As a medium that requires you to listen, music doesn’t seem like it would meld with traditional comic book storytelling. That assumption, however, has been challenged by a number of writers and artists who want to share their passion for music with comics readers. One such author is Jeffrey Burandt, who I spoke to about the long-awaited music-oriented Oni Press publication Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad.
Can you describe the creation and early development of Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad?
I had a couple of the characters bouncing around in my head for a while during undergrad, or at least their names: “Odd Schnozz” and “Odd Bod.” I had been concerned with how most characters look the same in mainstream comic books. If Jim Lee is drawing a woman for example, then, other than her costume, hair and skin coloring, Storm looks like Rogue looks like Wasp looks like Wonder Woman, etc. It makes sense from a production standpoint: artists need to work quickly, so the fastest artists have a template: super hero woman. And one of the aspects of that template–almost across the board for every artist working in mainstream comics–is a tiny little super model nose. So I wanted to see a character who looked like PJ Harvey–a kick ass, beautiful woman who doesn’t look like a super model. A powerful woman with a strong nose. Once I had the opportunity to pitch to Oni Press, a story around this idea of a young woman who was super cool but aesthetically different than the norm, and what that means in a comic-book world, sort of locked into place, and I wrote a script and pitch that I thought Oni would like, and it worked!
What do you think Oni saw in the project?
They told me they liked my writing immediately, and former Managing Editor Randy Jarrell helped me refine my pitch for him to take to the other Oni editors. I was also told early on that they saw value in me as someone who could promote his own work. I knew Oni liked projects that wove rock n’ roll into their stories (publisher Joe Nozemack is huge music fan), and I’ve been in rock bands since high school, so that felt like a natural perspective from which to craft the story. Kids in a rock band together dressing up for the stage and fighting against the jocks and the squares is a lot closer to a team of super-powered teens in costumes fighting super-villains than most things in life.
Why did it take so long to get from conception to publication?
We were slowed down initially by a couple of things. First, they were already pushing a book about sci-fi rock women titled The Apocalipstix by Cameron Stewart, and though the premise was quite different, aesthetically it looked very similar, so we got pushed from the schedule for a while because Oni was already publishing something similar enough to bump us. The biggest upset to the time table was the first artist attached to the book, however. It took us a year to figure out he wasn’t working on the book, and about another year to get him to actually sign the documents that would release him from the project. Once Dennis Culver came aboard, though, I don’t think it took an extraordinary time to make the book. It’s a big book: 168 pages, and we weren’t making monthly, corporate-owned comics. Deadlines were our own to break, and Dennis is a talented man who garners a lot of paying work. We were making the book in our free time, which is always in high demand. I was fronting a semi-successful rock band in NY at the time, and working full time, and freelance writing. You gotta take the paying gigs.
How did you decide on a digital-first format?
Oni saw this book as digital first from the very beginning. They saw it as a color book from the get go (which was more rare for them then), and the only way for them to justify the costs of printing in color from a couple of unknowns, was to try something different marketing-wise and enter the world of digital publishing, which was also a lot more rare then in the mid to late aughts.
Was it at all influenced by the involvement of Dennis Culver, who’s found success through MonkeyBrain Comics?
Dennis came into the project a couple of years in to its existence, so no. It was to be digital from the start, except back then it was supposed to be a desktop web comic. All of the art Dennis generates for the project is digital, though. No hard copies of original art exists.
Without an audible component, comics aren’t naturally suited to tell a story focused on music. What made you want to do it, anyway?
There is certainly an audible component to comics: the voices and sound effects that emerge in your head while you are reading! Creating a soundtrack just gives you a guide to what the actual songs sound like when you encounter them in the book. I would often find it frustrating when encountering a song in a comic book. Most times, I couldn’t figure out what the rhythm of the song was supposed to be, and the lyrics wouldn’t come off as naturally singable. I could have been wrong, but I would often think, “this writer isn’t a song writer,” when encountering a pop song in a comic book.
What are some good examples of music being adapted to the comics medium?
I hear about Mike Allred’s Red Rocket 7 a lot, but I’ve never checked it out. Same with Coheed And Cambria and their exercises in graphic fiction. I’ve just never checked them out. My friend (and superstar writer) Charles Soule had those 27 books out a few years ago that represented the processes of performing and creating music in way that was both realistic and fantastic. Charles is also a musician, and you could see it in those books. We’ve played some gigs together and we are co-producing a show for NY Super Week in October as I type this. Also, my band Americans UK have produced some comic-book music-videos that are unique to the music and comics landscape. You can see them on our YouTube page. Oh yeah, and The Archies? Josie & the Pussycats? I would love to get my hands on those Archie characters. I’m pretty excited about The Ramones meet Archie book that’s coming out.
Did sound effects help compensate for the lack of actual sound?
Sure. When the Uncanny Rap Bots emerge in Odd Schnozz, we have some “Boom Tic, Boom Boom Tic” sound effects running graphically throughout the background to give a sense of the beat and rhythm, but if you want to know how the song really goes, you can visit OddSchnozz.com and stream or download the actual rap battle. All of the lyrics that appear in the book are the actual lyrics to real songs we produced.
I thought that Dennis Culver’s sense of motion in his storytelling helped the musical performances feel more real. Was the specific feeling of movement specified in the script?
I’m sure I described some of the positioning of everybody and how they acted on stage, what sorts of looks they give while they play, when they jump or slide on their knees, etc., but I’m also sure that Dennis brought his own skills to the table in that regard, especially when it came to things like speed lines and panel layout to communicate motion. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the scripts.
You embraced Odd Schnozz as a multimedia project with an album in addition to the graphic novel. How do you find the music additive to the reading experience?
I like how the two are interactive in that the comic provides a lyric sheet to the songs, and the songs provide authenticity to portrayal of music in the book. Next up: an Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad comic book lyric music video.
After the many years spent bringing this to life, would you mix music and comics together again?
Well, first, I wasn’t working on the book constantly for all those years. I wrote most of the script initially, the artist fell through, and then when Dennis came on board, we finished the script. Then a couple years later after it was all drawn, I had the opportunity to give the script another pass and fix any problems I had with the dialogue before the book was lettered. So it’s not like I exhausted myself working on this single thing for however long. When it was time to work on the book, I worked on the book. When the book was out of my hands, I worked on other things. But those other things were also often a mix of rock and comics. My sci-fi rock band Americans UK has new issue of our comic book coming out at the end of summer, Americans UK #5, and we just released another, sci-fi rock epic music video titled “Phenomena-na.” I also produce a series of live shows titled Rock N’ Comix, where we cut up comix pages by the likes of Dean Haspiel or Joe Infurnari and project them wide-screen while my band plays jazz or ambient underneath them (depending on the content of the story), and the creators perform the dialogue while we provide a live soundtrack to the live reading of the comix. So yes, I am constantly, always mixing music and comix together, in a variety of different ways.
You can purchase Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad digitally, on Amazon or at your local comic book shop. You can find Jef on his website, Twitter and Tumblr. He’s appearing at Carmine Street Comics in New York City on Wednesday, July 29. Check out the details.