by Jarrod Jones. Tyler Crook has spent the last decade or so exploring the darker paths with fellow travelers. With The Lonesome Hunters, Crook makes this journey alone.

This latest creator-owned series from Dark Horse Comics marks Crook’s first solo credit since he made the leap from video games to comics back in 2011. Petrograd (published by Oni Press) saw Crook team with writer Philip Gelatt on a moody conspiracy piece that spurred new opportunities for the artist to hone his craft, his unique blend of inks and watercolors becoming murkier over time as he delved into increasingly spookier and gnarlier fare. He would soon join the Mignolaverse with B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth (working with writer John Arcudi) which, coupled with his collaborations with Cullen Bunn on The Sixth Gun (from Oni) and their Eisner-nominated series Harrow County (also published by Dark Horse), cemented his reputation as a singular voice in the horror genre.

It was on Harrow County where Crook began to creatively branch out, scripting back-up stories for the horror series while also knocking out fully painted issues in tandem with his co-creator and writer. “The backup stories I did in [County] really helped me to build my confidence,” he tells me. “But working on a series like The Lonesome Hunters feels more like discovering some sort of lovely maze that you can explore with some leisure. [Laughs] That sounds dumb but I think its kind of true.”

The maze Crook has laid out in The Lonesome Hunters will be navigated by Howard and Lupe, two people who are suddenly thrust into each other’s lives through dark forces that will reveal much about the sinister world they inhabit and more about themselves and the traumas they’ve both silently endured. (Watch out for magpies.) Also: Howard, who has to be clocking in at around a hundred, wields a giant honking sword. It’s safe to say that Crook is looking to strike a specific balance of horror, humor, and heart. “I think I wanted to make a story that had the weird and fun elements of a typical horror story [that also explored] some of the real horrors that we all experience in our normal lives.”

Tyler Crook spoke with DoomRocket about The Lonesome Hunters, the process and inspirations that made it come to life, and what readers can expect from him now that he’s finally made the daring leap into solo comic creation.

1. You had already done some writing on ‘Harrow County’—you wrote backups on top of your art duties—but ‘The Lonesome Hunters’ is your first foray into solo creator-owned work. How has it felt to make that jump? 

Tyler Crook: It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster! Writing a series like this is easier in some ways and harder in some ways than I expected. When I’m just drawing a series, obviously, I get to rely a lot on wonderful writers like Cullen Bunn, Jeff Lemire and John Arcudi. So it can feel like a lot of pressure when I’m writing and drawing the whole thing by myself. There are days when I wake up and I can’t believe how good this series is turning out and then there are days when I wake up and wish I could blame a writer for this scene with a thousand birds in it. It takes a lot of audacity to believe that you have a story worth a reader’s time and money and it can be hard to maintain the confidence to finish. But everyone I’ve shown The Lonesome Hunters to seems to really enjoy it.

Was ‘The Lonesome Hunters’ always meant to be your first solo writer-artist book? What was it about this story that made you feel you needed to tell it on your own?

The Lonesome Hunters is a story that has been with me for a long time. I started thinking about it almost ten years ago. So, when I decided that it was time for me to take the plunge into doing a solo project, it was the story that I was most prepared to tell. It wasn’t really planned to be my first series but I’m glad it is.

2. Trauma seems to be the primary thematic force behind ‘The Lonesome Hunters’. Here, your main character Howard endures the late days of his unnaturally long life by shouldering a tremendous shock he experienced as a child. Your other primary character, Lupe, is seen living with a seemingly abusive uncle—and there’s no mention of her folks, which subtly implies that she might have endured some rough stuff in her life, as well. What is it about that uniquely quiet brand of suffering that only trauma can provide that makes it so rich for drama—and horror? 

