Volume 1, or should I say Book 1, of the Oddly Normal series is out now, and it’s a delight to see all five issues of Otis Frampton’s Kickstarter comic series wrapped up in physical form. If you are new to the series, go and read the review of Issue 1 to get familiar with Oddly’s world before reading this review. You can, alternatively, read on as I shall recap the main plot points of Oddly’s predicament without spoiling the surprise and enjoyment of the story.
Oddly Normal is the lovingly rendered brainchild of Otis Frampton, who has written and illustrated the comic. The story revolves around Oddly Normal, a half-breed with a human father and a mother who is a witch. Comparisons to our favourite Vulcan aside, this is a charming and well written treatise on being the odd-one-out taken to the extreme. Oddly is not a popular child at school, the social outcast who looks funny to boot, and the story presents this well as a mental flashback as Oddly returns home after another painful day being educated. Her parents have prepared a surprise for her birthday, which doesn’t go well. A party with no friends is a terrible state of affairs, and Oddly’s frustration at her well meaning, but oblivious parents, goes horribly wrong. Cue a series of mysterious and magical events that causes our story to begin with a bang.
The central theme of Oddly Normal is about not fitting in. It is a story that resonates with many people, young and old, who have all been in similar situations at school, work or play. This is why it is a great story to share. I have been reading the single issues with my daughter over the months since release and it has been a fascinating comic to read and talk about. A five year old still struggles to understand why people don’t just get along. At her stage in life, cliques in school are generally based on the things they like, the toys they play with, the TV programmes they watch. If a boy likes Ninjago, my daughter will be his best friend, nuff said. She struggles to understand why someone like Oddly would be unpopular.
“But her mum is a witch.. that is COOL, daddy. Why don’t people like her?”
It made me re-examine Oddly’s situation. Why don’t people like her? It is a question every child and adult will ask themselves daily and it is an incredibly cathartic subject to broach in a narrative. Frampton establishes her character so well, partly because we can all sympathise with her position, but also his writing allows the reader get under her skin very quickly. She strikes the pose of a unperturbed teenager with a world weary attitude of acceptance to all the strange things that are going on around her, but her internal dialogue does not match this. This act of bravado is something we all do and makes the reader warm to the heroine instantly. The isolation she experiences at every level, from her school life to her home-life is finally, spectacularly exaggerated in one final terrible incident that punctuates her existence and sets the tone for the rest of the series. Worst of all, its all her own fault. You don’t get much more teenage angst than this, and Oddly is only 10. Nevertheless Oddly Normal is not a depressing read, quite the opposite in fact, with humour and charm in every panel and loveable and believable characters who have a satisfying weight.
What follows is a journey of wonder, magic and mystery, as Oddly tries to fix her mistake and also learns to fit in once more in an even more challenging environment of which she knows absolutely nothing about. Frampton’s delivery is well paced, with some clever use of panel juxtaposition to deliver two different stories at once, but also to set the scene in Oddly’s new adventure. There’s plenty of signposting here, too, as hints and clues are dropped in for the reader to investigate. Look back at the scenes in Oddly’s bedroom to see how Frampton likes to tease detail for later use in the story. The trade ends on an exciting denouement that shows great promise for later issues. The characters he introduces are full of life, movement and colour and the appeal to readers both mature and young is palpable. The ideas and images burst with imagination, which is entirely fitting for the story, and the art style is both beautiful and unique. The shift in colour and tone from the beginning of the comic to the main chapters is a great nod to Dorothy, Toto et al and it is pleasing to see how the contributions by Tracy Bailey in terms of colouring have helped this art style mature and develop.
As it is a trade issue, also included are all the covers of the single issue comics, including the variant covers. One particular favourite variant is Robb Mommaert’s as it encapsulates everything about the Story of Oddly Normal and her personality in one image. More interestingly is the front cover of the trade issue. There is a slight thematic shift in the design compared to issue 1 and it makes me wonder why Frampton decided to change it. Compared to the slightly awkward and down-trodden original of Oddly, the new cover shows her as more confident, optimistic and hopeful. I showed them both to my daughter and asked her which she preferred. She pointed to the trade cover and said “That’s the real Oddly, she’s brave”.
You can purchase Oddly Normal: Book 1 from Image Comics where you can also find the print and digital versions of the single issues. Oddly Normal #6 and #7 are out in April and May respectively.