Growing up in Plano, Jeffrey Burandt often felt like an artsy outsider, alienated from the “cool kids” and jocks who roamed the halls of Plano Senior High School.
Years later, Burandt would loosely use his experience as a musician and outcast as the foundation for “Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad,” a sci-fi teen adventure story published by comic giant Oni Press and illustrated by Dennis Culver.
Described as “Josie and the Pussycats meets The X-Files,” Burandt said his 168-page debut graphic novel is about a group of teenage girls in a Plano punk band – Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad - whose rehearsal gets interrupted by a talking chimpanzee claiming to be a scientist on the run from a secret organization underneath the city.
“I didn’t feel like I had a big friend system throughout high school, which is kind of bizarre … when there are 1,500 people in your graduating class. It’s strange to feel alone in this kind of sprawling school,” said Burandt, who graduated in 1993. “I was playing with the idea of Plano is Plano, and I already had the title … [which] signifies both the name of their band and them kind of wearing their weirdness as a badge of honor and turning their backs on the kids who made fun of them for calling them odd.”
Burandt, who lives in New York, said there are several nods to his hometown that Planoites will notice throughout the novel, including a scene where a group of cyborg animals, called Mechazoa, and Justine, the band’s keyboardist, fly past a Plano water tower.
In 1994, Plano was named an All-America City, which Burandt said launched the premise for the story in his mind.
“What if that were actually a cover for this top-secret organization, or if the federal government does something?” he said. “That’s definitely in there as the motivator of the book.”
Burandt said several sections of the book that relate to his upbringing are centered on hanging out in driveways, alleys and creeks.
“There was a big creek in our neighborhood where we would just play all day,” he said. “You could walk along the creek and see how other people lived … in the book, there are some hideouts in the creek, and the creek plays pretty heavily as a location.”
Describing the comic book script writing process as similar to that of a television script, Burandt said he initially wrote about 20 pages to pitch to Oni Press, which was impressed with the story and officially announced the book in 2008 at San Diego Comic Con. Two years later, an artist was picked and the real work began, but over time, the artist didn’t work out and the book went on the backburner until Culver signed on.
Burandt said it took Culver a few years to do the drawings, then the coloring and lettering process took about another year. After missing the 2014 publication schedule, Burandt said he’s excited that the seven-year process will finally come to fruition with the print release June 24.
“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “It was strange because I’ve written more and been published more since I first signed the deal, so at first I was worried because it was something I wrote a long time ago. I did get to give a modern dialogue pass before it went off to get lettered, and was able to fix anything that was missing, but there was that original worry that this is the writing of a different person.”
Robin Herrera, editor for Oni Press, said the novel is very similar to the popular “Scott Pilgrim” series, which the company published.
“It revolves around a band that’s really trying to make it, but is also very passionate about music,” she said. “We’ve always been a company that has really cared about music.”
Herrera said Burandt, the front man in the sci-fi rock band Americans UK, recorded a soundtrack to go with the book.
“He sent me several songs from it and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s very pop punk, and I think, especially with the theme song that they did, it really sounds like the band from the book recorded it.”
Burandt and Peter Boiko, Americans UK producer, recorded the soundtrack so each song corresponds with a chapter. The full EP will also be released June 24.
“It is fairly unique [to have a comic book soundtrack] – it’s not unheralded, but there are not many either,” Burandt said. “We change genres … the Odd Schnozz song is a typical teen garage band, then one by the Mechazoa cyborg animals is us being harder rock. The Odd Squad battle the Rap Bots in one of the Plano parks, so we performed a whole song as the Rap Bots.
“Anytime lyrics appear in the book, those are the lyrics of the song that you can go listen to.”
Marketed for ages12 and up, Burandt said he hopes the book reaches adult, teen and female fans. Individual chapters have been released weekly leading up to the novel’s release on Comixology.com, which he described as the “iTunes of comic books.”