Welcome back to another spotlight interview. In this session, we talked with comic writer Frank Gogol.
Frank Gogol is a comic writer who if following up the hit series Dead End Kids with his latest creator-owned story, No Heroine. He is an alumnus of the Comic Experience program and also produced the Ringo Award nominated anthology Grief. All three of those books are published by Source Point Press.
No Heroine is a three issue mini-series on which he is working with Chris Madd on art, with colors by Shawna Madd and letters by Sean Rinehart.
We spoke to Frank in May, and below, is the result of that conversation.
You can find the audio recording of our discussion below, and we transcribed a big portion of it for you as well.
We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Pop Culture Squad: Frank! Welcome back to Pop Culture Squad.
Frank Gogol: Good to see you again or to hear you again, I suppose.
PCS: Sure. So, let’s start out with this. We are on the verge of a new “Frank Gogol” story. What do you want people to know about No Heroine, in terms of the story?
FG: That is a big question. I’ve been talking about this book for, what is it the middle of May, for about six months now, and I still don’t really know how to say everything succinctly. I guess, this is my love letter to Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. I grew up on Buffy. I started watching Buffy, the Vampire Slayer way too young. I was eight when it premiered in 1997, and I’ve been watching it pretty religiously ever since.
So, I was a little too young for it, but I watched it and knew sort of immediately, instinctively, it was something different, something special. I always loved the storytelling, and it has definitely informed my storytelling. Joss [Whedon] is a dark guy. He writes these stories, and he really sticks the knife in and twists it. I think that’s the stories I try to tell. It’s definitely the case in No Heroine. It doesn’t pull a lot of punches, it’s a dark book about a young woman dealing with drug recovery, and there are vampires too, I guess. But that isn’t really the point.
PCS: I think that is a good starting point. This book is clearly not the slice-of-life or reality-based books that I have read of yours. How did you find having the shackles of human-only characters being removed? As you said, it’s not necessarily a vampire book. There are vampires in it, but there ARE vampires in it?
FG: When I starting writing four years ago last month, and I remember about that time right before and right after. I was sort of setting down some sort of principles or pillars for myself as a writer, like the kind of stories I want to tell and the things that I would not do and things I would do. One of the things I said I would do, and I think I stuck to this pretty well, was to tell character forward stories and have a genre and action take a back seat in favor of really good character work. Weather its good or not, it’s definitely taken a front seat. Definitely in Dead End Kids and definitely in Grief.
In this book, I wanted to do the same thing. So, the vampires are not an afterthought in the story but an afterthought in the creation of the story. I wanted to tell a story that gave a fair and honest, sort of “gray space”, look at the recovery part of addiction. We have a lot of pop culture that deals with addiction. We see this sort of phase of people’s lives where they are using drugs, and we see the rehabilitation phase quite a bit, but we don’t usually see the part that comes next, which is, for the people who find success in rehab, the recovery phases.
Literally the rest of their life, they wake up every day and have to tell themselves “No. No more drugs,”, every single day they wake up. I think just based on my own life and experience having two parents who struggled with addiction and having some of my very close friends that I came up with that struggle with addiction and not do very well over the last few years, it’s something that has been at the front of my mind. With what people go through, it’s very easy to demonize them and say they are terrible people who don’t care who they hurt or be overly sympathetic and say “you know these people have a disease, and they can’t help themselves”.
That takes the agency away from people, and that’s what makes us human, right? The ability to choose and have some sense of control. Just, in my own experience, it’s not really that black and white. These are people who have definitely done bad things. They’ve hurt people they care about, but they also wake up every day and say “I want to be better than I was yesterday and I want to try to fix this”, and they don’t always know how to do that. They don’t always successfully make it better. Sometimes they make it worse.
I was really interested in telling a story about that kind of character, and that is sort of where Kayla came from. She was very Buffy-esque. She fights monsters, but she really is just this kind of shitty person who has done a lot of terrible things, and hopes she can make up for it on day, and is doing a terrible job about it.
PCS: And the concept is: Everyday, you try to do better. Right?
FG: Exactly. Unfortunately for Kayla, she gets in her own way and makes things worse. That is sort of where the title came from. I thought it was a very clever play on words at the time, she can’t use drugs in there so “no heroin”. She is also really terrible at being a hero because she does it for the wrong reasons, and she doesn’t have a high success rate. So; she is no heroine.
