Story + Art + Letters – Richard Corben
Good News! Shadows on the Grave #1 promises a nostalgic return to the macabre-horror of the 80’s and early 90’s. Bad news…you have to be from the 80’s or early 90’s to really enjoy it.
Richard Corben (writer, artist) is well-known for dining on the macabre and snacking on depravity. He’s a visionary among horror comic aficionados (and the horror genre in general) and he comes roaring back in this new anthology series from Dark Horse.
Illustrated completely in black and white, Corben presents 4 short-stories told from the perspective of his narrator character, Mag the Hag. He starts with a classic “marionette’s come to life” scare, then jabs you with a“ paradise
lost” yarn, rocks you with a left-hook with surprisingly cerebral domestic abuse story, and then KO’s you with the first part of his Deniosus story. Excluding the last story (we’ll get there), each story is gory, tense, and often legitimately scary. But as I was reading and analyzing each tale, I noticed something: Corben’s showing off.
Corben, is reminding us just how well-versed he is in the horror genre and how he can weave its classic tropes and motifs to his machinations. The puppet story shows us how well he can use pacing and dialogue to create tension. He then uses the paradise lost story to show how one bad life-choice and a few ghastly images can completely ruin a person’s hope for a good life. But the strongest tale is his domestic abuse story. Using only eight pages, Corben presents a masterclass of how to use the absurd and grotesque to reflect brutal, psychological horror. It’s truly inspired and holds educational merit for any aspiring horror-writer.
My favorite part of the whole book though, is the first page. It’s a simple introduction page where Corben has Mag straight-up tell the audience what he intends the book to be and lists- no really- he lists all the motifs and tropes he’s going to use to scare us. Take a moment and think about that. Think about the bravado and confidence it takes for a writer, especially a horror writer, to outright say, “Hey, this is what I’m doing, this is how I’m doing it, and this is how scared you’re going to be.” It takes the confidence of a master and you have to respect that. Bravo.
But the book is not without fault. He uses the last portion of the book to start a multi-part story of Denaeus. The character is supposed to be an ancestor of, arguably, his greatest character Den and his story will be told across the 8
issues of this mini-series. Smart move to give each disparate issue a tying thread but it’s clearly the weakest part of the book. It’s unfair to judge the story because it’s in its infancy but…eh. If you’re old enough to remember Den you might be more excited but, I was just waiting for the book to end at this point. And finally, I can segue to the books biggest drawback.
You have to be older than 25 to really enjoy this book. This book is very much a throwback as it hearkens to the old-school, psychedelically depraved horror stories of the late 70’s-early 90’s. Everything from the dialogue, to the pencils, to the shadowing screams this (pun intended). Don’t get me wrong, I thought the book was great but… I’m also old enough to remember running away from the TV when “Tales from Crypt” dived too deeply into the darkside (again, pun intended).
Verdict: Horror fans should buy + study this book.
Richard Corben uses Shadows on the Grave to remind us that no one can weave a nightmare like he can. Each story in this new anthology series is a short yet, potent lesson in how to use brutality, gore, and dread to entertain and enlighten. However, its greatest strength is, sadly, its biggest drawback as it’s very much a throwback to horror’s past. This may not resonate with anyone born after 1990 (or anyone who isn’t a horror buff). But, those seeking a good scare or even thinking of becoming a horror writer should read this book as it’s a masterclass in how to sculpt the genre to your storytelling machinations.