When it comes to the newest western from Oni Press, not all guns are created equal. In the world of The Sixth Gun, written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Brian Hurtt, people from all over the Wild West are converging on one woman, who has inherited a pistol with some mean supernatural powers. With evil desperadoes, the Pinkerton Detective Agency and a ne'er-do-well named Drake Sinclair all looking for the power behind the Sixth Gun, it's clear that the line between the quick and the dead will be defined with a bullet. Newsarama caught up with Bunn to talk about the book's premise, what the characters are like, and just what magic you might see in the vistas of the American wilderness.
Newsarama: Cullen, just looking at the first issue of The Sixth Gun, it looks like there's a real mystical element fused to the Civil War-era Wild West. Where did this idea come from for you?
Cullen Bunn: It always started with a gun.
At some point while I was writing The Damned, I got this idea about a magic pistol. Nowadays, I don't even remember much about what it could do. I tried to work it into The Damned, but it just didn't mesh as part of that universe. So, I started thinking of other stories centered on this cursed weapon. Eventually, the notion of the Wild West dawned on me.
I've always loved weird westerns, like the old Jonah Hex comics; novels like The Magic Wagon and Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale; TV shows like Wild Wild West; and movies like Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula, The Valley of Gwangi, Dead Man, and Dead Birds. The Sixth Gun is my contribution to the genre.
Nrama: Something that interests me about all this is the fact that westerns traditionally have had a hard time surviving in this industry -- so why this genre? What does it offer you that other periods can't?
Bunn: When I think of the plot and the characters, the only setting in which they work well is the Old West. There are so many stories … so many great set pieces … so many awesome supporting characters that spring up based on the tropes of the genre. We just turned the setting on its ear a bit by fusing it with epic dark fantasy, another genre offering endless possibility.
I think there's opportunity for a successful western. Maybe the biggest challenge is to get readers to pick the book up for the first time. There are a lot of preconceived notions about a western, and I think The Sixth Gun thumbs its nose at those ideas. That's why I was really excited when Oni Press offered the first issue as part of Free Comic Book Day and then posted it for free online. It's the perfect opportunity for the skeptic to try the book out.
Nrama: What about working with Brian Hurtt? How'd you two get together, and what makes him the best man for the Sixth Gun?
Bunn: Brian and I have known each other for years. We used to work at a comic book shop together, and we put together a number of project proposals before we had some success with The Damned. We work well together, mainly because we challenge each other and we geek out over a lot of the same things without being complete clones. Brian is one of those illustrators who, in my opinion, can knock it out of the park in just about any genre, and he improves with every new project. He's dedicated, too, which means a lot.
Nrama: Looking at the first issue, there are a few items in the world that are being sought after -- including this mysterious pistol. Can you tell us a little bit about what this pistol is, and what it can do?
Bunn: I don't want to give too much away here, but you get a glimpse at the Sixth Gun's power in the first issue, specifically in the scene at the Montcrief farmhouse. Even in the first arc, though, we'll only scratch the surface of the Sixth Gun's true power and purpose. There's more than one reason the General wants his gun back … but who knows if he even fully understands the weapon?
Nrama: There were the other items mentioned in the first issue as well -- a lantern, a pack of cards. Will we be seeing those -- or any other items -- in future issues?
Bunn: The world of The Sixth Gun is rife with talismans and oracles and mystical places and enchanted and cursed items. I wanted to get that idea across as quickly as possible in the first issue. That's why we see the Pinkertons gathering those items. I wanted to make sure everyone knew right away that this wasn't the “real” Old West as much as a fantasy version of that classic setting.
For the first story arc, we focus on the guns -- the Six -- more than any other item, but we definitely have our characters entering a few mystical locales. As the story progresses beyond the first arc, you'll definitely be seeing additional mystical items, people, and places. In addition, I've been writing a number of Drake-focused prose pieces that definitely feature some magic plunder. Drake's a treasure hunter, after all, and the stories I'm working on follow his exploits before the first issue of the comic.
Nrama: Now, looking at the characters a bit, can you tell us a little bit about Drake Sinclair, and how he'll be interacting with Becky Montcrief?
Bunn: Drake poses some interesting questions. Right from the get-go, some of the folks at Oni were quick to note that Drake is a heartless, evil wretch, not as bad as the book's main villains, but evil in his own right. I don't necessarily see him that way, though. He's not a white hat wearing, singing cowpoke by any means. He's done some bad things in his time. But he's not evil. I like to think of him as a scoundrel, but maybe my sense of right and wrong is skewed. You'll have to judge for yourself.
As for Becky, when we first meet her, she comes across as a bit of a damsel in distress, but she gets her hands on The Sixth Gun, and she has to learn to stand on her own if she's going to survive what lies ahead.
All of the major characters -- Drake, Becky, and a third major player who appears in Issue 2 -- go through a lot of changes over the course of the first story arc. They act as catalysts for each other in many ways.
Nrama: How about the villains of the piece? It looks like Drake and Becky will be facing some rough opposition from the forces of the General -- can you tell us a little bit about who these desperados are, and what they can do?
Bunn: What can they do? What won't they do to get what they want? That's probably a better question. Aside from General Oliander Bedford Hume, we have five major bad guys who play a role in the first arc -- Missy Hume, Silas “Bitter Ridge” Hedgepeth, “Bloodthirsty” Bill Sumter, “Filthy” Ben Kinney, and Will Arcene. Each of these villains possesses one of the Six and they're all not-quite-normal any more. Again, not to give anything away, but each of the pistols has a special gift. We don't come right out and say what each of the powers might be (you have to wait until Issue 3 for that) but you'll see the guns in action. In the final scene of Issue 1, we glimpse at least a hint of the abilities of three of the guns. What's more important, though, is that these characters, whether they had magic guns or not, are absolutely ruthless and vile, and they'll stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
Nrama: For those who are still on the fence about the Sixth Gun, what would you tell them to get them on board? Any fun moments ahead that you can tease?
Bunn: Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but I can say that the next several issues are packed with action, monsters, magic, and daring-do. A lot of people commented that the battle at the end of the first issue was really crazy, but we up the ante in a big way in Issue 2. I'd also say that if you're not sure if the book will be for you or not, you can check out the entire first issue for free online by visiting here.