Cullen Bunn, known for writing such horror stories as Harrow County, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read and The Damned, is back with a new Dark Horse series called Shock Shop. The premiere issue, out September 7, 2022, features the first installments of two horror stories in a flip-book format. We sat down with Bunn to discuss his inspiration for the series and how writing horror helps to exercise his demons.
Tom Smithyman: There’s a very meta feel to the book, with the host Desdaemona introducing the stories from a haunted comic book shop chock full of your horror books (including Harrow County). Did you have any misgivings about making the framing device to self-referential or was it a natural fit for this audience?
Cullen Bunn: I don’t believe in misgivings until four or five years after the book comes out. Actually, though, no. I knew that this was how I wanted to introduce each story every issue. The stories are pretty serious, pretty dark. And I wanted something light and creepily charming to introduce each tale. To some degree, Desdaemona is telling her own story, too, something I think readers will enjoy visiting again and again.
Tom: Shock Shop is a collection of horror stories. Where do you find inspiration for all of the stories that you are creating?
Cullen: What can I say? I’m just…messed up. I guess I pull my inspiration from the things that terrify me, and there are plenty of those these days! Beyond that, I guess I’m inspired by other stories, novels, comics, movies and TV shows I absorb. But mainly, it’s all about the things that scare me.
Tom: Why use a flip book format for this title? Was there a particular effect you were hoping to have your audience experience?
Cullen: This was editor Daniel Chabon’s idea, I believe, but I was “all in” as soon as I heard it. I liked the idea of two separate stories, two different introductions, two different artists. And I love the kind of visceral, “you have to flip the book over to continue the experience” interaction readers will have with their physical copies of the book. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of flipbooks, so I was thrilled to have the chance to try it out here!
Tom: While you write the stories, each has a different artist. Are you involved in matching the artist with the tale you’ve scripted? What goes into that process?
Cullen: For the first two stories, Something In The Woods, In The Dark and Familiars, I had a pretty clear vision of who I wanted to bring the characters and the horrors to life. I’ve worked with Danny Luckert and Leila Leiz on many other projects, and I think they are both absolutely wonderful. I certainly wanted them both to draw these stories. I am so happy to have been lucky enough for them to be available and interested!
Tom: You start the first issue with two stories – one about a camping trip that goes awry and the other about a divorced dad moving into a haunted house. Why did you choose those particular tales to kick off the series?
Cullen: I actually pitched several story ideas. These were the first two Dark Horse seemed drawn to, and I liked them both so much, I just couldn’t argue. What’s nice about these tales is that they tiptoe in similar territory, but they are both very different in terms of structure, tone, characters and general mood.
Tom: Each of those stories deals with main characters going through significant relationship issues. Is there a larger theme you’re trying to tell?
Cullen: Initially, when I pitched these two stories, it didn’t dawn on me that they were orbiting similar themes. It was more of a happy accident. Now, though, I think I’d like to do something similar with every couple of Shock Shop outings. Yes, there’s a larger theme, something that scares me deep down in a lot of ways, and I was trying to exorcize those demons while writing these stories. Lucky for me, I have lots of demons to exorcize.
Tom: The stories are both continued into issue #2. How long do you think each will run, and will you end them both in the same issue?
Cullen: Initially, we’re doing a four-issue series which will bring our first two stories to completion. Yes, the two tales will end in the same issue. That was always my plan. Now, will future Shock Shop tales be shorter or longer? Possibly, but I really enjoy this format and this story length.
Tom: You clearly have lots of ideas to draw from. How many issue are you planning for Shock Shop?
Cullen: It will all depend, really. I have dozens of horror stories ready to be unleashed into the Shock Shop. The key, of course, will be if readers respond to this initial four-issue run. Pre-orders matter. Sales matter. Chatter online and in the shop matters. If you read this book and enjoy it, let others know!