By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN — Dearborn native Zac Gorman, author of “Rick and Morty, vol.1,” reached No. 9 on the New York Times bestseller list the week of Dec. 13 in the paperback graphic book category.
Based on the Adult Swim animated show created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, the graphic novel, published Nov. 20, follows drunken genius Rick Sanchez and his insecure grandson Morty as they travel through time and across the universe. The book features the first five issues of the comic book series with mini-comic bonus features.
Gorman, 31, of Ann Arbor, a writer, cartoonist and graphic artist, authored “Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers,” a Halloween-themed graphic novel, and “Magical Game Time,” a collection of his art and comics inspired by video games.
He said his first comics were published in the Dearborn High School student newspaper, The Observer, but he didn’t decide to pursue art full time until after high school.
He spent a few years at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, then enrolled at the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, where he majored in illustration.
Following graduation, he worked in graphic design for the marketing department of a tech start-up in Berkley, Calif.
After being laid-off when the recession hit in 2008, he moved back to Michigan, and waited tables while creating online comics and cartoons.
He was accepted into a graphic design masters degree program at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, but he said a clerical error delayed his acceptance for a year.
As his web comic “Magical Game Time” started to gain exposure and an online fan base, he looked for a way to benefit monetarily from its popularity.
“I did these video game web comics, because I was really into video games growing up,” Gorman said. “Once that got popular, and picked up by other news sites, I needed to figure out how to monetize it, so I started selling prints and stuff.”
He teamed up with fangamer.com to sell, produce and ship his merchandise, and once he started to make some money from it he decided grad school was no longer right for him.
He said he started getting work in animation and doing other things outside his field that provided him with a good income.
“I always call myself a cartoonist,” Gorman said. “I draw and I write. I’ve been doing more writing lately. I went to school for art, but I have always wanted to do just storytelling. I don’t really care in what format.”
He said the stories he creates for the “Rick and Morty” graphic novels are original scripts, based on the characters but not any of the animated Adult Swim episodes, and while the creators approve each script, he said they have given him a lot of leeway to do what he wants with it.
Oni Press approached him about working on a “Rick and Morty” graphic novel after they published “Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers,” which Gorman wrote and illustrated.
“When they were acquiring the rights to ‘Rick and Morty’ they sent an email asking if I would be interested in working on the book in some capacity,” Gorman said. “I really pushed them on the idea that I really wanted to write it because I was a big fan of the show.”
He said he sent Oni Press 12 episode ideas, which they passed on to the creators, Harmon and Roiland. He said when they liked them, he was hired.
Gorman said the “Rick and Morty” graphic novel is tamer content-wise than the animated series on Adult Swim.
He said it is hard to make money in comics or graphic novels because of the pricing structure, so he continues to work on his own original projects.
“Unless you are working for Marvel or DC, it’s kind of hard to make a living doing comics,” he said. “People I know branch out into other things, animation and stuff.”
He has written a novel, a mid-grade reader’s book, and is currently developing an animated series for “Costume Quest,” the video game series that he developed into a book.
Video games were a big part of his childhood, and he said they helped him develop his storytelling imagination, since early era video games didn’t have a strong narrative.
“They just kind of plop you down in this weird world,” he said. “A lot of it had to do with the fact that they were translated from Japanese, and there was not a lot of story.
“I remember playing them and imagining, and writing the story in (my) head, filling in the gaps that they left.”
He said his sense of humor is a coping mechanism, sharpened by the awkwardness of middle school at Woodworth, when puberty hit him hard.
“I had horrible acne, and glasses, and braces, and was overweight,” Gorman said. “I was a mess, and I felt really self-conscious.”
He said among his equally self-conscious friends, there was always an atmosphere of one-up-man-ship.
“In that really aggressive and ruthless way that only kids can be, when your friend would make a bad joke, you would give him the worst time about it,” Gorman said. “There was this competitiveness to try to be funny among my group of friends that I think actually honed a sense of humor. It was like performing in front of the world’s worst crowd all the time.”
After middle school, he said he re-invented himself at DHS, where he met his wife, Suzy Butler.
He said he knew becoming a cartoonist was also risky.
“Freelance is a scary prospect,” he said, “because your jobs are inconsistent, but as long as you hustle at it, you can make it work.”
Gorman said he tries to come up with fun stories with a big feel and character-accurate moments for “Rick and Morty.”
“They are just like fan scripts to me,” he said. “It’s not that different. I am just getting paid for it.”