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Afterlife Adventures: A Journey-Filled Interview with Tom Drogalis on DIVINE POWER MADE ME

Ty Whitton, regular Comic Book Yeti contributor, was able to sit down for an interview with Tom Drogalis, the creator of Divine Power Made Me! Be sure to order your issues of Divine Power Made Me via the Scout Comics web store.

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: It’s a great day in the Yeti Cave, as Tom Drogalis is here with me to talk about their recent project, a comic book called Divine Power Made Me. Welcome to the Cave, Tom! How has your 2024 been so far?



TOM DROGALIS: It's an absolute pleasure to be given the opportunity to speak about a book my team and I have worked so hard on. The year started off pretty strong with many twists and turns. I’m still running off the high of when Divine Power Made Me first hit stores on February 14th. It was an incredible feeling to see our book in comic shops!



CBY: I can’t imagine the feeling! You’ve stated in a recent Reddit post of yours that you spent three years working on Divine Power Made Me. What was it about the project that made you want to dig deeper into those creative processes and planning for that length of time?



TD: Although a bit cliché of an answer, I think I would have to say that I was drawn to the storytelling process. I love comics, movies, TV shows, and pop culture, and I really wanted to explore something that I was not super familiar or comfortable with. My background is in criminal psychology, which does not lend itself to being a creative outlet. It can be a bit rigid and very depressing. I think that I needed something to help free me from reality and let me explore a way of thinking that I normally would not be able to do in my day job.

Having an opportunity to tell a fun adventure story that had mature and complex themes always seemed like something that I’d want to delve into. As you mentioned, from start to finish, the process of getting this book onto comic shelves and into the hands of readers took about three years. Just to break down that process and give a clearer picture of how the team utilized that time, I’ll give a timeline of what those three years looked like.

The first year was mainly dedicated to issue one. It involved writing and tweaking the script, finding an artist (who is now my good friend, Federico Guillen), allocating and discussing funding for the book, drafting a contract with Fred, Fred producing all the art, working with a letterer, and then pitching that book to different publishers.

We ended up cold soliciting our pitch to three different publishers, and Scout Comics was gracious enough to pick up the story. They actually responded within twenty-four hours of receiving the pitch, which was absolutely crazy. Never in my wildest dreams did I think something like that would happen. The contract was signed after about a month, and then they (Scout) assigned me to my editor, Ms. Deanna Soukiasian (who has also become a close friend).


The second year was dedicated to producing the next five issues. Scout has a policy that a series will not be published unless they have the full or most of the product. I had most of the remaining five scripts already done. I just needed to send them to Deanna, get them approved, and then have Fred start producing all the art.

There was also the matter of finding a letterer and variant artists. Luckily for me, Deanna had the perfect letterer, Joey Roditis (happy to say another friend added to the roster of people I met while making this comic), who really brought life to those pages. Deanna also connected me to some of her other friends who did variant covers. I’ll put my website below so people can see all the wonderfully talented artists that did variant covers and gave this story a chance.


It took about eight months to fully complete six issues. It was unbelievable to see how quickly Fred grew as an artist (and continues to grow). He would get quicker at producing pages and would be so proud when the quality wouldn’t dip at all. I honestly think that the quality improves significantly per issue and can’t wait for people to see some of the crazy stuff we put in there.


Year three has been more about marketing and waiting. The waiting has definitely been tough, especially after issue one has already come out. I know that Scout was finalizing that deal with Element, so it’ll be nice to have the other five issues come out consistently starting in July. The marketing aspect has been really difficult, so it’s very nice that Comic Book Yeti took the time and resources to give us a chance to speak about the book. I know I speak for my whole team when I give a big thank you to everyone at Comic Book Yeti!



CBY: What inspired the idea(s) to involve your main character, Virgil, in personal missions exploring cults and the meaning of both life and death?



TD: My biggest inspiration for this story had to have been Dante’s Inferno. Our book's name is actually derived from part of the translation of what is inscribed on the gates of hell; specifically, “Divine power made me, wisdom supreme, and primal love”. I always thought the first fragment of the line, “divine power made me” would fit perfectly as a title. I especially liked that it would be a stark contrast to what we would see on the covers. The implication would allude to god being a complex character who cannot be depicted as a purely good being. This topic is briefly touched upon in issue one where we see the first being unknowingly creating things. The being is lost and alone and needs to grow; which is rather different from the traditional Judeo-Christian God being omniscient and omnipotent right off the bat. I had a lot of fun playing with religious themes and societal implications. For example, a mild spoiler would be that in issue three we get a continuation of the Genesis-like story that was started in issue one but from the perspective of a Bible-like piece of text. That information will be refuted by firsthand experiences from the first god himself (in continuing issues). I really wanted to let the reader come to their own conclusions regarding certain topics, but obviously I could only touch on so much in six issues.

I was also hugely influenced by Shonen-style storytelling (Manga) as well as media like Lord of the Rings, Avatar the Last Airbender, Saga, and Preacher. Something I wanted to do with Divine Power Made Me was to have a clear goal for the protagonist. I wanted the reader to know what the goal is and to know that this goal will likely be achieved. It is more about the journey rather than the destination. Similar to how in LOTR, Frodo must destroy the One Ring or in Avatar, Aang must beat the Fire Lord. For now, the reader knows that Virgil must find his parents, but the true motivation for both the first god and Virgil will be revealed in issue four.


In regards to wanting to explore cults, it was mainly because, A) it’s an interesting topic that I feel resonates with a lot of people. The same reason people tend to look towards a car crash; humans are drawn to dark and dirty concepts. And, B) I grew up in a strict, conservative, and Catholic family. It would be impossible to not harp on the similarities between organized religion and cultish behaviors. It makes sense that I would likely write from personal experience in a topic that I am super familiar with. Most people will see that the religion in the story is made up but it draws many similarities from Catholic rituals.

As for exploring the ideas of life and death, I think that those are two things that are worth talking about. Without getting too preachy, my personal philosophy is that the meaning of life is life itself and to simply exist gives life meaning. I probably didn’t explain my thoughts all too well with one line but it’s a nice little mantra that helps me. With that said, although the story will take place a majority in the afterlife, one of the smaller themes of making the best of your existence still stands. The first god even makes some offhanded comments about humanity and how nothing changes after death in issue five. So, I hope that we get to keep telling this story because after the groundwork is set, it’ll give the story some breathing room to explore more complex existential questions.



CBY: Can you tell us more about Virgil as a character? What was your motivation in creating him as the protagonist?



TD: I always wanted Virgil to be a flawed character. At the end of the day, he's a 14-year-old boy who has never known discomfort until the end of his short life. Virgil is hot-headed, quick to anger, and honestly pretty selfish. Although he had parents who loved him dearly, he had some factors working against him. He's an only child, raised in a fanatical yet idyllic cult, and has been told he was right by many different people. He has no cultural understanding of anyone outside his cult. This story will follow Virgil as he comes to terms with the fact that the world is a complicated place with many complex people. The narrative might start off with some morally black and white characters, but hopefully, if we get to tell more than six issues, readers will be able to see more of the complex characters we have in store (I am especially fond of the main villain who will show up in issue seven).

 

Writing Virgil has been a bit of a balancing act. I want him to grow as a person, but that means starting off with some characteristics that readers might find annoying. He needs to be charismatic enough that people want to root for his success but flawed enough that the reader might start second-guessing themselves. As of right now, I’ve leaned into the “smartass” trope, and that has been the most fun.


At the end of the day, Virgil does take characteristics from myself when I was a kid but more of a caricature than a one-for-one replica. The same would go for Sahierus (the first god). Two completely different characters but based on different aspects of my own personality and growth.



