May 14, 2011

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Short Stack Volume 1

Written by Shawn Gabborin (with a few others)
Illustrated by Various Artists
Angry Gnome Comics

Angry Gnome is one of the best names I've seen for a small press company. The logo is pretty cool, too. I admit the name caught my eye and made me stop by the table to see what they had to offer. The primary answer was this anthology collection, written by Angry Gnome founder Shawn Gabborin with illustrations by a plethora of artists.

As is obvious from this cover, Short Stack is a horror anthology, which means picking it up wasn't exactly a difficult decision for me, made easier by the entry-level friendly price for a trade paperback. The basic concept is that Gabborin tries to do all sorts of two-page horror stories, with a "gotcha" ending that attempts to take a familiar premise and give it some twist that the reader isn't expecting. Kind of like speed dating through the Twilight Zone.

The stories themselves show a remarkable variety of ideas from Gabborin. There's everything from revenge plots to aliens to zombies to vampires to the general cruelty of the twisted human mind. Some characters are obsessed with hate, others kill out of misplaced love. We've got monster hunters and serial killers mixed in with some fantasies and delusions. No two stories are exactly alike, and no story is more than two pages. Aided by the wide variety of artists, this collection flows nicely, without feeling repetitious despite the common theme and quick resolutions.

Not every story is a winner, but that's to be expected with an anthology comic, even if it shares a common writer. The stories tend to get stronger as the anthology progresses, in my opinion, with the best story by far being Smith. Gabborin packs so much into that two page story, giving a lot of psychological depth with probably less than 200 words and good camera angles from Anna Fitzpatrick. Other favorites included Insuronce upon a Time (which shows not even fantasy companies want to pay claims), Slumber Party (so much for dying in your underwear!), Equal Trade (which gives us a rather angry gnome...), and the extremely poignant Making Room.

There were plenty of others that I liked, and only a few that just didn't quite go anywhere. Most of those were just too straightforward or had artwork that was sub-par. When you're looking at over 50 stories, however, the ratio is pretty good. Gabborin does a good job of matching the story to the artist, with only a few cases where I think the two don't link up very well.

Short Stack is a throwback to the days of pre-code comics with a host of collaborations that while not always being perfect show a level of enthusiasm that a lot of other comics can't match. This is clearly a labor of love for Gabborin and company and it shows. It's extremely difficult to tell a story in only two pages, as I've mentioned in other reviews, and I think Gabborin does a great job of managing the task, especially as this collection goes along. If you're a horror fan, this is definitely worth looking up. It may be short in stature, but not in quality.