About That Graphic Novel…

Some of you may remember that I said one of my 2019 goals was to produce a Bounty graphic novel. I thought I’d provide some insight into setting that goal and what I’m learning as I dabble into the world of creating comics.

Those of you who’ve been around a while know how much I love comics, and how that love is lifelong and originally sparked my creative streak. Even though I’m a published author, my love for superheroes and comic books is evident in my work. So doing a graphic novel just makes sense. Bounty started as a comic book character; writing and drawing a Bounty graphic novel returns her to her roots. It brings her home, so to speak. And it returns me to my roots. I started out wanting to create comics. So I’m creating a comic.

Now I realize how ambitious doing that this year is. Especially since I’m both writing and drawing it. Both steps are time-consuming on their own, but together? Especially since I’m learning a) how to draw again and b) how to tell a story in this medium. It’s not just drawing a bunch of pictures.

Were I at my peak as an artist, maybe this would be easier. But I like the challenge. I *need* the challenge. I haven’t grown bored with writing novels — far from it — but adding this challenge has actually given me a boost of creative energy. I’ve needed that.

I’m not abandoning novels. Far from it. This graphic novel is just me challenging myself, as a writer and artist. Pushing myself to set a goal and finish it, to encounter obstacles and overcome them. To prove to myself that I can take on a task and accomplish it.

Maybe this graphic novel doesn’t see the light of day until 2020. That would be okay — so long as I see this project through and finish it. As Chuck Wendig (and others) says, FINISH YOUR SHIT. I intend to do just that — but I’ll admit, this is hard.

I’m practically learning, as I go, an entirely new method of storytelling. How to tell a story with images as well as words. How the two work in concert with one another. There’s a method there, and there’s gonna be a ton of trial and error here. I’m okay with that.

(Come to think of it, this very process would make a great future Pixel Wretches podcast.)

I fully anticipate being occasionally frustrated to the point of wanting to stop. The point is getting myself to NOT stop, but to push forward and create in spite of that. Abandoning projects midway through is not how I’m gonna get better. Finishing my shit is.

So I’m pushing myself, challenging myself to return to my creative roots. To remind myself where my love for telling stories started, and to show up at a con one day with both my novels *and* a Bounty graphic novel on my table.

Maybe that’s 2019. Maybe it’s not.

I used to dream about being the next Jim Lee. Now I just wanna be the best J.D. Cunegan I can be. That means novels. And comics. And who knows what else is down the road for me. But if I don’t push myself, if I don’t test myself, how will I know what I’m capable of?

Four years ago, I pushed myself, and the result was my first novel. Bounty proved to me that I can complete a creative project and see it through and put it out there for the world to see.

Now I have five novels, a novella, a collection of short stories, and an an anthology credit to my name. And there are plenty more such stories coming in the next few years. That’s not nothing, and I keep having to remind myself of that, even when sales are… yeah.

But, and I think other creatives can relate, I want more. More stories to tell. More ways to tell them. More ways to push myself and flex my creative muscles. Make them grow. Make them better. Make *me* better. This graphic novel will do just that.

In a perfect world, Hampton Comicon in October would be the debut for the Bounty graphic novel. But if I have to push that back, so be it. This is a lengthy, involved process, and I’m going to make sure it’s worth every moment of it.

And I want you on the journey with me.

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, and you can also become a Patron.

Eulogy for a Legend

Chances are, you’ve read plenty about what Stan Lee meant to people over the last 24 hours.DSC02394 At the risk of sounding redundant, he meant a lot to me, too.

See, Stan Lee — having been credited with mentally birthing such superhero stalwarts as Spider-Man, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc. etc. etc. (in the interest of accuracy, let’s call him the co-creator — because without the work of such men as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, these characters would likely not be what they’ve become). — is who he is because those creations are what they are.

Superhero comic books are as popular and ubiquitous as they are today thanks in large part to Lee. His public persona, his cameos across several different adaptations… it’s probably safe to say that without Lee, the superhero genre and comic books as a whole would not be what they are today.

Lee was not the pioneer. But for a lot of people, he is synonymous not only with Marvel, but with comic books as a whole.

1656330-uncanny_x_men__1963__289I read my first comic book when I was 11. It was issue 299 of The Uncanny X-Men, and as soon as I read that, I decided  that a) I needed to read a lot more X-Men, and b) I wanted to write my own stories. I wanted to be a comic book creator. I wanted to tell stories that thrilled and entertained the way I was being thrilled and entertained.

Lee didn’t write that issue — or pretty much any issue during my lifetime. But he laid that foundation.

I met Lee in 2002, when I was in Los Angeles visiting a friend over summer vacation. He was doing a Q-&-A after a screening of Spider-Man (the first Sam Raimi film), and he just happened to walk into the ArcLight while my friend and I were getting tickets. I’m forever grateful that he took a few moments to speak with me and pose for a picture.

