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Age is just a notch on a sword: Dennis Culver and Justin Greenwood talk epic fantasy series ‘Crone’

The new Dark Horse series follows a badass warrior as she re-assumes her blood-soaked mantle.

Second chances abound in comic books. From Old Man Logan to The Dark Knight Returns, there’s a great sub-genre of quasi-geriatric, slightly grizzled heroes taking up their mantle once again in the name of vengeance, lost love, etc. Now, there’s another such entry: Crone.

Written by Dennis Culver (Burnouts), and with art by Justin Greenwood (Stumptown), the series is about a hero — Crone, f/k/a as Bloody Bliss — who picks up her sword one more time when an old enemy comes calling. If you’re a fan of Conan/Red Sonja or bloody fantasy in general, this is the book for you.

We chatted recently with both Culver and Greenwood, addressing everything from the book’s origins and their ongoing collaboration to building fantasy worlds and the value of a good villain.

Crone #1 hits shelves on November 6 via Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Where did the story of Crone come from? I see a veritable rainbow of influences, from Kill Bill to Red Sonja/Conan, which I think speaks to the universal quality of this story.

JG: I’ve never asked Dennis where the initial idea came from, so I’ll be curious to know the answer too. I know there was an immediate appeal for me to draw something in the vein of Conan, but with an emphasis on both revenge and redemption, they could live in any genre. Few things connect with me like stories involving a hero that has to return to the fight and find it in themselves to be the person they would most like to be (and sometimes furthest from who they actually are).

DC: Crone started with my love of stories where the grizzled old man has to come out of retirement for one last job or score and a curiosity about why those kinds of stories never really featured a woman lead. As I pondered that it started to feel more and more like fantasy was the ideal genre for the type of story I wanted to tell

AIPT: What’s your grand ol’ elevator pitch for Crone?

JG: The initial idea that Dennis hit me with was Unforgiven meets Red Sonja or Xena, and I jumped right in. It’s a good snapshot of how the book might feel, although thematically, it covers different ground.

DC: Put simply, Crone is the story of an old warrior who has to pick up her sword for one last adventure.

AIPT: There’s been talk (in other interviews and press material) about how the series grapples with coming to terms with death after a long life. Is there a larger message you’re hoping to strike at? Do you think writing/creating this series has helped shape your own thoughts on things like regret and second chances?

JG: The series definitely touches on ideas that are frequently on my mind, and I think that will be almost universally true. Trying to find it in yourself to be your best self is not a new idea, but it is one that nearly all of us wrestle with on some level. Regret is such a bitter emotion, and it can eat away at you if you’re not careful. Who is ever sure of every decision they’ve made? And the bigger the stakes, the harder it can feel to know if you did the right thing, especially when it radically affects the ones you care the most about.

DC: The themes evolve naturally out of the story, and while death does play a large role, so does the love of another person and your life’s passion. As far as a larger message, I’d rather leave that to the reader to sit with.

AIPT: How important is it that this story is told in a distinct fantasy setting? Similarly, how essential was it that Crone/Bliss be a woman?

JG: Bliss makes the perfect character for this kind of story for a lot of reasons. She is fighting against death. She is fighting against type and what others will assume about her. And ultimately, she is fighting against herself and being willing (or unwilling) to change.

As for it being fantasy, it seems to me to be the most ideal setting for a story with these themes where being strongest/most skilled can mean the difference between life and death. It’s a harsh reality and one that Bliss has lived with her whole life. She is used to being overlooked and at one time, had to carve her place into that world. Returning to it after so long makes the decision that much more complicated and interesting to me

DC: This story wouldn’t exist without Bliss being a woman. This is all character-driven. As far as a fantasy setting, I think it ends up being more ideal for the archetypes and themes I wanted to convey.

AIPT: I think it’s always interesting to have a hero with a death wish — it goes against the archetype of a life-preserving “hero.” How important is Crone’s struggle with these feelings and her sense of hopelessness to the larger story?

JG: I think so too, or at least a hero who has lost everything else and the sense of purpose and focus that can come from a lack of distraction. It can make you incredibly dangerous but also without any safety net if you take that step too far.

DC: Bliss’ entire story is this struggle.

AIPT: I love the vibe and the look of the “big baddie,” D’Kayde. How important was it to really nail that scary or all-consuming villain type? Is he going to be the sort of juggernaut Jason Voorhees type he looks like?

JG: We wanted D’Kayde to feel like a looming threat that can’t possibly be overlooked — big, evil, and unrelenting. And that’s nothing compared to what he does over the course of the story. He’s a monster in human skin, covered with armor that is much closer to who he is at his core.

DC: He’s not only a juggernaut but an emotional Jason Voorhees as well. Justin worked hard on this design, and he nailed it.

AIPT: Justin’s art and Brad’s colors are really great, and they set a lot of the mood. What kind of influence did that have on the story and its development? Or vice versa?

JG: Thanks so much for that. Brad, Pat, and I have worked on a few different projects now, but this is the first one that all three of us have started on from scratch and really wanted to give the book, and its characters a really unique feel, especially for a fantasy book that touches on very familiar tropes.

DC: Crone doesn’t exist without Justin Greenwood. He’s as essential to this book as I am. I can’t imagine co-authoring with anyone else. Brad and Pat are the best. They elevate this work. I’m super proud of the book and everyone involved.

AIPT: How much effort was put into developing the mythos of this book/world? Is it really important to have that rich fantasy lore and background in telling this specific story?

JG: One of the coolest things about fantasy stories is the world is brand new by design, and it gives us the ability to create something singular and special. There is a lot of room in this story to expand, and Dennis has done a great job of giving us enough of a look at what else is out there without it being a distraction from the story at hand.

DC: The great thing too about having this empty canvas is we can develop the world as the story needs’ dictate. We’re not enslaved to a rigid existing world or continuity with the opportunity for truly organic growth.

AIPT: Crone/Bliss is a really great mix of emotions and sentiments; clearly jaded/cynical, but there’s definitely a soft spot (especially with Gaspar). What’s it like adding the “heart” to a fantasy tale — do you think there’s enough emotion-driven entries in modern fantasy?

JG: Real emotion is the true driving force of any good story, fantasy or not. But it is surprising how often this gets overlooked, and it’s especially true when the story is set in a world that is so big and full of action.

DC: For me, heart is the most important part of any story, and certainly something I hope to drive into all my work.

AIPT: What can we expect with subsequent issues? What’s the one or two things you hope people might take away from the overarching story?

JG: My biggest hope for the series is that the story hits you as hard as it did me when Dennis first pitched it to me. Bliss is a fantastic character and getting to tell her story and has been a fantastic and gratifying experience.

Also, I just got done sketching out of one of the most horrific torture scenes I’ve ever drawn. So you’ve got that to look forward to as well.

DC: I think people will be surprised by this book as we take it to a lot of unexpected places. Additionally, I think it’s worth noting that we’ll have a retail exclusive backup story involving a new character and world created by myself and Ramon Villalobos called Romero Muerte. This backup story will not be available digitally, so you’ll want to visit a local comic shop to order it.

A sneak pic of the Romero Muerte backup story.

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