Weird, Wild, and Fun: An Interview with Garrett Gunn of COLD DEAD HANDS
We talked with Garrett Gunn, writer of books such as Warcorns and Franklin and Ghost, to discuss his latest project Cold Dead Hands and his very many projects coming up in the next few months!
MATTHEW SELLE: I’m here with Garrett Gunn of Cold Dead Hands. Thanks for being here! Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do!
GARRETT GUNN: My name is Garrett Gunn, I’m an independent comic book writer known for such things as Franklin and Ghost, Warcorns, Cold Dead Hands, and a slew of other things. I’m just a creator of stupidity,
MS: I like that description!
GG: Maybe curator of stupidity is a better word, but yeah! I write fun, silly comic books!
MS: So your latest project is Cold Dead Hands, which is about a mercenary whose hands are replaced with the magic undead hands of a Greek soldier. That is a wild sentence to say, how did you come up with that concept?
GG: It was actually born from an inside joke among Source Point Press creators. People love to give me tons of
shit for my name, my last name is Gunn, that’s not a pen name. So whenever some of the guys would come to a show, they’d be like “Garrett Gunn, cold dead hands!” and then point finger guns at me. A lot of times when I write books, things start off with titles. After you’ve been at a con for four days and people have been shouting "Cold Dead Hands" at you the whole time, it starts to stick in your head. We were at a bar after the show and I said “Man, could you imagine if you had to be a mercenary and your hands were falling apart cause they were dead, like literal cold dead hands?” And somebody went “You should write that.”
MS: You’re gonna appreciate this, then – On my questions sheet for this interview I actually made a note that I love the title “Cold Dead Hands," I thought it was a really clever match for the concept.
GG: Yeah, those titles sometimes just burrow into my head when I think they’re cool! There have been books that are spectacular and then the name sucks, so I think the name is so important. The name and the cover are the first thing people see of your book, so if you can’t capture them then, sometimes you’re screwed. And yeah, the title fits really well with the book! It's about this kid named Kit, and Kit grew up with his dad who was the greatest mercenary ever, and always wanted to be just like him...but he’s just the worst at it. Irresponsible, clumsy, forgetful, all the things you don’t want in a hitman. I just wanted to write about this giant fool who had to deal with zombie hands!
MS: That transitions really well into my next question, because the hands can talk, they still have the soul of this greek soldier inside them. What was it like writing a character that’s just...hands? Was that a challenge in any way?
GG: I [would] say it was less of a challenge for me [than] it was for the artist. I just wrote it like the hands were in the scene with the other characters because, well, they are. Then a lot of it was figuring how we visually give them movement and stuff. And that guided the story too! We had the story go to places where he could do things we could show. Like the part where the hands grab Kit by his own neck and pull him off a moving train. We acted like they were a bully that was making him do things. It was definitely a weird thing, there was a lot of thought put into planning the story to have things we could show on the page.
MS: I won’t go too much into detail to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say you set up a ton of lore and worldbuilding in this one three-issue series. Are you ever going to revisit this world you’ve created?
GG: Yes! There’s already another arc planned, it’s called Grave Danger. This one cuts to another character tied to the things we set up in Cold Dead Hands named Dylan Graves, he’s like if 007 and Van Helsing were one guy. He has this ability to see into the astral plane, and his job is using that to basically correct people’s paths in life. When anyone cheats death, it allows these demons to attach to them, sort of hitching a ride into our world. If that person isn’t taken out, those demons take over them and cross over fully. Dylan can see these demons, so he has to hunt them down and finish off whoever they’re attached to.
At the beginning of Cold Dead Hands, Kit was supposed to die before the hands intervened. So now Dylan is going to meet him and realize something bigger is happening and that he can’t just “correct” this one. That book is on schedule to release in the first part of next year.
MS: From everything you’ve said so far, even your intro where you called yourself a “creator of stupidity,” I can tell you gravitate towards very weird, wild, and fun concepts. What brings you to that specific genre and style?
GG: I have had enough serious bullshit in my life that I have no desire to write more of it. Earlier in my career I did some serious stuff, I did a fairly popular book called Go West which did very well. It was a very serious book that dealt with trauma and things like that, and while it was great and I was proud of it, I walked away thinking “wow, that was taxing.” There was a moment where I was going to quit comics, I had been taken advantage of by multiple people, and I didn’t want to let making comics ruin comics as a whole for me. I was just going to walk away, but I had a concept called Sherman and Ghost – which later became Franklin and Ghost – and my wife had this Joan Lee moment where she said “if you’re going to quit, just do this one thing” and I said okay, fine. We got done making that and I felt energized, I wanted to make the next one. I didn’t care if anybody else liked it because I liked it, and that moment of not caring whether people bought my book and only caring about my own passion for the story was so important. People feed off that, and if you are passionate about something, they’ll feel that way too. So that was the catalyst, I did it for me and had a blast – and immediately people were saying “Holy shit that was great, where’s the next one?” So I did another, and another, and another, and just sort of owned it. I love absurd old comics, like Killdozer-
MS: Wait, hang on. Killdozer?
