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All authors hope their work stands out on the shelves, but Missoula graphic novelist Tim Daniel needn’t worry. His debut as a writer, “Enormous,” is physically larger than the competition.

Within those 10 1/2-by-13 1/2-inch pages is a post-apocalyptic tale set in a future United States after an agribusiness experiment goes awry, spawning building-size monsters that nearly exterminate the human race. Within that landscape of ginormous threats, Daniel hopes readers will be drawn into the minute human drama of the survivors, that “they would find characters they could root for, root against, change their opinion, really invest in,” he said.

The entire grim scenario was born, out of all things, by a flight to Disneyland with his daughter in April 2011. Staring out the window at the distant landscape below, he and Elle wondered out loud, “What if there were a monster down there?” And if there were, where would the people live? Elle’s reply: Go underground.

“What if there just was this whole ecology” of monsters, Daniel said. “And there was just no escape.” The survivors would keep searching, to little avail. “They kept thinking there was a safe haven.”

Among the remaining humans is a search-and-recovery team stationed in an abandoned military silo in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Ellen, a strong female protagonist in the Ripley “Alien” lineage, ventures into the ruins of Phoenix to help gather stranded children and bring them to safety.

Once in the dilapidated city, she and her team encounter a former leader-turned-villain, James Coyle, who is hunting down the rescuers for mysterious reasons under the guidance of a shadowy figure known as Joanne.

Daniel’s gritty tale is brought to life by illustrator Mehdi Cheggour, whom Daniel collaborates with via email, since Cheggour lives in Morocco. The 21-year-old former engineering student produced all of the art himself, from the “otherworldly” color schemes to the near-photorealistic drawings, which hardly resemble the stereotypes of bulked-up superhero artwork.

“I don’t think I consider Mehdi a cartoonist, I think I consider him more of a draftsman,” Daniel said. “He’s just doing things with the computer that really aren’t and haven’t been explored that much.”

Collaborating across the ocean, they exchanged storyboards and photoreferences – Elle and some Missoula friends inspired many roles big and small – and produced the 64-page title in about a year and a half from the germ of the idea to its completion in time for its big debut at San Diego Comic Con, now under way in California.

After the prestigious comic con, Daniel will return for a signing and giveaway at Muse Comics in Missoula on Wednesday, July 18.

***

Daniel, 45, wasn’t always working in comics. He was once burned out by a grueling corporate work schedule, reading graphic novels when he could. But that was before he was a zombie.

He found himself as an undead extra on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” TV pilot years after quitting his job at Amazon.com, which required long days and travel to set up centers around the country, and leaving for a quieter life in Missoula.

“After almost four full years of six to seven days a week, 12-15 hours, sometimes around the clock, I just said, ‘That’s enough. It’s too much,’ ” Daniel said. He wanted to spend more time with his wife, Erin, and see his daughter, Elle, now 13, grow up.

With a more reasonable schedule doing IT work here at the University of Montana, he pursued an old passion that had been restoked by a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about comic books.

“I read ‘(The Adventures of) Kavalier & Clay’ by Michael Chabon, and it absolutely just reignited my love for comics,” Daniel said. “It was something, you know, when I was 12, I wanted to do. And then it slowly dawned on me – I think everyone that wants to be in comics – just how hard it is and just how talented you have to be.”

He didn’t think he had the ability to succeed as an artist, but he had ideas. “I could still visualize things, and I could still create concepts around things,” he said.

He began drawing and writing again, even building a website for Muse Comics, accepting payment in the form of books. “That got me reading en masse, in volume,” he said.

He read, he wrote, he experimented. But a post on an online message board gave him his break. He joined a forum for one of his favorite comics, “Powers,” by Brian Michael Bendis, the writer for the “Ultimate Spider-Man.” The site “wasn’t just a place to talk about the latest issue of whatever comic book,” Daniel said. “It was also a place for up-and-coming people or would-be professionals trying to make it in different aspects of the industry.”

“Morning Glories” writer Nick Spencer posted a request for submissions for a logo and cover, and snapped up Daniel’s design. Spencer told him, “Every book I pitch, I want you to submit,” Daniel said. From there, more and more work lined up, and Daniel soon was designing logos, covers and websites for authors of all stripes, including “The Walking Dead” website.

The low barrier between artists and fans on the Internet also is responsible for Daniel and Cheggour’s unlikely long-distance team work. The fledgling artist was submitting fan illustrations on a Facebook wall of a comic Daniel was working on. He liked Cheggour’s work, and sought his work out for “Enormous.” They also collaborated on “The Walking Survivors Guide,” to introduce the TV series’ fans into the larger world author Robert Kirkman created in his comics.

Back on the Atlanta, Ga., set of the “Walking Dead,” the wardrobe department learned Daniel was from Montana and dressed him in green camouflage and hiking boots.

He was “the hunter,” Daniel said, laughing as he retold the story.

He was invited to dinner with director Frank Darabont, of “The Shawshank Redemption,” and producer Gail Anne Hurd, of “Aliens” and “Terminator 2.” “I’m Forrest Gump,” he thought. “What am I doing here? Why am I here with these people?”

He was there because he quit a job, and now he’s made a very big comic.

Assistant news editor Cory Walsh can be reached at 523-5261 or at cory.walsh@lee.net.

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