CBY: Can you speak more on how you created your own version of the afterlife for this project?



TD: This was probably my favorite part of the whole creative process. I adore world-building. One of the first things I considered when deciding what to do was the longevity of the story. I wanted to have the freedom to get as weird or grounded as I wanted. This meant finding a concept that would allow for complete and total freedom.


The first plane of the afterlife, Nifato, is a bit more traditional, with settings not too far off from reality. The main biomes you’ll see in the first twelve issues are deserts, swamps/bogs, ancient cities, oceans, strange islands, and tundra; but once the main characters are able to leave Nifato, I wanted to be able to do literally anything. Maybe a plane of the afterlife where robots go when they die? It could be interesting to explore a completely different style than the more manga fantasy route. I just enjoy having the freedom to have fun creatively. Granted, I have most of the story mapped out until the very end, but the occasional filler one-shot issue would be super fun to do.


Circling back to Nifato, I wanted to focus on things people might find scary. For example, there have been nights where I’ve fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole and I’m up late watching cave diving videos, thinking to myself, “This is absolutely horrifying. I cannot see why people do this for fun!” But then I thought it would be fun to put Virgil into a situation that I might also find terrifying. So that’s how I added a bunch of different environments into my writing. Fred was the visual mastermind, so he should get most of the credit for making everything look spooky.


When it comes to the afterlife, though, I think the most fun part was designing the monsters. Samuel was one of the first that we came up with, and I think his appearance is probably my favorite. His hulking, terrifying, and also appealing appearance was brought about by a few things. I liked the idea of a centipede with human arms for legs, and then my wife came up with the idea for the owl head because she thought it would be cute.

I’ve genuinely loved giant monsters ever since I was a kid, and getting to design a good number of them for the first six issues was amazing. There’s no other feeling like writing a description for something and then having such a talented artist/friend be able to translate those descriptions into fully realized designs. I'm also a huge nerd and collector, so I’ve already done some 3D printing of characters from the book (and plan to do more for my personal collection).


I'll also add one more thing about one of my favorite monsters that will be introduced in issue three. His name is “Mike the Frog,” and like his name implies, he is a giant frog named Mike. He is named after the legendary Mike Mignola, who has been a huge inspiration in my comics journey. I love his art and storytelling and wanted to add a fun little Easter egg to someone I admire. Oddly enough, I am in a Facebook group that is dedicated to Mr. Mignola’s art. I reached out to one of the moderators and explained what the deal with Mike the Frog was and asked if I could post it in the group. I thought it could be fun in two ways. One, it would be nice for people that really like Mr. Mignola's stuff to see something that was inspired by him, and two, it would be good to get more eyes on the book. The moderator approved the post, and I kind of just forgot about it. To my surprise, Mike Mignola himself acknowledged the post and even sent me a friend request. I can't believe that he actually saw the monster that had taken on his namesake. I’ve been as giddy as a schoolgirl ever since.



CBY: Regarding Virgil’s journey to reunite with his parents in the afterlife, how did you approach depicting familial relationships within the surreal backdrop of the afterlife you’ve created? 



TD: This might sound a bit strange after only reading the first two issues, but the major overarching theme of the story is children’s relationships with their parents or parental figures. Although prominent concepts of religion, what it means to be human, and the meaning of life are present, the story should always revolve around the most influential relationship in a human's development. In my studies, I’ve always leaned more towards nurture rather than nature (in that debate). I believe that these kinds of relationships shape the way we perceive the world and how we interact within it. Having the ability to write a story that involves complicated familial relationships feels like a cornerstone of many pieces of media. I don’t think the idea is necessarily unique or novel, but it is a topic worth reexamining over and over again.

When writing about familial relationships, I draw from my own experiences with my family or usually from stories I might hear at work. I am very grateful for the relationship I have with my parents and am glad that in Divine Power Made Me, any of the bad familial experiences Virgil has do not really line up with my personal experiences.

