Irish horror author, Darren Shan recently announced that an omnibus edition of the Cirque du Freak manga is being published, and the nostalgia hit me like a truck.
The Saga of Darren Shan, more commonly known as Cirque du Freak, is Shan’s most well-known work. You might remember it from that time it got a film adaption in the midst of all the Twilight hype in 2009.
So why does it matter?
Firstly, in the hellscape that we know as 2020, it’s nice to get some good news. The Cirque du Freak manga has been out of circulation for a few years. This reissue will give newer fans of his novels access to the manga without having to pay a fortune for a secondhand copy on eBay.
Secondly, the manga adaption is a great way to become immersed in the world he built.
I’ve always been one for investing myself in stories — whether it was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, or the many, many emo concept albums I adored as a teen that I still love today.
I was 5 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was in theaters, and I was 7 for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Admittedly, I didn’t get into Lord of the Rings until I was an adult (because I was stupid), but it goes without saying that these worlds have played a large role in my life.
Cirque du Freak is one of those worlds.
I don’t know who I am without those worlds. They just became a part of me. Of all the vices in the world, or weird coping mechanisms, isn’t being a little too obsessed with art one of the best? Was being a fangirl really a bad thing when I could have been doing worse with my time?
Cirque du Freak follows Darren Shan (yes, he names the protagonist after himself). His world changes when he’s turned into a half-vampire after stealing a vampire’s pet spider at a freak show. Shan’s best friend, Steve, feels betrayed when he leaves him for a world of darkness, a life Steve feels is rightfully his.
While Shan is adjusting to his new life as the vampire’s assistant, Steve joins the Vampaneze, a rival vampire race. The two boys become pawns in a war that has been raging for centuries between the vampires and the Vampaneze.
Settings like the Cirque du Freak itself and Vampire Mountain became second homes in my mind. As someone who read as many vampire books as possible, I felt Shan’s take was one of the most unique. Hell, he created his own species of vampire!
The Vampaneze are purple-skinned vampires who kill their victims because they feel it is dishonorable and disrespectful to leave them alive. Vampires only drink enough blood to survive and spare their victims.
The manga spans 12 volumes — the same as the book series. It ran from 2006 until 2009 and has been out of print for some time. This is concerning because Shan is a prolific author who regularly gains new readers. Understandably, these newer fans want access to the same collection of works as the older fans that were around when the manga was first released.
I had never read manga before Cirque du Freak, but I was always intrigued by it. All my pocket money went towards collecting the original books, and I felt lost as I finished each entry. After spending so long invested in this world, so where do I go now?
Sure, fanfiction exists, and I did read a few fics in the day, but I wanted to remain mostly in the canon.
That’s when the manga jumped out at me like a beacon in the bookshop. I had a way to stay in the universe that had begun to feel like home. Soon enough, I was buying copy of the manga each week or reading the next volume in the library.
I vividly remember drawing art from the manga and striking it to my bedroom wall — which, at the time, was mostly a shrine to My Chemical Romance.
One of the most endearing nuggets of information about the manga is that the artist, Takahiro Arai, was chosen via a competition judged by Shan. The character designs are quirky and unique, but the manga stays true to the plot of the books. It felt like a project that was crafted with love, not just another cash grab.
While the manga is beloved by fans, opinions of the movie are more divisive. When the film was released it received a considerable amount of criticism — most of which is entirely justified.
But I still love it.
I love it because it’s another way to become invested in Shan’s world. Yes, the casting was questionable. Yes, they may have tampered with the canon and timeline. Yes, they may have tried to shove three books into one movie, and then somehow skipped the whole book the film is named after. Despite everything they did wrong, it still felt like home to me.
That said, the manga feels closer to the real thing than the film does.
As a writer myself, I’ve picked up so much from this series, as well as Shan’s other stories like Demonata and Zom-B. There’s never been another author where I’ve had to put the book down and take a moment because I was so mindblown.
Shan’s work inspired me to tell my own stories. And he lives in the same town as me, so seeing someone from a relatively small city in Ireland gaining recognition as one of the best-known children’s authors in the world was inspiring to a 15-year-old who wanted to do the same.
Cirque du Freak was the story that started it all.
The omnibus will be released in 2021 by Yen Press.