From the paneled pictures of your darkest dreams, this is Graphic. Every month, I’ll be telling you about the best horror in comic books, from the early days of EC Comics to the resurgence of the genre in today’s mainstream and indie publishers. So pull up your blanket, dear reader, switch on your flashlight, and turn the page…

As anyone familiar with the Creepshow franchise knows, anthology storytelling is a staple of horror comics. From the foundational work of EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt to new titles such as Image Comics’ Ice Cream Man, the anthology format is as much a part of horror comics as it is horror film and television. However, with superhero stories dominating the two largest comic book publishers in the world, anyone interested in reading a horror anthology comic has to look for lesser-known, independent publishers to get their fix. Luckily for them, up-and-coming publisher A Wave Blue World is ready to answer their search with last year’s compendium of fright, Dead Beats.

 

 

Launched as a Kickstarter in April of 2019, Dead Beats garnered over a thousand backers and nearly $40K in support before its publication. Edited by Joe Corallo and Eric Palicki, the book brought together a host of talented comic creators to tell twenty-eight music-centric horror stories. Just like any good horror anthology comic, Dead Beats‘ chilling tales were narrated by a theme-appropriate horror host: the enigmatic Shoppe Keeper, purveyor of musical goods with haunted pasts. It’s through these items that this anthology’s eerie tales come to life… if you can consider them among the living.

Read on for more of what to expect, but before you do, let me clarify: this overview of Dead Beats will not be able to capture the book in full. With over two dozen stories in its pages, there is far more to this indie anthology than I can fit in this column. I’ve selected some of my favorite aspects of this book, but that’s not to say any of the others are less interesting or not worth your time. Truly, the only way to fully enjoy Dead Beats is by picking up a copy yourself. Now, let’s start the music.

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Album Covers

From the very first page of Dead Beats, a reader can tell they’re in for some great horror comic art.  That’s due, in part, to indie comic star Lisa Sterle, who provides the art for the Shoppe Keeper and her cursed store, the titular music shop Dead Beats. Sterle’s atmospheric design of the store during after-hours set the tone for the overall book, chillingly introducing the reader to each supernatural story to follow. Of those stories, I found two standouts that became my favorites visually. The first was a tale called Grotesque, about a young musician who takes on the role of a band’s dead lead guitarist, but finds that adding his own spin on a song could mean disaster. This entry, drawn by Brent Schoonover with additional inks by David Witt, used a black, white, and red color scheme to a spectacularly Satanic effect, especially in its monstrous conclusion.

Less demonic but equally resonant was Hey Darling, Do You Gamble, with art by Klyer Clodfelter and colors by Warnia K. Sahadewa. This story about a woman who interacts with the ghost of her lover through a particular song, was appropriately one of the most haunting titles in this book. Their striking portrayal characters in real pain and the supernatural power of music not only brought chills up my spine, but some mist into my eye.

Hot at the Shop:

Hot at the Shop:

 

 

Tracks

Contributing to Dead Beats are a number of talented comic writers, whose work runs the gamut of horror subgenres. In particular, I was taken with Snake Song, scripted by Rachel Pollack. A story of ancient artifacts and terror before time, Snake Song sets an obsessive archeologist on a crash course with deadly history. Then there was Let’s Stay Together — story by Vita Ayala and Raymond Salvador –, about an elderly woman searching for a lost love in song. Not only does this story bring heart to a haunting, it actually features the Shoppe Keeper as a character, which added an extra bit of fun to the short.

I also had a great time reading The Rider, with words by Tony Patrick. Maybe the most chilling story in the bunch, The Rider is about a Faustian bargain that several superstar musicians make for fame and fortune. Of course, the deal they make only ends in despair, specifically in the form of glowing red animals that spell the doom of anyone who’s made it. I won’t say this story was my favorite (there are too many tales here to pick just one), but it was the one that reminded me most of classic horror anthology stories from comics past.

 

 

Lyrics

Finally, I’d be selling this book short without calling out some of the most prolific names in the credits page. Those are, in no particular order, letterers Micah Myers, Zakk Saam, and Taylor Esposito. Each of these letterers has more than three Dead Beats stories to their names, and every story they letter shines. Not only do these creators do one of the most essential jobs of lettering (that is, to present the text of the comic in an aesthetically pleasing way that sets the pace of the page), they’re not afraid to make creative choices that enhance the comic’s reading experience. For example, Myers gives the main character in Let’s Stay Together a gray speech bubble, giving her character a sad quality and hinting that the story will play with the past (the past is in black and white, after all). In Grotesque, Esposito’s sound effects give the heavy metal story a heavy metal volume. You can almost feel the vibrations as its ending brings about destruction. These letterers gave Dead Beats a sound, and for a musical horror anthology, that’s nothing less than essential.

 

 

Record’s End

If you’re a fan of the horror comic anthologies of the past, Dead Beats should absolutely be on your reading list. However, this book is more than a reminder of the past. In fact, it may very well be a window into the future of comics. Not only are more horror comics popping up every day, but Kickstarter-backed passion project comics are also becoming more common. Hopefully more Dead Beats-esque anthologies are on the way, and hopefully they feature the same people that made it.

You can pick up Dead Beats on ComiXology now, or put in an order at your local comic book store. Once you do, go ahead and drop me a line to let me know what other horror comics you’d like to see spotlighted in this column. We’ve got all kinds of musical horror here at NOFS’s Sound of Screams Month, so make sure to keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.