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Frampton’s “Oddly Normal” Weaves Magic for All Ages

by  in Comic News Comment
Frampton’s “Oddly Normal” Weaves Magic for All Ages

Oddly Normal wants what any other ten-year old kid wants: To have a good time at school with her friends, hang out with her family and live in an average house, but it’s just not in the cards for her. Green haired, pointy-eared Oddly is the daughter of a famous witch, though she doesn’t seem to have inherited any of those famous powers. To make matters worse, it’s her birthday and her parents don’t understand that Oddly doesn’t feel like celebrating — thanks to the whole being-half-witch thing, the kids at school are more bullies than buddies. Frustrated, misunderstood and angry, Oddly makes a birthday wish that will change things for her whole family, especially her parents, who have suddenly disappeared!

Now in the care of her strange aunt, Oddly travels back to her mother’s hometown of Fignation, a magical world filled with weird creatures, wizards and even legends from Oddly’s favorite comic book. But even though the scenery has changed, Oddly will find that her problems stay the same. Find out how courage, inner strength and a little bit of magic help Oddly figure out who she is, what she wants and where her parents have gone in Otis Frampton’s adorable all-ages series, “Oddly Normal.”

Frampton began his work on the series ten years ago as a webcomic which was later published by Viper Comics and has now found its way to Image. CBR News spoke with the writer/artist, discovering more about his charming heroine, his approach to all-ages comics and how important maintaining certain mysteries can be.

CBR News: How did “Oddly Normal” come about?

Otis Frampton: Oddly started as a random sketch of a sad little girl in my sketchbook in the fall of 1999. I wrote the words “oddly normal” next to it, and the story of a kid who wishes her parents away and goes to a magical land sort of simmered in my mind for a few years. I’ve always loved stories about magical lands, so it just grew from that. I started “Oddly Normal” as a webcomic in 2003, it was published as a miniseries and then a stand-alone graphic novel by Viper Comics between the years of 2005 and 2007. Now it’s being re-booted as an ongoing series from Image Comics.

Are there any changes from where it was as a webcomic to this reboot?

The webcomic didn’t run very long before it was published by Viper Comics. It really only amounted to the first half of the first issue of the original miniseries. That’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to reboot the story; I was never happy with having to use the horizontally-formatted webcomic in vertically formatted comic pages.  But yes, there are big changes from the original to the reboot. The artwork is entirely new. Nothing from the original comic remains. It has all been redrawn, recolored and reimagined in my current style. The story is basically the same, but it has been expanded. A lot. The original Viper miniseries was 4 issues and about 100 pages. That same story material (which will be the first major story arc) will now be 15 issues and about 300 pages. There are expansions of old scenes, new scenes that I always wanted to include and many new characters. This is the way I always wanted to present the story, so I hope that readers of the original comic like what I’ve done.

There are some really great nods to things like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Fairly Odd Parents,” a little of Charles Addams and “Harry Potter” — what are some of your storytelling influences?

Yes to “The Wizard of Oz” and Charles Addams, no to “Fairly Odd Parents” and “Harry Potter” (I’ve never seen that TV show and didn’t read the Potter books). “Oz” is the biggest influence. I’m a big fan of the 1939 film and the original Baum novels. I also loved the more recent Marvel books drawn by Skottie Young. “Wicked” was also a big influence on “Oddly Normal” — it’s one of my favorite novels, and I loved the alternate take on the character of the Wicked Witch. The cartoons of Charles Addams were definitely an influence. I used to love getting collections of his work at the local library when I was a kid. Other influences on “Oddly Normal” are “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Locke The Superman,” “Fantastic Four,” “Monster’s Inc,” “Akiko” and “Mad Monster Party.” Jeff Smith’s “Bone” is also an influence, mostly in the style of storytelling and the focus on character.

Most people assume that I’m a “Harry Potter” fan because of the magic in the series, but I’ve only ever seen the film versions and I didn’t really connect with them. The primary influence on me where the magic is concerned is a 1980s comic series called “Dreadstar” by Jim Starlin. I also love the way magic is rendered in a lot of “Doctor Strange” comics. I tend to favor stories that keep magical elements mysterious and don’t impose a lot of rules on it. Once you start explaining magic, it loses its most important quality, which is mystery.

Even if you don’t explain the rules in the story, is it important to you to have an understanding of the underlying structure and rules of the world you’re writing in? 

There are always rules when it comes to genre storytelling and world building. Some rules are important to spell out to the readers, and some are just for my own use as a storyteller. As a writer, I have to decide what is important to the story and what isn’t. There are definitely some rules for the magic that I have included in the story, and they generally fall into the category of limiting what can and can’t be done. If someone can just wave a wand and cast a spell and do anything they want, it tends to limit the potential for conflict and drama and allows for easy escape hatches. I’d rather have my characters use their wits to solve their problems, not their wands.

