Brian Ralph didn't have a label when he attended Metuchen High School.
The 1992 graduate played on the football and golf teams, enjoyed skateboarding and loved art. He doesn't believe he was a part of any cliques.
But it was common high school experiences that director Brad Peyton drew inspiration from when adapting Ralph's graphic novel "Daybreak" into a Netflix series.
Ralph, 46, said his novel doesn't have much of a background story, but Peyton, along with co-creator Aaron Eli Coleite, developed it into a post-apocalyptic John Hughes-like experience rife with clannish high school factions.
"My book doesn't really feature any of the high school aspect," he said. "The director brought the Ferris Bueller high school aspect."
Ralph said the series creators added many more characters, which he said he respected.
The novel was originally published in three volumes by an independent press in Jersey City in called Bodega. Drawn & Quarterly, a comics publisher based in Canada, then published Ralph's story into a hardcover edition in 2011.
"That hardcover edition made it all over the world," he said. "The director picked it up in a comics book store and contacted me and said, 'I think I might want to work on doing something with this.'"
Peyton, the director who Ralph said found "Daybreak" at that comic book store, held onto the option for years.
Over that time, Ralph watched the director's "career take off."
Before the October 2019 release of "Daybreak" on Netflix, Peyton directed the 2018 film "Rampage" and the 2015 film "San Andreas," both starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
"He kind of had some downtime so he was shopping it around and he called me, and he was like, 'Hey, Netflix is interested in it as a show,'" Ralph said. "It all happened really quickly after that."
Next thing he knew, the show was filming in New Mexico.
The creators flew Ralph and his 15-year-old son out to the set and asked him if he wanted to appear as a cameo.
Costume designers dressed Ralph as a "ghoulie," which are the zombie-like characters in "Daybreak" roaming the apocalyptic landscape. When finished, Ralph resembled a living-dead skater dad and was eventually killed with a chainsaw for a scene featured in episode 5.
Ralph said he had no plans to turn the story into anything more than just a book.
"I never expected anything like this," he said. "I didn't think anything would come of it."
His artistic background stemmed from the punk and do-it-yourself style, back when he would draw, write and print his own comics, including the screen printing of the covers.
"It was just for the love of making comics," he said.
But he thought Peyton's ideas for the story were great.
"They sent me the scripts and I read it and told them, 'This is awesome,'" Ralph recalled. "I'm glad I gave this to these people to make it their own because they really injected it with their own artistic sensibility."
Ralph, who grew up on New York Avenue in Metuchen, has lived in Savannah, Georgia for 11 years where he works as an art professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, but he has deep ties to the Brainy Borough.
"My parents went to Metuchen High School, all my siblings went to Metuchen High School," he said.
He said his two nieces and nephew go to Metuchen High School.
"My whole family still lives in town," he added.
"Daybreak" wasn't Ralph's first graphic novel. His 1999 novel "Cave-In" won three Harvey Awards, one Eisner Award and was listed as one of the Comics Journal's "five best comics of 1999.” His second graphic novel, "Climbing Out," was awarded a Xeric Grant in 2001.
Readers never learned the name of the main character in Ralph's novel, but in the Netflix adaption, the protagonist in "Daybreak" is named Josh Wheeler. The story follows Wheeler as he tries to survive an apocalyptic wasteland after all the world's adults are turned into the zombie-like ghoulies.
A large portion of the show, which has been compared to "Mad Max" and "Dawn of the Dead," takes place in a cavernous, abandoned mall. Characters are left to fend for themselves, and everything that previously had a price tag becomes up for the taking for their own survival.
Ralph related to this aspect of the adaptation in a way many Garden State residents may.
"It's funny because growing up in New Jersey, going to Menlo Park Mall and Woodbridge Center, you'd always fantasize — what would it be like here during the end of the world?" he said.