A story called Freakshow

I don’t know if I ever wrote about Freakshow here before. Freakshow was a comic book concept I created with my brother Mike when I was…maybe 15? It was truly the very first concept I ever had that actually made any sense, or actually had a story to it.

Freakshow was subtitled “A Tale of Family” and was about the Webb family, a family of freaks who lived in a sophisticated mansion in Los Angeles, in their very own gated community. The Webb family were all freaks, each with various deformations and all with some type of superhuman abilities.

This idea was very heavily influenced by Preacher. Not in story tone or genre but by the fact that Preacher was a serious story told as a comic book, one that dealt with the supernatural and paranormal powers. That was what I wanted to get across with Freakshow.

Now, I’m writing this out, but this is still an idea I want to work on, albeit in a modified way (as will become clear, is very necessary.)

I created Freakshow with a massive cast of characters. The deformed Webb family, in all their hideous glory. There were family members covered in poison secreting pores. A genius scholar with the head of a bulldog. A man covered in birthmarks shaped like bar codes. A kid made of bees. So many weird ideas, things that, looking back on them now, I wonder where they came from. These were ideas that the adult me would never think of.

The basis of the story is that, into this family of freaks, a child is born normal. This child, named Simon, looks like a regular kid – and he becomes the freak among freaks. Simon also has some incredible powers at his command, mental abilities (since he doesn’t have a deformity like the rest of his family.) There was also one other key thing about Simon: he was the living “cure” for his family, who kept that a secret from him.

The family was run with an iron fist by Grandfather Abraham Webb, a man who had lived for six hundred years and had run through dozens of families like the one the story focused on. This was just his current family. Having lived for so long, Grandfather Webb had amassed a huge fortune, which kept the family safe and comfortable in their own commune.

Webb, in addition to his unnaturally long life, could also control shadows. One of the strangest ideas was that there had been four stillborn children “born” into the family. Grandfather Webb stole these unborn children away, accelerated their growth, and locked them in the attic to use them as hunters, animating them with shadows.

Grandfather Webb was an evil man in many ways, but his main focus was his family, and their safety. But he also wanted to expand his family’s footprint, and continued to encourage his children to have their own children – the more the merrier. Webb had seven sons, no daughters – the mutation was on the male Y chromosome, so only males were born into the family. The family used to kidnap women to bear the children. This drove most of the women insane, or they themselves ended up mutated as a result of being in the vicinity of the Webb family members for so long.

Most of the family was content with staying hidden. Some of them were tragic cases, like the bulldog-headed man, who won several nobel prizes but could never leave the house. Some, like the man covered in bar codes, were more militant and followed the teachings of Grandfather Webb at all times.

Simon was just a normal teenage kid, who had grown up feeling like the outcast. All his family were freaks. Simon had no siblings, as his father was forbidden to reproduce again after the “failure” of Simon. Eventually, Simon runs away, which starts a massive manhunt as the family cannot allow Simon to be influenced by outside forces, because he could come back and change the entire family into normal people – and Grandfather Webb does not want that.

Now, I had plotted this story out to seventy-five (!) issues. No joke. I had long story arcs, each named and plotted out. I had sub-plots running through the whole thing. I gave individual family members their own issues here and there. I had Simon run away, get chased by his family, meet up with a gang of street kids (some of them with powers as well), and finally meet up with a man named Learo the Hole, a man whose life was destroyed a long time ago by Grandfather Webb, a man who convinced Simon his destiny was to fight back against his evil family.

Before I go further, I need to mention something – when I was 15, I was a huge fan of the band Archers of Loaf. And it was very clear that I was listing to a lot of the Archers while creating this idea, because there are stolen bits of their songs littered throughout: the family name Webb came from the song “Web in Front”. Learo the Hole, Simon’s mentor, came directly from the song “Learo, You’re a Hole”. Simon had a monstrous cannibalistic cousin who lived in the basement named Quinn, which came from the Archers song “Quinn Beast”.

Anyway, the series progressed to the point where Simon and his new friends launched an attack on the Webb family commune. I eviscerated my cast, leaving many of them dead or “cured” by Simon. Eventually the mighty Quinn Beast is released from the basement, and he tears through Simon’s crew before Simon cures him. Simon faces off with Grandfather Webb in a final mental battle, with Webb promising to “tear your mind to shreds, boy!” before Simon cures him, turning him into dust (he was 600 years old, remember.)

There was a subplot running through the latter half of the book where one of Simon’s uncles, the man covered in bar codes (who was named, surprisingly, Bar Code Webb) had impregnated his “wife”, a woman that had been kidnapped years ago and had bore all of his children, and she was pregnant again, and she gives birth to a baby named Spider (get it? Spider Webb?). Spider’s power? To create new freaks, to directly counter what Simon could do.

At the end of the book, Simon realizes he’s just participated in the butchering of most of his family, and he runs away again, and his uncle Bar Code, holding the baby Spider in his arms, closes the door, the monstrous Quinn Beast behind them, re-mutated by Spider’s powers. The series ends with that door closing.

(Also, there was another uncle who’s name was Cobb. And it never once dawned on me that there was another play on words there, until one day my brother looked at me and said “You realize his name is Cobb Webb, right?” As interesting as some of my ideas from back then were, I wasn’t always the sharpest knife.)

Now, I would really like to write a new Freakshow series. I would consider it to be my magnum opus, honestly. But I’d scale the thing down. Cut down on the cast. Cut down the number of issues dramatically. The 75 issues were plotted out back before I had any idea of how the comic industry really worked. I figured it was pretty standard that I’d pitch the idea (with no sequential art, by the way) and land a 75-issue gig with Vertigo (which was the original plan, of course.)

Now, I say no sequential art, and that’s not entirely true. My brother and I designed all the characters, and I even went as far as drawing up 3 or 4 pages of story. If I can find those, I’ll try and scan them in and show off my (lack of) skill as an illustrator. When I was 15, I was still convinced I was going to take the industry by storm with my art skills.

Just because I feel like I should, all this information is most definitely (c) 2013 Mark Bertolini. Wouldn’t you like to read this story? I know I would. Let me write it for you, one day.

And a lot of other things would have to be changed. I don’t know that I approve of my 15-year-old thoughts on kidnapping women to bear monstrously deformed children. That seems very…icky now. I’d definitely make a change there.

That’s it for today. Do yourself a favor and listen to “Say It” by the Born Ruffians. You can thank me later.

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