I had the honor of sitting down with epic creator Otis Frampton to get the low down on what's new and exciting with his excellent book from Image Comics, Oddly Normal. Take a look at our informal, rambling, but announcement-filled conversation below.
[Note: Depending on how much of Oddly Normal you've read, you may come across some spoilers, so proceed with caution!]
Christine Marie: Okay, well I have to start off by asking you a VERY important question. Have I made it clear that I'm a diehard Oddly Normal super-fan?
Otis Frampton: Ha! I was getting that feeling, but I wasn't entirely sure. Thanks for clarifying. And thanks, I appreciate that you're reading and enjoying the series.
CM: You're very welcome. Now onto the real questions! When I interviewed you back in January we talked about a lot of your background as a creator and some of your other projects. At that point issue #5 was just about to come out. Now the trade paperback is available, which collects the first five issues. Tell me a little bit about what that's like for you to have your comic collected into a first (of hopefully many) volumes. Perhaps, you could also give a little synopsis of what the first arc entails for our readers who haven't had a chance to hop on the Oddly Normal train.
OF: Well, it's great to have the first book out. I'm especially happy that "Oddly Normal" Book 1 is being sold in the children's section of book stores. That's where the book was always meant to be and I'm thrilled that Image worked to get it there so it will be side by side with books like "Bone," "Amulet" and "Smile." Image has been really great about the sales side of things and placing the book on a path where the right audience can find it. Just last week we found out that "Oddly Normal" Book 1 has been accepted into the Scholastic Book Fair. For an all-ages graphic novel like mine, that's a huge stepping stone to having kids be able to find it.
As far as arcs go, the first five issues/chapters were all about Oddly's world being turned upside down. Her parents vanish, she gets whisked away to Fignation, deals with her first day of school and meets the bullies of this world. It was a rough go for her. Issues/chapters 6-10 go a little easier on Oddly. She learns some things about her past and gets a gift that will have a big impact on her future. As far as story arcs go, I really think of issues/chapters 1-15 as the first big arc. So the next five issues will lead to the first big climax of the series and reveal some things about Oddly and Fignation that will change her forever.
CM: Wow, first of all, congratulations on that excellent news! Oddly meets Scholastic Book Fair! Yeah, I really enjoyed having a solid foundation for Oddly's character in my back pocket as I moved forward through the last four issues.
OF: Thanks! Yeah, I'm not really pacing the series in the usual comic book manner. I really am treating them as chapters in a long book. The series is paced like one of my favorite comic series, "Bone." Some issues will have big events and some issues will be quieter and more character focused. Issues 6 and 7 were tonally different from the first few, but it was important material that needed to be there for Oddly to move forward with her story.
Most of the major arcs in "Oddly Normal" will actually last 10-15 issues or chapters. So two or three books will equal an arc. Speaking of issues and chapters… issue #10 will be the last single issue of the series. Sales of individual issues have not been as strong as Image or I had hoped. But sales of Book 1 have been strong. So strong that it has already gone into a second printing. So Image and I have decided to stop putting out individual issues and start putting out books only. Each book will have the same format, consisting of five chapters each.
The series was actually originally intended to be a series of long GNs. But I decided to pitch it to comic publishers on a whim and got offers from two. When I decided to go with Image, I was excited to be in a position to do single issues. But I kept the "chapter" format just in case this ever happened.
It hasn't been announced yet. But readers who get Previews each month might notice that issue #11 has not been solicited. And that's why… there won't be an issue #11 on the comic shop shelf. But CHAPTER 11 will be in Book 3, which will come out May 2016.
CM: That was very clever on your part. It looks like you made a really wise decision.
OF: Thanks. I just had a feeling that keeping the chapter format might be a good idea. Kids comics don't sell well, but I knew that there might be a life for the series in the graphic novel world, and it looks like that might be the case. Getting in to the Scholastic Book Fair was a big goal of mine, so getting the news last week was very exciting.
CM: I totally agree with a chapter format being more appealing to kids. I can see it now…tons of children begging their parents to buy them the new Oddly Normal GN.
OF: Here's hoping! *knocks wood* I've gotten great feedback from kids and parents alike. The series is meant to be an all ages book and I mean that in the best sense… something that kids and adults can read and enjoy.
