A fantastic, teen friendly graphic novel hit the shelves a few weeks ago. It’s a coming of age story about high school students who don’t quite fit in, or with each other. Not a new theme to young adult stories centered around the challenges of fitting in, but the subtly and depth that writer Howard Shapiro instills in his characters is light-hearted, fresh and thoughtful. The characters play out in the 154 page as the title implies as stereotypes. Young people and adults who pick this story up, whether new to graphic novels or traditional books will enjoy the art and the story telling. The characters may be stereotypes, and acutely aware of it, but the way they face their challenges individually and as a band is worthwhile and noteworthy.
It’s nice to come across a little gem like this that doesn’t use profanity nor super natural stunts, to impart a positive message to young people and all ages. Most will be able to see a part of themselves in these characters. Catching up with the writer, Howard Shapiro, I had a thought that maybe he was basing this story perhaps on himself and his life experiences.
Allie Hanley: Your an accountant by day and a writer by night. Tell me about your motivation to write a young adult graphic novel like this?
Howard Shapiro: I am the Accountant for a Visual Effects studio in Pittsburgh. Â I’ve done five books, “Freaks” being the latest since I started my book business in 2005. Writing and trying to get published was something that I’ve been interested in since I was very young. Â I used to read the “Encyclopedia Brown’ books when I was growing up as well as Spiderman and Batman comic books each month. I thought that one day I would love to have a published book. Â When I started writing again with the idea of publishing, self publishing was just taking off and so instead of waiting around, hoping and praying that I could get published by a “traditional” publisher, I self published my first book and haven’t looked back since. Â Writing my graphic novel was a blast and the motivation was that I loved reading graphic novels and the hope was to make it nearly as good as two that I absolutely love, “The Big Khan” and “Garage Band.”
AH: When you first began coming up with the concept for this book who were you writing it for?
HS: That’s a very good question because it changed over time and at first I wanted to appeal to the over 30 crowd who could fondly reminisce about the torture that is going through high school. Â But after Joe Pekar started the drawings I kind of shifted the focus to wanting it to appeal to teenagers, kids who are in middle or high school right now. Â I still hope that adults will pick it up and hopefully enjoy it but I’d really like it to appeal to younger kids and so far two reviewers said that the conversations in the book were ones you were likely to hear in any high school hallway in America and that compliment I cherish very much.
AH: It’s funny how writing dialogue for that age would seem so natural but in fact is quite challenging. You do it very well. What elements of your story do you think would appeal to a young teenager who was having a hard time of it growing up and making the transition from kid to adult?
HS: I think they could easily relate to three of the four main characters who don’t fit in or are not sure where their life is going, and the truth of the matter is that more kids than not have no idea what they want to do as adults. I just think that the overall story is one that many kids could enjoy and relate to because its very real in the sense that the book doesn’t pander or talk down to them. There isn’t a snap of the fingers and “oh, I see the light now” kind of moments.
AH: There are so many graphic novel fans out there that would also like to take the next step and create a novel such as your own. Â What kind of advice were you given when you first began vs. what you would say to a beginner now?
HS: I was lucky in that I had three guys in the business helping and advising me. The advice they gave me is the best advice I could give anyone with an idea and starting out to write a graphic novel. Find an “A” level type of artist. Â If you can find that person then the road will be a lot less bumpy. Â You can have the greatest story but without the artwork to match it, you’re sunk. Â So, step one is to find a great artist.
HS: Funny you should ask that, because that character, Tom, is me and he has appeared in all of my books at various stages in his life. Which is actually me at various stages in my life! Â He is always the easiest character to write because he says and does things that I cannot or would not do. Â He is also the most fun character to write because I put him in situations or places that I was and I remember what happened then and I can either re-write history or make it come out better then it actually did in real life.
AH: What would you like to see happen next with this story?
HS: I would like to see it do really well sales-wise… not for my own financial gain but as a way to say thanks to my publisher for their investment and faith in me. Â They are wonderful to work with. Â If possible, down the road, I would also love to see the book become a movie as I think it has the chance to appeal to a wide range of kids and adults… so Steven Speilberg, Joss Whedon and John Hughes,… please call me!
AH: Why should a parent who is looking at a number of books and or graphic novels to purchase for their child put this one at the top of their list?
HS: First off, it is a clean book, there is no swearing or violence. Mainly, they would find a book that has a lot of heart and yet it is very entertaining with a good amount of humor. It has a serious message and it does have a major twist but at the core, I wanted to write a book that was entertaining and a lot of fun to read.
AH: What kind of help did you get in writing, drawing, and publishing this story?
HS: I had a great team! Â I had Joe Pekar do all of the illustrations and Ed Brisson did the lettering. Â They both did a tremendous job and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. Â I couldn’t have done it without them and I was lucky to have both of them on the job… they are two extremely talented artists but mainly they are both really cool guys!
AH: What will you do next time when you go to publish? Such as self vs agent vs other ways to get another novel out there.
HS: Well, I’d like to stick with the publisher I have now, Animal Media Group. Â But we’ll see how the book does and if the sequel can generate interest from First Second, Oni or NBM… getting published by one of them would be incredible. Â We’ll see how it plays out. I’m hoping to find an agent as well but at the present time I do not have one.
AH: What’s the best place to purchase this novel?
HS: For an autographed copy please go to my publisher’s website and order there: click here It is also available on Amazon in both paper and e versions and the e version is also available on Kobo and Ibooks.
For a limited time, the book has been marked down. The cost for the e-book version of “The Stereotypical Freaks” is $2.99 on Kindle and $1.99 on Itunes.
Here it is on Kindle:Â http://www.amazon.com/The-Stereotypical-Freaks-ebook/dp/B00A8KGAQK/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_2
And Here it is on Itunes: