It’s not just that Cullen Bunn is already among the true undisputed lords of horror comics. It’s the sheer, often unrivaled scope of his many terrifying works. Whether that’s horror with a superhero tinge or even good old-fashioned body horror, he’s a whiz at scaring the F out of readers. For his latest project, Bunn, joined by artists Danny Luckert and Leila Leiz, is heading in a new, especially scary direction: the deeply meta.
Shock Shop, released via Dark Horse Comics, is a horror anthology flip comic. Each issue features two stories that mix and blend horror styles and genres. In the first issue, we meet a newly divorced man grappling with a haunted house, and get a sneak peek into the group camping trip of a loving married couple. The whole thing is in line with Bunn’s huge horror bibliography, and will surely frighten, unnerve, and shock both genre vets and rookies alike.
Ahead of the first issue debuting on September 7, we caught up with Bunn via email. There, we talked about creating his own anthology, finding spooky inspiration, and how he keeps his horror writing perpetually fresh, among other tidbits.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Shock Shop?
Cullen Bunn: Shock Shop is a flipbook horror anthology, hosted by Desdaemona, the owner of the titular haunted comic book store.
Over the course of four issues, two different horror stories will be serialized, with Desdaemona introducing each one.
The first story, Something in the Woods, In the Dark, follows a estranged couple who are trying to reconnect. Along with a group of friends, they go on a camping trip deep in the forest. But something awful is waiting for them in the darkest part of the woods, something that is hunting them, something they brought along themselves.
The other story is Familiars, following a recently divorced father striking out on his own. He rents a house and tries to start anew. He discovers, though, that the house is haunted by more than one spirit. These spirits appear to be helpful at first, but their loyalty and helpfulness quickly turns murderous and bloody.
AIPT: Obviously anthologies are nothing new to horror in general. Do you have a favorite series (comic, TV show, etc.) that may have informed your approach?
CB: I love old-school horror anthology comics so much. House of Mystery. House of Secrets. Ghosts. All those great Charlton horror anthologies. Those were the books I read in my youth. I didn’t discover the amazing EC horror books until I was in high school, but I love them so much now. And then there are later anthologies like Gore Shriek and Flinch that also mean a lot to me as a reader.
Still, the stories in those books don’t necessarily correlate to what we’re trying to do with Shock Shop. With this book, we’re telling only two stories that are serialized over the first four issues. It opens the door for a little more pacing and character development.
I will say that House of Mystery definitely inspired the splash page introductions to the stories. As a kid, I loved the Cain splash pages in House of Mystery. I would just sit there and look at them, picking out all the creepy little details. I wanted to re-create that feeling for this series.
AIPT: Is it harder or easier to be the sole writer of an anthology? Are there new advantages or missed opportunities (maybe both?!)
CB: If this were a traditional anthology, I would probably say more writers would be a good thing. I like a mix when it comes to those short stories. However, with this set up, I feel like being the sole writer works better. It allows me to make little connections between the two stories that couldn’t be formed otherwise.
AIPT: Why set it in a comic shop? What kind of meta-style fun does that open up for you?
CB: The store in Shock Shop becomes something of its own character in the series, and I thought it would be a wild sort of “funhouse” to explore. It absolutely offers the potential for a number of cool in-jokes for comic book fans. But I think these gorgeous splash pages will just be a blast for readers in general.
I’ve visited comic shops all over the world, and there is a magic there, in the great ones, in the awful ones. I don’t think I’ve forgotten a single comic shop I’ve ever set foot in. Some of them live on in a sort of mythical reverence in my head. And I worked in a comic shop… that might have been haunted… myself for a few years.
I wanted to pay homage to comic shops everywhere, haunted or otherwise, with Shock Shop.
AIPT: What was it like working with Danny Luckert and Leila Leiz? What do they bring to the table in building this world and these stories?
CB: Danny and Leila are both so brilliant in everything they do. I knew I wanted them both to work on this initial series. They are both so talented, so creative, and so easy to work with, and they bring very distinct visual styles to two very different stories.
AIPT: You’ve done a whole heaping helping of horror over the years. How do you make sure it stays fresh, and that you’re doing newer, ever more ghoulish things?
I feel like I’ve only just started scratching the surface of the horror stories I have to tell. To some degree, it’s easy, because horror encompasses so many kinds of story. Quiet horror, splatterpunk, cosmic horror, action/horror, comedy/horror, erotic horror, dark fantasy… the list goes on and on. And I’d like to explore every corner of the genre. I certainly want to challenge myself and try different things. I want to surprise myself. Scare myself. That’s one of the elements that excites me most about Shock Shop, because it opens the door to try all kinds of horror stories.
AIPT: These first two stories seem connected (in that they involve a divorced man and a married couple). Is that going to be a common thread? Are there any other real-world ideas and energies and sentiments you want to explore?
CB: When I picked these two stories for the first series, it didn’t dawn on me that they were exploring similar themes. Once I started really digging into the book, though, I realized what I had done and I liked it so much. I love that this flipbook explores different sides of more complex issues. So, yes, I’ll be doing the same thing with stories to come. The stories might be supernatural in tone, but the roots of the tales will often be real world concerns that trouble, haunt, and terrify me.
AIPT: Is every story going to spread across multiple issues? Can we expect more one-and-done-style stories?
CB: The current plan is that every four issues of Shock Shop will explore two different horror stories. I like that format and I want to play in that arena for a bit. Could that change? Absolutely. Some stories could end up being shorter than others. But right now I like how I can dig into the characters and the horrors a little more in the serialized format.
AIPT: What other kinds of horror delights can we expect in subsequent issues?
CB: Well, in the first two stories, things are going to get very, very bloody. The situations are characters are in are going to get much, much worse for everyone involved. Beyond those stories? The world is wide open. Chainsaws? You bet! Black magic? For sure! Monsters aplenty? Of course!
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
CB: This book is unlike any other comic on the shelf. It’s scary. It’s fun. The art is absolutely fantastic. If you’re a horror fan, this book has something for you, guaranteed. If you’re not a horror fan, this book will bring you over to the dark side.
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