Indie Comics Review: Stereotypical Freaks

The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro and Joe Pekar – $11.95

A few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue asking if I would be interested in reviewing an upcoming graphic novel. It happens pretty frequently, so that wasn’t the surprising part. What was surprising was that the creator included a link to a video via MLB.com wich served as the inspiration, even though the book had nothing to do with the sport.

After watching the video I knew I had to at least give the book a read.

Suffice it to say that the book has absolutely nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with the power that one person has to make a difference in the lives of those around him or her.

Four disparate high school seniors come together to compete in their school’s battle of the bands. Sharing a love for playing rock and roll, the members name the band “The Stereotypical Freaks” because they feel stereotyped by their classmates – smart kid, geek, star athlete and quiet weirdo… when in fact they know they are much more than those labels that have been placed on them. When one member reveals life altering news, winning the competition takes on more of a meaning to each member. Scared and angry, upset and yet still with a lot of resolve they set out to win one for the good guys… will they?

The graphic novel follows four teenagers Dan, Mark, Jacoby, and Tom as they navigate the social perils of high school. When Tom signs Dan and himself up for a battle of the bands to impress a girl, they realize that they need to bring in others to fill out their band. What ensues is a series of life lessons which highlights the importance of friendship, making connections, and not letting the past dictate the present or the future.

There is a lot of “After School Special” about Stereotypical Freaks which, to an older reader comes across as cliche or simplified. However, to a middle school or high school age reader (the intended audience for the book) the messages and scenarios will prove particularly potent. I am not ashamed to say that I was more than a little choked up by the end of the book.
While writer Howard Shapiro is forced to give his characters a little more wisdom and open-mindedness than is typical of adolescents, he creates four teenagers who are far more realistic than what usually populate comics. These are not jaded adults-in-miniature, nor are they little kids who inhabit big bodies. They are people who are trying on different identities and are apt to change their minds from time to time.

The art by Joe Pekar is fairly loose with a slight animation feel to it. The characters look like they would be at home in Brad Bird’s Iron Giant. The faces are particularly expressive, giving each character plenty of personality. In addition, those facial expressions allow Shapiro to loosen up on some of the early narration and allow the characters to tell the story.

Stereotypical Freaks proves there is still plenty of room for positive stories about friendship in our cynical world. The most important message from the book actually is not found in the book at all. The most important message is that the life of John Challis continues to inspire and more people to live their life free of limitations. Life is too short to hold on to the past. Turn the music up and live each day to its fullest!

Stereotypical Freaks debuts on November 14th. You can preorder your copy of The Stereotypical Freaks here.

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