Later that night, I took a picture of Lee with my friend. This being the pre-digital camera, no-smartphone time period, I had to get these pictures developed. The pic of Lee with my friend didn’t develop. I am forever bummed about that.

But Lee, as larger than life as he often seemed, was no different than the rest of us. He loved telling stories. He loved introducing us to characters who were simultaneously out of this world and just like us. It’s often said that DC’s superheroes are gods who become men, while Marvel’s heroes are men who become gods. If that’s true, then Lee is the architect behind that.

I’ve spoken at length about many of my influences. Chris Claremont. Jim Lee (no relation). Michael Turner (RIP). Joss Whedon. Kevin Smith. But I guarantee you every single one of them would (and many have) pointed to Stan Lee as their influence. Lee was almost like the entire comic book community’s grandfather — and this really does feel like we’ve all lost a member of the family.

Lee made quite the impact in his 95 years on this planet, an impact that continues to be felt on the spinner racks and in the movie theaters and on our TV screens and with probably every piece of genre fiction that’s published. I know he’s impacted my work over the years, and I think it would only be fitting if a future book included a Stan Lee cameo of sorts.

It’s the least I can do for a man who played such a huge role in the genre I love.

I’m heartbroken over Lee’s death, but I am buoyed by the outpouring of love that has come his way in the day since — as well as the knowledge that everything he helped create, everything he put in place, will always be there for the rest of us. There will never be another Stan Lee, but there’ll always be a little Stan Lee in all of us.

Excelsior!

Why Superheroes?

While I love a great many different types of stories, the superhero genre has always had a certain appeal to me. After all, I never considered being a writer until I discovered comic books — X-Men, to be exact — and even today, the superhero genre is one in which I proudly plant my flag.Batwoman_(52_11)

Granted, the term “superhero” can have a pretty broad definition. Most will agree the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Daredevil are superheroes. But is Batman? Is Spawn? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The Punisher?

Superheroes are all the rage today, what with the near-ubiquitous nature of superhero films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically, is largely responsible for the mainstream popularity of the genre. And I think the reason superheroes speak to so many is because they represent a reality in which there’s some semblance of control.

Let’s face it: things are really scary in the world these days. And there isn’t anything the vast majority of us can do about any of it. What can I, just a 36-year-old dude, do about international corruption and espionage? What can I do about school shootings? About the hate that has seemingly run rampant everywhere?

For the most part… not much.

Superheroes leave us feeling less helpless in the face of such horrors. Want the wicked wiped off the face of the Earth? There’s the Punisher. Want to believe it’s possible to exact justice on evildoers in the aftermath of personal tragedy? Maybe Batman’s more your speed.

Bounty-Small

Artist: Kendall Goode (@kendallgoode on Twitter)

Serve your country in spite of not being what one might consider the ideal soldier? Captain America. Want to serve your country and community, even after it’s cast you aside because of who you are? Batwoman. Some mystical ring decides you’re worthy of protecting… oh, you know… space?! Green Lantern.

Superheroes tap into that deep-rooted desire. They show us a reality in which the big scary things can be defeated. They give us hope that the individual can make a difference on the world at large, even when reality continues to slap us in the face and tell us no.

That philosophy guides me every time I sit down to write one of Jill Andersen’s stories. She took up the mantle of Bounty because of her desire to do right by her hometown, her need to serve beyond what she can do with a badge on her hip. Early in her law enforcement career, Jill saw that being a cop only accomplished so much. If she wanted to do more, she had to become more.

Most of us can’t become more. So we turn to stories of those who can.

It’s not about the superpowers or the costumes. Not really. Stripped of the flash and the bright colors and the larger-than-life villains many of them face, superheroes reflect everything we wish we could be — both individually and as a society. We’ll never leap tall buildings in a single bound, and we’ll never lead the wicked in handcuffs to Arkham. But so long as we have heroes who can and do, maybe the world isn’t quite as hopeless as it seems.

Then again… the powers and costumes are pretty kickass, huh?

 

Bounty has been nominated for a TopShelf magazine Indie Book Award!

Official SealIt’s a big deal for my debut novel to even be nominated — and there are plenty of perks therein — but if by some stroke of luck I actually win, then there’s no end to the awesomeness that would ensue. Mostly I’m just jacked that someone thought enough of my work to nominate it. That’s pretty damn cool.

Anyway, check it out!

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Check out Cunegan’s work here.

Bounty and Comic Books: An Origin Story

Before we get started, look at this awesomeness.

