Indie Writer Frank Gogol on GRIEF, Kickstarter Comics, and International Collaboration

By Alisha Weinberger

Grief is a profoundly personal yet cross cultural experience. It’s a deeply complex sensation difficult to describe, let alone share with others without the fear of alienation.

Frank Gogol, indie writer and comic book creator, took up the daunting task of sharing such an intimate experience with his 84-page graphic anthology, appropriately entitled GRIEF. Gogol along with an international, diverse team of artists explores the often reductive “5 Stages of Grief”. With each genre panning short story, GRIEF takes a deeper look into each stage of the grieving process, producing a raw and incredibly sincere book. I had the privilege of corresponding with Gogol as he discussed the inspiration behind his graphic novel, what it’s like to self publish in the Kickstarter age, and collaborating with a team from very different walks of life.

Is your interest in comic books a recent or long time fostered passion? Are there specific creators or titles out there you take direct inspiration from?

I’ve been into comics since I was about 10 years old or so. Growing up, I loved Spider-Man and Batman, but around the time I was in high school, I started paying a lot closer attention to how the books were being written, and who was writing them.

There are a handful of writers who I follow pretty closely. Guys like Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Jeff Lemire, Al Ewing, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, and Grant Morrison to name a few.  

How do you feel about your chance of making the general public aware of your story and its message when the comic book industry is so saturated with superhero stories and Hollywood has taken center stage?

You know, it’s all very interesting to me. Right now, I think we’re sort of on the cusp of a model change for how writers establish themselves and break into comics. It used to be that you’d network and self-publish, and while that’s still a big part of it, in the age of blockbuster movies and comic book TV shows, I think crowdfunding like Kickstarter is a big component of getting on readers’ radars as an indie creator.

As for how big a splash I think I can make—I think it’s a case of getting out of something how much you put into it. I’ve been doing my best to make sure everyone I can knows about GRIEF and the Kickstarter campaign, and it seems to have paid off and paid off early since the book met its initial funding goal in the first 10 hours.

Is this your first foray into the comic industry? If so did you always envision your first project to have such personal and emotional gravity?

Yeah, this is my first comic book, and I definitely didn’t think my first one would be this personal. Part of that is because GRIEF wasn’t originally conceived as a book. It was just a few short stories I had written. Some of them personal, and others less so.

One day, I sat down to sort of take stock of what I had written and what I was planning to write, and I noticed the thematic link across all of the stories and decided to keep heading in that direction.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in a bar with Paul Allor (the upcoming writer of Clue at IDW) at NYCC back in October of last year that the idea of an anthology really coalesced for me. He told me that his first project had been an anthology of shorts like I was writing. And, to me, it made a lot of sense for me to follow in Paul’s footsteps. I mean, he was able to leverage that first work into eventually work at one of the major publishers, and that’s what I’d love to be doing someday.

What moment or incident inspired you to go from a comic book fan to a comic book creator (writer)? Was this always the medium you intended to choose for your story?

I think I’ve seriously wanted to write comics since I was about 18 years old. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I just fell so in love with comics medium that the path kind of set itself for me. I’m not sure there was a single moment or event that triggered this for me, but rather everything that I had ever experience and had ever read pushed me in this direction.

Grief spans multiple genres, from sci fi to horror to a more down-to-earth realism. Did you always intend for it to be that way, or was this something you later developed in working with a group of multidisciplinary, international artists?

When I started writing, I set down two edicts that I promised myself I was going to follow if I was going to pursue this dream.

The first edict was that I was going to tell stories about people first and foremost. I am a firm believer that character is the engine that drives all great stories, so I committed to creating stories about people.

The second edict I set down for myself was that I was going to tell lots of different kinds of stories. My favorite writers are the ones who are always trying new things and challenging themselves, and that’s the kind of creator I want to be.

And it’s that second edict that led to the array of different artist I worked with on the stories in GRIEF. I always try to work with an artist whose style matches and elevates the story I am collaborating with them on. For example, “The Debt” is a horror story, and I knew when I saw Kim Holm’s art that he was exactly the right artist to tell this story with me.

This is a project that is obviously deeply personal to you, but grief is something that crosses all cultures, and in many of the book’s stories you touch upon the lives of different characters and backgrounds, from gender, race, and age. How do you reconcile the challenges of writing characters from different walks of life and how does the diverse background of the artists that you’re working with contribute to this process?

There are two sides to this question for me, and they’re almost conflicting. When I write, I try to treat my characters like I try to treat other people—with respect. Like I mentioned earlier, I want to write lots of different kinds of stories, and part of that is writing lots of different kinds of characters. And I think the key to being able to write characters who are different than me is to be respectful of them and their cultures and their unique experiences.

But at the same time, I also believe that some stories aren’t necessarily mine to tell. Take for example “Different.” I’ve never been a transgender woman, but I had a story I really fell in love with and wanted to tell. So, I reached out to transgender comics creator, Kylie Wu, and asked if she’d be interested in helping me revise the script to make sure it was respectful and true to the experience of transgender women. The script and the story ended up being so much better for it, and I think that’s because I took the time to respect the people who it represented.

In making Grief, did you have certain revelations you wish you could have shared with your younger self? Do you have specific advice for those who may be going through a similar struggle you went through growing up?

Truthfully, I was in a pretty good place in my life by the time I wrote GRIEF. But I would definitely say that writing it reaffirmed for me the idea that the tough times and bad things do pass. When I was younger, I understood this, but it was sometimes hard for me to want to believe it when the tough times and bad things were happening. If anything, I’d remind my younger self that things do get better, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
GRIEF was penned not only for Gogol to share his own experiences, but with the hopes of touching upon the lives of relatable readers, and providing them a book he wish he had growing up.  The Kickstarter campaign for GRIEF is still live, and will be completed by this coming May. I deeply encourage readers to check out Gogol’s Kickstarter (http://kck.st/2oPUzaJ) and take note of his full roster of talented artists, names that will surely be leaving their inks on industry’s future books.