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Reanimated: Veteran turns PTSD therapy into comic book, cartoon series

Redding Record Searchlight logo Redding Record Searchlight 1/3/2020 Jessica Skropanic, Redding Record Searchlight
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2020 looks to be a landmark year for comic story writer Garrett Gunn of Redding.

His latest graphic novel is slated for release this winter. His cartoon series, starring Billy Bob Thornton, begins production this spring. A game based on his stories is also in the works.

For the disabled veteran, comics are both a passion and a coping mechanism.

Gunn, 30, has penned 15 published comics and graphic novels. Three feature the adventures of fictional firebrands Franklin and Ghost: Alien-possessed pals inhabiting a fox and a disembodied skull. A fourth book, “Franklin and Ghost: Still Don’t Give a Fox,” lands on shelves in February.

a man using a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Redding comic book writer Garrett Gunn at his home where he creates stories. © Mike Chapman/Record Searchlight Redding comic book writer Garrett Gunn at his home where he creates stories.

Writing comic stories for mature audiences is serious therapy, Gunn said. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the U.S. Army sent him home in 2012.

Gunn said his disability made it hard to read novels and follow longer plotlines, but he had success reading shorter illustrated stories.

When his therapist told him to write a daily journal to help him cope, bored with the assignment, he instead wrote comic book stories. “I was just kind of messing around,” he said. “I had drawn the characters (Franklin and Ghost) just for fun in a sketchbook.”

a screenshot of a video game: Cover art of one from a Franklin and Ghost comic. Comic story writer Garrett Gunn of Redding originated the characters and stories. © Contributed photo Cover art of one from a Franklin and Ghost comic. Comic story writer Garrett Gunn of Redding originated the characters and stories.

The Army medically retired Gunn in 2015, dashing his hopes he could return to active duty. “I was 27 and my working life was over,” he said. “I had a pension and health care for my family, (but) I needed to find something to do.”

Gunn credits his wife, Rachel, with the answer. “She said, ‘You should take money out of savings and make that comic you wrote.’”

Gunn self-published his first comic, eventually turning the project over to a publisher he met at a comic convention. A year of haggling with industry contacts left him fed up and ready to quit writing.

Rachel suggested he write one more comic for his own pleasure, Gunn said. "She said, 'What about Franklin and Ghost?' It reignited my love of comics."

Gunn approached Argentinian children’s book illustrator Nicolas Touris to ask if "he’d like to try his hand at illustrating a mature audience comic," with profanity and violence. “After the first book (published), "he was more obsessed with these characters than I was,” Gunn said.

One caveat of success: Gunn had to weed his own comic book collection down to about 200 volumes to make space to store his own work.

a man holding a book: Redding comic book writer Garrett Gunn holds a comic featuring one of his stories and original characters: Two violent and mischievous aliens inhabiting the body of a fox and the skull of a corpse. © Mike Chapman/Record Searchlight Redding comic book writer Garrett Gunn holds a comic featuring one of his stories and original characters: Two violent and mischievous aliens inhabiting the body of a fox and the skull of a corpse.

A “Franklin and Ghost” animated series starts production in spring. Main characters are voiced by veteran animation actors Sean Schemmel and Veronica Taylor, and Christopher Sabat.

He's thrilled his choice to voice Ghost, actor Billy Bob Thornton, accepted the role, Gunn said. He met the "Fargo" actor through a friend, and wrote a comic based on Thornton's band, the Boxmasters. "He's a big cartoon fan.”

His next project is a tabletop game based on Franklin and Ghost. “I’ve got the prototype in my house, spread" all over, he said.

Gunn’s family moved to Shasta County when he was 6.

He attended Foothill High School during his freshman year where he had "issues with bullies,” he said. “I was a very nerdy kid.”

Things improved his sophomore year after he transferred to Anderson New Tech, although he said he often got into trouble for not following homework instructions. “I would write ridiculous stories that had nothing to do with my assignments. Comments on my report cards (included) 'can’t stay on task,' and 'mind is out in the field.'”

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After a year at Shasta College, he joined the U.S. Army. “It was the best thing I ever did," he said. "I never felt like I belonged anywhere” until then.

What gave him the idea to write about two aliens who crash on Earth and possess a fox and a cadaver? 

“I have no idea,” Gunn said, laughing, referring to the comments on his report cards. 

(See a preview of the Franklin and Ghost animated series at https://bit.ly/2rIQidf. The content contains profanity and is intended for mature audiences only.)

Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers lifestyle and entertainment stories, and weekly arts feature d.a.t.e.  Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Reanimated: Veteran turns PTSD therapy into comic book, cartoon series

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