The New "Normal" - An Interview With Otis Frampton

Otis Frampton is bringing something new to Image Comics this September: an all-ages book. Oddly Normal, coming this September, is the tale of a witch’s coming of age, and it’s a book that all of us here at Comic Bastards are really psyched for. Comic Bastard and man about town Nick Philpott sat down with Otis last week to talk comics, monsters, witches, and all things nice.

NICK: So, Otis Frampton. Welcome to the show, as it were.

OTIS: Well, thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.

NICK: You’ve written a new comic called Oddly Normal that’s coming out from Image in September.

OTIS: That is correct.

OddlyNormal-Issue1-CoverNICK: Can you tell me a little bit about where Oddly Normal came from as a story and we’ll go from there?

OTIS: Well Oddly Normal is an all-ages story, I’ve actually had this story with me for like fifteen years now and in fact it was originally a series published by Viper Comics. There’s one miniseries of four issues, and after that we did a trade of like a hundred pages for the second story, and then the third one was done, but Viper kind of fell apart and had to not publish books anymore for awhile.

NICK: When was that?

OTIS: The first miniseries was published in 2005, and then the second book – I didn’t do a miniseries for the next one, I just did a book—was in 2007, I believe? So anyways, this is my second go around with this. The new series is a reboot, but it’s like an expanded reboot with a better artist. I hope. [Laughs] I just, I really believe in the project and I’ve been working on it for a long time. In fact, for a couple years, like 2009 and 10, I had a literary agent and she was shopping it around to book publishers, and we were going to try to get it picked up as a series of graphic novels, and I almost got it sold to one. So I’ve had this project for so long and put so much into it, and then when I, sort of, on a whim almost, decided to pitch to Image, it was just like... I couldn’t believe it when I got the email back about it. It was really stunning to me. I still can’t believe it. [Laughs] It almost feels like a dream.

NICK: That’s great. There’s not really a better machine in comics nowadays to put behind a book than Image.

OTIS: That’s what everybody keeps telling me. I kind of thought that, but talking to retailers now, it’s like “Wow, Image, it’s a really good time to be at Image,” and I feel so lucky that they picked it up, for a number of reasons, not just because it’s nice to have a comic published that you pitch out. I’m pretty happy with the fact that they picked up Oddly Normal, because it’s an all-ages book, and Image hasn’t really done all-ages books in the past, and that was actually one of my big concerns about pitching to them. But now that they have picked it up, it’s nice to kind of be the oddball. It’s like “Oh, Image is doing a book for all-ages, that’s kind of weird. I wonder why.”

OddlyNormal-Page-1NICK: It’s the opposite of Sex Criminals.

OTIS: Yeah, exactly! And that’s why I almost didn’t pitch them, like, they’re doing Sex Criminals and Saga and Chew, which I love, but it couldn’t be more different from what I’m putting out there.

NICK: I’m expecting we probably won’t see Oddly eating anybody?

OTIS: No. There will be kid-friendly zombies, but no, nothing like that. No cibopaths (or however you pronounce that). [Laughs]

NICK: The first issue . . . reminded me a lot of that Paranorman vibe from a couple years ago.

OTIS: Yeah, it’s weird, when that movie came out and I was in the middle of the whole reboot situation it was like “Oh geez it’s so—“ y’know, I kept seeing things that were so tonally close to what I’m doing and I thought, “Oh, am I missing the boat here?” because I couldn’t get any traction. But we’ll see.

NICK: Yeah, it’s a charming sort of vibe that it’s got to it, that it’s accessible for all ages but it also has the appeal broad spectrum that you would expect for an all ages book to have for it to truly be all ages and not just kids.

OTIS: Well, that’s my goal. When I say “all-ages” and I tell people that, I always stress that I mean all-ages. I’m writing this primarily for me; I’ve always written this for me, I’ve always treated the material like “What do I wanna read?” The kind of stories that I love that aren’t pandering, that aren’t sort of blasé. There’s a lot of kid’s stuff out there that’s done by adults who don’t really think well of children, or who don’t really enjoy all ages material themselves, and you can tell. So, I really am writing for myself more than anybody else.

NICK: Can you give me a little backstory on yourself? I saw that you worked on the Chosin series [Chosin: Hold the Line], you’ve of course done How It Should Have Ended... Tell us how you got to those places.

OddlyNormal-Page-2OTIS: Actually, it’s kind of weird because I kind of always treated the art side of what I do sort of lazily until about 2010 when I really had to hunker down. I had some things happen in my life that made me have to really depend on the art for income, and I really dove in and treated art seriously for the first time ever. I really kind of skated on talent, but for about a year and a half there, all I was doing was commissions. I literally did a commission probably every day, and that year and a half or two years was some of the best training I’ve ever had, because I was doing almost the equivalent of a splash page per day for each of the commissions I was doing, and when I was doing those commissions, I caught the attention of Daniel Baxter, the creator/artist/animator of How It Should Have Ended and he wrote to me and he was looking for somebody to help him out because he was doing everything himself and could not maintain the schedule because he had so much... How It Should Have Ended teamed up with Machinima for a while there and they were doing some games, so they brought me on as the “art helper monkey”—

NICK: I’m sure they had a better title for it.

