Today saw the latest title from “The Sixth Gun’ co-creator Cullen Bunn, who’s going from cowboys to vikings in “Helheim” at Oni Press. And to tell his story of hellhounds, witches, the living dead, and heav metal album cover-ready vikings, he’s enlisted artist Joëlle Jones, whose clean line work has made “12 Reasons Why I Love Her” and “You Have Killed Me” a delight to read. The story opens with a band of vikings caught in between a battle of wills of two witches–and Jones has made a departure from dames and romance to murder in the frozen waste with glee, as you’ll find in this interview from Emerald City Comic-Con.
MTV Geek: How did the collaboration come about?
Cullen Bunn: I’m not exactly sure how it came about, I was pitching a number of projects, Helheim came to me around the time I was doing a book called “The Tooth”. Both ideas spun into my head at the same time. But I knew I wanted to tell something, I loved stories like Beowulf and stuff like that and I wanted to tell a kind of “Pop Beowulf” story. So that’s as close to where I got the inspiration from as I can get. And then as far as the collaboration goes, I pitched it to ONI and had no artist involved. Lucas Jones and Charlie came to me and said, “how about Joëlle?”
Geek: Joëlle, what came to your mind at the concept and how did you approach it?
Joëlle Jones: First thing I looked at was heavy metal magazine pictures and was like, “Yeah, I can do that.” Yeah it was totally bizarre but I was totally into it: something really bloody and crazy.
Bunn: I wasn’t expecting that from Joëlle honestly, I’m familiar with her work, but when we had our first meeting, Joëlle was very much on board with that kind of story and then she did some character designs. She said she wasn’t afraid of that kind of insanity.
Geek: What were you talking about in terms of inspiration?
Jones: He gave me some movie cues, I can’t remember what they were now, was it “Big Trouble Little China?”
Bunn: I don’t think so, not for this one, maybe. I talk about “Big Trouble in Little China” a lot. I don’t know where it came from; I probably talked about [Michael Crichton’s] “The 13th Warrior.” But that doesn’t really involve any of the supernatural stuff. You mentioned Excalibur yesterday.
Jones: Yeah, I use it as an excuse to watch it like, three or four times a day.
Geek: So with all the brutal stuff in this story, what are things are you most excited about?
Jones: I like the different pieces [Cullen’s] put together. It always fun to figure that out. I guess just having free reign to create monsters. I can see what really scares me. I get to look at tons of creepy things on the internet.
Bunn: One of the things I think is interesting visually about the character is that Rikard changes, his appearance changes over the course of the series. As Joëlle said, he gets these new parts. The final stage of his evolution, it was really exciting to see how it all looked and turned out in the end.
Geek: Was there any particular challenge in going from “Sixth Gun” to “Helheim?”
Bunn: There were some challenges because I wanted to do something differently. I mean, when you read the issue you will see there are no sound effects. I didn’t want to do sound effects because it was such a big part of “Sixth Gun.” I didn’t want to have “Crack” and “Boom.” And that was really difficult for me. I was surprised at how tough it was, like getting things across without sounds effects.
Geek: Joëlle, was it hard for you without those sound effects?
Jones: Yeah, I think in all the other books I’ve done, I’ve never done big action. I had to very up the camera angles and push further than I have ever gone in order to get the action adequately across.
Geek: Also, this contrasts with your previous work, did you have to do research for the artwork?
Jones: Yeah I had to research big burly guys, I didn’t mind it. I did some Viking research, but I didn’t want it to be heavily historically accurate. It didn’t make sense anyway, so I Just looked around at all of it and grabbed what I liked. So design elements of Viking clothing, stuff like that. I thought id mash it all up, because it was pretty and I liked it and I just threw it all in there.
Geek: What happens to his body and the characters around him?
Bunn: Physically he goes through a very drastic change right in the first issue. He becomes much larger. He becomes monstrous. That transformation continues across the series, but what you’ll see is that he starts off as this man, and a human, mortal, trying to defend his people. He goes from that stage to becoming this weapon used in this war between the two witches. And there comes a times in the series where Rikard makes a choice that if he’s going to be a weapon, he’s going to be a weapon on his own terms. If he’s going to strike out against one of these witches, he’s going to strike out against both of them.
Geek: Can you talk a little bit about these witches? Both in design and character.
Bunn: They are very different women and they use similar tactics though, they try to sway people to their way of thinking and at the same time their using these otherworldly forces. And to why they are opposed to each other: there is a line in the book, in the third or fourth issue, where someone says, “I never asked why they were fighting.” It always seemed enough that they hated each other.” And that is a big part of the story, this idea of hate for hate’s sake. They hate each other so much and the go after each other so violently that they are corrupting everything around them. It’s almost as if they’re both trying to win, maybe seize territory, but they are destroying everything to do it.
Geek: Did you have any idea for designs for them right off the bat?
Jones: Yeah, visually they are complete opposites, one is young and beautiful and the other old and ugly. I love drawing both of them that way. It’s fun to draw an ugly lady; it makes me like drawing her a little more.
Geek: Any final thoughts?
Bunn: I think this is one of the darkest things vie worked on for ONI, it’s still a fun story, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in reading it.
Jones: I agree with what he said, it’s really epic, it’s fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed reading it. I can’t wait to see it.
Bunn: And, I told you to look at old Robert E. Howard’s “Conan novels” especially the covers. I think about Molly Hatchet Album covers, like Death Dealer, and things like that. I’m sure I said that in an overly geeky, geek-like way.
“Helheim” is available now from Oni Press.