It’s not likely that Frank Gogol (The Comic Jam) is very different than you. He loves comic books, he’s known his share of tragedy in life. Like many of us, he has a love for writing, too. However, unlike many of us, Gogol has taken the numerous sorrows of his past and put them into comics. His new book Grief deals with the tragedy and loss he’s experienced in a relatively short life in ways that are fresh, varied and engaging.
In an effort to further pursue his dream, he launched a Kickstarter this week that you can view by click here. He took a moment to discuss the writing process, his inspiration and what has guided him during this time.
Graphic Policy: Grief draws a great deal from your personal tragedies in life. How long have you been writing these stories?
Frank Gogol: I feel like I’ve been writing these stories all my life, but the truth is I finished the first script, which was for the story “Embrace” in March of last year. I’ve always wanted to write comics, and had a few false starts over the years, but at the end of the 2015 I had to tell myself to commit or move on. So, I committed and signed up for the Intro to Comic Book Writing course with Comics Experience under the guidance of former Marvel and IDW editor Andy Schmidt. And it was like that class unlocked something in me. After that, the stories started to pour out and I wrote all of the stories in Grief in about six months.
GP: The stories in Grief are extremely varied in their content. Would you say this is a reflection of dealing with your singular emotional conflict in various ways? Or are each of these a catharsis of their own memories?
FG: The variety of the stories is both by design and by accident. Let me explain. When I had begun writing these stories, they were never meant to share space in any kind of collection. I had talked with Steve Orlando (Justice League of America, Supergirl) about breaking into comics, and his advice was to finish some stories, show some range, and get a portfolio in front of some editors, and so that’s what I tried to do. And it was about the time I had five or six of the stories that I started to see that, while they were incredibly different in terms of content, they did share a thematic link in that they were all about characters that were grieving. So, I ran with that and started crafting the next few stories to fit that thematic through-line.
The stories themselves, for the most part, deal with things that have happened in my or around my life. Some of them, like “Prayer” are essentially autobiographical, while others like “Cassandra” were inspired by events I witnessed and tied to stuff that was going on in my life. All of these stories, though, are cathartic. Stories and storytelling are how I’ve coped with and moved passed (mostly) my traumas.
GP: Drawing so much from experiences that are so tragic and yet unique to you, what do you think will appeal most to the average reader?
FG: What I think is so great about anthology-style books is that because there are a variety of stories, even if one story doesn’t speak to you, another might. There’s something for everyone. And I think that’s one of the virtues of Grief. If you don’t like stories that are dramas, there’s a couple of sci-fi stories in there for you. If you don’t like superhero stories, maybe the horror stories will be more your speed.
Grief is something that is universally experienced, so even if a reader doesn’t know first-hand what it’s like to raise an autistic son, they will understand how it feels to be frustrated or to feel like a failure.
GP: How has your life been changed as product of working through these stories?
FG: Truthfully, I think I’m in a much better place than I was before writing the stories. I had thought I had worked through a lot of the traumas in my life, but writing these stories really showed me how much further I had/have to go. I think certain terrible things we carry with us for the rest of our lives, but there’s definitely a healthy way to carry them, and I think that’s where I am now.
GP: Working with a wide variety of artists in this anthology series, how decide you assign them to each story? How much of the artist’s own personal trauma and tragedy were considered?
FG: One of the best and worst things about being a comic creator in the internet age is that you can work with virtually anyone anywhere on Earth. It’s great because you can find collaborators from different places and with different backgrounds. The downside is that it’s tougher to build relationships with your collaborators when you only ever communicate with them via email.
So, I don’t know for a fact that any of my collaborators incorporated any of what they’ve been through into their art, colors, or letters. But I am a firm believer that life experiences, good and bad, influence how creators make their art, so I’m sure that my collaborators’ experiences are there on the page.
GP: In the Kickstarter, Grief is an exclusively digital book. As a creator, where do you think the future of comics lies? Is a peaceful co-existence between physical and digital or will be left behind?
FG: I know that some people are concerned about digital coming in and replacing paper comics, but I don’t think that’s something to worry about. For me, each serves a similar, but different purpose. Paper comics are for reading, but also collecting and bagging and boarding. Digital comics, though, are for reading and re-reading. Over the last few years, especially as I’ve been studying comic writing craft, digital comics have just made more sense for me. I read comics, but I revisit the stories and study the art, so having them larger and on my computer screen really helps with that. I do still buy some paper comics, but it’s mostly writers I follow and my friends who are getting books printed. Otherwise, I stick to digital.
GP: Your Kickstarter looks amazing, by the way. Being your first, what help did you receive or what insight helped you to forge something as impressive as this?
FG: Thanks! I really was a labor of love.
If there is one person I am most indebted to for how the campaign page turned out, it’d have to be Tyler James from the ComixLaunch podcast. I started listening to ComixLaunch about a year ago, thinking that someday I’d run a Kickstarter, and the knowledge Tyler offers how Kickstarter is invaluable.
That said, many, many people helped me with getting this page right. I’m a part of a couple of online communities, and I reached out to the members of those communities often for feedback, and that was really helpful, too.
And, on top of all of that, it certainly didn’t hurt that by day I worked in marketing and have a background in graphic design.
GP: In terms of being promotion and getting the word out, as a new writer leading indie talent, I imagine it’s difficult to really get your project out there. What have been the keys to your success in that regard?
FG: That’s probably the biggest hurdle in front of any new creator. Those online communities I mentioned have been a big help with starting to build a following, though. Reddit communities and Facebook groups geared toward comic books are really great spots to share indie comics because they are extremely targeted to begin with. I think, for me, the key to getting people excited about my work has been interacting with them. It’s one thing to write a story and share it. It’s another, more powerful thing, to connect with a reader through a story.
GP: What advice would you offer to other people who are looking to get their own comic book project funded and developed?
FG: I’m not sure I have anything thing revelatory to offer that hasn’t been said before and often, but the piece of advice that really helped me was to start and finish a project. I started with very manageable 5-page stories, which allowed me to start and finish a project easily and learn the process. It’s got a domino-like effect. You finish one, and then you finish a second, and then a third, and it gets easier each time.
GP: Moving forward, do you feel Grief has helped you leave some of the heartache and pain behind you?
FG: Yes, definitely. I don’t hold it as an absolute truth, but I do think that a lot of people write because they have stuff to work through. It’s definitely true for me. Like I said earlier, some stuff we carry with us forever, but we can learn to carry it in a healthy way, and writing Grief helped me to do that with some of my traumas.
GP: What story are you working on next?
FG: I’ve got a couple of scripts ready to go right now. I’m always trying to do or learn something new when I write, so no two are the same, either. One story is Silence of the Lambs meets superheroes. Another is an all-ages story that deals with what it’s like to be adopted. There’s a third script about artificial intelligence and guilt. I’m not sure which will be next just yet, but I do know I have a lot of stories to tell still. Right now, I’m focusing on making sure the Grief Kickstarter campaign is a success and offers backers a lot of value.
You can check out the Grief Kickstarter here.
Patrick Healy is a writer/artist who makes pins and chews bubble gum. He has ample amounts of both. But you can find his pins here.