How a Lack of Diversity in Comics Led Me to Write My First (Published) Novel in One Week

Writing a book is a tricky and scary thing to pursue. It easily rolls off the tongue in social gatherings and business meet-ups. But to actually sit your hyperactive instagramming facebooking ass down to write, that’s when things get real.

In my teens, I found myself watching countless hours of Anime, playing Final Fantasy 7 (the best RPG ever made), and sketching what would soon become the protagonist to my now published novel, June Gemini.

My heritage is West African but I grew up similar to your typical All-American kid. I ate cereal for breakfast, watched Saturday morning cartoons and collected comic books (and chased after girls). My after school routine consisted of playing tag and Pop-Warner football. And when not doing that, I was at the kitchen table drawing superheroes. I became fascinated with these worlds and their characters but one thing felt missing. Every hero was a wholesome good ol’ white boy or man.

These days the word Diversity gets thrown around and has become ubiquitous in marketing campaigns. Every industry has now made a public effort to integrate ‘People of Color’ into their projects. It’s great. We now have the Netflix series Luke Cage and the Black Panther movie is slowly approaching. However, this is something I noticed as a teen in the 90’s. Yes, there were a few characters within the Marvel Universe such as Bishop and then came Todd Mc Farlane’s Spawn. But the ratio was about a thousand to one. Think about that for a second.

Things really became clear when my friends and I would talk about whom we would play. And often times, I couldn’t play Spiderman or Superman or any of the other heroes. I was limited to the few side-kick black characters. But I wasn’t nobody’s damn sidekick.

And in that moment, June Gemini was born.

Actual sketch done in black ink and Prisma color markers

I was fresh off watching Akira and Ninja Scroll when I discovered Dragon Ball Z. Goku was my guy. So it was obvious my character would emulate this style.

Day after day, I would sketch June Gemini. Perfecting his superhero costume, and telling people how awesome and powerful he would be. In case you’re wondering… yes I am a Gemini and I was born in June. As I entered adulthood, I put the character to the side, never really developing more than a few footnotes about his abilities and origin story. I eventually sketched out more characters, attempting to build a world.

A celestial character named Adorie

And that was all I had for over a decade. I would talk about this character I created and hype him up but June’s life never went further then my imagination and a few character sketches.

After moving to Los Angeles, I once again planned to revisit this story. I felt June needed an update. So I spent a few hours drawing this:

June 2.0, illustrated in photoshop using a Wacom tablet

So many things were going on in my life at the time. I was in a new city and I needed to find a job in the creative field. In the back of my mind, June Gemini would debut as a graphic novel. My first love was art so it made sense at the time.

Let’s rewind a bit to before LA… when I was working as the Internet Manager at a VW dealership. There I met one of my lifetime friends, Daniel Gradin. I’m not going to bore you with how next-level Dan is, only his single act that contributed to this story. A book he lent me titled The Celestine Prophecy. If you read the book, you already know. If you haven’t then feel free to aware yourself. But please, don’t watch the movie. Or at least read the book first so you don’t ruin the experience. This book basically opened a world that would be the foundation for June Gemini — that we are all connected.

It’s not an entirely new concept but it appealed to me because I didn't want June Gemini to just be a superhero. I wanted him to be more. And even though he was a black character, I didn’t want him to be known as just a black version of whatever else was out there. So when I finally sat down years later to put the story together, The Celestine Prophecy popped up in my mind like a Limitless moment. It was on!

At this point, I was discovering my passion for filmmaking, abandoning my roots as a designer and illustrator. I had no motivation to draw. How was I going to put a graphic novel together? I was stuck. Even trying to find the time was stressful. LA had many things to offer and I wasn’t getting any younger. So again, June Gemini found himself on the shelf for another few years. The smartest thing I did though, was purchasing the domain name.

Let’s jump to 2 years ago. I’m now in my 30’s, making a living as a video editor and freelance photographer. It was a decent job with some amazing people but after 2 years, I couldn’t see myself doing this for much longer. The 9–5 work day just wasn’t for me. I mean, I love creating things. But I wanted to do it on my own time. And that’s when June Gemini started to creep back into my life. Coincidentally, I was reading a few books at the time. At thirty-something, who would want to sit down and read a comic book? Not that comics aren’t amazing. But I wanted something much deeper than a comic could capture. I decided, while on a flight back to LA from NY, that June Gemini would be a novel.

