Brian Ralph had just finished teaching "Intro to Sequential Art" at the Savannah College of Art and Design when he hopped on a call with Business Insider last week.
SCAD is the first university to offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in sequential art, which explores comic books, cartooning, story boarding, and more. Ralph, a sequential arts professor at the university, said that he fell in love with making comics because "once I learned the rules I wanted to see how I could break the rules."
"I always leave room for my students to learn the fundamentals but then do something creative with it that breaks the norms," he said. "And that's what I tried to do with 'Daybreak.'"
"Daybreak" was Ralph's third graphic novel but arguably his breakthrough one; before it was published by Drawn and Quarterly in 2011, he was was posting pages on his own blog on a weekly basis "for fun" and slowly building its fanbase. Now, it's a Netflix original series.
"Daybreak" follows a young man as he treks through a zombie wasteland. It's told entirely through his point of view and he breaks the fourth wall to talk directly to the reader. Ralph said the story was born out of interactions with his students.
"I don't play any video games, but my students always talk about video games," he said. "I was jealous of the adventures they were describing and I wondered if I could make a comic that's as engaging and is a journey that you go on with a character."
"Ferris Bueller in the apocalypse"
The Netflix series, which premiered on the streaming giant on Thursday, takes a slightly different approach than the graphic novel. It still follows a young man, teenage outcast Josh (played by Colin Ford), but it's much more bombastic compared to the graphic novel, which Ralph described as a "quiet, independent comic."
"Daybreak" the TV show is much more "Mad Max" than "The Road."
With Brad Peyton behind the show, that was to be expected. Peyton, an executive producer and director on the series, directed action movies like the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson-starring vehicles "San Andreas" and "Rampage."
Though the book and series are different, when Peyton called Ralph with his vision for an adaptation in 2012, after finding the graphic novel at a comic-book store, Ralph was immediately sold.
"He had a lot of creative ideas about how to build the world," Ralph said.
Peyton's pitch, according to Ralph, was "Ferris Bueller in the apocalypse" (Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, even plays a new character created for the Netflix series, Principal Burr).
"The writers expanded on the graphic novel and made it into a much bigger universe," Ralph said. "But the things that they kept I was really pleased with, like the tone of the book, the colors of the book, even a lot of story elements that you'll see in the show are nods [to the book]."
He added: "It's good that it's different. I tell my students that you should collaborate, you should form this community of people that can make something even bigger than just what you can make. So it wasn't difficult to hand this over."
But the TV series didn't happen overnight. Ralph said that Peyton had the option to the book for years before it finally got off the ground.
"He went on to direct 'San Andreas' and 'Rampage,'" he said. "I was excited for him. We would stay in touch and I knew this project was on the back burner. But I knew he really want to do it, so I never lost faith."
But then Peyton called back last year and said Netflix was interested. The streamer picked up the series for a 10-episode season, and Ralph was suddenly thrust into the world of Hollywood.
Hollywood comes calling
When Ralph visited the "Daybreak" set in Albuquerque, New Mexico (where he said the recently released Netflix "Breaking Bad" movie, "El Camino," was also filming at the time), he was impressed with the "huge operation."
"I had never been on a set before and was just blown away," he said.
He wasn't just visiting the set, though. The crew had a surprise for him, and before he knew it, he was getting fitted for costumes for a cameo in the series.
And at the premiere at New York Comic Con earlier this month, Ralph continued to get a taste of the spotlight. Peyton gave him a shout-out on the stage and fans wanted him to sign copies of their books.
"It's been a great experience, but it's definitely all new for me," he said. "I went to Times Square and saw billboards [for 'Daybreak'] and it's beyond my wildest imagination that something I made into a comic book can turn into this massive project. So it's overwhelming in a way, but in this exciting way."
Ralph said he has ideas for a "Daybreak" follow-up, but nothing officially lined up. He wants anything else he creates to be as "pure" as the original.
"I've been working on a another book in that world, but I don't want to be concerned with how people think it might relate [to the show]," he said. "I just want to make the comic for the sake of making it, like that initial pure interest in making the first book."
"When I was making that first book, I wasn't thinking about Hollywood in any way," he said. "It just came from an interest in making it. And maybe that's why Brad wanted to make it, because it was heartfelt. That's what I like to think."