GG: You haven't heard of Killdozer?! Okay, you know how Marvel used to have those sort of anthology books like Marvel 2-in-1? There was an issue of one of those with this thing called Killdozer who was basically just a big red bulldozer with teeth.
MS: That is incredible.
GG: People love weird stuff like that. People love to be able to escape the shitty earth we live on, to like, think about a bulldozer with teeth. That's what I loved both as a kid and now, so that’s what I try to do in all my books. I think about how ridiculous I can make it, and also how I can step it up from the last thing I did. That’s what Warcorns: Combat Unicorns for Hire was, Warcorns is the perfect example of that book.
MS: I was going to ask about Warcorns! I saw it when I was researching and had to bring that book up! I'll put one of the covers on the interview page so that people can see the craziness we're about to talk about. So how did that book get started?
GG: Warcorns started off as a way to make fun of my army buddies by turning them into what they hate, basically anything feminine. I thought it was funny so I planned to make this one-shot book that was just as crazy as I could make it, like Lisa Frank fucked a unicorn. And then those guys that I was making fun of thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. They’d point out a scene saying “Oh it was so funny when this thing happened to this guy!” and I’d be like “That’s you! I’m making fun of you!” The whole thing was a joke, but people wanted the next book. And now we’ve done a one-shot, a four-issue miniseries, a second one-shot coming out in May, and another miniseries planned for the fall. It’s one of the most successful things I’ve ever made...and it’s bullshit, it’s just me writing things I think are funny. Unicorns with guns. And these next books are going to take it even further.
MS: Now there's one other project I wanted to talk to you about, one that seems really exciting: Familiars, which is both a book and a motion comic! Tell me a bit about that one!
GG: Familiars is my take on Pokemon, I’m a huge fan of that franchise. I grew up with Pokemon but always thought “man, this is kinda bullshit” because you would never battle somebody with a dragon and then just learn a happy lesson at the end...you would fuckin murder somebody! Familiars is my way of paying homage to Pokemon while adding consequences. In the Familiars universe, when people come of age they imprint on a mythical creature that then fights with them. These people and their familiars fight to prove that they’re worthy of this magical journey called the Kami’s Path, but if their familiar dies, they die. You only have one familiar. The story follows a character named Ace Katsu, nicknamed Clutch, as she tries to stop an organization that is replacing organic familiars with synthetic ones and upsetting the spiritual balance of the world. And for the motion comic, we have a great voice cast, too. Veronica Taylor, who plays Ash Ketchum, is playing our main character, so that’s awesome. We also have VAs from My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, and a bunch of other big-name shows. It’s been a super fun project!
MS: Now on that note I have to ask, who’s your favorite Pokemon?
GG: Oh well it has to be Mimikyu.
AT THIS POINT GARRETT IMMEDIATELY ROLLED UP HIS SLEEVE AND SHOWS OFF AN AWESOME TATTOO OF HIS FAVORITE POKEMON.
WE THEN PROCEEDED TO GO OFF ON A LONG TANGENT AS WE GEEKED OUT ABOUT POKEMON CONSPIRACY THEORIES.
GG: The point is that there is nightmarish shit in the Pokemon universe, and I always wanted them to embrace that more.
MS: So that’s what Familiars is, then.
GG: Yep. It’s like Pokemon unleashed.
MS: Do you have a target launch date for that?
GG: The teaser ashcan just came out, if you go to izzyscomics.com you can get a copy of it. We’re going to be releasing the main book in a special format, it’s magazine size, so we’re going to do it as a 48-page annual, sort of. The first of those is coming in January, and the motion comic is coming alongside of it. The books will have a QR code that you can use to access the motion comic online, and that’s gonna have full voice acting, music, everything.
MS: So we’ve talked about a ton of projects you have coming up soon. You’ve got Grave Danger, more Warcorns, and both the Familiars book and motion comic. Is that everything, or do you have more on the way?
GG: Yeah, I'm actually working on fourteen books right now!
MS: Fourteen? That's insane, man!
GG: Yeah! A lot of those are starting in a new program that Source Point Press is doing, which is a monthly ashcan subscription program. For $10 a month you get a new ashcan comic and some stickers and other cool things. It's a great way to see all the crazy new concepts that we come up with, whether you're a reader, collector, whatever. I've got a bunch of things coming up with that; there's a book called Postmasters which is about post-apocalyptic mail carriers, and this month's ashcan is another one from me called Good Boy, which is like a reverse John Wick. The human dies and the dog goes on a revenge mission.
MS: Sounds like you've got some amazing stuff lined up, I'll definitely be picking them up! Thanks so much for doing this interview, it was a great time!
GG: Thanks for having me on!