With a story as ingrained into our collective consciousness as the tale of the Great Flood in Biblical lore, one might not think there are any new angles to explore, unique yarns to unpack. But then not everyone is writer Cullen Bunn. Known for exploring the supernatural and the macabre in such comic series as Harrow County, Regression, and The Unsound, Bunn tackles the story of Noah and Yahweh’s purge of the Earth in Dark Ark, his new series for Aftershock Comics. In Dark Ark, Bunn throws the spotlight on a second ark, but with passengers quite separate and apart from those aboard Noah’s boat, filled with creatures of the unnatural world. Who is saving them, why, and how this will affect Noah’s mission is part of the conceit of Dark Ark.
Mr. Bunn spoke with me recently about the “A ha!” moment that gave birth to Dark Ark, the relationships that the creatures of the Dark Ark have with their human counterparts, and how the book allows him to explore questions of morality.
FreakSugar: First of all, I’m a huge anthropology/religion nerd and I loved the first issue. Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview!
Cullen Bunn: Thank you! I’m stoked with how positive readers have been about this series! And I appreciate the opportunity to spread the word!
FS: For folks who might be considering the book, what can you tell us about Dark Ark?
CB: Well, almost everyone knows the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. When the world was ending in a vast flood, Noah built a vessel to save the animals so that the life could go on once the waters receded. The part of the story you haven’t heard is that there was a second ark. A sorcerer named Shrae constructed a similar ship, only where Noah saved the creatures of the natural world, Shrae spared the creatures of the unnatural world—all the vampires and werewolves and ogres and manticores and the like.
FS: It’s such a novel idea I’ve never seen play out in literature, the notion of another ark existing out there along with Noah’s. What was the genesis behind Dark Ark? Did you have an “A ha!” moment when crafting the story?
CB: Yeah, this story hit me out of the blue. It started as a bit of an absurd concept, something I chuckled about and thought of as a joke initially. But the idea stuck with me and I realized there is so much story and excitement and heartbreak to mine in a tale like this. It’s a story that had so much potential, I couldn’t just let it go and I had to spend some time developing the characters and the setting to see where it might take me.
FS: You’ve built an impressively large cast already in the first issue. What can you tell us about the humans and supernatural beings we see in issue 1?
CB: There are so many monsters on board Shrae’s Ark, and not all of them are happy with their lot in life. They don’t like being crammed into a ship with all these other monsters (these creatures form little factions and cliques). They don’t like being beholden to a human. They’re just unhappy in general and that doesn’t make for a stable environment when dealing with beasts like these.
Some of the monsters don’t even think they belong on Shaw’s vessel. The unicorns, for example, believe they should have been on Noah’s Ark, and they have no idea why they have been thrown in with all these terrible beasts.
The humans on the ship fall into two groups. We have Shrae and his family, and they’re running the show. They all have different motivations and personalities, but they are loyal to Shrae.
And then we have a much more tragic group. There are people held prisoner on the Ark. They are a sad and desperate lot because of the purpose they serve. See, many of the creatures on the Ark are meat-eaters and blood-drinkers. These people are the food supply. Their relationship with both the monsters and Shrae’s family is complicated to say the least.
FS: Shrae is set upon his task by a demon. What can you tell us about this supernatural being? Is it a new character or is it based on biblical figures such as Ba’al or Lucifer?
CB: The demon Shrae encounters is never really named, but it is sort of an amalgam of all the demonic entities you’ve read about. It represents darkness and evil, a force opposed to the will of the Creator.
Or does it?
There’s a bit of mystery about the demon, and that’s intentional. It’s something we explore in little drips and drabs as the story continues.
FS: While water is seen in stories and mythology over and again as a cleansing agent, the flood myths—particularly as seen in the Noah tale—always seemed a bit needlessly destructive. Clearing the board of perceived evil rather than doing the work for improvement appears an easy way out and, more importantly, cruel. The characters on the dark ark appear to be wrestling with those moral questions themselves. Was that a concern you wanted to address in the series?
CB: Absolutely! For the humans and the monsters, there are many questions of morality. Shrae is a great example of this. He was a terrible man, an evil sorcerer, but he wanted to leave that life behind. Now, though, he must serve the will of dark forces once more if he wants to save the family he loves. Shrae’s daughter, Khalee, is a genuinely good person, but she must sit back and watch the ruthless things her father must do to ensure their survival. The aforementioned unicorns must question why, after being creatures who served God’s will, they are cursed to be with the goblins and bugbears and vampires. The manticore Kruul is a terrible beast, but his relationship with some of the humans on the ship confuses him.
FS: I appreciate that among the mythical creatures and the humans that you make a point to show that no one is completely good or evil in their actions unilaterally.
CB: This is a story of intrigue, and I feel like that needs this sort of grey area to work. Also, making the monsters a little more “neutral” in their tendencies helped to make them seem more… human.
FS: With so many mythical creatures in the series, what kind of research did you do in preparation? Are all of the creatures created whole cloth or are any based in biblical lore?
CB: All of the creatures we’ve seen (so far) are based on folklore and legends from around the world. They aren’t necessarily “Christian” creatures. Beasts from all mythologies and cultures can be seen here. I like how unpredictable the weird mash-up of different beings can feel. It’s a lot of fun for me to see how these vastly different beasts might interact.
FS: The look of the book alternates between beauty and discord, which fits the story perfectly. What is the collaboration like between you and artist Juan Doe?
CB: Beauty and discord. That’s a great way to describe what Juan is bringing to the page here. Juan is great to work with. His monsters are fun and he really sells the idea of discomfort and claustrophobia that surrounds the characters here.
FS: Did you have any particular ideas about what you wanted certain things to appear in the book?
CB: In the script for the first issue, there is a MASSIVE list of monsters I put together. For every creature on the list, I added links to images from folklore and pop culture as to how I saw the creatures, but I made sure Juan knew to do his thing it’s the designs. I wanted this to be “our” take on these beasts of legend.
FS: Is there anything you can tease about the series moving forward?
CB: For a book about monsters being stuck on a boat, I have a lot of big ideas for stories going forward. Thus far, Shrae’s Ark has gone unnoticed by the “forces of divinity” but that can’t last forever. And surely there will come a time with Noah’s Ark and Shrae’s Ark encounter one another in some way. And what happens when the Arks finally reach land? All these ideas are waiting to be explored in the series.
Dark Ark #3, written by Cullen Bunn with Juan Doe on art, is on sale Wednesday, November 29th, from Aftershock Comics.
From the official series description:
The wickedness of mankind has moved the Creator to destroy the world by way of the flood. Noah has been tasked with building an ark to save his family and the animals of the world. But this is not Noah’s story. For darker powers have commanded the sorcerer Shrae to build his own ark and save the unnatural creatures of the world—such as the vampires, the dragons, the naga, and the manticore. But what will happen on a vessel crawling with monsters, where insidious intrigue and horrific violence are the rule of law?