What appeals to you about all-ages storytelling in comics? What do you take into account when creating for an all-ages market?

“Oddly Normal” is definitely an all-ages comic, and I mean that in the most literal sense. I’m writing this story to be read by anyone, not just kids. Mostly, I’m writing it for myself. I tend not to think about markets or demographics. Story and character are the most important things to me as a creator. I never worry about writing over the heads of kids. Kids are smart, and if they don’t understand a word or concept in a story, they’ll seek out an explanation if they are curious enough. The moment you start thinking about the marketplace when crafting a story is the moment you’re creating a product and not telling a story.

Did you read comics as a kid?

Absolutely. The comic that made me fall in love with the medium was “Uncanny X-Men” #174. After reading that issue, I instantly became a huge fan of “Uncanny” and bought every back-issue I could find. I remember when I found the trade collection of the Dark Phoenix Saga — it was like finding the Holy Grail. Other titles I loved growing up were “Fantastic Four,” “New Mutants,” “Star Wars,” “Dreadstar” and “G.I. Joe.” I was mostly a Marvel kid and rarely read DC titles, although I loved the Infantino run on “The Flash” (his covers were amazing), and “The Dark Knight Returns” is my favorite single comic book story

Image doesn’t have a ton of all-ages stuff — what brought you to them?

Image was my dream publisher, so I feel very lucky to have landed there. I originally planned to make “Oddly Normal” a series of long graphic novels, somewhat like Kazu Kibuishi’s “Amulet.” But early this year I decided that it could also work as an ongoing series and sent out 5 pitches to comic publishers. I almost didn’t pitch to Image because of their lack of all-ages material, but I had to take the shot — and I’m glad I did! I had an offer from another publisher based on those pitches, but I had to go with Image. It was “Spawn” #1 that got me back into comics after not reading them during my high school years, so I have a huge sentimental attachment to the company and I’m thrilled “Oddly Normal” will have the Image “I” on it. Hopefully there will be more all-ages material at Image going forward. All-ages books seem to be having a renaissance, lately.

The first issue moves really quickly and the story feels very relatable from the start. How are you pacing the series?

I think Oddly’s story, aside from the fantasy elements, is fairly universal; a kid who feels like an outsider and thinks her parents don’t understand her. That’s pretty basic stuff, and as long as I keep the focus on Oddly and her problems, readers will always be able to relate to her, no matter how strange the plot gets.

As a storyteller, when it comes to pacing, I tend to think in mini- and maxi-arcs. The first 15 issues will be the first major story arc and it’s made up of 5 mini-arcs. The second major story arc will be somewhat similar. But the third major arc will be a bit different, and I’m looking forward to getting to that part of the story because it will be a bit non-linear. It will take two stories that were originally meant to be told separately and integrate them. I’m hoping readers enjoy that part of the series as I bounce back and forth between two storylines. It should be fun if I get it right.

Let’s talk about the main character, Oddly, a ten-year old girl with one foot in the ordinary world and one in the world of magic. What kind of protagonist is she? What do you enjoy the most about telling her stories?

Oddly is a fairly normal kid, and she’ll always remain that way. Her problems are fairly ordinary ones (bullies, distant parents, weird friends), but they’re shown through the prism of a magical land called Fignation where (almost) anything is possible. Oddly starts out as a sullen, isolated and somewhat selfish kid, but her experiences in Fignation will challenge and change her. The fun for me as a writer is taking her from weakness into strength, from ignorance into a place of knowledge. There’s been a lot of talk about “strong characters” in comics lately. I don’t find anything interesting about writing characters like that. I much prefer writing weak characters and forcing them into situations where they find their strength.

We see some longboxes in her room, and it seems like she’s into comics — how does that factor into the series? What kind of comics does she like?

Oddly is a big fan of a comic called “Forces of Nature.” It’s a series about a superhero family and it will play a major role in the series, especially in the second major story-arc. The superhero family are comic characters in the real world, but they exist as people in the world of Fignation and Oddly will get a chance to meet and interact with them. It’s also my way of writing and drawing a “Fantastic Four” comic of my own. I hope readers enjoy it!

Who are some other characters we’re going to meet as the series develops?

Fignation is basically the collective imagination of humanity, so we’ll be meeting a lot of fun and strange characters along the way. Monsters, superheroes, characters from classic literature — they’re all fair game. One of my favorite characters in the series is Oddly’s English teacher. He becomes very important to Oddly and her story, both past and present.

And finally — what’s the most memorable birthday wish you’ve ever made? Did it come true?

I can’t recall ever making any memorable big birthday wishes. But the major wish of my life is to be able to tell stories for a living. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’m thrilled that this particular wish seems to finally be coming true.

“Oddly Normal” #1 goes on sale September 17.

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