PCS: So, I know he did covers for Dead End Kids, but how did your collaboration with Chris Madd come about, and what did you learn from it. As you collaborate on sequential storytelling with different artists, what was different about this interaction?
FG: So, interestingly enough, the origin story of No Heroine, actually, puts it before Dead End Kids on the timeline. We started working on the first issue two years ago this month [May] and then Dead End Kids got written that same month and went into production after No Heroine #1 started. So, it’s sort of been like the long scenic route around to get here, but Chris and I go back quite a ways. Before I moved out to California, we shared a comic shop in New Jersey, Comics Crypt of Eatontown, and we were both ‘Wednesday Warriors”. We were both there at 11:00 AM to grab our books, and it was very much like the barber shop kind of comic shop with people hanging around and talking shop.
PCS: Yeah, Ed Catto had visited there and wrote about going there and picking up some books from their bargain bin and stuff.
FG: Brian [Stretton] is a great retailer. It’s a great shop. I had a lot of good Wednesdays there, and Chris and I were friendly. We chatted and talked shop. I was, at that time, just getting started writing, and I was vaguely aware that he was doing art stuff in comics, and he painted some of the murals for the shop, but we never really talked about collaboration.
Then I moved to California at the end of 2017 and when Grief came out in 2018 in print, I was doing the con circuit hand selling the book. We were both at a show outside of Philly, Great Philadelphia Comic Con, and we got to talking after hours, just catching up and finally talking about making comics. We had a very standard writer-artist friend conversation: “Hey, if there’s ever any book you’re interested in doing, let’s talk. I would love to do something with you.” It’s very much a courtesy conversation. We can all only do so many books. There’s only so much money to go around, and you want to work with everybody, but you sort of leave it in the air.
That’s where I left it with Chris because I knew I was getting ready to write Dead End Kids as soon as I get home. But on that Sunday night, I got on the plane back to San Francisco, and by the time I got off at SFO six hours later, I had written the whole first script. It, sort of, just poured out of me. It was equal parts thinking about Chris’s art, thinking back on my experience having people with addiction in my life, and wanting to tell sort a Buffy-like story, and those things coalesced.
I think Chris’s art was sort of the last key because those other things were in my life already. They are things I can’t divorce myself from, and it was Chris’s very horror, indie style of art that really clicked for me.
The collaboration has been wonderful. Chris is really a talented guy. I’m a pretty lazy scripter if I’m being honest. Not because I’m lazy, but because I think people who overscript get in their artist’s way. So, I write pretty lean, and I usually do a lot of work on the back end with the revised dialog after the arts done. So, Chris really carries a lot of the work in developing the visual and the ecstatic of the book based on minimal notes around the structure of the story, and it’s just been great. Chris is a funny guy. He sneaks a lot of jokes in there like…. Did you get to read the first issue?
PCS: I did read it. It was good. I really enjoyed it.
FG: So, there’s little things in there. Like, there is a little montage of Kayla putting together a street found weapons kit, and there’s one panel of just a guy popping out of like a dumpster for no reason. It’s hysterical, when you get to it, and there are all kinds of little Easter eggs. There is a cover for Dead End Kids #2, which Chris drew, as a poster in the hallway…
PCS: I did see that.
FG: There is one that didn’t get into the book, but almost did. There is a scene in a church with a big stained-glass window. It depicts the “last temptation” of Christ, and it has Jesus, which was a little visual metaphor for temptation and addiction that Chris thought of. But when he first turned in the page, it was Buddy Christ from Dogma, not the classic, you know serious Jesus. I let that go to inks before I even realized it was there. If I didn’t catch it, Chris definitely would have let it go to print, and it would have been a whole thing.
That, in a nutshell, says everything about the collaboration. It’s comfortable. It’s very collaborative. We go back and forth on a lot of things. Chris has brought to the story beyond what I had in the initial script and the same with Shawna [Madd]. Chris’ daughter is coloring the book.
I have not been shy about saying the colors are my favorite part of making comics because it’s the difference between a really, really, well drawn coloring page and something that has depth and light to it. That is not a knock at pencilers and inkers. They are hard workers and they have so much more talent than me, but I really love colors, and she’s bringing crazy oranges and purples to the book
PCS: I also tend to focus on color. Especially with modern books. Especially with indie books, because a really good colorist will help to make or break a book. Occasionally, it’s the lettering that will kill a book, but Sean [Rinehart] is great on this book, as he was before.
FG: Usually, I have a lot of direction for lettering. I have very particular sort of ideas what good lettering and great letting is, and with Dead End Kids, I was very hands-on. It was a lot more us talking and referencing a lot of Russ Wooton’s stuff.
With this one, I kind of just let Sean do his thing. I wanted to kind of experiment with my own process when I was writing this book, which with a varying effect was a good thing. I didn’t write a lot of action prior to this; so, I made action a big focus of the book and found a way to do character work through action. So, it still felt like a book that I wrote.
The sound affects in the first issue, and especially in the second issue, really are more mainstream in their visuals than what we have done before. Writers hire other people to do the work, because they can do it better, and I trust these people to do a better job than I would have if I were micro managing them.
I keep telling people in interviews, I love Dead End Kids. I like that story a lot. I did not have fun writing it. With this book, I got to stretch my legs a little more, and I genuinely had a good time coming up with different ways to kill vampires that were off the beaten path and something you’ve never seen before. The second issue is basically one long chase/street fight scene inner disbursed with other scenes and different structures. This was a more fun book, and I’m writing Dead End Kids 2 now, and I can feel like that has trickled over into the Dead End Kids universe.
PCS: That’s good. That’s a very positive thing. I understand the love, and I also understand not enjoying [Dead End Kids]. There was a lot in there, but to be able to grow and then take that, that is fantastic.
FG: Yeah, it’s just year over year looking back at the first four books that I’ll have made. It’s basically one per year for the last four years. They just seem like the strides getting a little wider, a little looser, and I like my pace and being more comfortable. I was pretty uncomfortable when I wrote Dead End Kids. I didn’t mean for it to be anything like anyone has taken it to be. I just wrote a story as best I could. It is what it is. It’s the second book I ever wrote, and this is the third, and the next one will be the fourth. That’s the progression. Right?
PCS: Yup. So, you mentioned that the first script for No Heroine flew out of you. As you develop voices for characters, do they come fully formed, or is there an incubation process? Especially for this book, with the voices and the separate characters, how did that work for you?
FG: You know, there is a small enough body of work right now that people can’t probably see it, but all my characters talk exactly the same. They all just swear.
PCS: That’s true, but they’re not. I found that specifically, especially in Dead End Kids, where I could just look at the words that were being said without looking where the word balloon was going to, and know who was saying it. There are specifics that you have in there. Everyone has their own little voice.
FG: Yeah, I’m kidding. Generally, when I write, I’m channeling something else, like someone else’s voice. Someone I know or some famous person. That’s usually where the voice comes from, but for me good dialogue is not so much how things are being said but what those people are saying.
There was a scene that I cut from the last page of the first issue of Dead End Kids. Essentially all three kids, Murphy, Tank, and Amanda, are each saying one word of a three-word sentence; but each one word sort of characterizes who they are. So, Murphy swears, and when you get to Tank, he says “crap” instead of “shit”. It’s like in those little moments where you know a character reveals themselves through the dialogue more so than what they are saying. That is what is important for me.
I like quiet moments. Those quiet moments like the walkie-talkie scene with Ben and Murphy going back and forth. I think that’s probably one of the best I’ve ever written. It’s just so quiet and its simple, and I think it flew under the radar compared to like the torture scene.
PCS: I’ll give you that. That scene was very instrumental in dragging me into the book. That level of understanding and poignancy between the two characters was just very clear, and I said, “Ok, I care about this; I want to know more about it.”
FG: That was sort of developed by necessity. I wrote the first two pages, and I liked the first two pages because it has a cinematic opening. Sort of gliding down a street towards this dead end, and then you get the paged turned and you see Ben’s body flooding in the water. I thought, “Shit! on page two, there’s this dead kid that no one knows anything about and no one cares about.” So, I had to write forward and retroactively to make you care about him so that second page had more weight.
PCS: And it worked.
FG: Yeah, but I found, and I’m realizing things this week about my writing as I write the second series. Part of my process is writing a really bad draft and getting the skeleton down. Then going and taking one scene at a time and finding the artful arc of that scene and really retroactively mining my own continuity.
