Cullen Bunn is no stranger to horror. With a bibliography that includes Harrow County, Army of Darkness, The Damned, and Moon Knight (see “Bogeyman”), Bunn’s a master at plucking people’s hearts and minds to generate big-time scares. But this month, Bunn is headed into scary new territory as he teams with artist Jon Davis-Hunt (Clean Room) and colorist Jordie Bellaire (Pretty Deadly) to take on Valiant’s Shadowman series. (Andy Diggle last helmed the series in 2018.)
The all-new ongoing will see our titular skull-faced hero face terrors that “tear at the fabric of humanity’s world,” with every “chapter” serving as a “standalone descent into horror.” So what sort of frights can we expect when the book debuts? We caught up with Bunn recently to talk about just that, plus how he writes horror, working with Davis-Hunt, his “journaling,” and much more.
Shadowman #1 is tentatively due out later this year.
AIPT: What was your relationship to the Shadowman title/character before you signed up? He seems like one of those long-running heroes that’s still really ripe with potential?
Cullen Bunn: I was familiar with the character, of course. I had read earlier iterations of the character and had played the video game years ago. And I had read most of the more recent stories. Shadowman, maybe more than any of the Valiant characters, was right up my alley. He’s the character that I most wanted to write when thinking about working with Valiant.
AIPT: Do you have an elevator pitch for the story? What other series or stories might this one feel similar to?
CB: I feel like this is a take on the character that you haven’t seen before. It’s much darker. It embraces the horror facets of the character. I’m not sure what series or character I’d compare this to. Sometimes, I see elements of Hellblazer. Sometimes, I see Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes, I see Dr. Strange or Moon Knight or the Spectre or even Swamp Thing.
In this series, Shadowman is no longer rooted in New Orleans. Instead, we’ll see him traveling across the globe, tracking down instances of “the Blight,” which is a thinning of the veil between our world and the Deadside. When that veil grows weak, all sorts of nastiness spills through. Shadowman is the guy who kicks the evil back where it belongs.
AIPT: What sort of directions have you tinkered with in taking Shadowman? Is this going to be tied to some of the past titles or do you feel a need to do something totally different?
CB: We’re honoring the stories that have come before, but this is certainly a new direction. Shadowman has new powers, new allies, a new mission… and most certainly a new enemy. While each issue of the series tells a new story, there is an overarching tale unfolding and a new supervillain preparing to enter the Valiant universe.
AIPT: As a rather prolific horror writer, where do you get your ideas? Is there a scare journal or some kind of transcendental meditation regimen?
CB: I do keep a journal — a Book of Shadows — where I write my ideas. I’ve kept these books for years. They’re full of story snippets and characters and scenes and drawings. I try to add at least something to it every day. Some of the contents of these books is nonsense. A lot of it just sits in those pages for years and years. Some of it grows into stories.
AIPT: I’m interested in the whole idea of each issue serving as a “standalone descent into horror.” Is it important to open up these stories to new/more diverse readers? Does that accessibility then impact how you tell a larger story?
CB: I thought writing a series of standalone horror stories would be a challenge and would make this book different than anything else on the shelf. I love the idea that someone could pick up any issue and follow along. Each issue could serve as an introduction to Shadowman. But, if you read all the issues, a much bigger story starts to come together. Writing the series in this way absolutely changes how I approach each issue. The pacing and mood of each page becomes very, very important. I want every issue to “feel” unique. No two stories will be the same. It’s been a real blast from the jump.
AIPT: I believe this is your first time working with Jon Davis-Hunt. How has that relationship grown? Does he and his art add something new or unique to how you tell a story and the depths (or heights?) you want to take this project?
CB: Oh, yes! Jon’s work on this book is simply breathtaking! I talk a lot about this being a different kind of Shadowman story. A big part of that is Jon’s art! This book is going to look so different from what you’ve seen before! Jon is giving us such a detailed look at the darkness. No one will expect it. No one will be prepared. And no other book on the shelf will be quite like this one!
AIPT: Is it odd or perhaps somehow calming to write horror-centric stories/series while the world’s actually gripped by endless terror? Does horror, then, take on an all-new level of value or importance?
CB: Let’s face it. Right now, it feels like we’re living in King’s The Stand or [Robert R.] McCammon’s Swan Song. Sometimes, as much as I love horror, I just need to watch Or read something cheery and funny and senseless. But horror can be cathartic, too. Horror can be hopeful. The events that unfold in a great horror story are godawful. They are worse (we hope) than real life. They allow us to safely peer into the abyss. And the heroes (and victims) of a horror story might not survive, but—by God!—they struggle for survival! They try—even in the face of elder gods and chainsaw maniacs and supernatural killer clowns! They try to survive! And that makes me think that I should keep trying, too!
AIPT: What’s the best way to try and scare someone through the medium of comics? What kind of horrors might await readers in Shadowman?
CB: In comics, mood and theme are king. Oh, there’s violence and bloodshed and mystical happenings aplenty. But we want to give the reader some stories to think about. We want the horrors that the readers experience to haunt them for a long time after they read these issues.