It's a digital comic, it's a graphic novel, it's a soundtrack, it's a Spotify list. It's Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad from Oni Press. This project has been in the works for some years, and if you notice the way Oni is marketing the book, their placing it alongside other musically-themed narratives like Scott Pilgrim in an awareness that multi-media is a strong part of the story of Odd Schnozz. Featuring a high school band made up of several female rockers and one guy who stumble upon some serious mad science in the form of a sinister research facility, and also have to engage in a battle of the bands to prove that their general oddness and outsider status can trump normalcy, the story pursues quite a wild and breathless trajectory, as drawn by Dennis Culver and colored by Ramon Villalobos. Expect to keep hearing about Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad at the major conventions this year, and you may even come across sound-track code cards with purchase at conventions.
Writer Jeffrey Burandt has quite a story of his own to tell about how his own musical history and writing interact, as well as how Odd Schnozz came to be both a digital-first comic, whose chapters have been releasing the last few weeks on ComiXology, and a graphic novel trade, which arrives in comic shops this Wednesday, June 24th.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I've heard that this book has an incredibly long history and many personal connections. What are the main plot points for you in the development of this book, regarding events in your own life?
Jeffrey Burandt: I really enjoy the way you phrased this question! I'll give you a beat for beat outline: I love Oni books. Hey what do you know, I know an editor at Oni Press! Oh man, he's asked me to work Oni's table at the first New York Comic Con! I think I'll write a script of that idea I've been thinking on and give it to him. Holy moly, it worked! Now I just gotta find an artist. Here's one! Oh crap, he's not actually working on it. Subtract two years. Oh my god, Oni, thank you so much for pairing me with Dennis Culver. Thanks for the edits! These pages are fantastic! Works on other things. Works on other things. It's half done? Awesome! Works on other things. Works on other things. Almost fully drawn? Rad! Works on other things. Works on other things. Works on other things. Works on other things. It's colored? Yeah! It's lettered Yeah! It's coming out next year? It's coming out next week? Yeah, yeah, yeah!!
And then a lot of the "works on other things" up there was producing the soundtrack with Peter Boiko.
HMS: It's been an interesting and somewhat pioneering choice to release the chapters of the graphic novel digitally on ComiXology leading up to the release of the print graphic novel from Oni. How did that plan of release come about? What are the benefits of it in your opinion?
JB: Oni wanted to release this as digital first from the beginning. 7 years ago. Crazy, right? The book was originally supposed to come out in 4 to 6 page digital installments for your desktop. That's why there are so many splash pages early on because those were supposed to be cliffhanger moments every 6 pages. Then I was told to write them in 12 page installments, but then they came out as 20 to 25 pages anyway. But that's what's so great about it taking so long! The distribution system got set up in the meantime, and now it looks so good on iPads and phones. Ramon Villalobos' colors pop so much! I love guided view, actually. Releasing it digitally first is also what justified Oni publishing a color book by unknowns at the time. Each digital issue is an opportunity to talk about the book again, straight for seven weeks. Of course, now both Dennis Culver and Ramon Villalobos are working on that huge Secret Wars book for Marvel: E Is For Extinction, returning to the Morrison/Quitely days of X-Men. I think E Is For Extinction even comes out on the same day as Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad.
HMS: Now, music is part of this wacky and high-energy book, in some ways the heart of it. You've been making both comics and music for a long time, and a proponent of performed comics and live music combinations. How does music interact with this comic and how does the actual soundtrack work?
JB: Co-producer Peter Boiko and I have been releasing the soundtrack with the digital issues, a song at a time, where certain songs match up with the plot of the book. So we started with the theme song as performed by Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad themselves. When the band plays the song in the graphic novel, you can hear what they sound like by listening to the soundtrack on OddSchnozz.com —you can read the words they're singing in the comic as a sort of lyric sheet to the songs too. We did the same with "We Are the Rap Bots." When MF Raj and his Uncanny Rap Bots emerge in the book, their word balloons are the actual lyrics to the hip hop track we produced. So some of the songs actually exist in the Odd Schnozz universe! We also have Americans UK (my longtime Brooklyn-based, sci-fi rock band) cover the theme song. The aforementioned Boiko plays keys in Americans UK and we comprise Two Beards One Heart together.
Anyway, I also plan on having download cards of the soundtrack available with purchase of the graphic novel at all the upcoming conventions I'm attending, and there is a two-page ad in the print book telling people to visit OddSchnozz.com. Fred Chao (Johnny Hiro) designed the ad and it looks fantastic! Also, we're planning a live Rock n' Comix event with Oni now for NY Super Week during NYCC, so look forward to that.
