Cirque du Freak
written by Darren Shan
illustrated by Takahiro Arai
Cirque du Freak is a manga starring Darren Shan based on a novel of the same name written by Darren Shan. That may sound confusing, but it’s rather simple, actually. Shan (the real one, although his last name is actually O’Shaughnessy) is an Irish author who in 2000 began his vampire novel series. Wonderfully converted to manga by Takahiro Arai, the first book in the series gains new life, no pun intended, in this hypnotic volume.
The Darren Shan who stars in Cirque du Freak is a kid with a rather bizarre obsession: spiders. He loves ’em and can’t get enough of ’em. And it turns out he will follow them almost anywhere. That’s what gets him in trouble near the beginning of this book, along with his fascination for the macabre. When he spots an advertisement for the Cirque du Freak, a circus that bills itself as “not for the fainthearted,” he knows he has to go to see it for himself.
The circus is far more ominous than Darren suspects, of course, but he and his friend Steve are compelled to visit. Darren ends up making a giant sacrifice for his friend, one that inducts him into the horrifying world of vampirism, struggling to maintain his humanity and his soul despite being paired with the greatest evil he has ever met.
Arai’s art is a real thrill here. The story was already well-suited for the manga format, so in some ways it just feels as though the art is finally being paired up with a story that should have had it all along. But more than that, Arai has done a superb job of creating a manga that feels like a healthy mix of styles, both American and Japanese. Arai won a contest search for the artist to convert the story to manga, and it’s easy to see how he won. His style feels new and classic at the same time. It’s a delight.
The book includes a sample excerpt of the prose version of the book, a nice touch for kids and a good way to encourage them to increase their reading lists. (The book has also inspired an upcoming movie.)
The book ends on a dark note—no surprise there—but future volumes promise more, much more, in Darren and Steve’s stories.