| 01 July 2009 | Medora
“My favorite things in the world are spiders!”Spiders give me the chills. I have no idea how or why I read past the beginning of either the original book or the manga edition of this now well-known series by Irish writer Darren Shan. Shan’s protagonist, who is a younger Shan – in the book, the author insists that this is a true story, but we know better, or at least we hope we do – is seriously infatuated with spiders. The main difference between the book and the manga is, of course, the pictures.Artist Takahiro Arai recounts his experience competing for the job of mangaka for this undertaking, if you will, at the end of the first volume of the manga. He sketches himself as a stressed-out frog, devoid of new ideas, when the call comes for an artist for the Cirque du Freak series. When Shan chooses Arai’s work from the field, Arai falls ill from excitement. He gratefully acknowledges his brother, who is also a manga artist, for his contributions to the volume. Arai, however, is the man behind the visual of Madam Octa, a fang-bearing spider that inspires nightmares merely by her description. I, for one, did not need an image of her to make my skin crawl.Cirque du Freak is an appropriate piggyback to last month’s discussion of vampire manga. Darren and Steve, best friends and partners in their affection for horror and the grotesque, are mysteriously invited to a modern – or not so modern – freak show. They go to great lengths before finding themselves in their seats, thrilled and terrified to be present at what promises to be a once in a lifetime experience, peaking, for Darren, with the entrance of Madam Octa, a giant, poisonous spider that is as captivating as she is alarming.Darren has no idea how far his affection for spiders will take him; or how his desire for Madam Octa will lead to the destruction of the life he knows as it spins out of his control and into the hands of a vampire. Those revelations come much later, after he discovers a darker side to his best friend that changes their relationship forever.While the manga and the book – and when I refer to the book, I am referring only to the first one in the series, of which there are twelve – are basically the same, there are a few notable differences. The manga necessarily moves faster than the book, counting on the artwork to speak the requisite thousand words, which it does. Madam Octa is, visually, at least as appalling as she is in description, but there is something to be said for the mental image one carries as she weaves her delicate web across the vampire’s open mouth, and the vampire’s appreciation of the web as he eats it with genuine pleasure.I wonder at Shan’s decision to have a female spectator at the Cirque du Freak thank the master of ceremonies after he sews her hand on following the Wolfman’s attack. What is different in the manga story that she should do this, when she says nothing after the reattachment in the book, and her husband, who does not appear in the manga, screams his outrage?Why does Steve tell Darren about his wish to be a monster in the manga, but says nothing to Darren in the book about his wish, leaving Darren to discover his friend’s desire to become a vampire while overhearing Steve’s conversation with Mr. Crepsley? Why does his desire, as he explains to Crepsley, mean more to him than Darren specifically in the manga, but his friends in general in the book? And really, hasn’t Steve ever heard the old warning, ‘be careful what you wish for’?In both versions, Shan expertly captures the adolescent discoveries one makes about friends, friends we have known for years but who often change seemingly overnight into someone unknown, unreachable, unexplainable. Is that person still your friend, and if he is, what would you sacrifice to save his life, to save his soul, even if you are unsure if he would do the same for you?
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