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.

A Tidewater Comicon Retrospective

Me at ComiconSo… Tidewater Comicon was a financial loss. I did not sell nearly as many books as I thought or hoped I would, despite really good crowds both days. Other vendors tell the same story, that — for whatever reason — people weren’t buying this year the way they had in years past. That helps a little, but I won’t lie, it is still demoralizing to see people walk by your table without so much as even grabbing a bookmark or a business card.
But I wouldn’t consider it a total loss. I did sell some — which means more people have my books in their hands and on their shelves than I did before the weekend. I got to meet a guy who wrote for The Tick comic book series for six years. I got to shake Chris Claremont’s hand (yes, THAT Chris Claremont, whose X-Men stories were my childhood). If half the people who said they would look me up on Amazon actually do… that’s a pretty decent bump to an online sales chart that over the past month has more closely resembled a heart monitor that has flatlined.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is a journey. The fact that I sold out at Hampton Comicon back in October is as consequential, in the grand scheme, as my sales performance this weekend. I’ll likely have better cons in the future. I’ll also likely have worse cons.
And who knows? Maybe one of the people I met this weekend will be key in my next step as an author. Maybe an eventual shot at traditional publication. Perhaps a stab at a potential graphic novel? No idea… but I like the fact that the possibility is there — and it’s only there because I went to Comicon.
I guess that’s the point of all this. There are gonna be bumps in the road as an indie author. I’ve certainly experienced my share. But I’ve also experienced some incredibly awesome things, and it’s all because I tried. I did the thing. I put myself out there. And yeah, I got a shitload of no’s. But I also got quite a few yes’s along the way.
I left Comicon today inspired. Inspired to finish my fantasy novel (that should be out in October). Inspired to finish books 4 and 5 of the Bounty series. Inspired to let my stories take me where they wanna go, and inspired to continue pursuing life as an author… because dammit, creating makes me happy.
I have plenty of interests. I only have two true passions. One is auto racing (NASCAR, in particular). The other is writing. I’ve been a writer, in one form or fashion, since I was 11 — it’s as much a part of who I am as my name or my eye color. So yeah, I’m bummed that I still have entire boxes full of books after this weekend, but hey… I’m still a writer, and those are books that I’ll sell later.
Tidewater Comicon was a bump in the road (and I will go back next year). Nothing more. I’m gonna write more books. I’m gonna get my name out there… and dammit, one of these days, you all are going to have a graphic novel with my (pen)name on it in your hands.
Because THAT is my dream. Today only reinforced that.

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).

My Experience at Hampton Comicon

This past Saturday, I attended my first ever comic book convention: Hampton Comicon in Hampton, Va. I had a table, roughly 20 copies of all three img_20161015_083848of my novels, and a slew of business cards, flyers, and bookmarks — both for my work and the work of some other self-published authors I enjoyed. From 9 a.m. until roughly 6 p.m., I sold far more books than I expected. I sold out of my allotment of Bounty (the first book), and I damn near sold out of Behind the Badge (the third book), too.

In all, I more than tripled what I paid for the table space.

But as great as the short-term gain was, what excites me most is the long-term potential. Just about everyone who stopped by my table, whether they bought a book or not, took a business card and a flyer (which had my website, email address, Amazon link, and Facebook and Twitter pages on them). A lot of them perked up when they found out my books were also on Kindle, and just about all of them loved the premise of the series.

So it’ll be interesting to see what my online sales, website hits, and social media follows look like in the coming days and weeks. But perhaps more importantly, I also made connections — meeting several other writers, discovering potential new works to check out, and maybe an artist with whom to work if I decide to dip my toe back into the comic book world.

One man20161015_083959 approached my table saying he was looking for novels he could pitch to movie studios. He took a business card. Another man later approached about potential TV series ideas. He also left my table with a business card. Will those go anywhere? I have no idea (I’m accounting for the possibility that they were both blowing smoke up my ass), but just having the conversation was cool enough.

These were conversations I wouldn’t have had staying home, and they’re conversations I normally don’t get to have through social media or on a platform like Goodreads.

So all in all, I had fun — and clearly I’ve got a potential audience in the comic book and genre fiction crowd (which I kinda already knew). I have a library event later this month, and in May I’ll be at Tidewater Comicon (Virginia Beach, Va.). I can’t wait for both of those, and I love that I’ve sold so many books in-person that I now have to order another box or two of author copies.

It’s an added expense, but it pays for itself in the long run.

So anyone who has events like this in their area and never considered them before… maybe give them a chance. I grant my experience likely isn’t typical, but it was eye-opening the way people seemed excited about my stuff — and just how much interacting with someone in-person truly matters.

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.