OF: Well, Oddly had to ride a bus to school, so I just thought… "bus… bug… done!" But really, the world building is always secondary to me. I start with story and character, lay the groundwork and then build the fantasy elements onto that. So it really was as simple as "Oddly needs to get to school." I already showed her coming home from school in a traditional bus, so I wanted the Fignation version of this to be radically different visually. That's actually the CITY bus, just FYI. Since Oddly was heading to school late in the day, she missed the regular school bus. But you'll meet HER in issue #10. Thanks! I also planted the seed for this image "Wizard of Oz"-style in issue #1. If you go back and look, you'll see a Volkswagon Bug driving by the school bus on one page. That's the kind of thing a kid wouldn't notice, but their parent might. "The Wizard of Oz" was obviously a huge influence on "Oddly Normal."
CM: Oh! That's so exciting! I look forward to that. Well thank you for answering that question. I know this image is from chapters ago, but it is honestly one of my favorite moments thus far.
Yes, and that's always nice to have that opportunity for parents to connect with the story just as much as their children.
I want to talk a little bit about issues #6 and #7. In #6 we get background information about Oddly's Mother. I was fascinated by every moment/detail of her making her way through her mother's vault. Carrying into issue #7, we see her parents beginnings and what kind of repercussions Oddly has for seeing them. Tell me about your experience writing that.
OF: The story in those two issues was one of the things I was excited to get to and one of the reasons I wanted to re-do the series. Some people might not know this, but "Oddly Normal" was originally published by Viper Comics in the mid-2000s. I was never happy with the series, only having four issues to tell the story that will now be 15 issues/chapters from Image Comics. I've completely re-drawn and re-written the story to be more reflective of my original intent before Viper published it. I had to cut scenes, compress plot and jettison characters for that four issue series and now I get to put it all back in the way it was supposed to be. The backstory about Oddly's parents was one of those story elements that had to be cut, so it's rewarding to me to have finally gotten it back in. And it's very important to Oddly that she feel a connection to her mother going forward. She needed that connection to help her see her parents in a different light.
That sequence is one of the things that's somewhat based on my own experiences. Growing up, my parents had a closet full of things from their past, from the time before they were married. They were both in the Navy and their uniforms were stored there. My Dad never talked about his past, so seeing his uniforms and school yearbooks always held some mystery to me. Oddly's trip into her mother's memory was inspired by this closet from my own past.
CM: Well, it must be refreshing to be able to present the story the way you had always imagined it. I think sharing that experience with Oddly, looking back into her parents past, was a rewarding reader experience. I love the inspiration behind it. Writers often draw from their past when writing/creating and it always makes for the best stories.
OF: Thanks! I think that it's inevitable that a writer will draw on their own experiences. Even with fantasy material. Actually, ESPECIALLY with fantasy material. The more ground the storytelling is in real emotions, the better it can live in the fantasy environment. I had to allow Oddly to understand her own mother better. I could have done it simply by having her Great Aunt tell her a story. But the fantasy world allowed me to tell the same story with the same outcome in a unique way and make it visually and conceptually interesting. That's pretty much my goal for the series: tell a simple coming of age story in a new and visually interesting way. The storytelling isn't anything new, but hopefully readers will enjoy the manner in which it is told.
CM: Wow, I really love the way you detail your experience writing fantasy. It's no wonder your writing is so thorough and emotional.
So, Oddly had a rocky start when she first got to Fignation, even though it was more of a "fitting" environment for her. But she found a group of friends, Ragnar, Reggie, and Misty who kind of took her under their wings. Could you talk a bit about the creation of those characters? The way the plot is moving forward, it looks like we are going to get to spend more time with them.
Yeah, her new friends will be around for a while.
Oddly was very isolated in the real world. But I wanted her to gain some friends in Fignation, even if she didn;t necessarily want to go outside of her comfort zone and let them in, ya know? They sort oh have to force themselves on her. But like all friends, they'll change her life in big ways.
The biggest change they bring will happen in issue #9. They give Oddly a belated birthday gift that will alter her life in ways she never expected.
CM: Yes, I think already her friends have impacted her. I laughed at the end of issue #7 where she gets the letter from the adorable buzzing robot, knowing that she now has to go return it. "Aw, crud" is her exact reaction.
OF: Yeah, she doesn't want to go outside of her comfort zone. She doesn't think she needs friends. She's done fine without them in the past and she's a little scared to let anyone in. It takes someone like Ragnar, who simply won't take no for an answer and has no filter, to push through her defenses and force her into a new headspace.
CM: I don't want to keep you too long, but I did want to mention something about issue #9. (Thanks again for the advance copy.) I'm really glad that you brought up Oddly's birthday again because it gives us great perception of time. Sometimes in plots its hard to keep track of how long someone has been away from certain people. In this case, it's how long Oddly has been without her parents. With that said, you mentioned that issue #9 brings a big change for Oddly. I probably shouldn't spoil it for readers so I guess I won't include this, but as I was flipping through older issues today I noticed an image in issue 1 that features that character.
