Cullen Bunn on Being the World’s Youngest Hypnotist and the Subliminal Dread of Regression
May 21, 2018
Comic creators aren’t made: they’re forged. The people who devote their lives to sequential storytelling contain a pandora’s box of wayward adventures, often reflected in the subtext of their comics. In Secret Identities, we quiz select creators on their most noteworthy, bizarre, and outlandish gigs.
Cullen Bunn has proven himself an enigmatically versatile scribe, canvassing superheroes, noir, western, horror, coming-of-age, and every hybrid between. One explanation behind Bunn’s prolific gift could be that he harbors previous lifetimes of experience—an idea he explores with chilling dread in his grand horror opus, Regression, illustrated with moody tension by Danny Luckert and colored/lettered by Marie Enger. The ongoing series follows the burgeoning nightmare of Adrian Padilla, a man plagued by hallucinations and bug swarms who visits a hypnotist to discover a past life involving demonic cults and human sacrifice.
Bunn is also writing what he knows—his father was none other than Master of Mesmerism Franklin Bunn, a hypnotist who subliminally coaxed crowds to chomp into onions and drink from baby bottles. Bunn soon fell into the family trade, earning the title “World’s Youngest Hypnotist.” Bunn explains how that budding career led to the sinister machinations of Regression in the interview below.
Cullen, your dad was a professional hypnotist, Master of Mesmerism Franklin Bunn, and you are the self-proclaimed “World’s Youngest Hypnotist.” At what age did you begin performing? What was your routine?
Yes, for many years my dad was a professional stage hypnotist, using his act as a fundraiser for volunteer organizations. I was very young at this time and only vaguely remember it. At some point, though, they started billing me as the “World’s Youngest Hypnotist.” My dad would turn control of his subjects over to me, and I would march out on stage and hand each of them a carrot and a cigarette lighter. I would tell them that the carrot was a cigar and that they should try to light it. After several attempts to unsuccessfully light the carrot, I would have them say, “Have you seen my marbles? I think I’ve lost my marbles.” Then I would bow and exit the stage.
What can I say? It was the ’70s. Things like that went over big.
What’s the most outrageous act you’ve ever seen in a hypnotism session?
I don’t know. I think my dad’s act was pretty family friendly and tame. He made people feel as though their seats were burning. He had them see everyone in the room as naked. He had them meet their biggest celebrity crush. All good fun and games.
It wasn’t part of his act, but once when I was very young, we came across a bad traffic accident while driving. The driver was hurt badly and bleeding horribly as they waited for an ambulance. My dad hypnotized the person and slowed the bleeding to a trickle. That will always stand out to me as an incredible example of mind over matter.
You and your dad’s hypnotism dealt with comedy and entertainment, but your dad also ran private regression sessions. Did you witness any of these?
I was present for several of these. The ones I remember were several years later, after my dad had decided to give up stage hypnotism and open a photography studio. (How’s that for a leap? Hypnotism to photography.) He still did these private sessions, for entertainment and to help people with anxiety or weight loss or smoking or whatever. He would also hold past-life-regression sessions, where he would take people back through time, back to other lives they had lived before this one. It was strange to watch—people describing day-to-day life of 100 years (or more) ago in exact detail, people speaking with strange accents, speaking in languages they didn’t know beforehand. I’ve gone to new-age past-life-regression sessions since then, but they were nothing like the sessions my dad used to conduct. I don’t know if I can adequately describe how surreal it all was.
These subjects still resonate strongly enough today to fuel your macabre horror comic, Regression. Did you witness anything that ties into any demonic orgy cult dating back before the Romans?
Happily, no. None of [my dad’s] subjects spoke of demon-summoning or insect worship or knives in the dark. There was, however, one event that might have inspired Regression. My dad was doing a number of past-life regressions, taking people back 50, 100, 150 years, and all the subjects were revealing intricate details of lives they did not live. Then, he moved onto this guy. At first, it all seemed to go according to plan. My dad regressed him to a time when he was 10, to when he was five, to when he was an infant. And beyond. He took him back into a previous life. But the subject just sat there, unmoving, saying nothing. It was an eerie quiet. My dad said the guy was a new soul and that he hadn’t lived any other lives, but my mind took it in a different direction. What if whatever happened in his past life was simply too horrible to talk about? That was the earliest seed for Regression.
Regression #10 releases this Wednesday in comic stores and the second collection, Disciples, releases on July 25.