A good example is having that second page, in the first volume, where you got this kid you don’t care about, but it’s dead. How do I later make that pay off in a way that makes you care and sort of reinforces what came before. I don’t know if I’m explaining that really well,
PCS: It works. I totally understand what you are saying. So, lets come off comics for a little bit. How are you handling this public health crisis? The press outside of the Bay Area has been pretty quiet about your part of the world. It seems like people are behaving. Is that the case?
FG: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m disappointed at how many people I see outside, but I also recognize that I’m outside and that’s how I am seeing them.
PCS: How often are you outside?
FG: I go out for a one hour walk every morning, because I need to get some kind of exercise and like some space for myself. For a while, I wasn’t wearing a mask, and it wasn’t mandatory. But now, it’s the law, and I do. The number of people I see not wearing masks and kind of loitering around… Granted, when I walked to work the same path back in the old days of normal, they’re the same people. So, I don’t know if this is any worse or better. It’s fine, it’s quiet here. Everything I’m reading is pretty positive. My local comic shop is going to be able to open for curbside for the first time on Monday. So, it’s a big plus.
It’s been fine. My wife and I are both working. Our health insurance is really good; so If we got sick, it wouldn’t be a problem. We are very comfortable, and I’m very aware of that fact. I’ve spent most of this time, when I wasn’t writing or promoting No Heroine, trying to figure out ways to raise money for comic book shops and connect people who can help one another.
I had a shitty childhood, and a ton of people help me over the first nineteen or twenty years of my life. I have never forgotten that, and now that I’m in a position to be able to help other people a little bit in my thirties, it’s really important to me to do. That’s kind of how I’ve been spending my time, and that’s been keeping me busy.
PCS: So, along those lines, it’s one of those things I wanted to get into. You get to every convention you can so you can get your book in front of people. You get people to buy it, and you do a good job of it. There are no cons right now. How does that affect your psyche, finances and what are you doing to offset it? I have seen you doing some stuff in terms of charities and helping retailers. What are you doing with that?
FG: Not having cons is a bummer, but I’m also pretty practical. It is what needs to happen, and spending my time being pissed off and upset about it isn’t going to change anything. Honestly, for me, it’s been a small blessing. I did about twenty cons last year, and that schedule was all set the year before in 2018. Then I got engaged in December of 2018, and we planned our wedding around cons. I was not home for the three weeks preceding the wedding and for the three weekends after it. I’m surprised she was at that altar when I got there.
We didn’t get to spend a lot of together last year, and it’s been nice to hang out and spend time together and catch up a little bit. We both had new jobs last year and cons and Dead End Kids took me on the road a bunch doing signings and stuff. So, I’m sad there aren’t cons, and I definitely miss it. I, also, understand the need for it not to be, and there’s a definite silver lining for my personal life, so I’m not mad.
In terms of making up for it, I’ve definitely been trying to be part of the virtual cons and stuff like that, and that’s been fun. It’s weirdly nice to be able to live your day and then just go sit in front of a computer for an hour and do a panel and then go back to your life, rather than back to the show floor and stand there for four more hours. Another silver lining, I know it’s not the future, and it’s not going to be the way things are forever, but it’s nice while it lasts.
In terms of fundraising and charity, it’s important to me. A lot of people have helped me along the way, and it’s something that I’m lucky to be in a position to do for other people or at least try. I’ve been doing a number of things, and some things we haven’t talked about publicly, but sometimes you have to talk about it.
The more recent one is the retailer relief variant for No Heroine. We did a short run of twenty-five copies of a Chris Callahan cover. Chris did the Misplaced for Source Point Press last year. He was nice enough to do a cover for me this year. We repurposed that art, did a virgin variant.
They are extremely limited. There are twenty-five of them. Fifteen of them were made available for fans to purchase. They are fifty bucks a piece. Every one of those dollars went towards putting the other set of retailer relief bundles – copies of Grief and Dead End Kids and some single issues – just donated straight to shops to give them products so they would have some way to bring in a little bit of money. Those other ten copies were donated to shops themselves so they could have them to raffle off or sell or whatever they wanted to do to bring money directly into the shops. So that was one thing.
