by Jarrod Jones. Frank Gogol’s writing through some stuff. And not only do people appreciate it, they’re responding to it.
Dead End Kids, the 2019 series Frank worked on with artist Nenad Cviticanin for Source Point Press, became a quiet indie hit largely because it connected with so many readers—more on an emotional level than a nostalgic one. (DEK was set in 1999.) In it, a small crew of tight friends from various broken homes fall ass-backwards into a murder mystery and are forced to confront the various shitty things going on in their personal lives in order to survive the experience. The mystery was the series’ tantalizing hook, but it was Frank and Nenad’s surprisingly personal take on their characters that brought readers back. The emotional thread from creator to reader strengthens when the writing is sincere, and the writing in Dead End Kids was astonishingly sincere.
“For me, the writing process is also the processing-process,” Frank tells me. “When you spend such a long time with a story and looking at it over and over and from every angle, you can’t help but do it through the lens of your own experiences, and as a result, you work through things you didn’t even realize were things, if that makes sense.”
Now Frank and Nenad are back with a new Dead End Kids story called The Suburban Job, unconnected to the mini-series that came before with a new roster of characters and a story that appears to zero in on the calamity of American life in the years following September 11, 2001.
“Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job isn’t a September 11th story, though,” Frank assures us. “It’s a story about the childhood trauma that stems from that day. It’s about how that day is still impacting these kids’ lives seven years later in 2008.”
True to its hard-bitten core to the bitter end Dead End Kids was a story set during one week of tragedy and the unrestrained emotions that came afterwards. The Suburban Job spikes a similar vein: Set in 2008, three kids who’d generally prefer to have nothing to do with each other are pushed together when they each draw the ire of a local drug dealer. Expect things to get messy, emotionally and otherwise, in true Dead End Kids fashion.
Frank continues: “At the end of the day, my biggest priority is to tell stories that are about something that people can connect with. With Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job—I really think we’ve created something that will connect with so many people. These kids are so real and what they’re going through is so raw. I can’t wait for people to be able to read it in January.”
Ahead of its January 21 release, DoomRocket spoke with Frank Gogol about Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job, working with Nenad Cviticanin, and how he directs his personal processes into his creative ones.
1. Reading through the first volume of ‘Dead End Kids’, with its 1999 setting and all the period detail that came with it, threw me back to my days as a snotty teenager smoking cigarettes and generally being a nightmare to know. [Laughs] If I can ask, what kind of kid were you back in ‘99? Was there a character in the first run of ‘Dead End Kids’ that was most like you?
Frank Gogol: I was a little bit younger than the cast of Dead End Kids in 1999—11 or 12—but when I was in my early teens, I got in my fair share of trouble. Me and the other kids my age do all sorts of shit. Sneaking out at night. Trespassing places we definitely shouldn’t have been. Getting each others’ older siblings to buy us beer.
Around that age, I was dealing with a lot of anger-related issues, too. Life had kicked me around a bunch and I didn’t really have the emotional maturity or tools to deal with it, so I just focused it outward—a lot like Murphy. But honestly, the whole cast of the first volume—Murphy, Tank, Amanda, and Ben—are really amalgams of me and my friends. Little bits of each of us remixed into new people.
2. This sequel’s focus seems like a snug fit considering the mood of this series. Can you talk about your decision to tell a story about the raw emotions and violence that occurred after September 11? Why this one specific moment in history?
I grew up in a really small, poor town in New Jersey, across the Raritan Bay from lower Manhattan, and on clear days, you could see the World Trade Center. I remember standing on our beachfront on 9/11 and watching the smoke billow up from the wreckage. I remember looking around and seeing everyone there with me, seeing the horror and pain in their faces. It’s something I’ve literally thought about every day since.
September 11th is a day that hit everyone in the country really hard. But I wondered how it impacted kids. I was thirteen when it happened and I know I’ve carried it with me. What about other people my age? The kids of first responders? The siblings of the soldiers who went to war?
Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job isn’t a September 11th story, though. It’s a story about the childhood trauma that stems from that day. It’s about how that day is still impacting these kids’ lives seven years later in 2008.
At the end of the day, my biggest priority is to tell stories that are about something that people can connect with. With Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job—I really think we’ve created something that will connect with so many people. These kids are so real and what they’re going through is so raw. I can’t wait for people to be able to read it in January.
3. There’s no connection between these two runs of ‘Dead End Kids’; why did you decide to tell this story under this banner? What are the themes that unite the two, beyond tragedy?
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do more Dead End Kids. The first book was such a bigger success than I think anyone could have imagined that you start to wonder if another series can live up to the hype of the original.
I started thinking about what another series might look like and taking a True Detective-style approach—something with a new setting, a new cast, and a new crime—really started to make sense. But if I was going to do more, I needed a reason to tell that story.
I went back to the core concept of the original series—childhood trauma and how it affects us as we get older. And I started thinking back on my own life and the things that really affected me. I kept coming back to this idea of September 11th.
What did this singular, massive, horrible event do to an entire generation of kids, and what do the most intimate moments of those kids’ lives look like down the road? What are they struggling with? Who are they becoming as a result?
4. The primary events of ‘The Suburban Job’ takes place seven years after September 11, 2001. Without giving too much away, what is the significance of the year 2008? Why did you land on that particular year—is this one of those things where life takes time to kick the inevitable into motion?
That, I’m afraid, was a year I just pulled out of thin air. Like I mentioned a second ago, I wanted to set the story some time after 9/11—so that these kids could really live in a post-9/11 world and carry the scars from that day for a while. That just seemed like the more interesting, poignant story. That, and like I said earlier, I wasn’t interested in telling a September 11th story. I didn’t want to create something that would become tragedy porn, so setting it a few years down the line checked both of those boxes for me.
5. Both ‘Dead End Kids’ and ‘The Suburban Job’ begin with most of our core characters sequestered in their rooms, surrounded by bits of brilliant detail from Nenad Cviticanin. Band posters detailing the characters’ personal obsessions over the years, tv show posters (that ‘Buffy’ poster in ‘DEK’ #1 feels like it came from you), stuff like that. And you can tell from the small things, like how messy their rooms are or aren’t, what their personalities are like without them uttering a single word. How detailed do you get with your characters before you begin writing your scripts? Do you draft a “character bible” of their beliefs, backgrounds, interests, things they can’t stand, etc.?
I’ve got to be completely honest here—that was all about 95% Nenad. He’s the real star here.
Generally, when I write, I produce very lean scripts. I don’t like to crowd the art with dialogue and I want my artist collaborators to be able to flex on the page, so it’s character, action, and emotion in the script—that’s it. I do include pages at the front of each script describing any characters or locations that are introduced in a given issue, but those are pretty bare bones, too.
The only time I’ll hard-specifics is if it’s important to the plot or a pay-off, but otherwise I want Nenad to be free to do what he does best—which, as you pointed out, is kill it every time.
The Buffy poster, interestingly, was something Nenad added because he knows I love Buffy. Actually, a lot of my artistic collaborators like to sneak little Easter eggs and jokes into our books. No Heroine is riddled with them!
6. What can you tell our readers about the characters in ‘Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job’, and how their lives contrast with the crew from the original ‘DEK’ run?
The biggest difference between the two casts, and the two series really, is that the cast of The Suburban Job are not friends—or aren’t anymore.
Dead End Kids was very much about a tight-knit group of kids who were all struggling with issues at home, but who also had one another to lean on.
In a lot of ways, The Suburban Job is almost the direct opposite response to that. We have a cast of kids who have fallen out over the years to the point that it’s almost antagonistic. These are kids who are dealing with their pain in isolation and turning inward in ways that hurt them. And they’re brought back together when they come into possession of a bag of cash that’s been stolen from a local drug kingpin.
The arc of the story is about whether they can come together and survive the mess they’re in, or will their own personal issues tear them even further apart.
