what I had written, but it's all there.
HMS: I'm laughing because there's a creepiness to that. In the Internet age, the Internet itself has spawned folklore, and it's like that's the folklore version of the story that is pre-existent of the comic.
CB: I think the comic was the way to go with the story, and that this is the format it needed to be in. It doesn't hurt that Tyler Crook's art is amazing.
CB: I knew it was going to be great because I've worked with Tyler before on The Sixth Gun, where he did some fill-in issues. But I did not necessarily expect the passion, energy, and vibrancy he's brought to this book.
HMS: You can see a real balance between the writing and the artwork on this book that everyone wishes they had on a book. He's so committed.
CB: Every writer wants to work with a collaborator who is "in it". Who is right there with them, and that's what we have here. It's something we are both very proud of.
CB: He is. You see it. You see how much work he's putting into each issue. He's drawing it, he's painting it, he's lettering it. He's even composed soundtracks. There's a soundtrack online he's put up for Harrow County.
HMS: That's amazing. One of the things I find scary about this book is that you establish the rules of this world as being "bendy" right in the prequel story about the first witch in the first issue. By that I mean that we see magic, and we see the witch causing it right away. It's not just a rumor that there's weird sh*t going on.
So when you get to Emmy's world, it's so white bread and so Normal Rockwell, but you just know…She actually doesn't react that strangely when she starts to see strange stuff either, because she knows the stories. But there's dissonance for the reader because you react for her. You're the one thinking, "That's really disturbing", rather than her.
CB: Those few pages from the beginning, with the witch, actually weren't originally going to be in the first issue. They were going to be in a back-up story. We talked about it and made the decision to put it right at the front and let the readers know that the story is a very dark reflection of our world.
HMS: It's maybe one of the darkest first issues I've ever read, in that way. And I don't mean that as a criticism at all. There's also the softer and almost fairy-tale like, pastoral aspect to some of the artwork that contrasts with that.
CB: Emmy's definitely a counter-point to that darkness. And the crux of that is that she could be part of that darkness, and we don't know which way she's going to go. I think as the fourth issue rolls out, people are going to be really surprised where things go.
CB: We try to add some surprises in there, but in the fourth issue we up the game in a big way.
HMS: There's an interesting relationship in the comic between "witchy stuff" for lack of a better phrase, and the natural world. There's an ambiguity and amorality, as well as a kind of a sympathy in the natural world, and then it's actually the human world that is quite menacing. In issue #3 the threat from the human world gets even more intense. It then seems like the natural world is on Emmy's side.
So, my question is: Why in particular do you choose to align nature with the occult in this story?
CB: Mostly, it comes from a place related to how I grew up. When I was a kid, I was always out in the woods with my friends. We were always telling stories about things we'd found out in the woods. In the back up prose story in the first issue, I think I even talk about this "green light" my friends and I used to see, but never at the same time. I think that just stuck with me. I always thought there was a creepy, magical quality to these backwoods. That said, there is a major story-related reason why those things are aligned and you'll be seeing more of that in the next few issues. It'll come out in a big way.
HMS: And the ghosts and spirits in the story seem aware of the history of the region as well.
CB: They do, yes. They are more aware of what is going on than Emmy, for sure.
HMS: You also do have the use of the narratorial voice in Harrow County, which warns us a little bit, and is another layer that creates tension around Emmy, since the reader then knows more than she does.
CB: Yes. The reader knows things. I try to build a sense of dread with this disembodied narrator telling the story.
HMS: Why do you think people respond so well when folklore is brought to new life like this?
CB: I think that even we are making up some of these folktale aspects, it gives a sense of history and a sense of a bigger world and an older world. That's why I like those kinds of stories, and I think that's why readers like them as well.
HMS: And that also makes you want to write stories like that, so you can participate?
HMS: Well, I can't wait to see where Harrow County is going. Thank you.
Harrow County #4 arrives on August 12th and is currently listed in Previews World with item code: JUN150083