I worked really closely with Travis [McIntyre] at Source Point Press to do some private fundraising to be able to donate bundles of Source Point Press books to comic shops. It’s sort of the same idea, just a different larger scale version of it. We raised seven or eight thousand dollars, just very quietly. We were able to give those books away and cover the shipping and not make any money and not lose any money on the product, just essentially cover the cost of storage and printing, but that’s been really nice because those went out to a lot of shops where I don’t know the retailers, and having them reach out to me to say “thanks”. That’s been really nice, not that I’m doing for the thanks, but to know that even the people I don’t know are getting taken care of. I’ve been doing stuff myself that has been focused on retailers that I do know because that sort of what I have to work with in terms of the network. So, it’s a little here and a little there trying to think of new different things as we go on. It can’t fix everything, but I think every drop in the bucket helps.
PCS: Cool. I need to get back to the publication schedule for No Heroine. I’m looking at Previews, and I think that by July/August things will start to make sense again. So, what is the schedule for No Heroine? How many issues is it, first of all?
FG: It’s another three-issue mini. The issues are a little bit bigger. So, there a little bit more room for them to breathe. I like the three-issue format because it’s faster. You get the story faster. It’s cheaper for the people buying the book who don’t know who I am and don’t have to invest as much, and it’s a little bit easier to create than a six-issue. It’s a lot easier in terms of time and resources, and that’s sort of where I am as a story teller. Dead End Kids 2 will be a four- issue series. I’m leveling up slowly.
In terms of the schedule, there is a lot that’s not 100% clear to me right now, and that’s because it is day by day for everyone in that regard. So, the order cut off for issue one is next Friday, a week from today, that’s May 22nd. That’s essentially a month after the original cut off of April.
[NOTE: It is still possible to get in on ordering No Heroine #1. Check with your LCS]
So, we are essentially a month behind schedule, but there are somethings that are kind of curious. Diamond is putting out a joint May and June catalog. I get that it will speed things along in terms of catching up, but many people are double exposing books in the same month and orders are going to be much less.
PCS: It’s going to be weird. Like I said, until July/August, I think things are going to be real weird. I watched Steve Geppi’s first public speaking in the quarantine, and one of the things that was interesting was retailers coming at him with about cleaning up Previews and trying to make it more manageable for shops.
FG: Yeah, I’ve seen retailers do it in person, and a few of the ones I know will go through section by section, and they will rip the Marvel section out when they are done with it and throw it aside so the book is smaller. That just tell me that it needs to be like three catalogs.
PCS: So, I’m hoping for retailers’ sack that they take some of that advice because that was one of the things they talked about.
FG: One of the real possibilities, at least smaller publishers might dump Diamond because they’re finding that direct distribution is viable and that there are other distribution options that can be taken seriously. So, I mean, who know? I really don’t have a left or right opinion about it. I don’t really care what happens, I just hope whatever the end result is, it’s better than what we have.
PCS: Yup, that what we can all hope for. So, we have Dead End Kids 2. Do you have an estimated time when we are going to see that?
FG: I did? It was on the schedule for November, December, January and February. Depending on how things pan out, it could stick to that. It could be pushed to next spring. Source Point Press and I are talking about it pretty regularly and sort of figuring out what makes sense. The Winter is the less important window compared to Summer in terms of publishing, but this winter might be even more depressed than usual.
So, there are sort of economic and consumer considerations to do there. I do care when it comes out that people will check it out, and I think it’s a better story. So, whenever it comes out, I’ll be excited to put in people’s hands. Its super dark. It makes the first one look like a kid’s cereal commercial.
[Note: Make sure you listen to the audio for a conversation with Frank about House/Powers of X and Jonathan Hickman]
PCS: Ok. Alright. I’m ready for it. So, this is great. I’m very excited. We will be talking soon, I guess. Hopefully, we will be in person sometime before the end of the year.
FG: Fingers crossed.
PCS: It’s very weird. Thanks again. Let’s end on a high note. So, hopefully we, at some point we can get back together, and we will be looking forward to both No Heroine and Dead End Kids 2, and I think by the time this comes out and it’s not too late to consider Dead End Kids for Ringo Awards.
FG: June 22nd, something like that.
PCS: Some person you know suggested Dead End Kids #1 as a single issue of the year. I don’t know who that would be.
FG: I think I might remember, but I won’t name names.
PCS: But anyway. Thanks a lot. And we will talk to you soon.
FG: Take care. Good talking to you.