Whether you’re a city slicker, southern belle, cow-licked tumbleweed or anything between, there’s something you’ll like about the upcoming Image series Reed Gunther. Unlike some all-ages titles that treat it like a dirty word, this western series of a grizzly ridin’ gaucho by brothers Shane and Chris Houghton celebrates that fact with aplomb. The titular character of Gunther and his best friend / bear steed Sterling are carousing their way though the western plains of America looking for jobs to do, people to help and fun to be had – and boy, do they have it.
Although Reed Gunther might have been a new face to most comic fans when it sauntered onto comic shelves on June 1st, it comes with a history if you know where to look. The Houghton brothers originally self-published four issues after a successful stint in a local indie anthology, and this Image release shows the pair dressing up Reed Gunther in full color for its major debut. For more on that and the story between the covers, we talked with Chris and Shane Houghton.
Newsarama: So Houghton Brothers, what can you tell us about Reed Gunther?
Shane Houghton: Reed Gunther is a goofy, bear-riding cowboy who bumbles his way through the Wild West battling supernatural creatures and monsters. In the first issue, Reed tackles a “Steak Snacking Snake” with the help of his trusty friend and steed, Sterling the grizzly bear.
Nrama: That’s the story – but tell us about the man himself, Mr. Reed Gunther.
Shane: Reed is... kind of an idiot. His best friend and grizzly bear steed, Sterling, is really the brains of the operation. Reed means well and has a big heart, but he usually creates the problems he ends up having to solve.
Chris Houghton: Reed may be lacking a bit when it comes to brains or reasoning but in the end, he always comes through for his friends.
Nrama: What is Reed and Sterling up to – and up against – in this story?
Chris: In our first issue, Reed meets the tough, take-no-guff, machete-wielding Starla... a damsel very much NOT in distress. Starla is a "ranchess" and her cows are slowing going missing. Reed decides to solve her problem (without her wanting him to) but Reed soon finds he is over his head. And if you've read the subtitle to the first issue, you can probably guess how the cows are going missing.
Shane: After the done-in-one first issue, Reed unearths a mysterious Idol that causes all sorts of trouble for Reed, Sterling, Starla, President Grover Cleveland, and a heck of a whole lot more innocent people. Beginning in issue two, Reed inadvertently sets into motion a chain of events that could turn the United States of America into a broken third-world country.
Chris: Each issue can be enjoyed by itself and is pretty self-contained. However, there is an overall storyline that starts in issue #2 and culminates in issue #5. After issue #5, most of our issues are done-in-one (or two) issues. We want to keep it so new readers can jump in at any point and enjoy the current issue without having to have read any previous issues.
Nrama: I’ve seen cowboy stories and supernatural tales aim at everyone from mature readers to young kids. Where would you say Reed Gunther fits in all that?
Shane: You nailed it! Reed Gunther is read by everyone from mature readers to young kids. Some of our favorite comics are mature books like The Goon, B.P.R.D., and Chew, but we also wholeheartedly love all-ages books like Bone, The Simpsons Comics, and Uncle Scrooge.
We don't dumb down our content or try to write to a younger audience. It just happened to work out that the stories we like and want to tell are thrilling and adventurous enough for folks who read more mature books, but with nothing objectionable for younger readers as well.
Chris: Yeah, just because it's appropriate for kids, doesn't mean it's only intended for kids. Shane and I just wanted to create a series that we would enjoy.
Nrama: How’d the idea for a story about a cowboy and a grizzly bear come to you? Personal experience? Family legend?
Chris: I needed to come up with a short comic series for a local indy comic called Comics Obscura back when I lived in Detroit (this was in 2007). I started sketching up ideas for a cowboy riding a donkey because I thought that might be kind of fun. Somehow it evolved to be a grizzly bear named after our old family dog. That's about as far as I took Reed Gunther before Shane took over the writing duties, revamped the characters, and wrote issue #1 (early 2009).
Shane: I loved Chris’ designs for the characters of Reed and Sterling and really wanted to keep them going. To do so, they needed a fun and exciting world to inhabit with lots of kooky and tough characters to keep them plenty busy. Also, we train grizzly bears in the off season just like our great-great-great-grandpa did in the 1890's, so that probably had some influence.
Nrama: This Image series is actually a full color reprint of the four issues you self-published. What’s it like to revisit this material, and did you change anything (besides coloring) from its original incarnation?
Shane: Image is not only re-releasing our four self-published issues, but completing that arc with the un(self)published issue five, and following that story arc up with five more all new issues! We've been hard at work with issue five at the same time we were coloring the first four issues, so everything was a mad-house! We hired a fantastic colorist, Ciaran Lucas, and an amazing flatter, Juan Flores, to help with the colors on issues three through five, while Chris colored issues one and two.
Color has brought a whole new level of storytelling to our book and we're so excited to see it burst off the page in CMYK! I started noticing little gags or facial expressions on characters in the background that I had never noticed before in black and white. Color really makes the adventure pop!
Chris: It was strange to revisit some of the artwork. I drew issue #1 two years ago and the art of Reed Gunther and the characters in the book have changed a bit since then. I'm sure I notice it the most but I hope readers don't get distracted by any of it and simply get lost in the story.
Nrama: If things go well with this, what’s the chances of seeing more stories of Reed Gunther by the two of you?
Shane: Heck yeah! If things go poorly with this, you'll probably still see more Reed Gunther stories from us! We have an absolute blast working together and creating wild and fun adventures. We've had a fantastic response from folks who have read our self-published books and we are extremely excited to partner with Image so they can help us reach a much wider audience.
Chris: Yup, we'll put out 10 issues no matter what as long as it's cool with Image. After issue #10, we'll of course want to continue the series. People won't be able to get rid of Reed Gunther too easily!
Nrama: The two of you are new names to comics, but follow in a long history of talented siblings taking comics by storm. Can you tell us your background and how you got to this point?
Shane: Well, we've been brothers for as long as either of us can remember... In college, I went to film school and was writing a whole lot at the same time Chris went to art school and was drawing a whole lot. One day it dawned on us that if we work together, we could make a comic book... So we did! BLAMO! Reed Gunther!
Chris: Couldn't have said it better myself. Shane and I have always worked well together so I'm glad we've been able to create a project like Reed Gunther that really allows us both to do our own work but together.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!