7. You and Nenad are clearly operating in tandem at this point, judging by the way the two of you have seemed to grow so much over the course of the last couple years. This is a tight collaboration. It doesn’t seem like too much time has passed between the upcoming release of ‘The Suburban Job’ and issue #1 of ‘Dead End Kids’ last year—though 2020 has felt like a string of decades, hasn’t it?—but between this series and ‘Grief’, the two of you have already come to appreciate each other’s strengths, haven’t you?
Oh, absolutely. Nenad is my oldest and most frequent collaborator, and there’s a damn good reason for that. He drew my first comic script back in 2016—a short story called “Embrace” that ended up in Grief. He also drew five of the other nine stories in the collection.
Nenad and I just have a kind of magic between the two of us. I send him a script, and he just gets what I was trying to get across, but then delivers it in a way that always exceeds my expectations.
You don’t not make comics with someone like that!
8. ‘Dead End Kids’ seems like it was created out of a sense of profound grief. Youth and innocence squandered by forces beyond our control—and the forces that are perfectly within our control. I’ve read up on some of your history, and it’s incredible how you’ve managed to climb a veritable mountain of hurt to get where you are today. I feel anger when I read ‘Dead End Kids’; it comes from the page, the captions, the dialogue. Were you processing something during the drafting of the first run of ‘Dead End Kids’? What have you felt going back and reading it over again, now that some time has passed?
You know, I mentioned that I had some anger issues in my teen years, and for plenty of really horrible reasons, but the truth is I grew up into a way more well-adjusted adult than I ever could have imagined. And feeling that way now, I always thought that it meant that I’d worked through all of those issues.
But I hadn’t, not all the way. And that’s something I’ve found with each book—Grief, Dead End Kids, No Heroine, and the stuff I’m working on these days. For me, the writing process is also the processing-process. When you spend such a long time with a story and looking at it over and over and from every angle, you can’t help but do it through the lens of your own experiences, and as a result, you work through things you didn’t even realize were things, if that makes sense.
9. When you’re writing, do you ever get a feeling that what you’re working on might one day reach a reader at a trying moment in their life, maybe help them get past whatever it is they’re going through?
I don’t that I ever feel that way when I’m writing. That’s what I want to do, but you know never if what you’re making is gonna hit the way you hope it will.
Like I said earlier, I always set out to write about something that’s important to me. And I think a lot of the things I’ve written about are very relatable—childhood trauma, grieving, wanting to be a better version of yourself. I never know if it’s all going to connect with people, but I’m so glad it has.
On a similar tack, what was a particular piece of art—be it a comic, a piece of music, a film, a book, whatever—that came to you at a crucial moment in your life? What effect did the experience of that piece of art end up having on you?
There are a lot of different pieces of art that have spoken to me at various points in my life. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was definitely one of those things. I started watching Buffy when it began airing in 1997 (when I was way too young) and at a time when my home life was probably the worst it ever was. And while I love the mythic, action parts of the show, the part that spoke to me then and still speaks to me now is the drama—the interpersonal relationships and the ways people hurt and fail the ones they love for reasons they’ll never understand.
That’s all informed so much of my writing I couldn’t even put it into words.
10. I sometimes get curious about what the creators were listening to when they made their comics like the big weirdo I am. [Laughs] For the first run of ‘Dead End Kids’, did you have a soundtrack for it? If so, what was the significance of this specific arrangement of music?
You know, I really didn’t. I’m pretty practical when I write and the process is pretty… unromantic. I need an open, well-lit and quiet space. I know what I need to accomplish when I sit down, and I don’t get back up until I’ve done more than that.
So, no music for me when I’m writing. If there were a soundtrack for DEK, I imagine some of the tracks would be “The Kids Aren’t Alright” (obviously). “Anthem for H Street” by Less Than Jake. “Bad Town” by Operation Ivy.
‘Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job’ #1 hits stores January 21. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: NOV201523)
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Dead End Kids: The Suburban Job’ #1, courtesy of Source Point Press:
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