Popcorn: Rob Harrell’s Latest Book Delights Readers with Another Burst of Humor and Heart

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March/April 2024

Since October 2018, “Zionsville Monthly” has had the privilege of featuring Zionsville resident and author Rob Harrell in previous issues. We are pleased to announce the publication of his latest novel “Popcorn,” due to be released on September 3, 2024.

Celebrating 10 Years Zionsville Monthly

From Cartoonist to Cancer Survivor to Young Adult & Children’s Author

Harrell’s book “Wink” has garnered national critical acclaim, earning recognition from Time magazine as one of the top 10 in the Young Adult & Children’s category, and has been published in 15 languages. Harrell, an exceptional author, illustrator, cartoonist and cancer survivor, previously shared with our readers his remarkable journey of overcoming an extremely rare form of ocular cancer in his right eye, which resulted in loss of sight but propelled him into a remarkable career as an author and artist.

Harrell wrote and drew the syndicated daily comic strip “Big Top” through 2007 and currently creates the long-running strip “Adam@Home,” appearing in over 140 newspapers worldwide. He’s also the creator of the beloved kids’ series “Life of Zarf.”

We have previously discussed his first hybrid novel “Monster on the Hill,” published in 2013, which was adapted into the CGI animated film “Rumble” and released in 2021 by Paramount and ReelFX. In addition to these accomplishments, Harrell’s other published works include “Batpig: Go Pig or Go Home,” “Batpig: Too Pig to Fail,” “Batpig: When Pigs Fly,” “Wink” and “Life of Zarf: Troll Overboard.”

A Sneak Preview

Crafting Laughter and Empathy Through Literature

Once more, I had the chance to sit down with Harrell, exploring the journey of his career and the driving force behind his newest endeavor—a touching and comedic narrative revolving around Andrew, a middle school-aged character navigating anxiety amid a series of unfortunate events.

“A part of me didn’t want to write another ‘kid with an issue’ story, but after COVID, universally, it seemed that everybody in the world is dealing with some level of anxiety … like it’s kind of its own pandemic now,” Harrell shared. “I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was a little kid; I just didn’t have a word for it. I was always an intense kid or worried kid, so anxiety has always been with me. I also had some OCD stuff like tapping things, and the more I got to thinking about [the next project], I felt like I was equipped to write a book similar in tone to ‘Wink’ but all about anxiety and OCD. This book is called ‘Popcorn’ because of Andrew’s analogy of what he’s feeling and going through. He feels like a kernel of popcorn in hot oil, and he’s wondering how long until he pops. My intention with this book is to show how [Andrew] comes out on the other side of his panic attack and how important support and empathy are to someone who is going through something rough in life. If put into the right hands, I think that this book could be therapeutic if only by letting kids know they’re not alone in dealing with anxiety and feelings of dread. I’m excited for this book to get out and to see people’s reactions to it.”

“I started my career as an illustrator and then as a cartoonist,” Harrell continued. “It’s always been about writing a funny joke, and then ‘Wink’ was just such a rewarding experience, and I realized that I enjoy the [experience] of connecting with people over books like ‘Wink.’ There are some great books out there about anxiety, especially for young kids, so does the world need one more [book] about it? I don’t know, but I don’t think it hurts. I tried to make ‘Popcorn’ a fun book to read, and I think it normalizes the subject of anxiety. Fortunately, I had experts in psychiatry, child psychology and Alzheimer’s—there’s a component of that with Andrew’s grandmother in the book—who read the manuscript over to make sure I didn’t write anything that was way off base. There’s actually some practical advice in the book about breathing exercises and things like that.”

Popcorn Rob Harrell’s

Inspiring and Connecting with the Next Generation of Creatives

Harrell is a dedicated member of his community, often visiting schools and local libraries to engage with young minds. His aim extends beyond discussing the themes of his books; he seeks to inspire aspiring artists, writers and illustrators, showing them that with hard work, adaptability and determination, it’s possible to turn dreams into a sustainable career.

“It’s multifold,” Harrell stated. “I go out, and I tend to talk about my books and how I went from being a fourth grader who liked to draw cartoons to doing what I’m doing now. When I get to ‘Wink,’ I talk about empathy and my [cancer] experience. I intend to make the conversation more about anxiety and depression when I go out and talk about ‘Popcorn.’ That is all very important to me, but when I’m speaking with kids, it’s also important that I show kids that I took this particular path and I get to do what I dreamt of doing when I was a kid … it is possible. If I had an author come and speak to my school when I was a kid who liked to draw and write, it would have exploded my brain! The bottom line is, I feel like in some small way I’m trying to help when I speak to these groups, however small [in measure] it is.”

Preorders for “Popcorn” are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Target and Walmart, among other online book retailers. Be sure to follow Rob Harrell on Facebook @Rob Harrell and Instagram @robbtopp.