I had never so much as smelled a writing class room or penned anything longer than a facebook rant. How the hell was I going to write a novel? Research I found stated it would take 2 years of intensive writing just to be up to snuff. Man, forget that. I didn’t have the time or patience. I skimmed a few articles online but then eventually I realized I just needed to collect my thoughts and start writing. A video I stumbled on by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez called 10 minute Film School gave me the push I needed. He stated “If you’re born creative, all you have to do is learn how to be technical. If you’re creative and learn the technical aspects, you’re unstoppable.”

After dissecting some of my favorite books: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Stephen Gould’s Jumper, and a book I have yet to finish… The Book of Strange New Things by Micheal Faber, I felt I had enough technical information to write my book. I still had tons of PTO time left so I decided I would use it to write my novel. I figured, if I write something good, then it’s time well spent. And if it’s not, at least I still got a paycheck. In a sense, my job was paying me to write.

So in April of 2015, I set out to finally put this thing together. It seemed like an impossible task. When I tell people, they fall out of their seat. But it’s true. Isolating myself in a library and a few Starbucks in Ontario, California, I wrote the first draft of June Gemini in one week.

And this is how I did it:

I broke down each moment into a scene using an app called Things. It’s not for writing per se’. But I didn't want to waste time looking for anything and I was already using it for daily tasks. I gave each moment a number and letter code, which translated to a chapter in the app I was actually writing in, iA Writer.

I loved iA Writer for it’s simplicity and beautiful type face. Nothing against Word, but I have no idea how people write in that thing. Sure, it’s great for editing. But iA writer was like being at an old typewriter where it’s just you, a sheet of paper, and your story. When I sat down to write a chapter, I simply focused on a moment I had summarized in the Things App. And oh, shot-out to my good friend John Marino who recommended Things to me. I don’t mean to go off on a tangent here, but it’s amazing thinking about all the little ways that people around me have contributed to this project. Ok forgive me, one more thing. I bought an ipad mini and illustrated the latest version of June Gemini.

Illustrated on iPad Mini 2 w Procreate App

I have a confession to make. The entire time I was writing June Gemini, I had the image of the person that would play him in the live action movie (more about that in a future article). So when I started drawing the latest version of June, it was no surprise he would look like the person that was in my head— Jaden Smith.

So what is this book actually about you ask? I’d love to tell you.

Things evolved over time but my main goal was to tell a supernatural story that featured a diverse cast. Not because of recent tentions or because it’s a buzz word. Simply because that’s the world I grew up in. I lived in 3 states in North East US, across many neighborhoods. My father lived in East Orange, New Jersey while my mother was in Staten Island, New York. Then in my final year of high school, my mother got a job in the Lehigh Valley and I finished that year in Whitehall, PA. The inspiration for the story came from my intial love of anime, video games, and sci-fi movies. But my time growing up in New York and now residing in California heavily influenced the story as well.

June Gemini, which stars a black lead, is about a young man that gains supernatural abilities when earth is threatened by a series of natural disasters. Even though June Gemini is pure fiction, it was important to infuse a real world conflict that impacts everyone in the story. I vividly recall the incidents of Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and other international tragedies. Snowstorms, earthquakes and tsunami’s don’t care about class, race, or any of the other prejudices that plague our society. They strike without warning and effect everyone in their path the same way. I always wondered what if there was a deeper, more celestial reason for these events?

Even though the concept was initially a comic, I found the experience of a novel more immersive. You blow through a comic so fast you don’t get to really dive in as you would a good book.

And with time spent building up filmmaking experience, I shot, directed and edited this trailer for the book.

So yeah, it didn’t take me a week to do all of this. Yes, the first draft was written in a week but it was 2 years of hard work and sacrifice. The trailer was shot over the span of 2 weeks in 2016 but wasn’t live till February of this year (2017). To think how this came to be is one of the best aspects of this journey. Everyone from my editor Chelsea Sonksen, my buddy Carlton Jordan and many other that offered their time to read and give feedback, I couldn’t have done this without them.

If you’re curious, June Gemini is available now via Amazon, iTunes and BarnesandNoble.com. The book features about 30 illustrations I did myself. Guess I didn’t abandon my art roots after all. Amazon will get the paperback to you the quickest. And if you like reading on your iPhone, iPad or Mac, then iTunes may be the way to go. Kindle version will be up very soon.

Thank you for reading my article and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on June Gemini.