Howard Shapiro began self-publishing kids’ books in 2005. First came offerings for 5- to 9-year-olds, like Destructo Boy & Spillerella. Shapiro’s later, hockey-themed volumes, like 2008’s Hockey Player for Life, skewed a little older.
But the characters in Shapiro’s latest effort are full-fledged teen-agers, and their story plays out in a new genre for their creator.
Shapiro, 47, grew up in Forest Hills and lives in Moon Township with his wife and two kids. By day, he’s controller for Animal, a Downtown-based visual-effects company. (“Our forte is sort of talking animals,” Shapiro notes.)
Stereotypical Freaks follows Shapiro’s acknowledged alter ego, “Tom,” from hockey into music. The characters of Tom’s bandmates are all inspired by real people, including a childhood friend of Shapiro’s and also — spoiler alert — John Challis, the local teen-ager who battled terminal cancer to achieve his dream of playing baseball. “He was a real inspirational kid,” says Shapiro.
That plotline gives the book a certain after-school-special vibe, but it’s also by turns a joyful affair. Shapiro says his storytelling was guided less by literary sources than by music.
After hockey, “Rock ’n’ roll would probably be second in my favorite leisure activities,” says Shapiro. His tastes skew toward classic rock — think The Who, Springsteen — plus postpunk flavors like Rancid and Urge Overkill.
This was also the first graphic novel for artist Pekar, an Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate now based in Orlando, Fla. “His specialty is actually pinup art,” notes Shapiro, though little in the new book's expressive if straight-ahead visual style suggests it.
Stereotypical Freaks is available online and through e-book retailers.