Spotlight Interview with Comics Writer Frank Gogol

Frank Gogol is a budding comic writer who has produced some impressive work in his short career so far. He is an alumnus of the Comic Experience program, and has displayed a lot of maturity in his writing. We met Frank last year on the con circuit and were immediately impressed.

His collection of short stories, Grief,  was printed by Source Point Press last year and has recently been nominated in the Best Anthology category for the 2018 Ringo Awards. Voting for industry professionals is still open.

Frank’s latest work is Dead End Kids. It is a three issue mini-series on which he is working with Nenad Cvitcanin and Sean Rinehart. It is also being published by Source Point Press. Issue #2 came out last week, and issue #3 is due on September 25th.

We spoke to Frank earlier this summer and below is the result of that conversation. Before we got started in the question and answer portion of this discussion, Frank and I were talking about the Final Order Cutoff, or FOC for those in the trade, for issue #1. He stated that people would still be able to order the issue past the FOC until the print run was gone. Low and behold, since we spoke the first issue sold out at the distributor. So, it is good.

Pop Culture Squad: Do you feel that you have changed as a writer between finishing Grief and getting to Dead End Kids?

Frank Gogol: Yeah. I think definitely. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t. I definitely feel like I am a stronger and more capable writer.

I sort of compare writing to lifting weights. The reason I started with three to five-page stories is because that is what I could handle at the time, and that is what I wanted to get good at. Similarly, if you walk into to a gym for the first time and pick up a 100lb dumbbell to do a curl, you’re not going to be able to, on your first day. You work your way up and build the muscles til you get there. So, I was more equipped to write a longer story after having worked on Grief, and some of the other stuff that I worked on in between, that hasn’t come out yet.

PCS: What do you find most different about the process of writing a series of short disconnected vignettes versus a full length comic book story that leads into a three-issue arc?

FG: Contrary to how it might seem, it was actually easier to write the miniseries. To write a story in five to ten pages and have it be satisfying with a beginning, middle, and end, takes a lot of going over it, and trying to pare it down and widen it.

For the miniseries, I had a bigger canvas. I could sort of work at a pace that is less “in a box.” Most people would assume that it is harder to write longer, but the best compliment that I ever got was when Action Comics #1000 came out. It was filled with short stories by incredibly talented professional comic book writers, and two people came up to me independently and said that the stories in that book did not connect with them or have the weight that the stories in Greif did. I don’t know if I agree with that compliment wholeheartedly, but it was really nice to hear. I think Action Comics #1000 was pretty good. Anyway, I think telling a short story is so much harder because the box is smaller.

PCS: With Dead End Kids, is it a complete story or will there be an opportunity for more after this initial series.?

FG: To answer that question would spoil the story. I am going to let it play out, and we can have that conversation on September 25th.

PCS: Ah ha. That sounds good. That’s a great way to answer that. Looking forward to it. What is your process working with Nenad? How would you compare it from Grief to Dead End Kids?

FG: That is kind of a unique experience because both Nenad and Sean, who lettered this, are two of my very first collaborators. The experiences both times around were good.

Sean is a absolutely a dream to work with. I don’t feel like letterers get enough credit, and he is a true master of his form. We would talk about letterers who we could model after. We most borrowed from Rus Wooton, who does a lot of lettering for Rick Remender. He lettered Death or Glory and Deadly Class, but he uses a sort of matte flat effects and balloons that seem like they are a part of the art rather than on top of it.

When I mentioned that kind of look that I was hoping to achieve, Sean got really into it and was super prepared to meet the goal. We had a lot of conversations about how we could get it done, and that has a big role in the coloring choices in the book as well.

Nenad is unbelievably professional. This book is sixty pages of interiors, plus a cover, and some other odd and ends, and I think he turned it around from September to December. I might have that a little off, but he is moving as fast as most full-time pro artists. Watching them both grow as artists and storytellers over about two and a half years, I guess, it is leaps and bounds.

I was looking at Grief and Dead End Kids the other day side by side, and Nenad’s backgrounds are so much more vibrant and textured. His facial expressions are improved, and his lines are surer. We had so many fewer rounds of edits this time because I knew what he needed, and he knew what I liked.

The whole experience was super smooth like a conveyor belt. From script, to art, to lettering there were almost no notes through the process other than some dialogue edits.

PCS: What went into getting Nenad and Sean on board for Dead End Kids?

FG: Um. Money!

PCS: Ha ha. Simple answer.

FG: Well when I started writing it, I didn’t have anyone in mind. Then, when I got about halfway through the first issue script, I realized that I was writing for them, because I like working with them. The vision that I had for the story really lent itself to the strengths that I found in them when we worked together before.

Nenad can draw aliens, but he really likes drawing from real life and more realistic scenarios. So, I feel, this book is something he would enjoy more than say an issue of Spider-Man. When I realized that, I started writing for them even more; hoping that they would be available. Luckily, Nenad was available, and Sean is sort of on retainer to do all my lettering when he can.

