Juaquan Herron has been to LA and back. The 32-year-old got tired of waiting.
“I couch surfed, had a child who was not with me, but a supportive wife, and every day I was like, ‘What in the hell am I doing?’” said Herron, an actor and filmmaker who returned to Kansas City after being bitten by the writing bug. “You don’t have to wait on a phone call. You can do it yourself.”
His time in Hollywood was productive to a degree, he said, auditioning for movies and commercials.
“But you know how they say, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy?’” Herron asked. “That’s the downside to social media. You look at certain people, and what they’re accomplishing and you get distracted with worry.”
To keep himself active between jobs — as well as to steady his mind amid self doubt — he turned to writing. First came screenplays, then broader ideas for storytelling in alternate forms of media.
“I surprised myself, and thought, ‘This is what I should’ve been doing the whole time,” he said. “I want to be a jack of all trades. I want to tell these stories, but not necessarily have to wait on Hollywood. They might not answer the door.”
Making it out
Back in Kansas City after a year on the West Coast, Herron is developing a comic book, “The Scarlet Knight: Defender of the Block” — the first chapter in what he hopes will be his own illustrated universe akin to those created by Marvel and DC Comics, he said.
“It’s 24 pages of lessons, good-versus-evil,” he said of the initial installment.
Available through IndieGoGo, the project is already 102-percent funded and runs through August, he said. Production is expected in November.
The overarching series is expected to tackle difficult topics, from drug abuse to molestation, Herron said, noting he draws upon experiences he’s either witnessed personally or indirectly through close friends and family.
“We’re going to talk about all these issues, but not make it so graphic that it’s hard for a young reader to understand,” he said.
Stories like “The Scarlet Knight” also heavily reflect Herron’s experience growing up in the city’s urban core. Not only does the comic’s name harken back to his alma mater Southeast High School’s mascot, the family dynamic depicted in the story hits close to home, he said.
“Growing up off 59th and Agnes, I stayed with my grandparents. I lived in their attic. My mother worked hard. My father wasn’t around,” he said.
A version of his grandparents play an important role in “The Scarlet Knight.” In the story, the couple has raised two boys as brothers, though they actually are cousins. It’s a tale that explores the concept of nature versus nurture, Herron said.
“As adults, the two main characters, the boys, returned to their neighborhood after medical school — just like me coming back to Kansas City — they wanted to give back to their community as ER doctors, but they end up finding a magic gem,” he said, describing the plot.
Conflict largely comes from how the gem effects the cousins’ different personalities: One is ambitious, the other driven by a desire to help people, Herron said.
“It gives them the powers of the Scarlet Knight and the Black Knight. But the gem brings out their true intentions,” he said. “Basically, I’m writing about myself all through these comics. The characters in ‘The Scarlet Knight’ are both sides of my personality.”
Future stories are expected to provide allies and enemies within the neighborhood, he added.
“Angels, demons, minotaurs, cyclops — I’m bringing them all,” Herron said.
“I want this to be accessible across the board, but it’s also my story,” he continued. “I want people to look at who I am and be able to relate, to say, ‘Wow. This guy went to the same high school I did!’ A lot of people didn’t make it out.”
‘How far will you go?’
While inspiring youth and his peers in Kansas City remains a vital goal for “The Scarlet Knight” and its anticipated follow-up works, Herron said, his stories should also translate outside the metro.
“I put people in my likeness, but all of our neighborhoods are really the same. No matter where you go, an urban neighborhood is going to have the same issues,” he said. “In Alaska, maybe they’ll have more snow, but otherwise it’s going to be the same basic stories as Kansas City, Detroit, Miami.”
A planned story for one of Herron’s next comic books delves into a complex sexual attack in the era of the #MeToo Movement, he said.
“It will ask difficult questions, like if this person who has been hurt gains the power to hurt back, will they do it? Or remain true to who they are?” he said. “It’s about choices. When you’re pushed to your limit, how far will you go?”
As a lifelong film buff and comic book fan, Herron is excited to see how his storytelling can combine such universal themes with his own lived experience to touch an audience, he said.
With the debut of “The Scarlet Knight,” he’ll get a glimpse. But it might not have happened if he had kept waiting on someone else, Herron said.
“Some people doubt themselves or give excuses,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘I can’t do that. It’s too expensive.’ For Scarlet Knight, it’s costing me about $150 per page. A lot of people spend that on clothes.”
“Sometimes you have to open the door yourself.”