One of the greatest aspects of reading graphic novels is the immense number of stories available to check out. But this is also one of the biggest challenges. How do you know what’s worth your time? In the more traditional novel format, I tend to be a fan of anthologies for new authors. Anthologies do tend to be a mixed bag. This is doubly true for the graphic novel format as the shortness of an anthology means even less time than normal to establish a story. And yet, anthologies are often one of the best ways to find out if you like a writer or artist without having to commit to a full length story. I haven’t previously picked up very many graphic novel anthologies so when I had the opportunity to check out an early copy of Aftershock’s Shock Anthology, I thought it was about time to change that. This particular anthology collects no less than twenty one different stories which are fit into a rather slim 160 pages. And among the creators were some very big names in the comics industry.
While there is a preface by the editor for the Shock Anthology, it relies mostly on a defense of the idea of a graphic novel anthology rather than an explanation of what connects all of the stories. Having read all of them, my best guess is in the name of the collection. Each of the twenty one stories in the collection relies on a twist or disturbing revelation to shock the reader in some way. For hard core horror fans, this will likely not provide much to shock you. After all, with twenty one stories in one hundred and sixty pages, they don’t have much time for set up. But several of the stories do have intriguing ideas that they manage to present in a relatively short time frame, much to my delight.
To my mind, there were three stand out stories that managed to provide the twist in a special way that didn’t feel gimmicky or overdone. Since I can hardly cover all twenty one stories, I’ll talk briefly about these three and leave readers to check out the rest if they’re interested.
“Witch Work” by Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli and Marshall Dillon
A witch who lives in a creepy house by the sea sells all sorts of magic to the locals and the narrator of the story. As with all Gaiman stories, the narrator is not fully prepared for the bargains which the witch expects.
This story had a creepy, unresolved ending that felt menacing and intriguing all at once. It wasn’t necessarily my favorite of Gaiman’s stories but it had the same dark fantasy tone that has made me a diehard fan of Gaiman’s writing. I honestly would have liked to see more of it.
“Blooderflies” by Cullen Bunn, Leila Leiz, Toni Fejezula and Marshall Dillon
A young girl and her mother find a patch of butterflies in the park and some careless words from both lead to the girl being cursed with the mantle of Queen of the Blooderflies.
If you’re at all familiar with Cullen Bunn’s previous work, the quick shift from innocent family life to creepy, menacing faeries will delight you as much as it did me.
“Mountain Pass” by Bill Willingham, Travis Moore, Hoyt Silva and Marshall Dillon
A young mercenary happens upon a cabin while heading over a snowy mountain pass. Upon entering the cabin, he runs into a being of more power than he could have expected in such a desolate place. With this creature, the youth will make a rather interesting bargain. And you know what they say about making bargains with the gods.
I’m a sucker for stories that involve foolish mortals agreeing to terms they don’t understand and this felt very much like an ancient myth given new life and who better to do so than the writer for Fables?
So was my graphic novel anthology experiment worth it? I’m honestly a bit torn on that. Like with many anthologies, there were stories I enjoyed in this collection and some that I hated. A few stood out to me but none completely blew me away. The authors whose names I recognized and who had tempted me to pick up this collection were in fact responsible for the stories that I did like. So I didn’t particularly feel like I learned about any new authors to love but I did get some new stories from old favorites. So if you’re up for taking a chance and enjoy stories with a twist, the Shock Anthology may not be a bad gamble to take.
<i>And thank you to Netgalley, Aftershock and Diamond Books for providing a galley in return for honest feedback. </i>