You good folks know we love us some creator published goodness. Well, right now on Kickstarter one of our absolute favorite writers has a campaign for the first two (of a planned six) issues of Democritus Brand and the Endless Machine. For this series Cullen Bunn has teamed with JimmyZ Johnston (writers), Federico de Luca (art), Simon Bowland (letters), Gary Bedell (logo), and Baldemar Rivas (variant cover). We got in touch with Cullen to find out more about the project and what’s in store. Immediately he had a surprise for us!
First and foremost, thank you for taking the time! It is greatly appreciated.
Cullen Bunn: Hey there! I had JimmyZ Johnston, my co-writer, come in on some of these, too! Thank you! The support means the world to us!
Let’s start with the creative team and how it came together …
CB: Jimmy and I have known each other for a long time now. We used to go to horror writer conventions years ago. And Jimmy was the editor on my prose middle reader horror novel, CROOKED HILLS. To put it mildly, Jimmy’s crazy as Hell, but he’s my kind of crazy. He dreams big, comes up with wild ideas. We’ve done a few comics together, and we’ve been kicking around the idea for a steampunk/horror adventure for some time. I don’t even remember how Federico and I first got in touch, but I really liked his art style, and I wanted to do a book with him. It took a little while to find it, but DEMOCRITUS BRAND AND THE ENDLESS MACHINE seemed right up his alley. Simon Bowland is doing the letters for us. I’ve worked with Simon on numerous projects and I know he’s great at what he does. He was the first person I contacted about lettering these books.
(cover to left is the regular cover)
Ok, so the description of the book is “Cosmic Horror in the Steampunk Era,” what led you to combine these two genres for this tale?
JimmyZ Johnston: Cosmic horror is something that I have been a fan of for as long as I can recall. Steampunk has fascinated me ever since I picked up the Girl Genius books from Phil Foglio (back when they were single copy books!) The question of what makes good horror is one I have asked for years. And one answer I always come back to is normalcy. For me the best horror stories are ones that take a normal setting and incorporate horror elements into it. Alien was an amazing sci-fi movie with a normal sci-fi setting. Adding the horror element to it made it perfect movie. For the book we created, taking a normal steampunk setting and adding in the horror elements is something that I hope sets it apart.
CB: I started thinking about how the world became this steampunk dystopia. I wondered how such a technological revolution might have occured in a short period of time. The origins of the steampunk society–this mysterious mummy that was discovered just 20 years earlier–took us in some truly horrific directions.
Did the combination of genres allow you to stretch the Cullen style that many are used to, in terms of what type of story we can expect?
CB: Yes, that allowed me to do some different things for sure. More than that, though, working with a co-writer moves the story in some different directions and gives the book a different kind of “voice.” You’ll see that it is a Cullen Bunn book, but you’ll also see that it is a JimmyZ book. And a Federico book, for that matter. I feel like it’s different from everything else I’ve ever done.
There’s a certain tone that comes with the term “cosmic horror” but the setting provides a unique outlet for it. How were you able to merge the two for this series?
JZ: Taking the Steampunk world into the lore of ancient Egypt let us play with the idea of the unknown with the idea that it has been here longer than we can imagine. Fusing cosmic horror with Egyptian mythology was a key aspect to the world building. The steampunk setting lets us forge a new path. It’s often said that there are no new stories. What excites readers (and creators) is taking elements and merging them in ways that create a uniqueness in storytelling.
How much re-imagining was needed in order to get the two very different stylistic approaches to come together?
JZ: I have always felt that the best stories come from the mingling of genres. Cullen and I talked a lot about the direction the world could go. Having our team as explorers allows us to branch out beyond the expectations of the genres. One aspect to the story we are telling that I think readers will enjoy is that both Cullen and I tend to approach any project with the intention of moving beyond the cliche expectations. So we were really starting with the idea of what would a steampunk world be like if I created it. And what would it be like if Cullen created it. Then we had the amazing artistic talent of Fede who took the concepts we were playing with and turned them into visual representations that added even more depth to the project.CB: What’s fun about world-building for me is that there is a moment where everything just “clicks” and falls into place. Once that happens, the world, the setting, the tone just comes together so smoothly. Merging the two genres was an exercise in world-building. Steampunk is baked into the world’s makeup. And the cosmic horror elements are baked into the steampunk elements, though you may not realize that right away. When the pieces fell into place for this story, it was electric. Well… steam-powered, at least.
So how familiar will the aesthetic of this project be?
CB: Federico is bringing his A game to this story, and he is leaning into some of the more familiar aesthetics of the steampunk genre. Of course, when the horror elements start manifesting, he’s taking the look and feel of the steampunk era in the most horrifying directions imaginable. That will turn things on its ear rather quickly.
Did this combination of elements open anything up for you creatively?
JZ: Every project brings with it new creative challenges and opportunities. The steampunk world does allow a variety of new ideas that aren’t ones that can be explored in more traditional world building. The horror elements tend to be floating around inside my head at all times, so letting them out to play just feels natural.
CB: Most certainly! We are playing in new territory for me… and it’s thrilling! Lots of new ideas–maybe too many new ideas–have been flooding into my head with this project. We could tell stories about this world for a long time to come!
Was their fluidity in what the end product was, versus at the start, once the creative team was together and involved in getting the project done?
JZ: Cullen and I have known each other for almost 20 years now. When he was writing prose, I worked with him as an editor. The creative process for us with cowriting is one that is fairly seamless. The largest obstacle we encountered with this was me finding balance between writing time and day to day business time at the shop. It is interesting (for me) how the KickStarter project has changed the nature of it. Up until the time of launch there was a whole lot of isolation in the creative process. Seeing the response as readers are exposed to the project and begin backing it offers a lot of validation to the job of being a creator. CB: I feel like this has always been a very fluid process, really, from the initial brainstorming meetings through the scripts. It’s always been fun for me. It’s never been a “pulling teeth” scenario.
What do you hope will be the takeaway from this series?
CB: As always, I really want readers to have fun with the book. There’s a lot going on in these pages. A lot to enjoy on every page. I think folks are really gonna dig this one.
JZ: This initial foray into the world of Democritus Brand will be the launching point allowing us to further explore the world. Adding in new characters and trials for the current team. While the Endless Machine may be the first encounter readers have with Democritus Brand, it won’t be the last.
Again, thank you so much for taking the time!
CB: Thanks so much!
HUGE HUGE HUGE thank you to Cullen Bunn for taking the time to entertain the questions AND for bringing in co-writer JimmyZ to answer with him! That was a nice surprise. Finde out more about the campaign, see for yourself what all the hullabaloo is about, and back the project: DEMOCRITUS BRAND AND THE ENDLESS MACHINE