PCS: Let’s talk about Greif a little bit. What has completing the afterword to Grief accomplished for you? Because, it is heavy.

FG: It sure is. Sometimes I read it, and it is like an out of body experience. Like someone else was writing it. Honestly, so much of that was so long ago for me. I’ll be 31 soon, and most of that stuff happened half my life ago. Writing the book itself really trudged up a lot of that stuff. It sort of made me reevaluate how well I processed it and had me work through some of it again. By the time that I got to writing the afterword, it was like a hyper condensed version of that, one more time.

I think I wrote that almost four years ago at this point. Like I said when I look at it now I feel like it is someone else’s’ writing. I think that speaks to how cathartic it was and how much of a final act of writing that was.

PCS: I get it. Sometimes things need to be written down just to be written. Did you gain anything that your brought with you from the experience, or was it just a dumping and leaving behind?

FG: I am not a very good prose writer. So, from a practical standpoint, when I work, I need to get just a vomit draft out. and then go back and rework and reshape the material. The hardest part for me is always the first draft. Most people hate revising, but that is where the magic is for me.

It definitely was cathartic, and actually several times over. The whole process of writing the book and then the afterword and the getting ready for the Kickstarter, I think, became reflective at that point instead of cathartic. It was me realizing that the process had been cathartic.

PCS: You have said before that you always thought you would be a writer or a storyteller. Why is it the comic medium that you have found yourself writing in?

FG: So, here is an anecdote to try to explain this. When my fiance and I watch Netflix, either she picks something, or I spend hours scrolling. I have such a hard time finding things that interest me. I have a list of movies that I have to just put on one after another to watch them because I will never be moved to do it. I know I will probably get something out of them, but I like what I like, and it is very little.

After I picked up my first comic book, I was really just hooked. The first issue that I bought in my adulthood was Amazing Spider-Man #528. It is the first red and gold costume, just before Civil War happened. I read it, and immediately went to my comic shop and ordered every issue and tie-in to Civil War. I have been a “Wednesday Warrior” ever since. I have been keeping numbers this year. I am averaging about thirty books a week.

It is just my prefered comfortable medium of consuming story. I think it is the most versatile of all mediums, because it is words juxtaposed with images which no other entertainment does. It spoke to me, and I knew that I wanted to be a writer so I just married the two.

PCS: What is your favorite Fandom? It can be comics related.

FG: I really resent fandom.

PCS: The word?

FG: Not the word, the concept. Mostly because I associate it with the bad people. I really like Doctor Who. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but the Doctor Who fandom has some of the worst gatekeepers. Which is so much anti the message of Doctor Who that I can’t negotiate the two.

Honestly, I’d say it’s Power Rangers. I loved Power Rangers when I was a kid. I watched probably through the first six seasons. Then, I became a little too old for it, but when Boom! started putting out those comics, and they were sort of written for older readers, and started doing a lot of the things that comic books do, I really fell back in love with it. I has a really interesting mythology. It similar to Star Wars in the way that it is a Sci-Fi franchise with a spiritual side to it.

PCS: You work hard and are at a lot of comic shows each year. If you are not at the Source Point Press booth talking about your books, what is your favorite thing about comic conventions?

FG: That has sort of evolved over time. I grew up in New Jersey. I live in San Francisco now, but up until very recently New York Comic Con was my local show, and I went every single year that I can remember. I was always kind of in awe of how big it was and how much stuff there was. It still kind of gets me.

I like buying stuff too. I have a really nice silver age Fantastic Four collection. I think I am only missing three or four issues from the Stan Lee run. I just bought a #1.

I see comics as history, and I love owning pieces of the history. I just love digging through long boxes, honestly. There are certain runs that I truly cherish. I read mostly trades and digital these days, because it is easier to bookmark a page for reference, but there are special runs that hold a place in my heart that I want to own. Like the Hickman Fantastic Four run is probably one of my favorite runs of all time, and it’s one of the few that I have in single issues anymore. I had to dig for it, because when Hurricane Sandy hit, I lost it and a lot of other runs that I have had to slowly rebuild from the ground up. But that gave me an opportunity to do what I like, pick through long boxes.

I know a lot of my peers, when they become creators, don’t read comics or very rarely read comics anymore. I keep up with everything. I read as much Marvel and DC as I can. I love digging through comic boxes. I am as much a fan as I am a creator, and I think that is rarer than people might think.

PCS: Well we have a lot in common. I spend a lot of time going through dollar boxes trying to recover all my mid-eighties books that have been lost to time. Ok. Lightning round. Who is your favorite writer?

FG: I’d say it’s a tie between Rick Remender and Jonathan Hickman. I don’t think I could choose, but I like them for different reasons.

PCS: What is the first concert that you ever attended?

FG: I think it was the Eagles. I was young and my mom couldn’t get a babysitter.

PCS: Excellent. At Giants Stadium, right?

FG: Yeah.

PCS: Yeah. I was there too. Well thanks for doing this, and good luck with the book.

FG: Thank you. I really appreciate this.

You can follow Frank on Twitter at @frankgogol