Earlier this month, Oni Press released the sci-fi comic book “Meteor Men,” illustrated by local artist Sandy Jarrell. In it, a teenager witnesses a meteor strike near his home and soon meets the extraterrestrial that hatched from it.
It’s a book of mysterious aliens and unexpected twists. On the surface, it’s a sci-fi coming-of-age tale, yet the story consistently dodges genre expectations.
“Why would you want to stick with conventions?” Jarrell asks, sitting outside a Starbucks near his Cary home.
Jarrell started working on “Meteor Men” in 2010, when writer Jeff Parker walked into Nice Price Books in Raleigh and asked Jarrell, who was the manager there at the time, if he’d like to work on a book together. Jarrell, with a full-time bookstore job and two kids, did a lot of the early drawings at night.
Today, Jarrell only works at Nice Price “super part-time.” With “Meteor Men” and two “Batman ’66” stories under his belt (plus, he’s illustrating four issues of “Jungle Jim” for early 2015), drawing comic books is quickly becoming his main job.
The News & Observer talked to Jarrell about his illustrations, the North Carolina connections throughout “Meteor Men,” and his increasing involvement in the comic book world.
Q: “Meteor Men” throws a lot of curveballs. I saw a lot of sci-fi conventions that are intentionally turned upside down.
A: The idea was curveballs. It was changing things up on the reader as often as possible. I’m not that big a science fiction kind of guy. I needed to draw trees. I needed to not draw spaceships and stuff, and it was written with me in mind.
Q: With you not coming from a sci-fi place, was it hard to come up with an alien that played off the clichéd alien look?
A: I wouldn’t have played off the clichéd alien look at all, that was all (Parker). I was using really deep sea octopus things and trying to go from that angle, trying to make it look really alien. And that’s where Parker came in. It needed to have a face that worked with human expression.
Q: Was “Batman ’66” the first time you and Parker worked together?
A: The thing with me and Parker is we both went to East Carolina University. We had a comics page in the East Carolinian that me and some other guys on my hall started. I have known Parker and been in touch with him for a long time.
We hadn’t worked together before “Meteor Men,” and over the course of working on “Meteor Men” we did two Batman stories together. And we did an instructional thing that’s recently been published – a “Howtoons” story where kids build a playground out of found materials.
Q: All three people who worked on “Meteor Men” are from North Carolina. What of North Carolina did you bring to the book?
A: There’s North Carolina all through that book. Parker had seen a meteor shower near Pittsboro, in a field like the one described in the beginning. ... The big throwdown around page 70 happens more or less on Franklin Street. So it was at least in our heads, though we never said it, set in North Carolina. The Morehead Planetarium’s in it. But we changed its name – we named it after my son. It’s the Raymond Planetarium now.
Q: Is there anything that’s coming up you can tell me about?
A: I’m drawing “Jungle Jim.” He ran on the Sunday Flash Gordon page way back, and he was a jungle adventurer in a pith helmet, like jungle adventurers wore back then. He’s been re-imagined as being in Flash Gordon’s universe and being on the planet Arboria, which is all forest and jungle anyway, and being one with the jungle. He can take animal form and twist trees to his will.
Q: From the guy who likes to draw trees ...
A: Yes! So it’s great. I get to draw a Victorian Englishman, just not in his pith helmet all the time. He says “jolly good” and “tally ho” and things like that. It’s going to be four issues of comics, starting in January.