Freaks of the Heartland
I just want to take a moment right now to point out that I didn’t change the title. Seriously, the title for this graphic novel is so good there isn’t anything I can say to change it out into something witty. Freaks of the Heartland (Darkhorse 2012) was written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Greg Rush. This was a good one and not entirely what I expected just on the name alone.
I think we run into that on a regular basis, and it’s a good thing. When stories can pleasantly surprise us it is a very good thing. But even that right there is a bit misleading. Much of what I read probably wouldn’t be put into a “pleasant” category. I mean to say that more often than not people die in unpleasant ways and there tends to be gore and demons involved in some way.
Which is something that seems a bit off when it comes to this story. Sure, people die and there is quite a bit of unpleasant trouble, but those are side notes and not really the issue at hand.
Wait, let me back track a little here…
The basic story is strange things happen in this town in fly over country. And one year 6 women in the town give birth to six different children at roughly the same time. Or something along those lines. And with that it seems to be pretty much the odd story that fits into much of our modern day folklore. But the story itself does something a bit unexpected.
Through the entire story we have almost no backstory about the births or the children themselves. Even the story about the births is something vague and pretty much glossed over. Instead what we are given is a story as it is happening. We aren’t given anything to walk us into the strange of the world and are offered a world that we must take as it is and accept it for the strange and unusual that seems to be our commonplace existence.
If that were the only thing to take away from this, I think I could walk away happy. Instead of distractions of how the world could have gotten to this point we are given the world and it falls on us to accept it. (yep, I think I just repeated something and I am pretty cool with that). Simply put, I liked the story and how it played out. There wasn’t any quibble room and it had a good flow.
Which brings me to another aspect used for the story telling that worked really well. The artwork tended to be combinations of roughly two colors per panel. Sure there were various shades of those colors but there wasn’t anything extraneous to pull us away from the immediacy of the story.
And this is where it gets a bit funny. See, the story itself is essentially a flashback. When we drop in and then are pushed back into the story we really don’t have any frame of reference other than to assume the world is essentially our world. We know the place, the fields and farms where it all takes place. And it plays on our conceptions of what people in this area must be like.
Which swings us back to the idea of the story itself. It is a challenge of our perceptions and assumptions. While we see the people of the town making value judgments we are also making value judgments of them. Right or wrong, the story plays with our assumptions to maybe show us who the real monsters are.
I don’t know if the story would have worked as well if they took the time to build that backstory more so we had a fuller understanding of what happened. Actually, I feel it might have lost something in the translation. But of course, that is part of the choices made when telling a story. What elements should be used to best highlight the beast within.
If you enjoy these stories, consider leaving some coffee money in the jar or you could buy a book or two. Either way helps keep the stories flowing.