September 23


Better Than The Remote by Rob Harrell

When I was a kid, I know my parents were concerned. I loved tv. I mean, I really loved it.  Reruns of Gilligan’s Island, Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch…even My Three Sons, though I’m not sure what I saw in that one. Prying me and my Welch’s Grape Soda off the couch was no easy task. Putting a book in my hands?  Forget it.




I mention this only to point out how fitting it is that my first full length book, Life of Zarf, is a hybrid novel – a genre of book that many people have pointed out is perfect for grabbing the attention of reluctant readers.  Because, boy, was I reluctant.


Zarf_SoloWhat little reading I did enjoy was comic books.  I didn’t really get into the superhero stuff – I was more of a Richie Rich and Archie guy – but I could occasionally turn off Happy Days long enough to read an issue or two.  Or I’d read the funny pages. But that wasn’t really what my parents were going for.  My older sister was an avid reader from a really young age and had set an example that I just wasn’t up to.


Then came Mad magazine, and everything changed.


Now, I know Mad isn’t a book – and my parents weren’t thrilled at first –  but a fire has to start somewhere.  And the cartoonists at Mad (often referred to as The Usual Gang of Idiots) came along at just the right age and Lit. Me. Up.


Mad had everything I wanted and needed to get me to turn off the tv.  Amazing artwork.  Hilarious writing. And a sense of danger!  Reading Mad always felt like I was getting away with something.  Before I even knew what was happening, I was reading and rereading late into the night.  And trying to copy the artwork of the greats like Jack Davis and Sergio Aragones.  Then I was trying to write and come up with my own characters. And pretty soon I was looking for more things to read that would give me the same thrill.


Suddenly I loved reading.  And I mean, I LOVED reading. John Bellairs. Narnia. Watership Down.


p17_LadderMad was a gateway drug. I’ve talked with countless other writers and authors who had the same experience. I think in some ways, it was the original ‘reluctant reader’ material.


I fell in love with that marriage of art and writing, and I’ve never looked back.


So I worked on my art.  I became an illustrator for years. I eventually was lucky enough to create a syndicated comic strip called Big Top.  Last year, my first full-length graphic novel, Monster on the Hill, was published.  I even got to – and it still gives me a thrill to say it – write and draw cartoons for Mad magazine.

So now I’m writing Life of Zarf, and I’m having a blast. I think on some level, I’m doing everything in my power to make this series fun and irreverent enough to make a kid think twice about picking up that remote.


Besides, you can always DVR the good stuff.

RobToonBioArtROB HARRELL writes and draws the long-running daily comic strip Adam@Home, which appears in more than 140 papers worldwide. He also created and drew the internationally syndicated comic strip Big Top until 2007. Rob recently published his first middle grade graphic novel, Monster on the Hill. He lives in Austin, Texas.