Prohibition Meets the Paranormal | The Damned

damnedSt. Louisans Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt bring life to a visceral blend of the gangland underworld of the Roarin' '20s with the real underworld of ghouls and goblins.










The criminal underworld meets the real deal in The Damned, a brand new five-issue miniseries from Oni Press. "It's prohibition era, the twist being that demons really run all the crime families and are using the rackets to get people to sell them their mortal souls," explains writer Cullen Bunn. "If you think about all the crime and noir movies and books like The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, it's that kind of story." The hard-nosed gangland atmosphere is only amplified by Brian Hurtt, the acclaimed artist who has previously worked with Greg Rucka on the espionage thriller Queen & Country and Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes on the prison drama Hard Time.


In its first two issues (both on store shelves now), The Damned has already created a unique and vibrant world of gangsters and demons, and the creators have plenty of tricks up their sleeves as the story continues to unfold. We see this world through the eyes of Eddie, a low level thug who can rise from the dead, a skill that has the potential to lead readers on an interesting ride, to say the least. "[The Damned is] a miniseries but it's kind of envisioned as being a series of mini-series," says Hurtt, "so as long as it's somewhat successful we'll continue to do them. We'll most likely follow-up the first series with another mini-series pretty shortly after, within the span of a few months."


We caught up with Bunn and Hurtt, both of whom call St. Louis home, at Star Clipper in the U. City Loop as they signed copies of The Damned's debut issue. Click here to read the PLAYBACK:stl review of The Damned #1, and for more information, visit


Interview conducted by Comics Editor Jason Green, transcribed by Joseph O'Fallon and Jason Green


PLAYBACK:stl: In the first issue we met Eddie. What kind of trouble is he gonna be getting into in the first story arc?

Brian Hurtt: Eddie gets in all the trouble. Every kind of trouble

The cover to The Damned #1 by Brian HurttCullen Bunn: Yeah, if there's anybody who can get into trouble, he can. Essentially, the two most powerful families are trying to broker a deal and solidify their power.  But that starts going south when the broker vanishes.  So Alphonse Aligheri [head of the most powerful demon family] brings Eddie in to find the broker.

BH: For reasons that are pretty clear in the first issue, you'll see that Eddie is the only guy he can trust because Eddie is the only person who absolutely could not have had anything to do with it.

CB: They can't trust each other because, well, they're all demons, so it's tough for them to have any trust in each other. Eddie, being dead at the time the guys disappeared, couldn't have anything to do with it.

How collaborative was the basic creation of the story?

CB: I came up with all of it and Brian begged me to be involved.

BH: I gave him all the notes and he typed it.  That's what happened. [all laugh]

What's the truth? The world may never know.

BH: No, we don't even know, really. We were talking about this earlier; I think I came up with the initial idea of Eddie.  I had this character who couldn't die, and I had the idea of this guy laying dead in the alley, then from there it just kind of snowballed.


CB: At some point we talked about the '20s.  I'm pretty sure I said, "Well, what if these demon families were actually using the rackets to get people to sell their souls?"

BH: You might have even come up with demons, I don't even remember.

CB: A lot of these ideas I'm not sure who came up with what.

BH: I was going to say it's pretty organic, but in a pretty violent way. We do butt heads from time to time.

Do you guys work together closely or are the writing and art creation pretty separated?

BH: Obviously, coming up with the concept and the story, we work really close.


CB: There were times when we were first putting the initial plot, we met a few times and I'd say, "Hey Brian, here's a plot," then we'd go through it and realize that it wasn't going to work for various reasons, then trash it and start over.

BH: We had so many ideas, the story was initially twice as long. We almost had two concurrent plots running side by side. Then once we worked out the skeleton of the plot, just the basic beats, then Cullen went off and wrote the script and pretty much wrote 90% of it in there, doing a lot of stuff that I didn't know, relationships between the characters and stuff, that I had no idea how that was gonna work out.  Cullen fleshed all that out and made them real characters. So we didn't talk much while Cullen's writing, but then when I get the script I start drawing, I call Cullen everyday.


CB: Sometimes a few times a day.  


BH: Usually a few times a day. Just if I have a brief idea or I want to change something, like I want to switch some panels around, I call him. I get really lonely, at home. [all laugh] I've got nobody to talk to about the book, so I call him almost daily.  He stopped answering my phone calls recently. [all laugh]


CB: That wasn't intentional.


The cover to The Damned #2 by Brian HurttBH:  I think we work really closely together, the closest I have ever worked on a project with someone before. I usually get a script and I draw the script and that's about the only contact I have with the writer. Sometimes if I really want to make any kind of a change, I'd email the writer and they would okay it or thumbs up/thumbs down, but with Cullen even with slight ideas, I call him on a moment's notice.

There are big portions of this first issue that don't have dialogue. Was it hard to create those scenes working separately to make sure what Cullen wanted was communicated in the art and vice versa?


BH: Cullen and I talk to each other like we are watching a movie, sitting there in his office and saying, ‘okay, I see this or I see that' and go back and forth with that.  So even before the script part, we both kind of knew what the pages would look like in that case.


CB: We even had an easel we put up in my office, and we'd sit at it and draw it out and thumbnail it, in some cases.


BH: Yeah, and we've done that with future issues. That's about my only contribution to the script, and it's not even a contribution to the script [laughs], but I'll say, "I want to draw this," and I'll show him a drawing, and say now "where can we work this monster in?" There's a specific scene in the second issue where there was something I knew I wanted to draw and Cullen just had to make it work in this world, but I don't do that too much. I usually leave that up to him.


Now how did you guys hook up with Oni, and what's the relationship been like with there so far?


BH: Oni are the people who gave me my first gig. I've had a long relationship with them; before The Damned, I did four different books with Oni, but they were always work-for-hire jobs where they had a script and they were looking for an artist. I always wanted to do my own thing with Oni, and they always were open about me sending in submissions or pitches. Cullen and I have even sent them a pitch at least three years ago, maybe longer than that, back when I had only done one or two books with Oni.  It got turned down.  It was really a borderline thing, I found out years later. They said if we had really pushed for it we would have gotten it published with them, but they were really on the fence about it.


They wanted me to do something with them, and I knew it had to be something that I was involved with from the beginning, but I also knew that I didn't have the time to write something. So Cullen and I, because we've had so many story ideas we wanted to do together over the years, we decided to sit down and do something completely original, not one of our older ideas, and it just kind of snowballed from there.  And working with them, they've been great.


CB: They've been super to work with.


BH: They're responsive when you need them, but at the same time they'll tell you they have a hands-off policy.  They think the less cooks in the kitchen, the better the product is going to be.  They leave the project to rise or fall based on your own talent, what you put into it.


C: I think they had a couple of questions when we sent them the proposal, and then once we answered those questions that was all they really needed


As comic creators that live in the Midwest which is pretty far away from…


BH: Everything! [all laugh]


…where the industry is, do you guys have trouble getting into the different publishers and really getting your voice heard when you are so far away from the main scene?


Both: Yes.


The cover to The Damned #3 by Brian HurttBH: I mean, comics is a job. Once you've got the job, you can live anywhere in the world and do your job, but getting the job is all about meeting somebody face-to-face. It's always going to be like that, establishing a relationship with somebody. A lot of times that involves going to the shows and the cons, and when you live in the Midwest, no matter where the show's at you have to travel, it's an expense. If you're on the east coast, you can hit 10 shows a year, whereas if you are in the Midwest, you might be able to afford one or two.  So yeah, it's hard. If I had lived in New York City, we could develop a relationship where we could walk into the offices of these publishers and be more likely to get work from them but we're not in that situation yet. Soon. Soon they'll be knocking down Cullen's door.


CB: Yeah, they won't be able to get enough of me. 


Now do you guys have any stories for the future that you have planned to work together on or are you just worried about The Damned for now?


BH: Well, we've got The Damned. How many stories do you think we've got for The Damned?


CB: We could go on forever. I mean, both of us know there's a finite, definite ending to The Damned in the future.  We've talked about how the series ends.


BH: We talked about probably three or four stops along the way. We know we want to tell this kind of story, we want to introduce these characters, so we've got a few of those stories worked out. And we've always got these other projects that we've played with over the few years that one of these days, time-allowing, we'll probably pursue.  Like the one we pitched to Oni.  Oni actually asked me about that the other day, asked if we're still interested in doing that, cause now apparently they're more eager. I'm a better artist, and…


CB: And with them, I think I was always the variable. They didn't know if I could script worth anything. I mean, I've shown them now that I am capable of scripting anything from edge-of-your seat action to gut-churning horror to heart-fluttering romance. If Shakespeare were a comics writer, he'd be me. Or at least he'd be afraid of me. [all laugh]

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