"Trent has just been dumped after finding out his girlfriend was cheating on him," says Murphy of the book's premise. "A lot has changed since he left for college, but his girl problems haven't. He returns home to find out that his best friend, Greg, has just bought a new Jeep. Trent pushed Greg and their other friend, Brad, into off roading...something they know nothing about. Soon the boys are up against more than just a trail in the woods: returning girls problems, abusive parents, a muddy pond and a ton of mosquitoes. It's a story about 3 guys who have a lot to prove to the world, and all they'll need is each other to do it.
"The story is based on an actual event 6 years ago when we totally trashed Greg's new Jeep. Things kept happening to make it worse, and life didn't let up on us for the whole day. But as bad as that was, 'Off Road' is even worse. I hyped a lot of it up to really batter the three characters. Still, a lot of it is derived from what happened here and there in high school."
"I wanted something fun, easy and linear for my first attempt. A lot of the indie stuff is similar: artistic guy with girl problem mopes around until his friends remind him that life is worth living. And usually there's a goth chic in there, too. My story was like that, so in order to set it apart I added the Jeep element and really played up the back and forth teasing between the characters because I felt it was one of my strong points. I knew I could draw some cool shots of a Jeep flying through the woods, so maybe Oni would be lenient on me being a green writer. I wrote a full script for 130 pages and did 10 pages of art, presenting the whole thing as a package ready to go. Oni bit.
The main characters in "Off Road" may also seem familiar, but not in a negative way- they're the kind of real people you might be friends with but definitely know. "All three people are real. I'm essentially Trent, but I changed the name to make him more artsy. That, and I feel that going into a story and knowing that the author is the main characters (hero) tends to discredit it.
"Trent wears a costume. On the outside he tries to look artistically punk but he's full of shit. The story starts when he realizes this. He's based off of me during my few years when I really hated women. He's more emotional, moody, and bitter but he has a real love for his friends and for trying new things. And on the inside, he doesn't really hate women...he just hates himself for falling for them.
"Greg is the tool who owns the Jeep. He's slings crap back and forth with Trent with every ART vs SPORTS comment he can think of, but all he really wants is for the three to get along. That, and he wants his Jeep out of the mud."
"What I started off with was just that. My generation is fixated on humor and dialog that's derived from 'Seinfeld' and 'The Simpsons.' So, to be different, I started reading about writing, character motivation, 3 act structures, etc. I researched other books of the genre and learned what I wanted to avoid: characters that don't DO anything, feel sorry for themselves, and lose the audience.
"The Jeep is what breaks mine apart. I've got some flat out action and danger going on when they get stuck. 'Off Road' still has the emotional action in the undertones that other books of the genre also have, but they're subtler. And in order to keep the reader reading, there's plenty of physical action as well. Hopefully."
"Through taking so much time on this project (with the 'Batman Scarecrow' interruption), I've had a lot of time to think about the dynamic between Greg, Brad and me. Why we argued, why we got along, the whole alpha male thing concerning the group dynamic. I've got a new appreciation for that time in my life."
Humor permeates every page of "Off Road," even in some of the more serious areas, and it isn't an attempt by Murphy to seem hip or cool. The multi-faceted creator says that he found the humor provided a strong spine to the book and a way to connect the characters. "I never know if it's funny anymore after I'm taken the fun out of each joke by analyzing it so much in the writing stage. The humor is there throughout the book. The main force keeping these characters together is their sense of humor. No matter what happens or how bad it is, they roll with it and laugh (after they stop arguing). There are really serious issues that are tackled a few times throughout the story, some of them very abruptly. I want people to feel the pain of these issues and how they affect the characters, but I don't want to dwell on them or make anyone too 'mopey.' A way to get out of that is to make the characters joke about it as a way of dealing with it."
Without turning into Oprah, Murphy admits there is a message in the book for readers who look at the big picture, but assures fans that he won't beat them over the head with his point. "The lesson in the book is that men can have feelings and that's why they stick together. When we were off roading, a lot of girls thought that it was pointless, stupid and dangerous. I want this book to point out that there's more to it than off roading. Just like there's more to ice fishing, shooting pool, and drinking beer. I want to show the beauty and subtlety of what brings guys together when they do stupid shit."
As mentioned earlier, Murphy is also illustrating the book and his style boasts very clean lines, in addition to a knack for handling a variety of scenery and characters, which has resonated with fans. "I'm influenced by a lot of guys that I draw nothing like. I try to avoid style when I can. For example, in between pages 54 and 55 is when I had to draw Batman. My abilities got a lot better during that time, so when I got back to 'Off Road' I noticed a lot of things I had done that was purely style: angular chins and cartooniness (my new word) to hide anatomy. I was pissed, so I started rounding everything out and making it look better. To me, there's a difference between drawing cartoons and drawing real life AS a cartoon.
"Zaffino, Sale, Ware, Baker, Bisley, Lark, Toth, Davis, Grant, Colan, Watterson, Miller, etc. These are all guys who I draw nothing like, but I admire what they've got going because the way they draw is a world all their own and they're not ripping anyone off. I've given some thought to writing scripts and seeing what Oni would do with them. But I hate working with other artists. No one is dependable like I am to my own ideas, so I've tried hard to become efficient at doing most of the stuff myself."
"It's not mainstream so it works against me when I think about circulation, feedback, and profit. I like Batman and a few other mainstream things, but I'm tired of the rest. I'm not 15 anymore and those stories don't fool me. I don't care if it's called 'indie' or 'underground' or 'Bob got stabbed with a flute.' These are the stories that happen in real life and this genre's so huge that it will always feel untapped."
If you're still not sold on "Off Road" and want more reasons to pre-order it, Murphy provides two reasons, "Cool Jeeps and a great coaster."