“Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad/Living life less ordinary,” sings the vocalist over the crashing drums and screaming guitars of the “Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad Theme Song.” Considering everything from the lives of the Oni Press series characters’ to the unusual way in which the graphic novel was released, writer Jeffrey Burandt and artist Dennis Culver’s “Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad” is definitely anything other than ordinary.
“Odd Schnozz” follows a group of high schools gearing up to compete in a battle of the bands — but their plans are interrupted by a talking chimpanzee. The teen musicians are then dragged into a plot involving a group of mysterious agents and cybernetic animals. So far this story has unfolded in weekly chapters released digitally starting on May 12. The print edition of the full graphic novel, which will be accompanied by a full EP of songs from Burandt’s band Americans UK is on sale today. Burandt and Culver discussed rock and roll, working on the digital-first full-length graphic novel and growing up in the suburbs with CBR News.
CBR News: “Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad” is a crazy sci-fi story about cyborg animals, but it’s also about being a punk kid. In what ways did your own life influence the story?
Jeffrey Burandt: Well, I was a punk kid and I got into a fair amount of trouble. My friends and I hung out — and hid out — in the creeks and alleys that ran behind our suburban houses in Plano, TX. As early adolescents, we would battle imaginary monsters splashing under concrete bridges. When I was seventeen I joined a rock band, which was a huge escape for me. I felt like I didn’t have many friends in a high-population high school and it was cathartic to go scream over guitar amps turned all the way up in a vain attempt to get louder than the drums. So the story is set in Plano, in a giant Texas high school, where Liz Minter and her friends are a small group of outsiders who have formed a punk band together — Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad. And then they meet some cyborg animals under concrete bridges, natch.
I think Dennis got the feel of a suburban-sprawl neighborhood perfectly, and the character designs of the cliques at such a large school are spot on, too. We have a high school lunchroom scene that feels very real to me despite some of the heightened sci-fi moments.
Dennis Culver: I grew up in suburban Florida — which isn’t so different from suburban Texas, I imagine — so that informed a lot of my inspiration for the book. I didn’t really get into punk or cyborg animals until much later in life, so I had to wing those parts…
In the lead-up to the graphic novel’s publication, Oni Press has released the story digitally, one chapter at a time. Do you think this method of distribution has affect the readers’ experience?
Culver: This graphic novel was in the works for quite some time and Oni had planned to do a digital pre-release from the jump. It was one of the things that got me so interested in the book. Comixology happened about the time I was wrapping up my end of the book so it worked out perfectly.
Burandt: I think it certainly changes readers’ experiences. Reading it serially, with even a week between issues, brings back the cliffhanger moment. Oni was very forward-thinking with this book as to knowing it would be released digitally first, so writing in big beat, cliffhanger moments was very important to me. I enjoy flipping through the chapters on guided view as they come out — I like seeing how it reads that way. I think guided view can really heighten the storytelling sometimes, actually.
As Dennis mentioned, this graphic novel has been a long time coming — it’s been in the works since at least 2008. Has the book changed much since that initial idea? What kept you working on this one for so long?
Burandt: I had written a fairly tight outline and character bible at the beginning of the process, so the story was well-formed early on, but getting Dennis aboard was inspiring. His character designs were exciting, which in turn inspired stronger voices for me when writing the dialogue. Dennis was a good editor, too; he gave me story notes that helped us land the ending better and he came up with the term “Mechazoa,” which is what we call the cybernetic creatures. I had been calling them “Fangbots” or something stupid that had already been used a billion times.
But anyway, that the book was finished has more to do with the work ethic of Mr. Culver, and then him having the connection to get Ramon Villalobos to color it. And, you know, we had a contract with Oni Press and they were patient and encouraging. When our editor Robin Herrera came onto the book, she really whipped it all into shape for the publishing schedule. I think Dennis and I were both working our butts off on other projects the entire time, too. You just gotta spin a lot of plates and make sure and finish things.
Culver: This thing went through two artists and three or four editors before it was finished. I was brought in on this after the first artist dropped out of the project — and it was my first long-form work too. I had only done a few small comics jobs. I pretty much went from sprinting to running a marathon, so I had a lot to figure out. It was very satisfying to hold the printed book in my hand after spending a big chunk of my life on it!
There’s also a soundtrack that goes along with the book. Which came first, the songs or the comic?
Culver: Jeff sent me the first recording of the theme while I was working on the book, so I think the book came first…
Burandt: I’m sure I came up with the “Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad Theme” pretty early, but no songs preceded my pitching and landing the book. I’ve been the front man of a sci-fi rock band called Americans UK for a dozen years, so producing songs is a very natural thing for me. Our keyboardist, Peter Boiko, and I started working on side stuff together while the band was recording and gigging. He’s always working on his home recording studio, so I pitched to him the idea of making an album by and about the comic book characters. Then he and I wrote and performed the songs together; he recorded and mixed everything and he even got his teen niece, Hannah Carne, to sing as Odd Schnozz — her voice sounds amazing! Go listen to it right now! All of the songs are available for streaming and purchase right now on oddschnozz.com.
How did you get together to collaborate on this graphic novel? What has it been like to work together?
Burandt: Oni put us together. I remember before we worked on “Odd Schnozz,” Oni had tapped us both on the shoulder to pitch to Gwen Stefani! That was my first interaction with Dennis in any way. But like I said before, Dennis was instrumental to the storytelling, even beyond his excellent cartooning. And his cartooning! The way the characters act and express under his pen is brilliant. His cartooning sells the whole thing. As far as communication goes, beyond an initial phone call and written scripts, I’d say most of our interaction has been instant messaging and emails. We’re on opposite coasts and all. We’ll meet in person for the first time at San Diego Comic Con this year! Isn’t that exciting?
Culver: Really looking forward to catfishing Jeff.
Jeffrey, did you find the creative processes of writing the comic and writing and recording the music in any way comparable?
Burandt: It’s all writing to me. I like to make comics and music but I’m not a good enough illustrator or musician to do those things on my own. They both involve me writing in my journal and trying to tell exciting stories and talking to people about them. Luckily, I have exceptionally talented friends who are willing to work on realizing my ideas as songs and comics together. We occasionally produce these live reading events around Brooklyn where Americans UK play jazz or ambient in the background as cartoonists read their comics projected in widescreen behind them, then Americans UK comes out and rocks your face off with our comics flashing behind us. The night is called “Rock N’ Comix” and I’m 90% sure there will be one happening during New York Super Week during New York Comic Con this year, with some super cool guests.
Dennis, did you design the characters before or after hearing the music? Do you think that the sound and the look influenced each other?
Culver: I did most of the design before I heard the music, but Jeff and I talked a lot about the cultural touchstones we were trying to hit. In the end, I described the book as a punk rock “Josie and the Pussycats” meets [Frank] Quitely and [Grant] Morrison’s “We3.” So if we get anywhere close to that, I’ll be super happy.
“Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad” is available digitally on ComiXology; the print edition is on sale now. Manhattan’s JHU Comic Books will host a signing event on June 24 with Burandt alongside Charles Soule and Joe Infurnari. The soundtrack is available at oddschnozz.com.