Additionally, I wanted to explore the idea of found family. A phrase that I’ve used in work occasionally is, “Family is just a word,” meaning that no one gets a free pass on unconditional love. I’ve heard about unspeakable horrors done among family members, and sometimes the family we find is better than the family we are born into. Using Divine Power Made Me, I can tackle these tough topics with a surreal backdrop and hopefully bring awareness to some of these philosophies.



CBY: Creating a visually stunning rendition of the afterlife must have presented very unique artistic challenges. Can you share some of the techniques or inspirations you used to bring this world to life on the pages of your book?



TD: I drew inspiration from our world and nature and wanted to infuse just a touch of surrealism. The first half of arc one is more traditional, featuring deserts, swamps, cities, and giant forests. In the second half of the first arc, I aimed to delve a bit more into surrealism with some of my favorite locations, which I won't spoil right now. I do think that this question would be better suited for Fred since he really brought the pages to life. It was fascinating to give Fred a bit more creative freedom in this whole process. There were some things that I got extremely detailed with when describing them, but then there were other things for which I used one-sentence explanations. For example, when I described Virgil to Fred, all I said was, “Virgil is a 14-year-old boy,” that’s it. At the end of the day, Virgil could be anyone, and once Fred sent me some designs, we started to run with it. The biggest thing that we ran with was the blonde hair and blue eyes. Fred just happened to make Virgil's mother and father have blonde hair and blue eyes. I thought it would be creepy if literally everyone in the cult had blonde hair and blue eyes, so Fred made it so!


When speaking about inspirations, I still have to mention Dante’s Inferno. I used some imagery from there, as well as names for things. Virgil’s mom’s name is Beatrice, Virgil is obviously Virgil, and the main city of the afterlife has some qualities from Dis; stuff like that. I also just really love nature. I wanted to ensure that environments felt cool, surreal, but at the same time a bit alien. It has been exciting to flesh out the environments and characters in the first six issues, and I hope that people like what we've put on the pages.



CBY: Death is normally portrayed as the end of things, but in Virgil’s case, death serves as a means for adventure. How did you approach reshaping what would be “expected” perceptions of death within the context of the story?



TD: I think that I used death more as a writing tool to have fun in action scenes. Something that stands out to me from my childhood would be my dad and I watching movies together. He was always so critical of the content that we watched and really got me to think critically. I, personally, would just think something is visually cool or engaging, but my dad taught me to look a bit past that. One of the big phrases that would always come up would be “that would have killed them”; usually in response to an epic explosion that the hero jumps away from. I wanted to make sure that when my dad read my book he could never say that phrase because all the characters are already dead! There will obviously still be huge stakes for characters and people can still be “killed” in the afterlife, it's just a bit more difficult. I think I explain the rules in issue seven (if we even get that far).


Anyway, when coming up with the rules for the afterlife, I wanted to keep it relatively simple. It's meant to be a second chance or continuation after you die. It’ll be nowhere near what a lot of religions depict as the good or bad place but rather a neutral option. It's basically just Earth again, but the longer you exist, the more monstrous you become. The afterlife is shaped by those who inhabit it, similar to how humanity shapes what will become of earth; the main difference being that there are other planes for different things.



CBY: How has this project affected you as a creator?



TD: This is my first project in this field. I honestly thought my first published paper was going to be something in psychology, but life has ways of steering us in strange directions. It's been a very difficult process learning a completely new medium. The actual writing has been fun, and I love the world-building.


The biggest thing about this whole process has been the stress. After making something that I am truly proud of and then releasing it into the world has been horrifying. I had to realize that as soon as the book hit shelves, it was no longer my story. Granted, I can still right the ship, but the future and success of the book are in the hands of the public. I remember speaking to my wife and telling her that I’ve literally spoken to murderers and not felt any stress, but creating and publishing a comic has left me with many sleepless nights.


