Early Review: Shock Shop #1
Horror seems to thrive in anthologies. Their short story-heavy forms guide creators down a more urgent path to terror and the weird given the space given to each individual tale. It’s a whole different animal. Compare Stephen King’s short stories with his novel-length (plus a thousand pages more) work and you’ll find one might even become a different storyteller in the process of scaring readers with less pages.
Cullen Bunn’s Shock Shop is the latest example of this creative phenomenon, a flip horror comic that sees the writer go for a kind of ongoing double-feature that celebrates the anthology format while adding a special horror comic twist to the classic ‘crypt keeper’ figure that guides readers through the book.
Shock Shop tells two separate stories presented by Desdeamona Nimue Moreau, the proprietor of a comic book/horror collectibles shop that bears the name of the comic itself. She introduces each story in classic Tales From the Crypt fashion, but looks more like a magician than the iconic Crypt Keeper. The stories reunite Bunn with two creators he’s worked with before: Danny Luckert (Regression) and Leila Leiz (The Last Book You’ll Ever Read). Nate Piekos letters both stories.
The first story, “Something In the Woods, In the Dark” (illustrated by Luckert) follows a group of friends who organize a hiking trip so that a married couple within the group can hopefully find a way through their recent problems. An insidious being filled with violence starts haunting the group, possessing a link to them that might be more profound than initially thought.
The second story, “Familiars” (illustrated by Leiz), follows a father that moves into what seems to be a friendly haunted house. Once his kids come to visit and join in on the fun with the playful spirits, the house starts revealing its true face.
When it comes to anthologies, one eventually starts to consider which story is the best from the bunch. In the case of Shock Shop, both stories are equally strong and enticing. A lot of it is owed to the character work. Bunn’s scripts come with a cast of imperfect people that are as interesting as the things that mean to hurt them. The have a personal history that’s palpable and they speak volumes both in conversation and in their lonesome.
Short though these entries may be, the intention is clear when it comes to the Bunn’s character development. In just a few pages each, every character feels layered and lived in. There’s space for the human aspect to unravel and room for growth. They’re not mere avatars for a metaphor or message. They live and breath and scream, just like real people.
Luckert and Leiz squeeze as much character as possible from both casts of characters, respectively, giving them each a look and feel that doesn’t come off as disposable or superfluous. Luckert goes for expressive facial gestures that tell their own stories and reveal a lot about their personalities. Leiz produces more kinetic work, capturing the energy and excitement of the dad and his kids only to make you feel dread as the house pulls the curtains back on its more sinister aspects.
Piekos’ lettering does an excellent job of keeping the horror SFX under control, expertly capturing sounds without overplaying the effects. Some horror comics try to go big with these parts of the text to simulate a kind of jump scare sensation or to startle the reader. In Shock Shop, the SFX creeps in, letting the reader adjust the volume and intensity. It’s a smart approach that promotes participation in the creation of mood and ambiance.
In an uncommon twist on the anthology formula, especially when it comes to horror comics, neither story ends in this first issue (this is uncommon, not non-existent). They will be continued in issue #2 and it doesn’t look like things will come to a close then. I appreciated the commitment to the stories, in this regard, to let them play out without compromising the anthology format. It makes the deal sweeter. Month after month we’ll be getting two great horror stories in one flip comic.
Shock Shop #1 sets the stage for a pair of horror tales that are of equal quality, presented via a refreshingly twisted comics retailer that I hope we get to see more of. The haunted comic shop setup is brilliant and deserves to be explored a bit further, perhaps leaning into metafiction to get at some other kinds of dark happenings as the series progresses. Regardless, the terror on this display in Shock Shop is expertly crafted and is sure to become a mainstay for horror fans that faithfully tuned in either to their favorite anthology show week after week or to went out late at night for the old school double-feature show at the local movie theater.
Script: Cullen Bunn Art: Danny Luckert and Leila Leiz
Colors: Danny Luckert, Bill Crabtree Letterer: Nate Piekos
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy and write letters to publishers for more flip comics!
Graphic Policy was provided with a free copy of the comic from Dark Horse for review.