Cullen Bunn Unlocks Horrors in ‘Shock Shop’ AIPT
It’s not just that Cullen Bunn is already among the undisputed true lords of horror comics. This is the very scope, often unmatched, of his many terrifying works. Whether it’s horror with a superhero tinge or even good old-fashioned body horror, he’s a genius at spooking readers. For his latest project, Bunn, joined by artists Danny Luckert and Leila Leiz, is heading in a new and particularly chilling direction: deep meta.
shock shop, published via Dark Horse Comics, is a horror anthology comic book. Each issue features two stories that mix and match horror styles and genres. In the first issue, we meet a newly divorced man struggling with a haunted house and we get a glimpse of a loving married couple’s group camping trip. It’s all in line with Bunn’s massive horror bibliography, and is sure to scare, unnerve, and shock genre veterans and rookies alike.
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Before the first number start 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 goodies.
AIPT: What is the elevator pitch used 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 featuring each.
The first story, Something in the woods, in the dark, follows an estranged couple trying to reconnect. With a group of friends, they go camping in the middle of the forest. But something horrible awaits them in the darkest part of the woods, something that hunts them, something they brought with them.
The other story is Familiars, following a recently divorced father who started his own business. He rents a house and tries to start over. He discovers, however, that the house is haunted by more than one spirit. These spirits seem to be helpful at first, but their loyalty and helpfulness quickly turn deadly and bloody.
AIPT: Obviously, anthologies aren’t new to horror in general. Do you have a favorite series (comedy, TV series, etc.) that may have informed your approach?
CC: I love old school horror anthology comics so much. House of Mystery. House of Secrets. Ghosts. All those great Charlton horror anthologies. These are the books I read in my youth. I only discovered EC’s amazing horror books in high school, but I love them so much now. And then there are later anthologies like bloody cry and To move back it also means a lot to me as a reader.
Yet the stories in these books don’t necessarily match what we’re trying to do with shock shop. With this book, we only tell two serialized stories over the first four issues. This opens the door to a bit more pacing and character development.
I will say that House of Mystery definitely inspired the cover page introductions to the stories. When I was a kid, I loved Cain’s home pages in House of Mystery. I would just sit there and watch them, noticing all the scary little details. I wanted to recreate that feeling for this series.
AIPT: Is it more difficult or easier to be the sole author of an anthology? Are there any new benefits or missed opportunities (maybe both?!)
CC: If this was a traditional anthology, I’d probably say more writers would be good. I like a mix when it comes to these short stories. However, with this setup, I feel like being the only writer works better. This allows me to make small connections between the two stories that could not be formed otherwise.
AIPT: Why install it in a comic book store? What kind of meta-style fun does that open up for you?
CC: The store at shock shop becomes something of its own character on the show, and I thought it would be kind of a wild “funhouse” to explore. It absolutely offers the potential for a number of interesting jokes for comic book fans. But I think these beautiful splash pages will just be a delight for general readers.
I’ve been to comic book stores all over the world, and there’s magic there, in the big ones, in the ugly ones. I don’t think I’ve forgotten a single comic book store I’ve set foot in. Some of them live in a kind of mythical reverence in my head. And I worked at a comic book store…that might have been haunted…myself for a few years.
I wanted to pay homage to comic book stores around the world, haunted or not, 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?
CC: Danny and Leila are both so brilliant at everything they do. I knew I wanted them both to work on that first series. They’re 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 have done a lot of horrors over the years. How do you make sure it stays fresh and you do new and ever more gruesome things?
I feel like I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface of the horror stories I have to tell. To some extent, that’s easy, because horror encompasses so many story types. Silent horror, splatterpunk, cosmic horror, action/horror, comedy/horror, erotic horror, dark fantasy… the list goes on. And I would like to explore every corner of the genre. I definitely want to challenge myself and try different things. I want to surprise myself. Makes me scared. It’s one of the things that excites me the most. shock shopas it opens the door to trying out all sorts of horror stories.
AIPT: These first two stories seem related (in that they involve a divorced man and a married couple). Is this going to be a common thread? Are there other real-world ideas, energies, and feelings that you want to explore?
CC: When I chose these two stories for the first series, I didn’t realize that they explored similar themes. Once I started to really dig into the book, I realized what I had done and loved it so much. I love that this flipbook explores different aspects of more complex issues. So, yes, I will do the same with future stories. Stories may have a supernatural tone, but the roots of tales will often be real-world concerns that trouble, haunt, and terrify me.
AIPT: Is each story going to spread through several issues? Can we expect more one-and-done style stories?
CC: The current plan is that all four numbers of shock shop will explore two different horror stories. I like this format and I want to play in this arena a bit. Could this change? Absolutely. Some stories might end up being shorter than others. But right now, I like how I can dig a little deeper into the characters and the horrors in the serialized format.
AIPT: What other kinds of horror delights can we expect in the following issues?
CC: Well, in the first two stories, things are going to get very, very bloody. The situations the characters find themselves in are going to get much worse for everyone involved. Beyond these stories? The world is wide open. Chainsaws? You bet! Black magic? For sure! Monsters galore? Sure!
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up number 1?
CC: This book is unlike any other comic on the shelf. It’s frightening. It’s funny. 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 sway you to the dark side.
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