HMS: When you talk about Plano, Texas, which parts are most autobiographical for you? I like the line that it's a "very strange town even if nobody else" knows that. Why do you think it's possible for weirdos to develop and even thrive in such suburban environments?
JB: I definitely share lead character Liz's negative opinion of the town succumbing to suburban sprawl. Suburban sprawl is devouring North Texas. Acreages of land have been replaced by parking lots and national chain stores. But you still have all this space and all these people, so it's easy to hide in plain sight. And the schools are so big—I mean Plano Senior High School, my alma mater, is bigger than a lot of college campuses, and my graduating class was 1,500 kids—and that was 20 years ago! When you're in an environment with that many kids, movie-style class cliques exist, even if they took different forms when I matriculated. So there are so many kids, the odds can just exist off on their own. And the odds usually use markers in their styles of dress and the like to find each other and clique up themselves. Music is a big part of that in high school too. Music is both what bands you are into and how you dress when you're that age: I'm a metal head; I'm a punk; I'm a shit kicker. As to autobiography, I joined my first rock band in high school, and hanging out and getting into trouble all along the creeks and alleys of Plano comes from a very real place.
HMS: Many of your characters in this comic are female. Was that a specific choice for you as a writer or is it just fairly typical of the punk scene you're familiar with?
JB: My favorite rockers are women, and I genuinely believe that the more women are integral to a specific community or scene, the better that community will function and be made enjoyable. I made a Spotify playlist that goes along with the book, and it's not just a list of my favorite lady rockers, but a list of some of my favorite rockers, period. And so when I imagined the book, I don't think I made a deliberate decision to make any particular characters female—more like the characters just emerged as themselves during early development, and they were three young women and one young man in a band together. I think some of the influences the book wears on its sleeve also lean towards female-led properties.
HMS: As an animal lover myself, I have to ask, you do seem to have a concern for animals in this comic and how they are treated. Is that true generally and something you wanted to draw some attention to?
JB: I have so many conflicting answers to this question! Yes I love animals and have always cared for pets, but I also know how smart pigs (hell, all mammals) are, and how factory farming treats livestock, and yet I and continue to eat bacon. I think the emotional drama that emerges in the story regarding animal experimentation and captivity comes more from the motivations of Doctors Montrose and Zakowski, combined with the almost supernatural empathy Liz, aka Odd Schnozz, exhibits as the story advances. Also, Dennis Culver really nailed the designs in that the Mechazao are super sleek, exciting, almost cute monstrosities of science, who also have an element of horror behind them. I mean, those are the cutest exposed brains I've ever seen. They are products of cyber technology and vivisection.
JB: Basically, I want to tell a big, bombastic sci-fi, adventure story through the lens of a teen, punk rock and indie comic. I also want to tell a story with a very broad appeal. I think fans of pop culture will be able to detect the various flavors of reference we've stirred into our story's mélange, but the world of Odd Schnozz is entirely its own and will appeal to new readers of backgrounds. We're female reader friendly. We're 12+. We have a diverse cast of humans and non-humans, many with mixed race families, and we represent different styles of music and music culture both in the comic and on the soundtrack. And I think when you combine all these ideas with the very clean, animation-cell-like style that Dennis Culver brings to Odd Schnozz, I see the book as capable of hitting a very wide audience of weirdos and freaks. I know I want a Rocket Dolphin toy at least. I would love to see Mod cosplay.
JB: Dennis is an amazing storyteller. He gave me some story notes that made their way into the script and helped tighten up the ending. So he's a good writer, and he's amazing draftsman and illustrator. He's an omni-threat. Nothing is ever confusing in his panels or layouts, and his characters act so well—you know exactly how they're feeling as they utter their lines. His character designs are fantastic. He can draw vehicles! I can't say enough kind things. If the book succeeds, it's because it looks so good. Villalobos really nailed the colors too, adding shadow and making everything feel real, even as the drawings are of a more cartoony style. I have no idea if either of them are musicians. We will all meet for the first time at San Diego Comic Con this year!
Here's the opening theme to the comic covered by Americans UK courtesy of Jeffrey Burandt:
The print graphic novel version of Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad is out this Wednesday, June 24th from Oni Press, and if you're in the New York area, there will be a signing alongside Charles Soule (Letter 44) and Joe Infurnari (The Bunker) at JHU Comics in New York on Wednesday also from 7 to 9PM: