Cullen Bunn And Brian Hurtt Discuss Globetrotting Mystical Western Shadow Roads

by Hannah Means Shannon

Shadow Roads is a mystical, globe-trotting story set at the turn of the century and featuring a wide cast of characters and cultural traditions. Written by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, a team you’ll know from The Sixth Gun, the Oni Press series is illustrated by A.C. Zamudio, colored by Carlos Zamudio, and lettered by Crank!

An excellent introductory comic landed on Free Comic Book Day 2018, and since then we’ve followed Henry Grey, learned about his Native American heritage, met Abigail and Isabella, and also discovered more about the mystical “crossroads” which join parts of the world together via mysterious pathways that those in the know can exploit. There’s so much going on behind the scenes of the “normal world” that Bunn and Hurtt give readers the impression that the realities behind Shadow Roads are almost limitlessly expansive.

Issue #5 is arriving in comic shops next Wednesday, November 14th, and we’ll be taking a look at an exclusive preview below, while we discuss Shadow Roads with Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt!

Hannah Means-Shannon: One of the central concepts in ​​Shadow Roads ​​ is that there are invisible pathways between locations all over the world and that there are “crossroads” where people can move between them. This reminds me a little of the tendency of certain ancient locations to be associated with faeries and that a kind of faerie world continues alongside our own in folktales. Was that an influence at all? What other cultural ideas played a part?

Cullen Bunn: I’ve always loved the idea of rifts in time and space, ley lines, crossings, and they feature into many of my stories. In the second arc of ​The Sixth Gun​, Brian and I started toying with the notion of spirit realms and crossroads demons, and I think this is just a natural progression from that.

Brian Hurtt: Obviously, the titular “shadow roads” refers to these ancient pathways and though we have established the Crossroads (in both this title and ​The Sixth Gun​) we are going to learn more about other similar roads in this universe as we move forward. The second arc of this series will get more into expanding on that mythology in really interesting ways.

HMS: For those who have read ​​The Sixth Gun, and for those who haven’t, what sort of connections exist between the two series? Is it mainly tone or is it more specific than that?

CB: We really wanted to set these two series…and really these two worlds…apart. There are a few characters who appeared in ​The Sixth Gun​ in various capacities, some minor, some major, but for the most part, this is a completely new story and world. It’s still set in the Old West and there are still some heavy supernatural overtones, but I think it’s such a different book in almost every other way. You definitely don’t need to read one to enjoy the other.

BH: One of the major ways this book differs from ​The Sixth Gun​ is that, though it has roots in the Old West, it really is a globetrotting series. We will see much more of the entire world and how this magic and supernaturalism is integrated into different cultures around the globe—from India, to China, to Africa, and beyond.

HMS: In the FCBD 2018 offering, we get an interesting idea presented with a twist that sticks with me, as a reader. That the West is both “alien” and awe inspiring and can be reduced to mere “spectacle” in the hands of modern culture. Did you find yourselves trying to navigate between those two points in your presentation of the West? Of course, you have an advantage in being able to present it as incredibly alien in terms of supernatural elements, too!

CB: I think this book definitely plays in the more cinematic, pop-culture version of the Old West, but we wanted to immediately put a pin in that and show that the understanding of the West (at the museum, in the remnants of the medicine show) only scratches the surface of something much more rich and, as you say, awe-inspiring. Also, we want to make sure that we note that the world is much bigger than anyone really imagines, as this series will go to many, many places beyond the Old West.

HMS: How do you approach the dialog and ways of thinking when dealing with such a period-set story? I know that one of the biggest subjects of discussion will be cultural difference since Henry is Native American but British-raised, and presumably there will be plenty more references to the role of women in contrast to the gunslingers we meet in the story. Do you ever feel bogged down trying to make sure you get a period flavor to conversations but keep the topics relevant and fresh for the reader?

CB: It can be a challenge, to be sure. All I can really do is write from a place of honesty and respect for each of the characters.

HMS: Speaking more about Henry Grey, it’s a bold move to take on a Native American character who’s encountering his culture for the first time, as well as addressing extreme prejudice that he faced in British schools for his background. A lot of writers would avoid working with these subjects out of fear of not getting it “right”. What made you sure you wanted Henry to be a central character and take up these challenges?

CB: Henry is a perfect character to experience this story along with the reader. He’s an outsider to his own culture and he’s an outsider to the world of the supernatural, and yet he is thoroughly connected to both. Yes, there are potential pitfalls to a character like this, but I’ll go back to the idea of respect and honesty being the guiding light.

BH: The character of Henry grew organically through our discussions of the type of story we wanted to tell (for all the reasons Cullen mentioned above). Cullen and I went into this knowing the potential minefield that exists, but we’ve also felt comfortable in the fact that his story is HIS story, singularly, and not that of Native American identity. That is not a story that Cullen and I can tell, nor one that we should tell. His relationship to his heritage is a complicated one, and an issue that will play out over the course of the series. But, I’ll tease here that there is much he is still in the dark about when it comes to his own personal history and that of his heritage.

HMS: This seems to be a fairly large, unfolding cast of characters, all bringing fairly different personalities, skills, and qualities to the table. What’s the benefit of working with a large cast, and what were some of your favorite characters to bring to life so far?

CB: One of the things I’m most excited about is the potential to have these characters break off into smaller (and sometimes unexpected) groups. Right now, I have a couple of distinct favorites among the cast — Abigail, Ghost Eyes, and Izzy are at the top of my list, but I know spending time with some of the others will change that!

BH: There are so many ingredients in our kitchen that it feels like an embarrassment of riches! There is something to love about writing each of these characters and some of the most fun we are having is seeing the different match-ups of personalities. To me, that is at the core of what this series is about. Disparate, and sometimes conflicting, parties finding a common cause. As globetrotting and action packed as the series is, the characters and their relationships will be the heart of the book.

HMS: I don’t want to leave the fabulous AC Zamudio and Carlos Zamudio out of this discussion: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of visually developing these characters, and what AC brought to that effort, and also about the color palette(s) for the settings and locations and how you feel they establish the mood and identity of the book?

CB: Brian can speak to this a lot more intelligently than I can. He, A.C., and Carlos really worked together to get the visuals “just right” and I couldn’t be happier about how this book looks.

BH: I take no credit for this book’s aesthetics. My only goal is to encourage and support the choices this art team makes. Above all, I wanted this to be their book from a visual storytelling point of view. We consider ourselves to be very lucky to work with such incredible talent so early in their careers. I honestly believe that A.C. is one of the best comic artists out there and, considering her young age, I expect to see even greater things from her moving forward. She’s an amazing cartoonist and storyteller and elevates every script we give her. Like all the best comic artists, the story comes first from her.

Thanks very much to Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt for joining us to talk about Shadow Roads!

Shadow Roads #5 arrives in comic shops next Wednesday, November 14th, 2018 from Oni Press!

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