There’s always room for a fresh take on the ugliness that comes out whenever a family has to deal with an impending power vacuum. Add magic to the equation and you have Dark Horse Comics’ Manor Black, a four-issue mini-series which is being collected next month as a trade paperback. In anticipation of that release, writers Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, and artist Tyler Crook answered some of our questions about the series over e-mail, which sees Roman Black trying to decide who his successor will be.
Rachel Bellwoar: What kind of father, or patriarch, do you see Roman Black as being?
Cullen Bunn: Roman wants to be a good father, but the responsibilities and duties that have been placed upon him get in the way of that. Ironically, it’s his desire to do the right thing that puts him at odds with his children and his wife. It cuts him off from those closest to him. And his family resents him for it.
Brian Hurtt: Roman is old school. Like, really old school. He’s stoic and he’s tough but he’s not a mean or hateful person. He is, as Cullen said, a man of duty — duty to his family and duty to the legacy he has inherited. And those two duties don’t always line up.
RB: Everyone is really egging Roman on to pick a successor. He even has ancestral ghosts complaining that he’s taking too long. What do you see as the biggest reason for why Roman hasn’t chosen an heir yet – that he doesn’t think any of his children are up for the job, that he’s in denial about his death, or that he doesn’t want to relinquish his powers?
CB: Roman is at a crossroads. He’s reaching the end of his life, and it falls to him to choose a successor. Here, though, he looks at his children, and he’s not sure that any of them are up to the task. Maybe he thinks they can’t handle it. Maybe he doesn’t want to lay such a burden on their shoulders. So, he’s hesitating. He’s overthinking it. Paralysis through analysis. But the interesting thing is that Roman can choose when he dies… when he undertakes the Descent… and he’s putting it off. There are consequences, of course, that will play out as time goes by. And he’s not the first patriarch to rail against the end.
RB: Even by the end of this miniseries it’s unclear whether we’ve met all the contenders for Roman’s successor. What appealed to you most about rolling the Black family tree out slowly, instead of having the key players be known from the start (like a Knives Out, or Shakespeare play)?
CB: I like that you mention that we don’t know all of Roman’s potential heirs just yet. That’s an important note that will come back to haunt Roman in the future. We have ideas for a big cast, almost like the cast of a soap opera. I’ve frequently thought of this as a kind of Dark Shadows set up. But we couldn’t throw them all out there right away. They would all get lost in the crowd. So, we focused on Roman and Ari and Harvey — the most important faces — from the beginning. Future stories will introduce new characters and focus on others.
RB: Roman’s children (or at least Reginald) immediately see Ari as a threat to their inheritance, but are they right to be concerned? Does the fact that it’s blood magic make a difference (like do you have to be related, or of a certain blood type, and is that what the blood binding was about)?
CB: Sure, they should be concerned. For reasons that will be revealed in the future. When Roman bonded Ari with his own blood, that changed the playing field for the family. Ari now has some of the Black Family blood in her veins. Does that make her a worthy successor?
BH: That question really gets to the heart of what this series is about. Who owns magic? Who are the gatekeepers to magic — to power? In the first mini-series, this is what is driving the Stranger. He’s a terrorist, an anarchic magician, and likely mad. But he might also have a point.
RB: At the same time you have this inheritance drama going on, you also have the local sheriff’s department carrying out an investigation. How would you describe the relationship between the Black family and the town where they live? It sounds like Manor Black has been their home for ages but how much does the town know, or suspect, magic?
CB: Most people in town are blissfully ignorant when it comes to magic. There are a few who have some inkling of what is going on. Some others have suspicions. Others — very few others — know the full story.
BH: The Black family is like any family that has been around as long as the town itself. Isolated and enigmatic, they would have invited all kinds of gossip and stories over the years. But, as salacious — and apocryphal — the stories were, no one would ever claim that there were supernatural forces at work at Manor Black.
RB: Most of the first issue of Manor Black takes place at night, so the coloring is very selective. What made you decide not to continue this selective coloring in the daytime?
RB: The Stranger is the main antagonist in this volume. How did you come up with the character design for him? He’s kind of a cross between Negative Man in Doom Patrol and Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage. At one point we hear him get referred to as a mummy, but is there a chance the bandages could come off?
TC: Originally, I think Brian and Cullen were thinking of him being a little more up-scale and wearing suits and stuff. But I felt like that didn’t give enough contrast between him and Roman. I was probably inspired by the look of Bob from Twin Peaks when I was figuring out how to give him the contrast that we needed.
CB: Brian has a thing for mummies. Always has. That’s why we have a mummy in The Sixth Gun. That’s a weird character flaw of his. Ha! There is a reason for the bandages, of course, and — yes — I think there’s a good chance they’ll be torn away one day.
RB: Wills can bring out the worst in people. Are we getting a fair assessment of Roman’s children in this miniseries, and which character are you most looking forward to readers getting to know better, should the series continue?
CB: I’m really interested in seeing more out of Roman’s kids — Lorelei, Basil, and Reginald. I think those kids hold some real surprises for the readers.
BH: The more the family is revealed to the reader, the more we can start delving into the palace intrigue at Manor Black. I love all the different motivations these characters have and am excited to show how those plans and desires will play off one another. Throw magic into this already dangerous mix and you’re guaranteed some blood and fire.
RB: Manor Black was designed to be a miniseries but not everything gets wrapped up at the end. What was your experience like, with the miniseries format, and would you use it again, to tell more stories about this family?
CB: The miniseries format was tough for a story like this one, because we knew going into it that we had a much, much bigger world to explore and a much more in-depth story to tell. We’re planning on revisiting it, though, and I’ve started to see Manor Black (as well as some other books I’m working on) as a series of miniseries.
Thanks to Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, and Tyler Crook for taking the time to discuss Manor Black with us.
Manor Black TPB goes on sale February 19th from Dark Horse Comics.