OTIS: Well, that’s what I thought of myself as [laughs]. It works. And so I’ve been working for How It Should Have Ended doing character and background art since... early 2011? And I’ve worked in sketch cards and comics and stuff, but in some ways I think of How It Should Have Ended as the first real gig I got for my artwork that I was really proud of and felt like I deserved [laughs]. It’s like, “Okay I’m ready I can do this,” whereas, even with the first version of Oddly Normal, I can’t even look at the stuff now because I was so not ready to have my own comic, it just sort of fell into my lap. But yeah, I’ve been working with them since 2011 and things are going pretty well. Actually, I just launched my own animated series on their YouTube channel based on a series of illustrations that’s I’ve been doing called ABCDEFGeek. It’s like a geek alphabet. Like you said, I worked on a backup story in the Chosin graphic novel that came out last month [Ed.: Chosin: Hold the Line was released in April], I believe? That was through Veteran’s Expeditionary Media, and Brian Iglesias, the creator of the Chosin documentary that was on Netflix for a while, he wrote the graphic novel—I’m sorry, him and Richard Meyers wrote the graphic novel.

That was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed working on that, and I’m proud of the work because I actually have a friend, an older friend, from my days as a waiter way-back-when who was a Korean war veteran, and that’s what the book is about, and it was sort of nice to be able to honor him and his stories through that work.

OddlyNormal-Page-3NICK: Where did Oddly Normal spring from? Some of these references, in this first issue alone I was picking out Munsters and Addams Family –for obvious reasons—but there was some Wizard of Oz... a lot of very deliberately chosen references.

OTIS: Yeah. Well, definitely Wizard of Oz is a huge influence of mine, I love Wizard of Oz. Wicked, the novel that is about the Wicked Witch of the West is actually a big influence on the book in some respects. I love that whole world. So yeah, that’s a big influence on it.

Also, Addams Family, definitely, but not the TV show, actually, the original Charles Addams cartoons. I used to love looking at those, I’d go to the library and get these huge volumes of his old cartoons when I was a kid, so it’s definitely an influence from there, too.

But, the story really kind of sprang from this drawing I did way back in 1999 in my sketchbook: I drew this little sad girl and I wrote the words “oddly normal” next to it and it just kind of sat there for three or four years until the story started percolating and I started thinking of this girl: her mother was from a magical land and her father was from Earth; and one day she does something that makes them disappear and changes her life forever; and the whole story of her time in that magical land, which is called Fignation. It’s grown and in some ways I love the fact that I’m able to reboot the series and do it the right way now because I’ve been thinking about this story for so long, I’ve got this huge backlog of material that is just sitting there, so really all the writing is, in some ways, done, so if the book manages to catch on and find an audience, I’ve got material.

NICK: So you’re planning for a miniseries but hoping for an ongoing?

OddlyNormal-Page-4OTIS: It’s going to be an ongoing, it’s going to go on as long as it sells, I assume. It’s not a miniseries. In fact, the only reason it was a miniseries originally is because I was given limitations by Viper in terms of page count . . . I had a lot more material for the first story arc, and I had to chop it up and compress it down to four issues of 22 pages, and it was so painful to do. Now, that same story arc is going to be—fingers crossed if it works, if it sells—fifteen issues.

NICK: Oh, wow.

OTIS: Yeah. It hurt so much to have to chop out all the stuff, and when you do that kind of editing, it’s like all the story and character gets sucked out. It’s all the stuff that people, even if they don’t realize it, they latch onto when it comes to a story. And you’re just kind of left with the plot, and it’s frustrating for the writer, because it’s like, “Hey, I didn’t get to do all these fun things I wanted to do.”

Like people keep telling me at shows and Free Comic Book Day this year and somebody would say “Oh, I love the original book!” and I had to hold back from saying “Please... burn that version of it,” y’know? [laughs] Because you don’t want to take away their enjoyment of it, but I really hope people who liked the original stuff check this out, because it’s the way I always wanted it to be.

OddlyNormal-Page-5NICK: Do you have convention appearances coming up in the next couple months?

OTIS: Yeah, I’ll be at San Diego this month. I’m sharing a table with Josh Howard [creator of Dead@17], another Viper Comics refugee, who actually, he was the one who was kind of keeping Viper afloat there for awhile, and when he got out, he actually went to Image. He’s the only other Viper creator who went to Image, so now we’re both there –took me a little longer to get there, but we’ve shared tables various places over the years, and we’ll be sharing a booth at Comic Con this year. And also, I’m probably going to be at the New York Comic Con in October.

NICK: Is there anything about the book that you especially wanted the readers to know?

OTIS: I really hope that people who are into books like Harry Potter or Wizard of Oz give the first issue a chance, and then, if you like the first issue, give me one more issue, because I know that if I can get people to read two issues in, I’ve got ‘em. I feel really strong about that. I’ve felt this way before, but I’m pretty sure that it worked because, when I pitched to Image, I sent them the first two issues; I had preview issues of the first two issues printed up through Ka-Blam and that’s what I sent them. I sent them the first two whole issues, in comic form, exactly as they’ll look when they’re printed by Image, so I know that if I can get people to read two issues, I can hook them, because it hooked Eric Stephenson.

NICK: If anybody’s gotta be hooked, it’s gotta be Eric Stephenson.

OTIS: Yeah, so, give me two issues, guys! [laughs]

Comic Bastards would like to thank Otis for taking the time to hang out with us and talk about his excellent new book, Oddly Normal. The book will be available from Image in September, so be sure to use pre-order code JUL140443 to make sure your LCS gets it. If you’re going to San Diego this weekend, be sure to say hi to Otis at Booth 4504 (here, have a map:

Some relevant links from the interview:

How It Should Have Ended - ABCDEFGeek - Chosin: Hold the Line - Chosin, the documentary -