Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: What sort of reading material did you enjoy while growing up?
Eric Powell: I guess like everyone else who grew up in the ’80s there was a lot of Stephen King in there. Among the horror writers he was the most accessible and he was easy to find. You heard about his work the most, too. So I read a lot of Stephen King.
As far as comics, where I grew up it was limited to what you could find on the spinner rack. There weren’t a lot of comic shops in the area, so I mostly read Marvel stuff. I would read other random things here and there along with, of course, things that were assigned in school.
CB: I’m assuming that had at least some influence on the evolution of the Goon.
EP: While I really enjoyed Stephen King’s stuff, I wouldn’t call him a major influence. It was my entertainment, but I don’t think I channeled Stephen King.
I watched a lot of TV. I ate up anything that was in the vein of The Twilight Zone. I loved The Twilight Zone. Any kind of science-fiction or horror stuff. Old movies and anything that would come on TV. On Sunday afternoons they would play the old black and white Tarzan movies, the classic Godzilla movies, so that’s a lot of the stuff that I watched and I think that exposure influenced me quite a bit.
CB: That would explain the heavy feeling of noir I get when I read your stories. When you began, did you have a desire from the outset to do your own characters or did you want to try your hand at something established?
EP: I wanted to do Spider-Man and the Hulk when I started out. Then I started to realize as I got to do a little bit of that stuff, not necessarily those titles, but I’d get a job and it would be, “Oh, this is going to be awesome to draw that.” Then I got to do it and then, once I got to do it, it was more like, “Eh. It was just a job.”
A friend of mine and I used to talk about it, how “I really want to draw the X-Men,” being a big fan of John Byrne and Chris Claremont’s X-Men, but it doesn’t matter if you get that job to draw the X-Men, because you’re not doing the John Byrne and Chris Claremont X-Men. You’re doing your version of the X-Men, so it’s not the same thing. You’re wanting this magical experience and it’s not. It doesn’t really pay off the way you’d hoped.
Then I started to come up with my own stuff and just got a whole lot more satisfaction from doing my own characters and having my own ideas. And of course being able to do anything I wanted to do. There was no history to it, there was no expectations on it, you’re just doing your idea and it is yours. No one will ever go…if someone comes along and does the Goon after I die, they’re maybe going to try to do Eric Powell’s version of the Goon so that it’s mine, but it won’t be.
CB: When you do your own characters, no one can tell you that it’s wrong, either.
EP: Yeah, exactly. So it’s fun to do that stuff that has come before, but only on a limited basis. I wouldn’t want to just keep doing that stuff all the time.
Someone else may have a dream to do their version of the Batman, for example, but it’s just not my goal.
CB: One of the things I find fascinating about the Goon is that he defies any and all boundaries. In For Want of Blood and Whiskey he even runs across Billy the Kid. Where else could that happen? It seems you’ve made yourself a wide-open canvas.
EP: I definitely set out to do a book that allowed me to do anything I wanted. I do a lot of humor because it’s fun, but sometimes I want to tell a different story to where something is more S-F or magic or do a straight up dark, gritty noir story. I can do that, too.
That was conscious on my part, to try to do a book that would allow me to do basically anything I wanted to do. The storylines have evolved and while I don’t always have it all planned out, that one thing was definitely in mind when I set out to do it.
CB: Your success is evident. You just hit the 15-year mark in 2014 and that’s got to feel pretty good.
EP: Thanks. It does.
CB: You mentioned evolution. What changes especially strike you after all these years of the Goon?
EP: The longer I’ve done the book, I feel it’s gotten better. Obviously with the first issue I’d never written a full-length comic before. So the early stuff is really clunky to me now. It’s just not very good in my opinion. But as I’ve gone along I feel like it’s gotten stronger. I continue to try and experiment with the art and make the art interesting and not boring and turning into something people have seen a hundred times. It’s definitely progressed, I think. (chuckle)
CB: Do you work digitally or is it still on boards?