I wish I could remember where I read this, but I saw somewhere a person describing why horror is important as a genre. Their idea was that horror stories are models for navigating impossible situations. They illustrate how a person can survive even where it’s really, really hard. And I think I wanted to make a story that had the weird and fun elements of a typical horror story [that also explored] some of the real horrors that we all experience in our normal lives. I guess all drama comes from people wanting things that are hard or impossible to get. And sometimes just being safe and not being crushed by fear is all people want. And sometimes that seems completely impossible.

3. In this first issue we experience a substantially large jump in time between Howard’s traumatic childhood and the present-day events of this series, where Howard is described by Lupe as being “really old.” Will ‘The Lonesome Hunters’ jump back to other crucial moments in Howard’s past—like middle age, say—so that we might have a clearer idea of what kind of life he’s lived before he’s made to wield his sword once again?

Yeah, for sure! As the series progresses, we will learn how Howard and Lupe came to be where they are today and how that informs their decisions in the present. Just about everyone in this series has a back story that I hope to tell.

Can you give us a hint as to what kind of person Howard was in the one hundred years between his first use of that sword and today? He’s so isolated and miserable when we first see him all grown up. Life clearly has not been kind.

Howard is very old. He’s older than he looks, and he looks pretty darn old. I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but he’s had a weird and sometimes very difficult life and he’s not always dealt with it in the best way. 

4. Tell me a bit about Lupe. It seems that her story crashes into Howard’s in such a way that fate forces them to become the story’s eponymous lonesome hunters. How will Lupe’s inexperience as a burgeoning monster hunter and Howard’s world-weariness collide—and how will it help them to connect?

I think the main connection between these characters is that they both feel stuck in situations that they don’t want to be in. They just don’t know how to break out. And they each approach problems in different and unique ways. So, a lot of what happens in the story is because they combine their different perspectives to find solutions. Sometimes it works and, ya know, sometimes it’s more complicated. 

There’s a tinge of wistfulness to Lupe’s narration, I’ve noticed. 

I really like narration in comics as long as it has a strong voice. It took me a while, but when I finally figured out that Lupe should be the one telling the story, a lot of things clicked. It affects both how I tell the story and what the story is going to be. It might be too spoilery to say much more than that.

5. Let’s talk a bit about process. As a writer, how do you like to build your characters? Do you work out detailed character bibles?

Nope. It’s mostly in my head. I don’t know if I’m a “character bible” type of writer. If I was working with another person, it might make more sense. I keep a notebook with ideas and some rough timelines mapped out but nothing too intense. 

How does it feel to be able to chart your own characters’ destinies? Does it hurt when your story suddenly takes a dire, possibly violent, turn for them? 

Like every other writer, I want the characters in this story to feel vital and worthy of our consideration. And if I want a random stranger to connect and care about these characters, I need to care about and connect with them first. So yeah, it kind of hurts.

6. You’re using watercolors and ink, the tried-and-true Tyler Crook method, which infers that you already know what you’re laying down on the page beforehand. Is that right? You’re scripting your pages first, then layouts? 

Right now, my process kind of goes like this: I start with outlining the story. This tends to require a ton of revisions as I come at the story problems from different angels. Once that’s worked out and I know basically what needs to happen and be said on each page, then I do rough layouts and write the dialog at the same time. Form there I can do pencils (which I do digitally). Then I print out the pencils for inking and color. With my recent projects, inking and coloring have sort of become a single task. By the time I’m painting a page, I’m not really making up new story stuff but I’m always trying to leave room for small bits of improvisation as I go along as long as it’s appropriate for the stage that I’m at. When I was younger, I tried to write comics as I was drawing the final art and it never worked out. It’s kind of a strange balance to strike between planning and allowing for bursts of inspiration.

7. ‘The Lonesome Hunters’ seems to hit that sweet spot between two genres in which you’ve become well-versed during your comics career: horror and fantasy. You’ve admitted in the past that you can spend an inordinate amount of time doing research in order to get the details of your story right—’Manor Black’ takes place in Georgia, for instance, and you’ve mentioned in interviews that Google Maps was ever an open tab on your computer. The horror-fantasy world of ‘The Lonesome Hunters’ seems less defined, almost timeless in a way. Did you pull any reference or inspiration to get this world into shape?