I commissBounty-Smallioned comic book artist Kendall Goode (@kendallgoode on Twitter) to draw a piece depicting Bounty, the hero of my Jill Andersen series of novels, and as soon as I saw the finished product in my inbox… well, I’m not sure there are words for the sound I made. But suffice it to say, I love the piece, and it perfectly exemplifies what I think of when I write this character.

I’ve made no secret of the influence comic books have had on my work. Nor have I hid the fact that Bounty, when I first created her back in 1997, was a comic book character. She was supposed to be on your local comic book shop every month, not available on Amazon.

But life is funny sometimes.

These days, I’m a novelist. Not because I’ve outgrown comic books — I still collect them, after all — but because I’ve become a much better writer than artist. It’s an evolution borne out of necessity (as most evolution is), but even as I have morphed Jill and her world into prose, the panels and word balloons are never far from my mind.

As I type this, I’m toying with the plot for a potential Bounty graphic novel. I have no timetable for this project, but I do want to see it through — and the above image is all the motivation and inspiration I need. I love the Jill Andersen books; I love that I’ve matured enough, as a writer and as a person, that I can write these stories. I love that readers love Jill as much as I do.

But I want to bring Jill home. She deserves to be immortalized in a graphic novel. That was where she started. Hell, that’s where I started. Without discovering and getting hooked on comic books when I was in middle school, I doubt I’m a storyteller right now. I don’t know what I’d be, but I don’t think I’d have “published author” among the things about which I can brag.

Who would draw a Bounty graphic novel? Well, that’s one of the hang-ups.

It sure as hell won’t be me (see above). Right now, Goode is my choice… but then there’s the issue of payment. I would never ask an artist to work with me without proper compensation — to say nothing of how much money we’d agree to split on any potential sales. In a perfect world, a comic publisher would pick up my script and all of that would take care of itself. But a Plan B would be nice.

So for that reason alone, the Bounty graphic novel might be way down the road. But it is something I want to do, it is something I’m writing. But for the time being, Jill will have to stick to prose, with only glimpses like the above image keeping the dream of her going back to her roots to spur me onward.

Some readers have compared Jill to Daredevil — a comparison I find flattering after having watched at least some of the latter’s Netflix series. One reader said Jill was like a cross between Lara Croft and Deadpool, and my fans are well aware of all the Batman references I throw into these books. Jill is a comic book character in a novel world — and as great as superhero novels are (there really should be more of them), just once I’d love to sell someone a Bounty comic or graphic novel.

One day, that will happen. One day…

MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder Woman

It should’ve never taken this long for us to get a female-led superhero movie.

But I’m glad this is the first one.

Wonder Woman, on top of being the best DC-based movie since The Dark Knight, is a marvelous film — one that was worth the wait and the hype, and it gives us hope that a) Justice League might actually be good, and b) we can have more diverse superhero movies.

Patty Jenkins did a fine job in her big-budget directorial debut, and Gal Gadot embodies Diana Prince the way Robert Downey Jr. embodies Tony Stark and Chris Evans embodies Steve Rogers. I hate comparing Diana to male heroes, but in the movie landscape, that’s pretty much all there’s been until now.

Can the Catwoman and Elektra jokes (those films did not fail because they were female-led; they failed for the same reason Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern failed: because they were bad movies). Wonder Woman is a fantastic film, a bright spot in the otherwise bleak DCEU, and proof that an iconic character such as Wonder Woman absolutely belongs in what is an increasingly-crowded comic book movie market.

In fact, she stands out. Wonder Woman is easily on par with my other all-time favorites in the genre — the aforementioned The Dark Knight and Captain America: the Winter Soldier. But what makes Wonder Woman stand out, even then, is Gadot. The moment she first appears on-screen, she grabs this film by the… I’ll go with horns here, because I feel like the other analogy would be too obvious… takes control, and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

She is the epitome of Diana’s strength, conviction, and belief in mankind’s inherent good — even when repeatedly shown otherwise. Her fish-out-of-water arc, which harkens back to the first Thor, is a surprising source of comic gold, and it works a) because of her rapport with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and b) because Diana is never the butt of the joke. Gadot strikes the perfect balance between the badass, the compassionate person, the idealist, and the goofball. Diana is all of those things, and Gadot embraces them all.

The opening chapters (this is a book blog, after all) on Themyscira are beautiful, as is the big fight scene (even in its brutality). Later in the film, when Diana has her first true badass “I am Wonder Woman” moment (those who have seen the film know), it’s remarkable in its intensity, its cinematography, and the fact that Diana is shown to be a badass without throwing a single punch.

That scene brought a tear to my eye. And I know I’m not alone in that.

I bristled at the romance between Diana and Steve, but that’s because I reflexively bristle at any romantic subplot anymore. I’m at a point now where, unless I’m watching or reading an actual romance, keep the love out of it. And dammit, can we stop letting guys named Steve get on planes?!

