The Stereotypical Freaks follows high school outcasts Tom Leonard and Dan Roberts as the navigate the hallways of high school (and teenage life) and seek to assemble a rock n’ roll inclined posse that can blow away the competition during the upcoming Battle of the Bands! Shapiro is the author of four children’s books including the critically acclaimed Hockey Days and its sequel, Hockey Player for Life, and while this is his first venture into the world of graphic novels, he handles the new medium with skill, giving his characters truthful and unique voices that seem appropriate for the characters and their ages. The story itself is comparable to The Breakfast Club, with guitars and drums instead of detention. Like the classic John Hughes film, overcoming diversity and stereotypes are big themes in Shapiro’s script, with his characters coming from varied backgrounds that initially grate against one another, but the discovery of a shared love of music evolves over the story into the bonds of lifelong friendship. The Stereotypical Freaks also tackles the type of tragedies that no one can escape during the approach towards adulthood. (I won’t give away any spoilers, but expect to shed a tear or two during this one.) Shapiro also manages to pepper in enough pop culture references that the characters feel like they belong to the current youth of America without it feeling forced. Another great move by Shapiro is the addition of “recommended listening” at the beginning of each chapter, especially when it includes bands and musical artists like Green Day, The Beatles, Rancid, Bob Dylan, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Holly, and more. Shapiro’s choices could literally be assembled into a musical mix entitled “Uber-Cool Rock n’ Roll That You MUST Experience Before You Leave High School.”
Speaking of uber-cool, artist Joe Pekar brings his A-game to The Stereotypical Freaks. Pekar is clearly a master of facial expressions and body language, which make the characters in The Stereotypical Freaks literally come alive before your eyes. Shapiro’s emotional character piece is the perfect place for his artist to spread his wings and soar, and I very much look forward to seeing Pekar take on more projects like this one. If I was left wanting anything with regard to the art, it’s the wish to see a full-color version of the book. (Maybe a special edition, hardcover color version awaits us down the road, if the book sells well enough.)
In all honesty, the only real complaint I have about the book comes from a very personal point of view. Being a former Pittsburgh resident, it’s not every day that the Steel City is the setting for an excellent graphic novel like this one, and while Shapiro manages to throw in several references to the 'Burgh in the dialogue, I did find myself wishing there were some iconic cityscapes or 'Burgh-specific locales in Pekar’s beautiful art. In all honesty, it’s not something most readers will notice and doesn’t affect the charm or drama of the book in any way for the general audience.
Be sure to check out the free preview of The Stereotypical Freaks at Graphic Novel Reporter and stop by the personal websites of author Howard Shapiro and illustrator Joe Pekar. The Stereotypical Freaks is also available for purchase on Amazon.com (and don’t miss the trailer for the book posted below).
That’s all for now, comic book sniffers. Be sure to get your hands on a copy of The Stereotypical Freaks and don’t miss the The Stereotypical Freaks giveaway that Fanboy Comics is holding, courtesy of author Howard Shapiro!
Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer