“Blowoff” is a sideshow term that refers to an additional attraction, one not suitable for the general public – such as a deformed fetus kept in a jar – that is only made available to the brave souls who buy an additional ticket. With The Residents, it’s a 15-minute suite of themes related to Freak Show. Is it brand new music made just for this release? Is it material cut from the album? Or is it the original demo/experiment that birthed the entire project? I’m going to side with it being the demo, with perhaps a bit of touch up done here and there. That would keep it likened to a pickled fetus – something young, with the promise of life, but ultimately not fully formed. The Residents have long exuded a sense of restlessness, of wanting to move on to their next project, so returning to make more Freak Show music doesn’t seem very likely. In fact I’m somewhat surprised they’ve returned to this project at all, but not surprised in the manner in which they have. They have not churned out another album of sideshow ditties; they have employed the help of several artists to bring Freak Show into a new medium: the comic book (or graphic novel as some would have it).
With this book, The Residents have opened themselves to greater collaboration than ever before. It is a true anthology, not simply “The Residents with special guests.” In the end this is precisely what the idea of The Residents is all about. Their very name indicates that anyone can take part; there is nothing set in stone, nothing that excludes. Anyone in the vicinity can bring in their own ideas. That said, some of the artists chose not to stray far outside the lines of what The Residents had sketched out. The “Wanda The Worm Woman” section, for example, has no text that does not come from the original song. Perhaps the artist felt he could do no better; perhaps he felt that any change would undermine the work The Residents had already done. Perhaps a little of both, perhaps neither. As for the artists who expanded upon or created their own stories, the opposite may be true: perhaps they felt they could tell a better tale than The Residents, or perhaps they felt they shouldn’t repeat what was laid before them.
There are multiple sides to either decision, and without interviewing each artist it is impossible to tell which is true. It’s safest to assume that all choices were made for the best and most positive of reasons: an altered story was due to a desire to create something new; an unaltered story was due to a desire to bring a visual interpretation to an existing aural stimulus. Both strategies are perfectly reasonable, and all of these entries are interesting, or visually stunning, or both.
I confess I am not a regular reader of comic books. I want my word-to-image ratio to be very high, and I find the comic book format generally lacks the ability to fully explore the themes and emotions it depicts. But I also acknowledge that many people are better stimulated visually, and merely need just the right pen stroke for a character to express a full range of emotion that would otherwise take a full page of text. It’s just not how my mind likes to take in a story. That said, I do enjoy the Freak Show comic, mostly because it alludes to further stories or adds details to the existing ones from the album. And while “Wanda The Worm Woman” adds nothing story-wise, the artwork is the best in the collection as far as I’m concerned. So for my tastes, the collaborations fit together the best way imaginable: each brings something new to the material, and that’s why someone would take the time to revisit the past. Yes, even a group as restless as The Residents, for whom personal nostalgia seems to be the antithesis of being.