This film isn’t perfect; it suffers from poor villains (which the vast majority of other comic book movies do), the twist in the third act fell flat for me, and the final battle was a jarring change given the tone the first two acts established. But those faults do not truly detract from what is an otherwise amazing cinematic experience, and Wonder Woman is still one of the genre’s best in spite of those.

It remains to be seen if Wonder Woman can fix some of the damage that Man of SteelBatman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad have done to DC’s cinematic efforts, but as a comic book movie — and as the first such film to star a female hero — it’s a tremendous accomplishment. I will see Justice League this fall just to get more of Gadot’s Diana, and I will be back for however many Wonder Woman movies they decide to make (Gadot deserves at least 50).

Wonder Woman is a fantastic movie, one that every fan of the genre should see, and it proves that diversity of character and diversity of creator need not be something we shy away from.

BOUNTY Book Trivia!

Some random odds and ends about my books, just because:113526_1220471073309_full

-Ezekiel, one of the principle villains in Blood Ties, is based largely on System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian. Specifically, this look:

-I didn’t decide Paul Andersen’s ultimate fate until it was time to write that chapter of Blood Ties. My thinking was that by keeping it even from myself, it would add to the mystery within the narrative – and if it was surprising and emotional for me, it would be the same for my readers.

-I first created Bounty back in 1997, whebounty-colorn I was still in high school. Suffice it to say, she has changed quite a bit over the years. For one thing, she wears a lot more clothing.

-I created Detectives Watson, Blankenship, and Stevens for Blood Ties solely to make the book longer and give me more options for subplots.

Bounty was originally a spin-off from Notna. That’s obviously changed, but both stories inhabit the same fictional universe. In fact, there will be a few Bounty Easter Eggs in Notna (mid-2017).

-The main plot in Behind the Badge is based on the real-life case of Freddie Gray, the African-American Baltimore man who died from injuries he suffered while in police custody – where he was subjected to a “rough ride.”

-I chose Baltimore as the setting because I wanted a major metropolitan city that wasn’t New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles (all of which are overused, IMO). I like Baltimore’s location on the East Coast, and its proximity to Washington, D.C. gives me a lot of interesting plot options going forward.Beckett gun

-The similarities between Jill and Castle’s Kate Beckett are no accident; discovering that TV show and character were a big reason I was finally able to finish Bounty and get the series rolling.

-In her original incarnation,Jill had a bounty hunter aspect to her character – hence the name Bounty. That went away over the years, and now, her vigilante name comes courtesy of a writer for The Baltimore Sun (see the digital short Boundless).

National Superhero Day

Apparently, today is National Superhero Day.
Bounty ebook
Which is cool… mostly because my protagonist, Jill Andersen, just so happens to be a superhero. “But J.D.,” I hear you saying out loud in front of your monitor, “I thought she was a cop?”

She is. She’s actually both. How does that work?

Read Bounty to find out.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget the prequel Boundless and the sequel Blood Ties.

I can think of no better way to celebrate National Superhero Day than heading over to Amazon and introducing yourself to my superhero.

But aside from plugging my own superhero, I want to take this time to talk about a hero I wish got a little more love: Batwoman (not to be confused with Batgirl; they are two completely different characters).

Batwoman is, to my knowledge, one of the few openly gay superheroes in mainstream comics (meaning Marvel and DC). She’s also Jewish — a fact that a lot of people gloss over when referring to Batwoman’s status as a strong representative of diverse representation.
Batwoman_(52_11)
Kate Kane is former military, having been discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… and for a time, her book was one of the few DC books I read (we’re talking the New 52 timeline here). But she got engaged to her girlfriend, then DC editorial decided the wedding wasn’t gonna happen… cause apparently, queer characters can’t have happy endings?

Anyway, when her character’s not being screwed around, Batwoman is a lot of what people want in a character. She’s fierce, she’s loyal, she continues to soldier onward in spite of whatever’s standing in her way… in the right hands, Kate Kane has the potential to be one of the most interesting and dynamic characters in all of comics.

Instead of giving us yet another solo Batman movie, how about a Batwoman film instead?

In one of life’s great ironies, Batwoman was originally created long ago as a love interest for Batman — DC’s way of responding to allegations that Batman was gay.

All of the usual suspects will be getting plenty of love on National Superhero Day, but let’s take a few moments to recognize some of the great heroes that don’t get as much recognition… Batwoman among them.

And while you’re over at Amazon, perusing my own works… go on and give Batwoman: Elegy a read. It’s a fantastic introduction to the modern incarnation of the character, and I can virtually guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Kate Kane after reading Elegy.

And if you wind up liking Jill, too… well, then Happy National Superhero Day to me.