With the new year comes fiendish new delights to set our sights on, and somewhere at the top of the Horror Things To Look Forward To In 2023 list is the forthcoming graphic short story collection, Shook: A Black Horror Anthology. The demon spawn lovechild of Second Sight Publishing and John Jennings Studio, the 160-page project features an all-star lineup of Eisner and Glyph Comic Award winners and nominees; a list that includes David Walker (Bitter Root, Black Panther Party), Rodney Barnes (Blacula, Killadelphia), John Jennings (Kindred, The Blacker The Ink, Parable of the Sower), Kevin Grevioux (Brothers Bond), Alverne Ball (One Nation #1), as well as Second Sight founders, Marcus H. Roberts (The Protector, Hedge Hollow) and Bradley Golden (Leave On The Light).
Roberts and Golden hail from Mississippi where they team up to write and produce horror comics like Mississippi Zombie (Caliber Comics). Under the Second Sight banner, the duo also creates These.Damn.Kids! and Cold Blooded alongside artist Helmut Racho and letterer, Hector Negrete. In both narrative and aesthetic, these are projects which tap into Southern Gothic traditions- the influence of which is present in so much Black horror- but do so without taking themselves too seriously. The result is Second Sight's particular flavor of "southern fried horror," to use Golden's personal description.
As for Shook, the collection represents the first of its kind: a bouquet of grotesquery showcasing the range and imagination of some of the best Black horror creators working today.
FANGORIA sat down with the founders of Second Sight to talk about Shook, influences and origin stories, and the future of indie comic publishing.
I'm interested in the origin story behind Second Sight. What led y'all to start publishing comics?
Bradley Golden: Actually Second Sight started in my mom's basement. It was a little book called Mississippi Zombie that's published at Caliber at the moment. I actually printed them out on black and white paper at Staples [and took] them to like, local Comic Cons and was sold completely out. So I'm like, okay, alright, alright, people are digging this type of stuff from Mississippi. Then another story called Leave On The Light happened to get picked up by Antarctic Press. So I did my three or four years at Antarctic Press, finished my contract with them, hired Marcus here 'cause I knew I wanted to come a little bit bigger [than I was]- he kind of walked me through everything- and that's when we signed our deal with Caliber for our anthology books to lay the groundwork for Second Sight.
Our main goal is to be here for the independent comics that couldn't get into Image and the other big companies. So from there, we decided to break off on our own and put our own stuff out. And here we are.
I'm very excited about indie publishing and what's coming out of here. I just feel like there's so much more room for more subversive work. Stuff that pushes some folks' comfort levels…
Marcus Roberts: The independent publishers have always been that, you know. Like Bradley said, he brought me in, and I was one of those guys behind the scenes in the comic book community trying to help people get established. Bradley invited me to write on Zombie and just in conversations he was like, "you can do this," so we did. But the independents have always been about that. Even from the underground comics movement back in the day, they were rebelling against the Comics Code Authority. 'Cause we're gonna tell our stories the way we want to tell them, without somebody standing over our shoulder frowning.
Have y'all always been big horror fans? What are some of your influences?
BG: Oh, mine was an old movie called The House. About every night at midnight, the closet opens up, and it takes you to a whole new dimension. Shocker, of course. A Nightmare On Elm Street. There's one called Snake where the guy's arm was turning into an actual snake. There's a whole list, you know. The Relic. Stuff like that.
MR: With me, it was more comic book related. I was into the early '70s and mid-'70s Marvel releases. All those horror lines, the supernatural thrillers. Strange Tales had already been published, so they moved more to horror stuff. Tales Of The Shadow, Vault Of Evil, Worlds Unknown. So I've always been into horror comic books. From DC, I was big with House Of Mystery.
You recently secured funding for Shook: A Black Horror Anthology, which has the absolute best title and features an all-star lineup of contributors. How did this project come to be?
BG: I'm gonna let Marcus start that off, 'cause he and John have been planning this for a few years. He brought it to me, and I'm like, well, if we're gonna do this, we need to do it right. I have ties with Rodney and Kevin and all those guys, but as far as the actual title and how that came to be, that's coming from Mr. Marcus Roberts over there.
MR: That's John Jennings. We've been associated with each other, and he had an idea that was going to be tied into this event, and the idea was for a horror-type magazine featuring articles and everything, and he envisioned that to be called Shook. That was four years ago. Then, early last year, John and I were talking about our Southern roots- John is originally from Mississippi, I'm originally from Georgia- we talked about horror and doing something to put the two together. And we said, okay, well let's do this anthology.
So John and I had this idea cooking now with Bradley and I was like, "Bradley, we need to put together like the ultimate lineup of writers in an anthology. Like, let's put together the Dream Team." So we asked everybody and everybody was like, "yeah yeah yeah, let's do this" We got everybody and went back to John, and I was like, "John, look, man, look at this lineup!" And John was like, "This is what I was envisioning. Let's call it Shook!" But yeah, it was just a matter of, we all had the same idea.
My favorite thing about anthologies is that they offer range and variety—like a tasting menu. What was the thought process behind teaming different writers and artists and matching style to story?
MR: Well, the anthologies that we've published through Caliber, all three of the Mississippi Zombie volumes have charted high, and the whole secret to that was just allowing the writers to do what they do. Even as far as art styles are concerned because, as you just said, anthologies are a tasting of this and that. It's having you put a little bit of everything on your plate. To make a big plate, you give the artists, the writers, the freedom to do what they do best. "Give me your story and let me, as the collection editor, worry about putting the stories together in a cohesive manner."
What types of stories can readers expect to find?
BG: Mine "Tasty Itchy" is done in an oil painting style. Another one by me it's called "Evil Lives." It's my take on the themes in the movie, The Boy. Then you got Kevin and Marcus's stuff, which is more of the urban type of horror. As the song goes, we got peas, greens, and cornbread. We got whatever you need.
MR: In the case of Kevin and even Evan Park, their stories are more supernatural superhero-type stories. They have monster hunters. My story is more of a historical sci-fi horror. Rodney's story is set in the South and the modern-day South. Classic Rodney Barnes, a great horror story.
Do y'all have plans to turn Shook into a series?
BG: That's the idea. We wanted to see what the reception would be with the first issue—blew it out of the water. So we- me, Marcus, and John- got together and talked about how every installment needs to be a who's who within the horror community. For issue two, we decided to have all women writers and artists.
MR: Shook is going to become its own imprint. We're gonna get it rolling.
What future do you want to see for Second Sight in general?
BG: Well, we do wanna get a lot of our properties into film, you know, movies, TV, you name it. We have some things happening within the movie range. We actually have music that's gonna accompany the comics as well this year. I'm trying to branch the company off into a complete entertainment company. Full-scale production studio. We do music, movies, you name it.
MR: We actually signed with Papa Octopus Productions. We're expecting some big releases this year. It's all very exciting for us.