Journalism alumna Gaby Dunn pens Boston-based graphic novel

At only nineteen years old, Gaby Dunn ‘09 spent her nights waiting at hospitals to find out the status of shooting victims or driving to the scene of fires where houses had burned to the ground.

As a journalism major, Dunn had scored a coveted opportunity: a position at The Boston Globe through the co-op program. She worked as a nighttime crime reporter, covering Boston’s most brutal from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. with the help of a police scanner. It was Dunn’s memory of this journalistic zeal that inspired her latest book, Bury The Lede,  set to be published on Oct. 8.

This will be Dunn’s third book released in 2019; Bad With Money came out in January and Please Send Help, co-authored by Allison Raskin, came out in July. Claire Roe illustrated Bury The Lede, and Miquel Muerto served as the colorist. Comic book publisher BOOM! Studios will release the book as the debut of their new line of graphic novels geared toward adults.

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Bury The Lede, Dunn’s first graphic novel, follows a young reporter named Madison Jackson at the fictitious Boston Lede newspaper. Jackson attempts to cover a murder story while becoming entangled with the possible killer. 

“I think a lot of what I do is put out as entertainment, but it is reporting,” Dunn said in a phone interview from New York City. “My dad is always like, ‘You’re using your degree. Yay!’” 

While Dunn no longer works as a journalist, she said that she believes many of her ventures still include a journalistic edge. For example, in her podcast Bad With Money, she interviews financial experts, and Bury The Lede required her to look through her old newspaper clips to make the main character’s story more realistic. 

“I think it would be a waste if I didn’t use these experiences,” Dunn said. “If I didn’t use my insider knowledge of this world for something.”

Bury The Lede’s editor, Dafna Pleban, said the concept for the novel—which she described as a “Devil-Wears-Prada-meets-Hannibal” story—struck her immediately, and Dunn’s execution of it was no less compelling. 

“[Dunn] told me a bit about her experience as a cub reporter in college, and I was thinking, ‘Man, that’s awesome. Let’s explore that,’” Pleban said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “At the time, we both were really kind of jonesing for flawed, female main characters.” 

Dunn said that, although she always liked comics, she decided to embark on creating a graphic novel for more pragmatic reasons. 

“I like diversifying,” she said. “I like having my work be in different mediums. I felt like, ‘I’ve never done a graphic novel. Why not?’ I want to learn how to do as many mediums as possible, just to make sure that in case anything collapses, I have others, too.”

She said that, in addition to fictionalizations of her Boston Globe experiences that made their way into the pages, her former co-workers also served as sources of inspiration. 

“I sometimes would watch reporters that were there and be just so in awe of their work, and so in awe of how they handled these crazy situations, and how they wrote about these things. And so I wanted to kind of pay homage to that,” she said. “There were a lot of reporters there that were just these really cool, badass women, and I was obsessed with them. I would just study them.” 

Dunn, a self-professed “bicon,” or bisexual icon, also wanted to use this novel as an opportunity to amplify queer representation, which she said popular media often leaves out of the narrative. 

“Almost every character in the book ends up queer,” she said. “How many graphic novels or shows exist where everyone is straight and nobody says anything?”

Pleban noted that Dunn’s ability to create compelling, three-dimensional characters made the queer representation all the more meaningful.

“Every single character, their motivation is a mix of wants and needs, and she’s created a story in which those wants and needs come into conflict,” Pleban said. “True representation is being given a platform to show your complications, to show that you’re more than just your identity.”

Pleban said that, in addition to Dunn’s writing abilities, the dynamic relationship between Dunn and the two artists, Roe and Muerto, helped bring the story to life. 

“Comics are an endless conversation between everyone involved,” Pleban said. “It’s that kind of holistic storytelling that… I think only really happens in contact between a writer, an artist, and a colorist.”

Dunn said she agreed that the book’s inherently collaborative process was an asset. She said she mapped out the storyline with Pleban, and described scenes of Boston to Roe in order to capture the spirit of the city. 

“She was able to fill out Boston the way that it looked to me, which was amazing,” Dunn said.  

Due to scheduling conflicts, Muerto was unable to participate in a phone interview. He wrote in an emailed statement that even though he entered the project after the primary illustrations were finished, he dove in head first once he was a part of it. 

“When Bury the Lede was presented to me with a great script and breathtaking art, I didn’t think twice about jumping in,” he wrote.  

He said that he chose his colors in an effort to complement and highlight the tension of its narrative. 

“After reading the script, I envisioned a more natural color palette in order to give realness to the story,” he wrote. “That helped to achieve a really good balance between what we see and what we’re told.”

Muerto also noted that he appreciated that the queer storyline came from a place of authenticity, rather than from shock value. 

“I love how the tropes are demolished from the start and the moments of LGBTQIA+ representation are not treated like special occasions or a major plot reveal,” he wrote. “They’re just there because they don’t need an excuse to exist.”

Dunn, who will embark on a four-stop book tour following Bury The Lede’s release, said that while many of her current career endeavors stray from her journalistic roots, creating this novel showed her the value of her experiences in the world of news. 

“If I have the experience of something, I want to write about it if it’s outside of the traditional entertainment sphere,” she said. “I didn’t go to school for screenwriting. I didn’t go to school for filmmaking. I went to school for journalism. And I have found that that’s an asset, because I have things to write about.” 

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