Exploring Bone Parish’s Supernatural Drug Trade With Cullen Bunn And Jonas Scharf

by Hannah Means Shannon

In July, we’ll see the first issue of New Orleans-set horror series Bone Parish from Boom! Studios, written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Jonas Scharf. Neither creator is any stranger to horror comics, in fact, they are both masters of the genre, and yet all indications suggest that this is a very different story than either have ever told before. Bone Parish has a wide cast of characters, a lot of interpersonal drama, plenty of spooky settings, and features the rise of a drug cartel.

But the premise that a necromantic drug called “Ash” can utilize the bodies of the dead to conjure up inherited psychedelic experiences for the living inspires many questions for characters and readers. What kind of impact would such a drug have on peoples’ lives? What do the dead really mean to the living?

Cullen Bunn and Jonas Scharf have been kind enough to answer a number of questions for us about their intriguing new series below.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Do you think that in some ways this is, more widely, a story about the dead and what they mean to us even as we move forward with our lives?

Cullen Bunn: Absolutely! The people we know in life leave a mark, for good or for ill, that never goes away. And with those we lose, those impressions only grow deeper. On the surface, this is a story about a family entering the drug trade–albeit a supernatural drug trade. But on a deeper level, it’s about our inability to be satisfied with the lives we’re currently living. And on an even deeper level, it’s about being unable to let go of those who have died and how their actions in life stick with us long after they are gone.

Jonas Scharf: I think Cullen put it perfectly, so I’ll keep it short:

To me, loss and how we deal with it is one of the most important themes in Bone Parish, along with family, legacy and our need for a sense of identity and belonging.

HMS: I’m struck in the first issue by the use of music to lead us into the world and the story of Bone Parish. Is that kind of a primal thing—the connection between music and conceptions of death in your opinion? The big Western cultural comparison would be the myth of Orpheus, who was a musician. Is music going to continue to play a role in the series?

CB: Music does not play as big a role in the issues to come, but the Orpheus myth was not lost on me as I wrote the first issue. The focus on music seemed right in that first issue, because it so clearly illustrated this idea of wanting something we could never have. The person using the Ash wanted to feel powerful, to feel like a god, to feel the way a rock star must feel when on stage with all eyes on him. When I first wrote that scene, I did not write the song into it. But I knew it needed something a little more, so I went back and wrote lyrics to a rock ballad that might also tell part of the story.

JS: Like art, music is very primal and deeply rooted within us. In a way, I think it can transcend the world we see and understand and resonate with us on a deeper level. So what better way to lead us into the world of Bone Parish than with a song?

HMS: It’s a big, interesting question: If we could have someone’s life experiences, would we want them? Would it make us emotionally or intellectually richer, or just drive us crazy? Regardless, it does seem like something that could become addictive, which makes the drug connection here so perfect. Would you, personally, want to absorb the experiences of the dead?

CB: I can barely handle the experiences of this life! I don’t think I’d want to see how others saw the world. But that’s part of the inherent danger of the drug the Winters family is selling. Are we so dissatisfied with our lives that we’d risk everything for a taste of something better? And once we become addicted, would we do the same for a taste of something worse…so long as it is different?

JS: I think the question is not so much about if we’d want to have other people’s life experiences or not. We do consume those every day in the form of entertainment or education. That’s essentially what stories are, and I think we often underestimate the importance of them.

The slippery slope begins when we start “getting high“ on other people’s life achievements instead of taking action to carve out our own path in life, which is exactly why the drug comparison works so perfectly.

HMS: How much cemetery research went into just setting up the story? Any favorites in New Orleans? Have you seen them in real life, and if so, what was that like?

CB: I was in New Orleans while developing the proposal and initial outline for this story, and I’ve visited New Orleans many times. The cemeteries there are like cities unto themselves–Necropoli. To walk through them fills me with a sense of awe and wonder. I feel haunted by the history. And I wanted to evoke that sensation in this book.

JS: No, unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to visit New Orleans, yet. Since I live in Germany, all of my research has to happen online.

HMS: Cullen, if you step back from the drug narrative, and the potentially supernatural narrative, we might be wading into a story about a family business facing the pressures of a takeover by a bigger company. What makes that the kind of story you’d like to tell?

CB: You’re absolutely right. This is a story about a family. This is a criminal organization that is bound by actual blood ties. Families can be…complicated. Only the people who you love most in the world can hurt you more deeply and betray you most viciously. And that’s without a criminal empire to run! So, I wanted to explore how families come together…or break apart…in the most trying of situations.

HMS: Cullen, Can you tell us a little more about each of the main characters in the story, and to what degree they are just practical business people, or to what degree the drug “Ash” might be meaningful to them?

CB: I don’t want to spoil too much about these characters, because part of the fun of the series will be discovering their secrets.

Andre is the family’s patriarch, a former small-timer who brought the family to their current lofty position. Grace is the matriarch of the Winters family, and she runs the day-to-day family operations. Brae, the oldest son, is an ambitious and angry young man who longs for the day he will be in charge. Fiona is the only daughter of the bunch, and she holds the secret to the supernatural drug they sell. Finn is Fiona’s twin brother, and he longs to be accepted as an equal by his family. Wade is the youngest of the Winters men, a dutiful young man who wants to do what’s best for his family.

HMS: Jonas, what drew you to work on this New Orleans-set story that involves old architecture, old houses, graveyards, and death-infused visions?

JS: Well, what draws me to a project isn’t necessarily the setting or genre, but the story and characters, as well as the team I’ll be working with. That being said, having a setting like New Orleans is an added bonus for sure! As you mentioned, the architecture is really interesting and unique and makes for a perfect backdrop for our story.

HMS: Jonas, do you have any strategies for making scenes ominous even before they become outright terrifying? How do you build up tension in a story that’s already set a lot in the dark, in creepy locations, and still make those bigger reveals shocking?

JS: To be honest, most of those decisions are based on intuition or a gut feeling. I usually start seeing parts of the scenes play out in my head as I read the script. From there, it’s just trying to put that on paper and filling in the gaps.

Of course, there are proven tricks and conventions that are effective, but at the end of the day, I’ll pick the shot that feels right to me and hope it translates to the audience. Sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s where editorial comes in and we work it out together.

Big thanks to both Cullen Bunn and Jonas Scharf for sharing their thoughts on their exciting new series with us here at Comicon.com!

Bone Parish #1 will be available for sale on July 25th, 2018 exclusively at local comic book shops (use comicshoplocator.com to find the nearest one). Digital copies can be purchased from content providers, including comiXology, iBooks, Google Play, and the Boom! Studios app.

Issue #1 reaches FOC on Monday, July 2nd, 2018, so get your orders in!