THE STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS is ironically anything but a stereotypical comic and the four protagonists are anything but freaks. However, as we mature within the meat grinder that is the public High School education system, at one time even the most glorious and grand of us are made to feel like a freak. Being ostracized is part of the American maturation process, but so is the inevitable finding of self and then eventually kindred souls. Howard Shapiro has deftly put this maturation process on paper in the STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS without it ever feeling forced or rushing the point.
Music is at the theme for this tale of four High School students coming together to WOW the world in a Battle of the Bands contest, but the soul of the book lies firmly embedded in the seemingly unnatural rapid maturation that we’re all forced into during our Senior year of High School. Tom, Dan, Jacobey and Mark are all about to make their way into the world and what struck me most about the introduction to these four students, was that despite their differences, Shapiro didn’t need to go blue with any of their personalities. Yes one is a brain, one is a jock, one a bit lazy, and the other a bit weird, but not one of them is a bad kid. Nowhere are we faced with the trite attributes found in most youth culture fiction. No teen pregnancy, no drug abuse, none of the sensationalism that permeates media headlines. Were we to rely on the media, we would think all youth is damned and so is society. That’s simply not the case. As college admissions continue to skyrocket each year I think the STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS are more common than the little shits CNN uses to grab headlines.
And don’t think being good equates to vanilla. It’s that kind of thinking that perpetuates reality TV and makes little fuck bags like Honey Boo Boo and her “clan of the damned” TV sensations. Tom our lead protagonist pines for the girl of his dreams while trying to keep his 4.0 grade point average up. His doughy friend Dan simply wants to establish a relationship with is distant father. Mark, a former friend of Tom’s until Junior High stratified the jocks from the brains is doing his damndest to get a Football scholarship to college. And finally Jacobey is a new foreign exchange student who is simply trying to find a friend.
While music brings the boys together, the book is much more than the harmony they find to win the battle of the bands. Like music, the song of life has many different parts. It requires those with a steady tempo, those who with a chaotic melody to share and finally those who sadly deliver the sweet, trialing, away finale to the song. Shapiro misses none of these essential beats.
The art is indie fair. That’s not a bad thing, but don’t come into FREAKS looking for big splash pages or hyper-detailed work. WALKING DEAD has proved B&W is alive and well, but the lack of inking in FREAKS did leave the art feeling flatter than the shuffling undead. Again, I get it. In the indie game, especially with a book as long as FREAKS, sacrifices must be made so the book can be done in a somewhat timely manner. Artist Pekar does a serviceable job with the straight pencil work, but even here I saw some definite areas were fine tuning could help him grow, interactions with environments and between characters is harsh. The world doesn’t mesh together – it’s a meeting of lines instead of a melding. The panel flow is spot on and tells a cohesive narrative, but sadly it’s uninteresting. I saw some definite areas where a slight shift of point of view in a scene would have helped the talking head scenes move much faster.
I enjoyed this tale of ordinary kids faced with the beginning, and in one instance the end of life, mainly because it wasn’t afraid to be real. This is a deeply personal work, from the Arena and Prog rock suggestions to accompany each chapter, to the voluminous dedication roster at the beginning of the book Shapiro gave his all to this tale. At the end of the day, even if a book has flaws, true dedication and heart will prevail.