Northland artist awaits publication of first graphic novelWhen Donny Frank Morris was 12 years old, his mother brought home an X-Men comic book for him. Morris sat on the sofa in his family’s home until he had read the book straight through, and even though it was the first comic book he had ever gotten, he was hooked from that point on.
When Donny Frank Morris was 12 years old, his mother brought home an X-Men comic book for him. Morris sat on the sofa in his family’s home until he had read the book straight through, and even though it was the first comic book he had ever gotten, he was hooked from that point on.
“When I sat there and read it, I got excited,” Morris said. “At that moment, at that age, I sat there and said, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
Morris was fascinated by the artwork in this and other comic books that he read, and the interest in drawing that he developed as a child compelled him to try the medium. Continuing to practice this style of drawing over the years, the now 30-year-old artist is working on publishing his first graphic novel with Lyons & Grant Multimedia in New York.
Titled “Chained Gun,” Morris is expecting the book to hit Barnes & Noble stores and online sites such as Amazon and eBooks in the next couple months. Morris said the idea for the graphic novel came to him while he was living in California from 2009 to 2010 with his cousin.
“I was playing this video game called “Red Dead Revolver" that’s based on a western,” Morris said. “Me and my cousin were just drawn into it, and that’s what inspired me to write this book.”
It was during his year in California that Morris completed most of the work for the graphic novel, which he says is different from comic books in that graphic novels are typically longer. The story is about a slave who becomes a bounty hunter after the Civil War so he can seek revenge.
Morris said the nearly 150-page book most closely resembles a western theme, which he is familiar with from watching many western films as a child with his mother. Morris now works at the Holiday Inn in downtown Duluth to help him support his passion for art.
Originally from Chicago, Morris moved to Duluth several times before deciding to stay permanently in 2003. He took classes at the University of Minnesota Duluth and Lake Superior College, but then decided he wanted to pursue his passion of writing a graphic novel and went to California.
“I was developing this story from the first day I stepped into college,” Morris said. “While waiting on the bus, I got bored and started drawing. I just kept developing it.”
When he got to California, Morris constantly sent samples of his work to publishing companies. Eventually, he got into contact with a company in New York interested in his graphic novel, and since then has been working with it to finish up his first book.
One of Morris’ cousins in Chicago, Devon Carter, helped him create the cover for the graphic novel. Morris did all of the drawing for the book and then scanned the images into the computer, where he was able to create the speech bubbles for the story.
Aside from his work as a graphic novelist, Morris has worked extensively with the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative in downtown Duluth in programs for Neighborhood Youth Services (NYS). Beginning in 2005, he helped organize a poetry group for children and young adults to write and perform their own work.
“He always has and still does make a great connection with students and young people because he understands where they are coming from and the experiences they go through,” said Bill Howes, who worked in programs at the Washington Center for several years while Morris ran the poetry group.
“He’s lived life and come through a lot of things,” added Howes, who is the program director of the Native Teacher Program at the College of St. Scholastica. “The things he has to offer through his voice and perspective are really powerful.”
This poetry group worked closely with the MN Spoken Word Association and the group Mn Mantra. By coaching children through spoken word, Morris helped some of his students reach the national competition, where they performed their work.
“I think I learned as much as they did,” Morris said. “One of the things I used to say to them is when you come into the poetry group, bring the person you never show to anyone. That was a huge focus on honesty and individualism.”
Morris has also worked with children at the Washington Center to teach them the fundamentals of drawing.
“He’s always drawing with the kids, trying to keep them inspired, and if they want to do something in animation, he’ll work with them,” said Aaron Gelineau, who works at the Washington Center. “He would get them started on the basic stuff. One of the kids is pretty good at drawing now, and it’s all because of Donny.”
After coming back from California, Morris decided to start a poetry group on Facebook with two former students from the Washington Center. Called “Suicidemindz,” the site allows people to post their poetry and expose their work to the world.
When it comes to his future as a graphic novelist, Morris looks forward to creating a body of work while following his passion for drawing.
“I love stories and just the essence of stories and characters,” he said. “A good story has deep characters. You see them happy and sad. People relate to that.”
And when it comes to the publication of his first book, Morris couldn’t be more excited. “I wish I could just get a truckload of my books and toss them to people walking down the street,” he said. “That’s how happy I am.”