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The Empty Man co-creator Cullen Bunn on film's debut and expanding on the original comic books

The Empty Man poster
(Image credit: Out of Africa Entertainment)

The big-screen adaptation of Cullen Bunn and Vanessa R. Del Rey's The Empty Man hits theaters this weekend. While not the ideal circumstances to launch a movie, the film has overcome many hurdles, from the pandemic to Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox (which made the film).

"After a group of teens from a small Midwestern town begin to mysteriously disappear, the locals believe it is the work of an urban legend known as the Empty Man," reads the official description of the film."

Bunn will be the first to admit that Fox's The Empty Man (which is being released by a subsidiary called Out of Africa Entertainment) diverges somewhat from his and Del Rey's 2014 comic book series. It's given him a chance, however, to revisit that world for two follow-up comic book series - The Empty Man: Recurrence and the Empty Man: Manifestation - with artist Jesus Hervas.

With the movie finally available to audiences everywhere, Newsarama caught up with Bunn to ask his thoughts on the adaptation and how it felt to be the originator of the idea. Read on to see what he had to say. 

(Image credit: Vanessa R. Del Rey (Boom! Studios))

Newsarama: The film version of The Empty Man is being released this Friday. Cullen, what's been going through your head this week?

Cullen Bunn: Honestly, I've been focused on my current writing projects - a lot of scripts and a lot of prose. I hope people will see that the movie is coming out and want to check out the graphic novels that inspired it. 

Nrama: Have you seen the movie yet? If so, what did you think of it?

Bunn: I've seen a few different cuts of the movie, but I haven't necessarily seen the one that is hitting theaters. I definitely haven't seen the version with the Christopher Young score, which I'm very excited about. Young is one of my favorite film composers!

Cullen Bunn

(Image credit: Brad Zweerink)

Nrama: The Empty Man movie follows an ex-cop as he investigates a series of deaths connected by a supernatural disease. How closely does the film version follow your plot?

Bunn: Well, the comic actually goes in a very different direction. I've seen the "ex-cop" description popping up for a while, but I think that's more based on the film description, really. 

The comic follows a pair of government agents from a joint FBI/CDC task force. The Empty Man is a virus of sorts. It is a contagious insanity spreading across the globe. And there are fringe groups, religious sects, and cults that are popping up to worship the disease, sometimes in violent ways. So, the movie definitely goes down its own path. 

Nrama: Were you involved in the film's production? If so, can you tell us about that experience?

Bunn: Not this time around. I'm working on a number of new film projects, though, that I'm heavily involved in. 

(Image credit: Out of Africa Entertainment)

Nrama: Speaking of production, this movie has had a long journey since being announced in 2016. What was that period like for you, as the creator of the story?

Bunn: There were lots of ups and downs with this one. Really, that's the case with every adaptation. 

And, with the state of the world, there were lots of changes in terms of the schedule. 

The good news is, I didn't have much time to worry about it. While the movie was being filmed and edited, I was working on two new Empty Man graphic novels--Recurrence and Manifestation. No matter what happened with the movie, I had the comics, which I'm very proud of, and I had lots of other material to work on. 

Nrama: Now that it's finally being released, what should fans of the comic most look forward to about the film version?

(Image credit: Vanessa R. Del Rey (Boom! Studios))

Bunn: I think it's interesting to see how the director, obviously a fan of the comics, obviously heavily influenced by what we did, took the film in its own direction. The movie dances in the surreality of the comics. 

The comics show how The Empty Man alters perceptions of its victims in very different ways, shapes their faith, and I think this movie could absolutely be seen as the warped reality of a select group of people influenced, without knowing it, by the virus of the comics. 

Nrama: Artist Vanessa Del Rey put some very creepy work into the original comic; should we keep an eye out for any of her visuals in the movie?

Bunn: It's tough to fully realize Vanessa's work in an adaptation. The creepy, surreal nature of her art is hard to capture. The same can be said for Jesus Hervas, who drew the second two graphic novels. But the movie definitely has a kind of otherworldly, strange look to it. The mood of it seems about right to me. 

(Image credit: Vanessa R. Del Rey (Boom! Studios))

Nrama: How do you think viewers will react to this story in 2020, as opposed to how readers reacted to it in 2014?

Bunn: There are so many variables there! I mean, the stories are very different! And the world is very different than it was in 2014! There's always the worry that it strikes a little too close to home these days. My hope is that folks can watch the movie and want to check out the comics. They'll get a very different experience from it. By the same token, those who loved the comic can check out the movie and get something new and different. 

Nrama: Final question: Obviously, a lot of global events have happened since 2014, including an actual worldwide disease. Have your own thoughts on the story changed since writing it? 

Bunn: I don't know that my thoughts on the story have changed much. I'm still very proud of the work we did on those books. 

I do think that there are a lot of beats in the comics that seem almost like prescience. The way the Empty Man works. The weird reactions to the disease. The violence and riots and conspiracy theories. 

I would love to return to the world of The Empty Man. If I did, I think the story would be even darker, even meaner, than it was before. And it has been a pretty vicious ride so far.