OF: Are you referring to her gift? I did include some images in the back of issue #1 that previewed some things that would come out in future issues. That was one of the benefits of having worked on the series as a graphic novel first. I actually had a lot done so that I could show off upcoming material. Some of that was from issue #12, which I've had done for almost two years!
CM: Yep. Yeah, it's a bonus image in the back. Wow! That's amazing.
Oh, and I adore Ragnar. So yes, I think that he shows true interest in Oddly and cares about her well being in this new world.
OF: I've had friends like Ragnar in my life. They're like a force of nature. It's the "I like you, let's be friends!" variety of friend. They decide that you need them or they need you and nothing is going to change their mind.
CM: Those are the best kinds of friends. We could all use a Ragnar in our lives!
I did want to ask, how far do you have the story for Oddly planned out in your head and how far on paper?
I have full scripts for four major story arcs ( I wrote them years ago) and enough material plotted out for 75-100 chapters. I may be overestimating, but I think that's about right. That being said, "Oddly Normal" is a finite story and I know how it ends. Some clues to the ending have already been revealed in the first 8 issues that are currently out. But others won't be revealed for a while.
I was considering combining the third and fourth story arc. It would have been fun switching between the two for the ongoing series. But now that we've decided to switch to releasing books only, that may not work. We'll see.
CM: That's impressive to have so much of the story worked out already. It just goes to show how near and dear Oddly is to you. Oh, the suspense! I'll have to go back and pick out clues now. Well, I am obviously looking forward to whatever you have planned.
OF: I'm very committed to telling Oddly's story. I spent years trying to get the series back on its feet and reboot it after getting the property back from Viper. There were many ups and downs. It was almost published as a GN series from a major book publisher but they ultimately passed. If there's one thing that readers can be sure of, it's that I'm telling this story because I need to, no matter what. It's very important to me. Oddly is very important to me.
CM: Tell me, are there any plans for Oddly outside of the world of comics? In our last interview you mentioned that there was talk of something, but didn't say much more.
OF: Actually, yes. I haven't talked about it until now, but "Oddly Normal" was optioned last year for development as an animated TV series. There's not much more I can or should say about that at this time, but I'm thrilled that someday I may be in the unique position of working on two different versions of Oddly's story. We're developing a very special pitch right now and hopefully we'll be showing it to studios soon. It's very exciting. Anyone who knows me knows that I've always wanted to be involved in film or TV, so to have a chance to work on a series based on my own comic is thrilling. Hopefully we'll find a home for the show. I feel like we started out with a bit of good luck… the option agreement was finalized on my birthday last year. So *knock wood*!
As for the book side of things, I think "Oddly Normal" will soon be available in other languages. It's still early days, but international editions of the book may be coming soon. So stay tuned, Rest Of The World!
CM: Oh my goodness. That is beyond exciting news. I know that I would definitely be thrilled to see Oddly on TV. I will be sure to knock on wood for you, and I will urge all Bleeding Coolers to do the same!
CM: Yes, well it looks like you are having one exciting year! All of the news you've shared today has been spectacular. Congratulations x1000. Seriously. You deserve it.
OF: Thanks you very much. I've been working on "Oddly Normal" for a long time. It's nice to know that my faith in the story was not misplaced. I always believed that it was a story worth telling. So it's great to know that people are enjoying it and that it has a chance to grow as a series.
CM: You're so welcome. You're living proof that one should never give up on the projects that they believe in!
OF: I really believe that. When aspiring comic creators ask me for advice, I always go with "don't quit." It's the best advice I know to give and the one thing I kept telling myself, even when major publishers were telling me that "Oddly Normal" wasn't good enough.
CM: It makes me so happy to hear that. So many people are quick to give up on ideas/stories/concepts because of rejection. So thank you for sharing your experience with getting the book out there.
OF: Yeah, it's really easy to quit or shift gears in the face of rejection. But if you really believe in a project, and really believe in your own abilities, sometimes a rejection can be a good thing. If "Oddly Normal" had been published by that book publisher, it would have been a different animal because of the presence of an editor. With Image, you're allowed to tell the story you want to tell. So I am. So rejection+not quitting = blessing in disguise.
Christine Marie is a Staff Writer at Bleeding Cool, and bibliomaniac with a love for all things creative. She hopes to one day be a Superhero/Disney Princess/Novelist. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @AWritersWay or on her blog writerchristinemarie.wordpress.com.