Dead End Kids: An Interview With Frank Gogol

Dead End Kids is the latest comic book from writer Frank Gogol. Joining him on the title are Nenad Cviticanin and Sean Rinehart, on art and lettering, respectively. His previous work includes the anthology Grief. Dead End Kids is a three issue mini-series to be released by Source Point Press.

Tim Midura: Dead End Kids was inspired by thinking about your childhood, but without rose-colored glasses. Can you elaborate on this?

Frank Gogol: The book came about because of two things, really.

The first thing was my love-hate relationship with coming-of-age stories. Some of the most formative and important stories to me live in this genre–IT, Stand By Me, The Sandlot, and others. Nothing hits closer to home for me than a good found-family story.

The other thing that lead to Dead End Kids was that, about a year and a half ago, I turned 30, and I really started getting nostalgic for my childhood. All these memories of hanging out outside with my friends, building clubhouses in the woods, and being in before the streetlights came on started coming back to me. All of the quintessential “best years of your life” stuff.

But the more I thought on it, the more I remembered that those so-called golden years were actually really bad for me. I’ve talked publicly before about how my parents struggled with drug addiction when I was growing up, so home was really never a very stable place for me. That’s why I was outside so much. And the same was true for the kids I grew up with, for different reasons. But we kind of relied on one another and took care of one another and were really this very found-family support system that we all very desperately needed back then.

So when I sat down to write my version of a coming-of-age story, these were the kinds of things I had in mind. The general formula for these kinds of stories–and this is the part I hate–goes: some kid has a problem (usually at home), he/she meets another group of kids, they become friends, everyone gets fixed, and then at the end of the summer, they part ways and that’s that–but that last part has just never rung true to me.

On the surface, Dead End Kids is a story about three kids in the late 90s trying to solve their friend’s murder. At its core, though, it’s a story about four kids from broken homes who find stability on one another and what happens when that stability is ripped away because one of them is murdered.

Tim Midura: Nostalgia is something that’s being mined very heavily for pop culture. Why set this story in the ’90s as opposed to now?

Frank Gogol: When I write a story, everything–from the supporting cast to the setting–is built to support the main character’s arc. So, one of the things I ask myself when building a story is “What setting/time period really supports this story?”

The late 90s and early 2000s were, also, my sort of formative years. I was about these kids’ age in 1999, so part of the setting comes from me drawing on and writing about what I know. This book is, probably, more autobiographical than I even realize, and I think that lends a genuineness and authenticity to the characters and setting.

The setting also let me play with some cool stuff from the time. One of the kids–Amanda–her mom is a Y2K Doosdayer, and there’s a really good, story-driven reason for that. And if the story were set any other time, that wouldn’t be on the table. There’re lots of bits like that in the book, too.

And I guess, if I’m being honest, like I said earlier, my own nostalgia definitely played in to this. Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m fucking tired of seeing the 80s. Let it go, people.

Tim Midura: Your first work was Grief, which says it all in the title. Dead End Kids is about trauma. Why do you want to continue these themes? Aren’t comic books for kids?!

Frank Gogol: Listen, I’m a firm believer that all great writers are people who’ve had fucked up shit happen to them. And yes, comic books are for kids, so I write about this stuff so that kids can get the trauma they need to become writers themselves. I’m creating the next generation, here!

I kid. Again, this falls into the whole me-writing-what-I-know bit. No two ways about it–I’ve been through a thing or two and rather than let these traumas, for lack of a better word, define me or hold me down, I’m drawing on them and owning them.

The other thing, here, is that a lot of the stuff I am writing about is stuff that is still underrepresented in comics. There are things that I want to help give a voice to and those things are at the core of everything I write.

You tell me about another comic that has a kid in foster care, a kid with a life-threatening heart problem, a kid who’s mom’s gone off the deep end, and a kid who’s dead. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Tim Midura: You worked with Nenad Cviticanin and Sean Rinehart on Grief. What made you want to bring them back into the fold?

Frank Gogol: Honestly, Nenad and Sean are two of the best collaborators you could ask to work with. They absolutely killed it on Grief. And when I sat down to write Dead End Kids, without even knowing it, I was writing this book for them.

Nenad’s jam is dramas. He’ll draw an alien or a monster if you ask him to, but he really likes drawing from life. And while a murder mystery is a little outside of the bounds of most people’s reality, it is still just a drama with high stakes. And drawing kids is HARD. Like Rob-Liefeld-trying-to-draw-feet hard. But he absolutely killed it. He also killed Ben on page 2, that monster. But you bet your ass that dead kid was drawn perfectly.

And Sean. This guy just gets lettering, which is such a crucial, yet categorically underappreciated aspect of comics. I probably talked longer with Sean than I did with Nenad about the aesthetic and the look of this book. I had a vision for the lettering and he elevated it.

So, about halfway through, I realized I was writing this book for them and it worked out that they were both available when the time came.

Tim Midura: Dead End Kids #1 currently sits at 9.0 on ComicBookRoundup. Who did you pay off to get that rating?

Frank Gogol: There are people I can pay for reviews?! Fuck. And here I am wasting time talking to Comics Pot or Pat or whatever the hell…

But in all seriousness, the reviews have been really strong for the first issue and I’m glad the story is resonating with reviewers and the early readers.

And honestly, it’s a bit of a relief. Grief kind of took on a life of its own and readers really loved it on a level I’d never expected. And, for me, I always want to be getting better, but when you hit a homerun your first time up to bat, that puts a lot of pressure on you to do at least the same, if not better, next time around.

But like I said, I’m glad (and relieved) that people are digging it. The second issue, which is in Previews right now–shameless plug: the Diamond codes are MAY191908 (DEK #1) and JUN191916 (DEK #2)–is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. We really dig in to who these characters are and how they got messed up. And there’s a torture scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how people react to that…

Dead End Kids #1 is set to release July 24, 2019.

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