With at least two new books around the corner for 2020, you could say that writer Frank Gogol has definitely been busy. Coming off of his anthology Grief, and his more recent miniseries, Dead End Kids, Gogol has already accomplished a great deal after just four years in the industry. With a keen eye for storytelling and character development, Gogol is a dynamic talent with heaps of potential.
I spoke with Gogol at C2E2 to discuss his work, the comic book industry, upcoming projects, and the importance of pre-ordering comics, among other topics.
AIPT: How’s the con going so far?
Frank Gogol: Oh, it’s going great!
AIPT: So you’ve written books like Grief, Dead End Kids, and now No Heroine. Has that been announced yet?
FG: It hasn’t been officially announced, but I talk about it frequently. We’ll officially announce it at Emerald City Comic Con, it will be in previews in April, and it will come out in June.
AIPT: Awesome! Is that a miniseries or an ongoing?
FG: It’s a three issue miniseries. The issues are a little bit over-sized. I like the three issue format. Each issue’s 28 pages, so a little bit more than your average comic book. I like to keep things cheap for people and give them a lot of value.
AIPT: That’s great to hear! I guess starting off with your first work, Grief. That’s, I believe, a ten-story anthology all about grief. How did that come about?
FG: The un-sexy answer is I was writing comics, and I started with short stories. I really wanted to flex some different muscles like trying a crime story or a drama with aliens and monsters. I was trying to learn the ropes to making comics, and that isn’t cheap so I thought I could put a bunch of these stories together, make some of that money back, and poor it into the next project.
AIPT: Gotcha. One of the things that definitely stood out to me about the anthology was the intermittent design work. Did you do any of the design work between stories? I thought that was great with the web and the dove. It really connected the stories together well.
FG: Yeah! One of the things I’m very interested in with comics is making them feel cohesive and an entire package. You’ll notice all the covers of Dead End Kids have a template to them, and the back covers match the front primary color. I like when there’s a nice sort of package like when you read a Jonathan Hickman book or anything with Tom Muller’s designs. When it came time for Grief, the stories are kind of disparate, and they don’t necessarily connect with one another. They’re kind of about different things, but I thought it would be a more holistic reading experience if there was a thread that went through. The art for the chapter pages is by the cover artist Dani Martins, and then the design work on those pages is by me. The idea was that the chapter pages told a secret eleventh story that you get as you read through the book while also tying each individual story together visually and as a package.
AIPT: That’s awesome! What story meant the most to you? I know the final story was sort of your first one. Is there one that stands out?
FG: They’re all very special to me for different reasons. Either they’re based on something from my life or someone very close to me’s life or something I witnessed, or they’re about a topic that’s very important to me. I’ll always love “Embrace” because it’s the first story I’ve ever wrote. To this day I think it’s probably the best thing I ever wrote. It’s just so… good. It’s a lot of people’s favorite story too. I think… There’s a story in the middle of the book called “The Prayer,” and that story is very autobiographical. A few details have changed, but that story’s pretty much ripped straight from my life, so that one’s pretty special to me, too. I like them all.
AIPT: Of course! They’re all great. Moving on to Dead End Kids, a three issue series you wrote. It was a great look at kids dealing with things they shouldn’t have to deal with, and I really liked the nonlinear order that you told things in.
FG: It’s easier to trick people. Haha.
AIPT: Well yeah, and I thought that even if it was nonlinear narratively, the way you told it lended itself to a more natural progression emotionally. You really saw each character’s anxieties and struggles grow more naturally that way. How did that come about?
FG: The way I design stories is that I have a character arc I want to tell or a question I want to explore, and Murphy’s anger issues with his situation growing up and the confusion around being young and dealing with that was a big part of it. There was also the idea of, does the stuff that happens to you when you’re a kid damn you to be a specific kind of person when you grow up? I try to have each issue be it’s own chapter with it’s own focus of the way we’re telling. The third issue is told a bit out of order to set up a twist at the end, to give it emotional impact, and to trick the reader a bit based on what happened the issue before. It’s just me practicing craft. Every issue is a new opportunity for me to try new things. It’s a great book.
AIPT: It is! It’s so good.
FG: Who’s your favorite character?
AIPT: I really like Murphy.
FG: He’s a little son of a bitch!
AIPT: I know, I know, but I also really Tank is an underrated character.
FG: And that was sort of my favorite parts because they’re all sort of stereotype kids. You’ve got the alt-girl and the big, dumb, lovable guy who’s the heart of the group and the conscience, but he’s also the literal heart of the group in that he has a heart problem. He’s the voice of reason. He’s the kid who’d tell me the right thing to do when I was younger, and I wouldn’t listen, and I’d be wrong.
AIPT: Yeah! And he stays quiet for a lot of the series, but he stand up when he doesn’t believe what they’re doing is the right thing to do. His heart was always in the right place.
FG: Yea, and I love the ending. Obviously, after all, I wrote it. When it came to that character, I thought that Matt Rosenberg did this really cool thing in 4 Kids Walk into a Bank, and I wanted to sort of steal it.
AIPT: For sure! So with Dead End Kids 2, not sure if you can talk about it at all, but will we be following the same characters and the same story?