Overall, I feel like it's made me a better person. There is no other feeling in the world compared to creating something and having a multitude of people see it. This project has allowed me to have experiences and interactions that I never dreamed of. The best part of all of this is definitely the new friends I’ve made, specifically Fred, Deanna, and Joey. Even if we only get to do the six issues, I am happy I got to experience it with them.



CBY: You’ve stated recently that this project is only six issues long, so far. Are you currently working on furthering this story past that current limit? What plans do you have for this project’s future?



TD: Scout has informed me that they will be publishing all six issues that I’ve provided to them. In their most recent email, they mentioned that starting in July, they will be conducting a soft relaunch of Divine Power Made Me with the release of a second printing of issue one. I had Fred design a completely new cover and address some problems with the gutters and color saturation during the printing process. All of those issues will be fixed, and hopefully, I'll continue marketing the book on different platforms. After July, the issues will be released monthly until December. I do believe that the significant time gap between issue one and two dampened some of the momentum I had started to build, but it’ll be nice to have a soft relaunch and start fresh.


When I first pitched the book to Scout, I always envisioned it as a twelve-issue story. What all readers will notice as soon as they finish issue six is that it ends on a cliffhanger. There is a possibility that we only get to do six issues, but I like to remain optimistic and hope that we'll get to do the other six. The second half of the first arc is a bit more fast-paced, with more lore building and fun backstory stuff. I was also considering launching a Kickstarter campaign depending on how the rest of the book performs.


With all of that said, I do have larger goals for the story. I can envision the book continuing for many years, with the full story spanning about 60 to 80 issues. I know these are ambitious goals for a first-time story, but I might as well shoot for the stars. The only consolation is that if we only get to do the twelve, it would still provide a satisfying enough conclusion to the story.



CBY: If there’s one important thing you’ve learned from creating Divine Power Made Me, what would that be?



TD: Anything worthwhile in life requires hard work. I'd say, keep pushing towards your dreams and never quit, no matter how many times you stumble. Like I said earlier, the meaning of life is life itself, so make the most of it while you can.



CBY: We couldn't have said that any better! Would you be able to share with us what other projects that you are currently working on or might be working on in the future?



TD: As of right now, I have begun the process of writing my next story. This one will be a bit different from Divine Power Made Me in that I hope to release it in graphic novel format. The book is a bit slower-burning, but I feel like if it's released all at once, that might work better in its favor.

Without giving too much away, it’s a solar-punk utopia that examines the nature of human free will, what it means to have it or not have it, and how easily life can change. This story has been on my mind for a little while, and I never knew what the best format to tell it would be. I think it would work well as a comic, so I'm drafting a script.


Also, as a pipe dream, I have a few Marvel/DC stories that I think are unique and interesting. I won't be holding my breath on that front, but stranger things have happened.

I think the rest of my year will likely be focused on Divine Power Made Me since the soft relaunch will be in July, with subsequent issues coming out until December (hopefully). The scripts for Issues seven through twelve are mostly done so if we meet quota, Fred will start working on the art for those to hopefully get them released by next July.

Additionally, I'll need to pass my licensing exam, so that'll take some time to study for.



CBY: It looks like we'll be having more interview opportunities on those future projects then! Where can readers find you online or via social media? 



TD: You can find me on -

 

Instagram: @tom_drogalis_

 

Tiktok: Fleeple 

 

Twitter: @Tomdrogalis

 



CBY: The links are most appreciative! It is my pleasure to host you here in The Yeti Cave, Tom. We sincerely hope for the best for you in your future endeavors! We cannot wait to see what projects you produce next! Thank you for your time!



TD: I am so unbelievably grateful that Comic Book Yeti has given me the opportunity to speak so candidly about our book. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I cannot thank you enough for giving me a platform to speak. I hope this is not our last interview together! 



CBY: We are delighted to have you and we will be looking forward to more opportunities to speak with you in the future!

 


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