by Vince Brusio
Fans of supernatural horror stories take note: in the January PREVIEWS, Dark Horse Books offer a graphic novel collecting never-before-printed material from Cullen Bunn in Death Follows (JAN160137). It is a work that Bunn believes scrapes the bottom of the barrel for hopelessness and suffering. Not the kind of tale you want to read to children. The darkest depths of despair bubble to the surface in this new book that you can find from Dark Horse Comics in the Premiere section of the January PREVIEWS catalog. In this exclusive interview, Cullen Bunn reveals how this horror was prepped for its public funeral.
Cullen Bunn: That’s right. Death Follows started as a prose story, a horror yarn set in rural America. It turned out being longer than I initially intended, almost novella length, and its full of sinister figures, ghostly happenings, and undead menaces. That tale, titled “Remains,” has always been one of my favorites. It was also one of the handful of stories I wrote that I thought could work well in comic book form.
When I first started discussing possible projects with artist A.C. Zamudio, I sent her several story overviews. On a whim, I threw the idea for “The Remains” into the mix because I had a feeling that she could just make that story sing visually. She really latched onto that one, pretty quickly turning around concept art that included maps of the farm I described and character sketches for Cole Jensen, the primary source of deviltry in the tale. That image sold me on the idea that this was the story we should work on. It was one of the creepiest images I’d seen in a long, long while.
The story changed a bit during the adaptation, particularly in respect to some of the characters, but it stayed true to the horrific tone I had established in the original incarnation. In the end, as much as I liked the prose tale, I think the comic book version is much, much stronger.
By the way, that prose story is included in the trade paperback.
PREVIEWSworld: What is the significance of the uttered cryptic phrase "The dead rats danced the day the hired man came around.” How are these words prophetic?
Cullen Bunn: Before there was a story, I wrote those words in one of my notebooks. At that point, I didn’t really know what I was onto, but that’s how stories start sometimes. That’s really how Death Follows begins, with this relatively small (if somewhat bizarre) event — dead rats twitching as if alive. That event is just the preamble to the real horror that the family in this tale faces. It builds from there, but only our hero, Birdie, sees it happening. She’s caught in this terrible nightmare. She sees the situation worsening, but no one else believes her. The reader is going right along with her as the sense of dread grows to a breaking point.
PREVIEWSworld: Another cryptic utterance that accompanied the initial promotion for Death Follows is the phrase "Some secrets are meant only for the dead." This line implies consciousness following death. That's a heavy concept. Can you elaborate a bit on that line of thinking?
Cullen Bunn: That phrase, uttered in the story by the aforementioned “hired man” Cole Jensen, has a number of meanings in this story. Some of those are right at the surface — Cole has secrets that he wants to keep hidden, and he’ll kill to keep them that way. But it’s what comes after death that is the last great secret. Regardless of belief systems, there’s really only one way to find out what waits beyond the end of your life.
I try to imagine nothingness — just guttering out like an old lightbulb and then, nothing — and it’s unfathomable for me. Deep down, I know there’s something else out there once the mortal coil has been shuffled off. But I have no idea what that might be, and there’s only one way to find out.
People are pretty impatient, especially where secrets are concerned. We want to know all those hidden truths. And when we have a secret, we get twitchy when we can’t tell someone. What awaits after death, though, is one secret I want to put off uncovering for as long as possible. Because what if — always the “what if” — it’s absolutely horrible?
PREVIEWSworld: So is Death Follows a grave that wasn't to be disturbed? What is it about this book that stands apart from prior works you've done like Harrow County?
Cullen Bunn: Death Follows is a dark, mean story, maybe the meanest I’ve written up until this point. While stories like The Sixth Gun and Harrow County have horror elements, they also lean heavily into the realms of fantasy and fairy tale. They have heroes who have powers and gifts that help them cope with the horrors around them. In this story, though, our heroes are just ordinary folks. They have no supernatural gifts to protect them. And a ghastly evil has been visited upon them. A very real devil has come to call, and their lives will be turned inside out. This is a horror story, through and through.
PREVIEWSworld: If you had to make some film comparisons with Death Follows, what could they be? Something like Poltergeist III meets Stephen King's It? What contemporary titles could you drop that may give someone a visual? Something heavier on the gore factor perhaps?
Cullen Bunn: That’s a tough one for me, actually. I think there’s a little bit of Cape Fear in this tale, with the lurking dread of this stranger who has come to tear this family apart. There’s a little bit of The Grudge, with the restless, vengeful dead. I don’t know that the gore factor is overly high. Don’t get me wrong. There are moments of messy, bloody horror, but the sense of mounting dread and creepiness is much sharper.