FG: I can talk a little bit about it. We’re taking a bit of a True Detective approach, so same name and spiritual idea with kids in a crime story but with a new set of kids in a new place and a new time period. The new story follows three kids in 2008 who are all the children or relatives of people who were victim in one way or another of 9-11. On the one hand, it’s a heist story, but the real heart of it is these kids dealing with the trauma of 9-11 and what it does to their lives and families. I was 13 when 9-11 happened, so about the age these kids are, and this is a personal exploration in a lot of ways too. I have friends and relatives who were devastated in or died in 9-11, and later people who went to fight in war and died or were traumatized by that experienced. It’s taking a look a childhood trauma from a different angle, one that resonates immediately with a lot of people.
AIPT: Definitely. One thing I loved about the first book is the way you mirror the childhood trauma in these kids with the adults, so you see
FG: Clint Eastwood. Haha.
AIPT: Yeah, and how he experiences a loss, and the loss and grief that he feels is mirrored in the kids or their parents. It shows what that loss, if dealt with in some way, can sort of grow up to be.
FG: Exactly right.
AIPT: Murphy’s anger can manifest as it does in Ben’s father as well.
FG: I wanted set up a lot of potential futures for who Murphy could become and say, “This is one potential outcome for what happens if you don’t address your issues, and this could be what happens if you do.” I wanted to, not say but let the readers decide which path Murphy might head down at the end. There’s a reason for that. It’s a little open-ended for reasons I can’t talk about today.
AIPT: Of course! Now moving on briefly to a little bit about No Heroine, this is a very interesting look about addiction because it’s done through vampires. Why’d you choose that genre for a story like this?
FG: I am an unabashed Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. It’s my favorite anything of all time, and I’ve always wanted to write Buffy, at some point in my life, and not everybody gets to do it you know? To work on it for the TV show you have to be in the writer’s room or for the comic you have to work for BOOM! now, and only one person gets to write the book. I just decided that I was going to take it into my own hands and do my own version as a sort of love letter to Buffy, but told the way that I would tell it. We’ve talked about Grief and Dead End Kids, and the stories I tell deal with heavy topics like grief and trauma by looking at things in an honest way. I have in my family, in my life, and people that I’ve known, a lot of different histories of people who’ve had struggles with drug abuse and recovery. It’s a topic that pops up in Grief and in Dead End Kids, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and this story is a cool opportunity. It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer but if she was a heroine addict and what that looks like. It’s the sort of version I would tell.
AIPT: Awesome! I definitely think that the connecting thread through all of your works is your remarkable ability to choose very serious but relevant topics and construct it through character and theme, and building an entire narrative around it. What does that process look like for you and how has it evolved from Grief to No Heroine?
FG: I’ve been doing comics for a little over four years now. I wrote my first script in 2016 in April, so about four years ago, and the process is every-changing. I’m still relatively new at this, so I’ve been figuring a lot out. I can say that it’s gotten more comfortable over the years. My confidence in my work has gone up which I think has helped me tell better stories and not second-guess myself. I’ve also been able to surround myself with people whose opinions I respect, and I can get feedback from them that makes myself a better writer. I don’t know if I have a process per se, but I have checks and balances in place that allow for growth and incentivize my being a better writer and asking for help. I think one thing a lot of creative people struggle with is recognizing the value in your own work. I’m sure when you sit down to write an article, you look at it or older stuff and you like, “ugh.”
FG: Every creative person feels like that from movies to books to poetry to comics to journalism, they feel that way, and I’ve worked really hard to make sure that I don’t feel that way as often because you work really hard on comics. There really expensive and time consuming to make, and it’s an extremely collaborative process. There’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of joking around and making friends. The whole experience is really great. To let the end result to ever make you feel bad about what you did is just not healthy. I’ve had Grief out for a couple of years now, and someone bought the book yesterday, I saw them at the bar last night and they said they were enjoying it so far, and today they came up to the booth and said that it was one of the best books he’s read. That’s his opinion and I believe him. A lot of people have told me similar stories, and after enough times of people saying that your work has value, eventually you have to start listening. One thousand people aren’t going to lie to you individually and separately. It’s a weird conspiracy we have against ourselves. It’s hard to let go, and I’m better today than I was yesterday so you just have to keep going, you know?
AIPT: Definitely. I think that’s a great place to end with: Be better today than you were yesterday.
FG: Yep! That’s always the goal.
AIPT: Is there anything else you want to say or plug?
FG: For anyone reading, No Heroine is going to be in previews in April. It’ll be out in June. Actually, I’d like to take out my soap box titled “Pre-order Comics,” a lot of people don’t realize that pre-ordering comics is the most important part of making comics. The way publishers, especially small publishers who don’t have a lot of money to print with decide is from when comic shops will place orders. If your book gets 1000 orders, the publisher will probably order 1,100 copies. 1,000 was ordered and 100 will fill damages or re-orders. When a book ends up being a hit like when Dead End Kids did, it puts everyone in a tight spot.
People who pre-ordered it will get the book, and any shops that ordered an extra copy might have one for somebody who wants it, but indie books are high-risk for retailers so they don’t order extra copies if they order any at all. It’s super important for readers, who pre-order the books, to take note of books they’re interested in, go to the shops, and pre-order the books. Pre-orders are what drive indie sales, retailer sales, keep publishers in business, and make sure readers get the book in their hands. Pre-orders are the linchpin of the whole industry, so if you’ve read this interview and you’ve liked what No Heroine sounded like, pre-order it!