In my mind, this first chapter takes place in New York and New Jersey. Or at least, a fantasy world that is like New York and New Jersey. But I’m trying not to be too precious about keeping it accurate. The specific time and location aren’t critical to the story, I don’t think. But at the same time, I need the setting to feel believable. So, I still use Google Maps to “drive” around locations to get ideas for the architecture and flora and stuff like that. I also have a folder with hundreds of photos of magpies so I can try and get them right. I want the world to feel like a real place.  That way when weird things happen, they actually feel weird.

8. What level of darkness are we in store for in ‘The Lonesome Hunters’? You’ve mentioned that ‘Preacher’ was an influence on this project, which portends heavy stuff—and possibly a bit of irreverence, too. 

Preacher was definitely an influence on The Lonesome Hunters, but this is a very different kind of story. There will be exploration of religion and ideas about God. But my brand of irreverence is a lot different than the irreverence of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. If you have read Harrow County, then you will probably have a pretty good idea of the kind of vibe I like best. I love stories that deal with heavy, dark stuff but has a core of, I don’t know, sweetness? Compassion?  

You’ve navigated some dark corridors since you began working in comics—even ‘Petrograd’ dealt with heavy themes of duty and sacrifice. Your time on books like ‘B.P.R.D’ and  ‘Harrow County’ have all but cemented your reputation as a storyteller who trades in horror. Are you comfortable with that? 

Yeah, for sure! I love horror and I think it’s a great genre for exploring interesting and difficult parts of being a human being. It might sound goofy for a guy who’s making comic books, but I want to make stories that matter to people. I want to make fun stories, obviously, but I want to talk about things that are import to me and horror is great place to do that. 

9. We have to talk about the sword. You told AIPT that the gnarly three-bladed sword in Albert Pyun’s ‘The Sword in the Sorcerer’ left a big impression on you, as it did me. I suppose, then, that it’s no surprise that the sword in ‘The Lonesome Hunters’ is equally striking: it has a long onyx blade, squared off at the end, no hilt, and it looks like it could carve an electron from an atom. Tell me how you went about designing this sword. What elements did you feel it needed to have so that it could feel as old and dangerous as possible?

There is a lot about the sword that the characters have yet to discover. So, I gotta be careful what I reveal just yet. But we learn on the first page of the series that the sword was “taken from a creature as old as the Earth itself”. When I designed the sword, I was wondering what a sword would have been like before swords were invented. If you were a creature as old as the Earth, you would probably have a sword made of something more natural and more direct than iron or steel. And it wouldn’t have the same shape as a typical sword because that shape is based on tens of thousands of years of research and development. It needed to look more alien than that. I worked through 5 or 6 different iterations before I landed on the one in the book.   

The sword in ‘Sorcerer’ had unexpected qualities to it, in that it could fire its blades whenever an added burst of mayhem was called for. Howard’s sword can prolong his life, and by the end of this first issue, we see that it can do at least one surprising (and pretty funny) thing, as well. Will it do anything else? 

We’ll have to find out!

10. What’s your favorite scary story? What’s it about, and what makes this one particular story so frightening for you? 

Oof!  That’s a tough question. I can’t remember what it was called but there was a story in one of those old EC comics that was written from the point of view of a grave. So the grave was pontificating about how much it craved a body to fill itself and that story really freaked me out. I don’t know exactly why I find that so spooky. Maybe it was just giving such dark agency to something that should not have any agency whatsoever. Anyway, one of these days I’ll dig it up and reread it and see if it still freaks me out.

‘The Lonesome Hunters’ hits stores June 22. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: APR220277)

More comics interviews to get those synapses firing:

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10 things concerning Alisa Perren, Greg Steirer & ‘The American Comic Book Industry and Hollywood’

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