Another View: Freakshow Book One: A New Career
A review that covers collections, hardcovers and graphic novels that feature the work of Irish creators.
Freakshow Book One: A New Career (collects Freakshow issues 1-5)
Created and written by Robert Curley
Art by Stephen Thompson and Stephen Mooney
I have had this review idea floating around in my head for a while. Take a book off the shelf and have another more in-depth, and probably more personal, look at it. I have been coming up with a to-do list for quite a while too. It then became a matter of which one to do first so I decided to start at the beginning. I’ll explain that remark. Like Declan Shalvey, he has mentioned this a few times, I didn’t know people were making Irish comics when I was growing up. In fact, I didn’t know there were comic shops in Ireland. My best friend discovered their existence in 1999 (I remember the year as he picked me up a copy of Daredevil volume two issue one). I still didn’t know that Irish comics existed though. Then, while in Sub-City Comics one day, my attention was grabbed by the cover to issue three of Freakshow. It had the villain of the issue, The Director, on the cover with a Russian motif. Great cover. The series had a lot of great covers but that one is my favourite. Thus began my relationship with Irish comics.
Freakshow was created and written by Sub-City owner Robert Curley and featured some of the first published art of Stephen Thompson (Die Hard: Year One, Star Trek) and Stephen Mooney (Half-Past Danger, Grayson). It was heavily influenced by Robert Curley’s love of American culture. The first issue, set in LA in the 1950s, features various references to the movie industry. It introduces gay detective Jack Dixon and, an old acquaintance, ex-movie star Susan White. Both are interesting to me as they are such positive examples. Jack Dixon’s sexuality isn’t the be all and end all. It drives the story and steers the direction of the book in a way that makes sense for the time period. Susan White is a such a great example on how to write a strong female character. She is perhaps the strongest character in the book. Susan is implicated in the murder of one of her old directors in a case which Jack is called in to investigate. They have an old connection which leads Jack to believe she is innocent despite the slightly bitter verbal back and forth between the two. I really enjoyed the, often harsh, verbal back and forth. The story results in Jack being outed which ends his police career so he and Susan end up being back in each others lives.
“The first books Rob and Atomic Diner put out were the Clockwork Monkey sampler issue, and then the Naked lunch anthology book. Thompson and myself drew stories in both; our first printed work. The flagship series Freakshow soon followed, with the two of us rotating as artists. Freakshow was massively ambitious. Rob envisioned a 50-issue series that explored his personal fascination with the 1950’s Americana and somewhat shlocky horror genre he grew up loving. It was incredibly intricate and ambitious. Sometimes the book’s reach exceeded its grasp, but the end result was still some very worthwhile and interesting material.” – Stephen Mooney (in his speech inducting Robert Curley into the ICN Hall of Fame).
The second story (a two parter) introduces Miles Weishaupt and Elizabeth Grange. Elizabeth is on her way to an audition when her car breaks down and Miles helps her out. Their interaction is interesting as Miles mostly comes across as the non caring, snippy, “rich kid” in the book but seems protective over the more naive Elizabeth. Her audition ends up being with, the villain of the piece, Desmond Smith aka The Director. She gets drawn into his plan to disrupt the Academy Awards .The havoc that ensues gains the attention of Susan and Jack. I am a big fan of The Director. He is probably my favourite character from Irish comics. The design is brilliant, from the outfit to all the gadgets he created. He has an interesting background and motivations based on his Socialist background. The story is peppered with film references and celebrity “guest stars” with pretty good likenesses from the artists. The collection includes Robert Curley’s script to issue two and some thumbnails by Stephen Thompson. An interesting insight to the creative process.
“Well he gets full marks for originality” – Miles Weishaupt compliments The Director, Freakshow issue three.
The final story of the collection (another two parter), set in New York, involves a villain that comes into possession of a watch that stops time. Well he steals it. He goes on a robbery spree of rich peoples’ homes which leads Miles’ family to call him in (they heard about The Director story). The crew come to New York after Jack is convinced that they should become a team. The interesting part of this story, for me, is how gaining the watch corrupts the villain Erik. He doesn’t just rob people, he treats the previous owner terribly. This is shown brilliantly in a flashback at the beginning of the fifth issue which shows the start of a long friendship with his victim. We then cut to a scene where he is mistreating his former friend. The dialogue really shows that he is losing his grip. The story also hints about a dark secret in Miles past and someone called James. Issue five ends with the words: James the Unfriendly Ghost. The cover to issue five is another favourite of mine and the collection goes into the process over a cover that wasn’t used. Interesting stuff.
There are a lot of things I like about series. I like that Jack is a gay character that isn’t a stereotype. He’s a detective that just happens to be guy. Sure, it affects his life but it isn’t everything about him. Susan is a great example of a well written female character. She has her flaws but she is tough and caring (you can be both). Naive Elizabeth grows stronger throughout the series. I like her as a counterpoint to Susan and this leads to interesting character interactions. There are also fun snipes between Jack and rich kid Miles who manages to grow on me in later volumes. There is some great dialogue as the characters snipe at each other.
The book also has great villains. One story after another produces a new interesting bad guy (or girl) with compelling motivations. The artists would probably look down on their work now, but I think they did a great job particularly with character designs and especially on the covers which I think are an important element that is often lost in comics. Why is it important? Hey, see the beginning of this review. What brought me to this book? It is very much worth your time. Later volumes include the work of Declan Shalvey (INJECTION, Moon Knight) and there is a crazy Scooby-Doo-esque one-shot featuring Bob Byrne (Mr. Amperduke).
“My first published work was Freak Show which was also the first thing I ever wrote. I think excitement got the better of me so there was very little editorial control! After saying that I’m still proud of the characters and the ideas behind that series and I would like to return to it one day.” – Robert Curley, Ferguson’s 7 Questions With… Robert Curley.
WHERE CAN I FIND THIS BOOK?
For Irish Comic Month, Sub-City Comics have restocks of this volume along with 2 and 3 with more work from Stephen Thompson and Stephen Mooney. They also have volumes 4 and 5 with debut artwork from Declan Shalvey.