Comic Review: And Then There Was Shawn
A precursor to my horror fandom was my predilection for Halloween episodes of my favorite shows growing up. Long before I saw the horror icons in action, I found great joy in spooky-themed specials from the likes of Roseanne, Home Improvement, Family Matters, and The Simpsons. But my favorite was always Boy Meets World's "And Then There Was Shawn." Incidentally, it was not released as a Halloween episode - it debuted in February 1998 as part of the series' fifth season - but its riff on the post-Scream slasher boom made it a perfect gateway into the genre for '90s kids.
I'm not alone in my admiration for the episode; it's a favorite among many fans of the show, but perhaps none more than Jennifer Ball. The Utah-based artist has painstakingly adapted "And Then There Was Shawn" into a 28-page comic book. Bud, the creepy janitor featured in the episode (the final role of Joe Turkel, who genre fans will recognize as the bartender from The Shining), serves as the Cryptkeeper-style host for the nightmarish tale of terror that befalls a group of youths at John Adams High.
After an outburst in Mr. Feeny's (William Daniels) class, recently separated high school sweethearts Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel), their loyal friends Shawn (Rider Strong) and Angela (Trina McGee), and classmate Kenny (Richard Lee Jackson) - in his only appearance, seemingly included for the sole purpose of a South Park reference - find themselves in detention. They're soon joined by Cory's elder brother Eric (Will Friedle) and Shawn's half-brother Jack (Matthew Lawrence). Locked inside the school, the horror quickly escalates as characters are picked off one-by-one by a masked killer.
The episode's namesake is a play on Agatha Christie's 1939 murder-mystery novel And Then There Were None, the impact of which can certainly be felt on virtually every slasher movie, but the main influence is Scream and the glut of self-aware teen-horror movies that followed. Shawn assumes the role of the horror movie expert a la Randy from Scream, pointing out tropes and references (albeit to nonexistent movies in this case). Jennifer Love Hewitt, fresh off the success of I Know What You Did Last Summer (and dating Friedle at the time), shows up as a red herring named Jennifer Love Fefferman.
"And Then There Was Shawn" can stand on its own even if you're unfamiliar with the show, but diehards will find even more to enjoy in the comic. Ball's attention to detail is remarkable, faithfully recreating every beat, capturing the character likenesses, and including minutiae no matter how small. She goes so far as to create faux ads: a poster for Blood in the Showers, one of several cheeky movie titles referenced in the episode, and a back-page ad for Chubbie's, a restaurant prominently featured in the show.
The episode - directed by Jeff McCracken and written by Jeff Menell (both series regulars) - is memorable because it cleverly diverged so far from the sitcom formula viewers were accustomed to. It felt dangerous, as beloved characters were mercilessly killed off (seemingly, at least), but the unpredictable reveal of the killer’s identity brought it back to the core of what made Boy Meets World stand out among its peers: its heart. More than just cheap laughs, the series was a coming-of-age tale. While Ball leans into the horror elements for the purpose of the comic, she successfully captures the emotion as well.
And Then There Was Shawn is available now from Jennifer Ball.
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