Image: ShortBox

Subscription boxes have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, and Zainab Akhtar has taken advantage of this trend to expose the world to some of the strongest voices in comics with ShortBox. The big difference is that ShortBox isn’t subscription based, instead offering boxes of exclusive comics, graphic novels, and prints during a 10-day pre-ordering period. There’s no commitment, but the quality of ShortBox’s offerings makes it easy to get hooked.

Akhtar, a comics contributor to The A.V. Club, has used her critical expertise to pinpoint the most exciting cartoonists in the world to publish new work through ShortBox, and the seventh box, announced today, features five vastly different creators telling a variety of stories: Emily Carroll continues her exploration of the horror genre with Beneath The Dead Oak Tree; Rosie Brand brings a childlike playfulness to the page with Wizard And Soft Pig; Gyimah Gariba ventures into introspective territory with Naval Gazing; Viviane Schwartz explores her anxiety disorder with cartoonish comic strips in Cat & Bag; and Matthew Petit’s Paradise offers a tense, atmospheric look at the friendship between two boys.

The A.V. Club has a look at the covers for each of these books, and these five illustrations alone highlight the wide range of artistic perspectives contained in this box of wonders. We also have an exclusive first look at Carroll’s work in Beneath The Dead Oak Tree, which uses a vibrant visual style to tell a tale of vengeance with a cast of aristocratic foxes. Inspired by Carroll’s feelings of being alone in a crowd with the constant buzz of social media and the simmering guilt, anger, and shame that arose from that alienation, Beneath The Dead Oak Tree takes a complex emotional tapestry and interprets it as a rhyming “poem/folksong” with sumptuous, lively artwork.

Carroll primarily works in black and white, but Akhtar suggested something rich and colorful for Beneath The Dead Oak Tree, and these pages show how the tone of the story changes as the visuals shift from monochrome to pastels. There’s a lightness to this excerpt, but if Carroll’s past stories are any indication, there will be plenty of darkness as the comic continues. Beneath The Dead Oak Tree can be found in ShortBox #7, available for preorder now through January 31, and you can check out the Shortbox website for more details on the rest of the books.

Image: ShortBox; cover by Emily Carroll

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Image: ShortBox
Image: ShortBox
Image: ShortBox

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Image: ShortBox
Image: ShortBox; cover by Rosie Brand
Image: ShortBox; cover by Gyimah Gariba

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Image: ShortBox; cover by Viviane Schwarz
Image: ShortBox; cover by Matthew Petit