Dark Delicacies: The Home of Horror

March 2, 2008 11:56 pm

“The simple story on how the store started is that when we moved in together we
wanted to decorate our home with items that reflected our love of horror. About
all we could find at that time were those dumb dog gargoyles with wings from
the Tuscano catalog. So we began a search for more unique things. We wondered
if other people were having the same troubles, or if we were the only weirdo's
who wanted this stuff”

-Del Howison


Whenever people ask me how to get to Dark Delicacies, I tell them to drive to Burbank Boulevard and look for a seven foot tall Frankenstein monster with outstretched arms. He stands totem-like in front of the only horror-themed bookstore and gift shop in the U.S. Since the Frankenstein monster is one of theicons of 20th century horror, I can't think of a better symbol for a store that has become the home of horror. And if you look closely at the monster you'll see that it's got a little punk built in with its tongue lolling and its eyes bugging out. This is another nice touch that fits perfectly with the slightly tongue-in-cheek style of this great independent bookstore. Now in it's 13th year of operation (a perfect number for such a store), Dark Delicacies is owned and operated by Sue and Del Howison, a husband and wife team who are arguably two of the genre's biggest promoters along with being huge fans as well.

 

Frankenstein's monster guards the front entrance at Dark Delicacies

Del Howison is an energetic, witty man with a striking shock of long, shoulder-length white hair and fu-manchu moustache. He is a natural showman (and actor) who is the front-man for the store at the many signings and public events that occur there. It's Del's great sense of humor and down to earth intelligence that give the store its tone. Sue Howison adds her own significant presence as well. The bulk of the unusual collection of non-book items were all chosen and ordered by her and she is the hard-working behind-the-scenes manager who schedules all of the in-store events and makes sure that everything gets done. The two of them started Dark Delicacies with a $5,000 loan, most of their own personal horror collection and lots of help from their friends and family.

Word of mouth and positive press led to a growing interest amongst fans and authors within the horror genre. Unlike the many Halloween-themed stores that open in September and close just after October 31st, Dark Delicacies was open year round and offered a collection of books and gifts that were much deeper than the typical cliches of that holiday. Soon local authors like Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker and Dennis Etchison began to schedule signings of their books and the store developed a devoted clientele. The original location on Magnolia Boulevard became too small for their expanding stock of new and used horror titles, chapbooks, posters, soundtracks, curious gift items and limited edition horror titles, so they moved a mile or so away to the present Burbank Blvd location where they've been for the last 8 years. On a side-note, Del told me that the building they are now occupying used to be storage in the late 1990's for animation cells from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoons. I guess that explains why the atmosphere in the store gets wild and woolly at times.

“If hell had a giftshop, Dark Delicacies would be the place”
-Nick Bougas

Dark Delicacies continued to grow at the new location (now 2,000 square feet), although they had some rough times financially. But Sue and Del were determined to keep their store running. Lisa Morton (herself an award-winning horror author ) came on board as the store webmistress and re-designed the store website (darkdel.com). She linked the program to the signings/events page and on-line orders are now an integral part of Dark Delicacies' business. Del also told me that adding a large collection of horror movie DVD's (both classic and modern) brought more people and more sales to the store.

In addition to managing Dark Delicacies, Del Howison plays a mean Renfield

It was only natural that Del, a photo-journalist in the 70's, would try his hand at writing horror. About 5 years ago he started selling stories to magazines like Gauntlet. He joined the Horror Writers Association and is now in his second term as a member of Board of Trustees. A couple years ago he came up with the idea of a “Dark Delicacies” short story anthology. He sent Jeff Gelb (the noted editor of the “Hot Blood” series of horror stories) a proposal and together they pitched the idea to publisher Carroll & Graf, who ended up buying the book. The anthology Dark Delicacies was published in 2005 and featured many of the authors who were friends of the store and who had signed there regularly. It went on to win the Bram Stoker award for best anthology. The anthology was so successful that despite a change of publisher, Dark Delicacies II went on sale in 2007 and has since been nominated for another Bram Stoker award.

“I sat and talked with William Peter Blatty about Mexican food, had Clive Barker
threaten to smack me (although he never has), seen Dennis Etchison picked
up and raised over the head of a Leatherface, and on and on. All of these
people and hundreds more that Sue and I have met are puzzle pieces that,
in most cases, have changed from heroes to humans and back again. It's
truly an amazing thing. I really am a kid in a candy store. I still pinch
myself occasionally”

-Del Howison

In the last year or so, Dark Delicacies has expanded into clothing, graphic novels and, interestingly, custom gothic scents. The close reader may remember that my list of “unusual Christmas gifts” article this last December for Renderosity.com included a special “Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab” scent bottle made exclusively for Dark Delicacies. These well-designed little bottles sold as fast as they could be rung up and were shipped to locations all over the world. And recently, Del has collaborated with filmmaker Victor Salva in pitching a TV series idea called (yes, that's right) “Dark Delicacies”, and the response in Hollywood has been enthusiastic.

Of course, with increased sales and recognition there is more work. Both Sue and Del have been taxed in the last year with almost daily book event/signings at the store. Their two sons, Jason and Scott, help out ( along with screenwriter Lisa Majewski), but eventually they will most likely be hiring full time employees (especially if Del sells the TV series and has to be away from the store). So, while the store is becoming increasingly successful, it is also becoming very, very busy. Fortunately, both Sue and Del love the horror genre and their hand-picked inventory represents their great love of the genre. I know of few bookstores that have such a wide-ranging inventory. From the new signed editions of Richard Matheson's book on display as you come in throught he front door, to a glass case full of gothic jewelry to antique funeral photos and documents, back issues of Fangoria, Universal Studios monster models, props from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and dozens of new horror titles arrayed face out on the tops of the bookshelves. There is an amazing collection of signed posters for horror films on the walls (even the bathroom is filled with illustrators like Basil Gogos and Kelly Freas; all signed “to Sue and Del”). So, while the pace is hectic both Sue and Del are pleased with the increased sales and greater interest in the store.

“I do signings with the (Hollywood) studios promoting their latest horror
film. I'll have people coming in and signing posters and give them
away. For instance, I have 'I am Legend's” Richard Matheson
coming in and signing posters and just giving them away with
his signature on it”

-Del Howison

In the future, the branding of the “Dark Delicacies” idea (along with the continued growth of the store itself) will no doubt bring even more success to Sue and Del. While there are few sure things, “Dark Delicacies” has such respect for the complete history of the horror genre that even if the movie genre goes out of favor the great variety of books and horror-themed content will continue to sell and bring much deserved notoriety to this unique and wonderful store.

Interior shot of the store: Books, DVD's and many signed posters on the walls.

I've sometimes imagined that when Sue and Del close up the shop for the night, perhaps after a rambunctious signing, and the whole crew (authors and all) are heading over to the nearby Mexican restaurant, Del turns out the lights, wheels in the Frankenstein monster from the front of the store and places him in the dark just behind the locked door, there's no better guardian for this shop of horrors. Because if some fool burglar tries to break into the store, he's in for the shock of his life. Because with the monster guarding the store, Sue and Del can head on home to enjoy an evening watching monster movies.

Notes:

-I've created a short (9-minute) documentary on Dark Delicacies which features a store walkthrough and a brief interview with Del Howison. You can view it here or download it at the link under the screen.

Flash Documentary: "Dark Delicacies"
(click arrow to play)

-The Dark Delicacies website is well-designed and packed with much of the wonderful books and gifts that are on display at the store.

-Dark Delicacies Booskhop

-Del has a nice interview at horrror.com and another (mp3) interview for the “agony column” at trashotron.com.

-The two Dark Delicacies anthologies are on sale at most bookstores. You can also find them online at the darkdel.com site.

-Del has played several roles in low-budget horror flicks. You can see the list here.
 


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Ricky Grove [gToon], Contributing Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.

March ???, 2008

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