It's such an honor to talk with the extraordinary Oddly Normal creator, Otis Frampton. Otis is an artist and writer who has been working professionally in comics, illustration, and animation for ten years. He joins us here on Bleeding Cool to discuss his creative process, his animation projects, Oddly Normal, and more!
Christine Marie: Hi Otis! Thank you so much for joining me on Bleeding Cool.
Otis Frampton: Thanks for having me, Christine!
CM: I'd like to start off with giving readers a bit of background on your life as a creator. Was there a defining moment in your life that pointed you in this direction? How did you break into the comics industry?
OF: Defining moment? Like most people from my generation, it was seeing that Star Destroyer come over my head. The original Star Wars jump-started my interest in telling stories. Not just the movie, but George Lucas himself. I remember reading Dale Pollack's biography of Lucas when I was younger and thinking "If he can do it, I can do it."
How I broke into the comic industry… I started Oddly Normal (my comic now published by Image) as a webcomic in late 2003. Viper Comics saw it and asked if they could publish it. It was as simple as that. The original version of Oddly Normal was published between 2005 and 2007. I wasn't really a "send in samples to publishers kind of guy." I was always interested in telling my own stories so I've always approached comics with the goal of getting into creator-owned work.
CM: Describe your creative process. What comes first? Do you focus on the script, draw some panels first, or do you alternate between the two?
OF: Story and character first. Always. Sometimes I work from a full script and sometimes I work directly on the page, laying out sequences and writing dialogue as I rough out panels. But I always start with story and character, knowing the structure of the story and mapping out where the characters are, what they're feeling and what they're doing. Then I deal with things like plot and world building. With Oddly Normal, because I'm working from a story that I've had written for years, I have some room to play. It's been fun to create new supporting characters and add humorous moments to keep the material fresh. I'm currently working on two issues of the Image series that features a sequence that wasn't in the original Viper Comics and I've scripted part of it and left part of it for the artist in me to work out on the page. I used to script out everything, but these days I've found a balance that works well.
CM: Your web series ABCDEFGeek, is featured on the How It Should Have Ended YouTube channel you illustrate for. You describe it as a geek-infused alphabet. I noticed that you currently have two episodes of an animated series to accompany your three volumes of geek-tastic letters, which are fantastic and funny. Can we expect some more from you in the animated area?
OF: Absolutely! I'm finishing up the artwork for two new episodes right now, so hopefully they'll be on the channel soon. The two new episodes will be "B Is For Bromance" and "L Is For Liars" and feature parodies of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Empire Strikes Back." There will be at least four more animated episodes of "ABCDEFGeek" and I'm about halfway through with the third volume of the webcomic version. It's been a fun project. Due to other projects on the horizon I may not have time to continue working on it, but it's the kind of thing that I can always come back to when I have ideas.
CM: Oddly Normal is one of the most original, imaginative comics I've ever read. Tell me a little bit about main character Oddly and how she came about. What inspired you to tell her story?
OF: Thanks! Oddly Normal started life as a simple sketch of a sad little girl in my sketchbook. I wrote the words "oddly normal" next to it and the idea of a girl too strange for the real world and too normal for a fantasy land started percolating. I really saw it as my chance to tell a story like The Wizard of Oz or The Phantom Tollbooth… I grew up loving those sorts of books. The magical land in "Oddly Normal," which I named Fignation, is basically the collective imagination of humanity. It is the world of fiction made literal, so it provides me with a great place to tell any kind of story I want. I get to use any genre, which is fun. Most of the story arcs in the series will be mash-ups of multiple genres. The second big arc will be a monster movie/super-hero comic/revenge story. So that should be fun.
CM: While exploring your work on the Internet, I came across a video of you illustrating popular Wicked character, Elphaba. It was an "aha!" moment of sorts for me because I remember thinking about her when I read the first issue of Oddly Normal. Do you have a particular interest in that character/book/broadway play, or is this purely coincidence?
OF: The original novel Wicked was a big influence on Oddly Normal. I'm a big fan of that book and the way that Gregory Maguire took a character that we all knew and showed us a different side of them. I also love the exploration of the concept of "evil," which will play a part in Oddly's story. As for the musical version… let's just say I enjoyed the music but I'm not a fan of the changes made to the story, especially in Act II. But yeah, Wicked definitely made an impact on me. I even named Oddly's mom "Ellie" as an homage to the book!
CM: Oddly Normal is currently taking place in the colorful world of Fignation. How did you go about world building? How deep will readers get to journey into the eccentric setting?
OF: The world building is somewhat secondary to me when I'm writing, even when it's something as fantasy-based as Oddly Normal. As I've said, the story and characters need to come first. So, for example, when I was writing issue #3 of the series, I started with the structure of "Oddly wakes up, gets on the bus, goes to a strange new school and finds that she still feels like an outsider." That's the story, that's what happens to the main character and that's where she is emotionally at the end of the issue. Now, where world building comes in is in what the bus looks like and what kind of fantasy character can the school principal be and what strange creatures can I use to populate the school…? If I started with the world building, the most important elements would have been lost in a series of "wouldn't it be cool if" moments. The writer in me always takes the first steps, lays out the narrative structure and then I let the artist take over from there. And sometimes that's frustrating, because it would be a lot easier if I just wrote about things that I wanted to draw.
CM: Going back to my animation question. Is there any chance of seeing Oddly featured in a YouTube video?
OF: Actually there are things happening behind the scenes with regard to an animated version of Oddly Normal that I can't talk about yet. But soon. Very soon. But I will say this… it's not for YouTube.
OF: A dream come true. Image is very hands off. If they like your comic and want to publish it, they let you do what you do. The upside is that you get to make your comic the way you want to make it, from soup to nuts. The downside? Success or failure is all on you and the story you're telling. So if you want to pitch to Image, be sure it's a passion project and you're doing the heavy lifting to produce the book. That being said, Image has done some things that have left me pleasantly surprised. Thanks to new initiatives from Image, the trade collections of Oddly Normal are going to be stocked in the children's section of bookstores, near other all ages graphic novels such as "Amulet" and "Smile." I worked for a few years trying to get Oddly Normal published by book publishers and almost landed it at one. So knowing that the series will be sold in the children's book section is a big win for me in terms of making sure that the intended audience is able to find it. And I have Image to thank for that.
CM: Are there any other creators that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
OF: Definitely. Josh Howard (creator of "Dead@17" from Image Comics) and I have a couple of projects that we'd love to see land somewhere, with him writing and me illustrating. And I have a couple of projects that I've written for other artists such as Nicc Balce and Matt Hebb that I'm hoping to get published. Other than that, I've been lucky to have some of my favorite artists say "yes" to my request for variant covers for Oddly Normal, which feels like getting to do mini collaborations. Only one person has said "no" to doing a variant cover so far. But he's a busy guy, so…
CM: One last question: Do you have any upcoming artwork that you'd like to show our Bleeding Coolers as a fun preview?
OF: Sure! Here are two images from issue #5 of Oddly Normal.
OF: Thank you, Christine. I really appreciate you reading Oddly Normal and spreading the word about the series to your readers and followers!
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.