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‘Unearth’ a new subterranean horror with Cullen Bunn and Baldemar Rivas

An interview with the creative team for Image Comics newest horror series.

Mitlan Itza, Mexico: A remote, nondescript village and ground zero for Cullen Bunn, Kyle Strahm and Baldemar Rivas’ new supernatural subterranean horror story from Image Comics, Unearth.

A terrifying new disease is warping the flesh of any animal and human unfortunate enough to cross its path and the results are creatures that resemble something out of our darkest nightmares. Enter Dr. Reyes, head of a scientific task force that’s been sent to investigate the infection and discover its source. Alongside the scientists and their military escort, a young local child is along for the journey into a terrifying and disgusting horror that awaits them underneath the ground.

Unearth is written by Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm, with art by Baldemar Rivas, and lettering by Crank!. AiPT! was fortunate enough to speak with Bunn and Rivas about their new book, their love of horror and what fans can expect.

Unearth #1 was released on July 10. Issue #2 will be released on August 14.

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AiPT!: Cullen, you’re one of the comic industry’s undisputed masters of horror, and Kyle made quite the splash with Spread. How did two guys with big such strong opinions on horror decide to put their heads together?

Cullen Bunn: I think it’s because we had such strong opinions on horror that we were able to put our heads together on something as cool as Unearth. This all came about, as I recall, when Kyle called me to say he had been working with a talented new artist — Baldemar — who loved horror the way we did, and he thought we needed to collaborate on a book. The three of us exchanged a bunch of emails and talked on the phone a lot while we tried to develop a concept that would thrill horror lovers, but also keep them guessing in a big way.

AiPT!: I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s watching X-Files, The Thing, Alien, and all sorts of gross disgusting horror. You guys are giving me serious vibes from the aforementioned titles. What horror works influenced each of your contributions to this series?

CB: I think those titles, especially The Thing and Alien fall right into our list of influences. A lot of survival action horror (some older, some more recent) would fit the bill, too. Predator, Aliens, Dog Soldiers, The Descent –– all spring readily to mind for me.

Baldemar Rivas: Pretty much what Cullen said haha I will add The Fly and Dead Alive to the list.

AiPT!: Baldemar, I’m aware that you met Kyle when took an Illustration class taught by him at the Kansas City Art Institute. Did you ever imagine that you’d be working on a comic book together one day? Do you find yourselves ever drifting back to that student/teacher dynamic?

BR: I was always down to work on a project with Kyle. I actually got my start doing some pinups for Kyle and Justin Jordan’s book Spread, which was a big start for me. That’s a great question! Now that I think about it, I’m happy we never had a student/teacher dynamic while working. We are definitely co-workers and he trusts in me being able to professionally deliver my end in projects.

AiPT!: As far as the scope of this tale, is this an enclosed story about a small group of survivors struggling to escape monsters from the dark, a la The Descent? Or are we looking at a disease that’s going to make a run at bringing the world to an end?

CB: The initial arc is very much an enclosed story about the characters you met in the first issue, but as we continue the tale, readers will realize that this is a horror that cannot be contained. Unearth is going to change — mutate, if you will — over the course of this series. I kind of love that readers will have no idea where this thing is going.

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AiPT!: Baldemar, what sort of research did you conduct to help yourself draw the human form in such a disturbing and grotesque way? Or was this something that simply crawled out of one the dark corners of your mind?

BR: One of the things that terrifies me is not being able to control your body. I focused my research around that idea for a good introduction to this disease. I wish I could say more!

AiPT!: The first two non-human creatures we see resemble a centipede and a rhinoceros beetle that have been mutated by the mysterious disease. Should we expect all of the creatures to be mutations from animals we may recognize, or are there monsters awaiting us that defy any classification and are truly alien?

CB: Those first couple of creatures definitely look like animals we’ve seen before, but this is not a story about mutated animals. Well… not just animals. And the very nature of the mutations will be moving in some surprising directions. There’s a method to the chaos. And it’s really nasty.

AiPT!: Cullen, how do two writers divvy up a story equally between one another? What does the process look like? Have there been any rock, paper, scissors battles over who gets to write a favorite character or scene yet?

CB: No rocks, paper, scissors for us. We keep an old prop bat’leth from Star Trek: The Next Generation nearby whenever we meet. It’s dull, but it leaves scars. Actually, I don’t know that we fight over who writes which scenes. We typically talk each issue out, outlining it page by page, then we divvy them up. There are definitely characters and scenes I prefer to write, but there are also scenes I think Kyle would be best to write. And vice versa. And then we realize we’ve each written too many pages… and the bat’leth comes back out.

AiPT!: What should readers expect from this series?

CB: What starts as a subterranean horror yarn about isolation, mutation, and survival is going to go in directions they’ll never, ever predict.

BR: The will to live!

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