EP: No, I only use digital to augment. I really believe in having physical art, so I still work on board. I haven’t switched to digital. I feel it’s a good tool and it’s really a good tool to augment something, but I really believe in putting ink or paint on a board and having some kind of physical product there. It’s just something you can’t replicate.
They’re getting really good with these programs that will mimic brush strokes and other things you can throw in there and I get it. It’s fast and it makes the job easier, but there’s just something about the randomness of the ink and the paper that I don’t think you can really replicate.
CB: In your latest series, Occasion of Revenge, you’ve plumbed some dark depths with themes like abandonment, bitterness and obviously revenge itself. Are you experimenting or did something strike you particularly?
EP: The Goon has kind of grown into my head as being this really kind of tragic and melancholy character. The theme of the book has, as we talked about earlier, evolved over the years and I didn’t set out to have the kind of premise where the town would be some kind of catalyst for all this negativity. But then as stories popped up in my head and started linking together as I did them and it became like you don’t know where you theme is until you look at it from far away.
So the idea of this town being cursed and it’s drawing all of this darkness to it and calamity and heartache and all that goes with it, it’s at its zenith. It’s just darkness on top of darkness and occasionally revenge. In the next mini-series we have coming out next year, we really delve into that. It’s pretty bleak. Both these stories are pretty bleak. (chuckle)
CB: One of the things I really appreciate in the issue that just came out (issue #3) was the page where Ramona and the Goon are interacting. I kept thinking, “My gosh, what a job Eric did of implying sexy with just a look on her face and the close-up of that bitten lip.”
EP: (Chuckle) Thank you. That’s a big compliment, because, just like every talented artist out there, you’re trying really hard to create something with economy, because you’ve only got those 22 pages to work with and if you can convey something in one panel rather than five and get the point across with a look or a gesture or something then you feel like you’re winning a little bit.
CB: There seems to be more to her than meets the eye. Can you elaborate at all?
EP: It would be a spoiler. You’ll find out everything in the last issue. There are layers going on in the story, but they’re going to be revealed.
CB: Something to look forward to. You mentioned earlier the humor you inject at times and you’ve done some great things with the sidekick, Franky. How did you come up with his look. The Little Orphan Annie eyes, for instance?
EP: I think it was just a thought process that in the context of where things take place, it was just kind of a weird, depression era world. I wanted to have that kind of feel to the character like that cartoony look from that era and for some reason that occurred I end up making him the more maniacal sort of themes. It seems weird, having a cute, cartoony guy, but he’s also a maniacal, violent weirdo.
CB: What drives the Goon?
EP: He’s a little bit of a complicated guy. He’s not necessarily driven by a sense of justice where he feels like the square-jawed, all-American hero. He’s more flawed than that. Partially he does his thing because that’s his job. He’s a thug, so he protects his territory. Basically that’s what he’s doing is protecting his territory. That’s what he would like everyone to think that’s why he does it. But he’s got thug with a heart of gold situation going on, too. He just doesn’t let people see that very much.
I’ve said before that the moral compass, in the whole book, pretty much the only decent character is his aunt. He tries in his own mind to make her proud of him, so he kind of takes care of people and helps them out when monsters are attacking and so forth.
CB: The last three pages in the new issue really puts your storytelling prowess on display. With no dialogue at all you create these powerful, compelling images that are very visceral. It’s almost reminiscent of Steranko.
EP: I’ve never really gravitated toward Steranko’s stuff as an influence. He was before my time and while I’ve read some, I wouldn’t call it something that pops to mind, especially with the Goon.
I think with my storytelling I draw a lot more from guys like Will Eisner. With his cartooning he would manage to get so much emotion from his characters. You can flip through one of his books and without reading a word of text you know what sort of emotion that character is feeling, whether it’s joy or despair or whatever. It’s just such a great job he does with body language and facial expression and just conveying of emotion.
CB: I can see that. Will’s material definitely lent itself to that and so much of the vocabulary in what he coined as sequential art came from his drawing board.
What’s your typical page production rate?
EP: It depends on the page. (chuckle) My projects are kind of hard to nail down. I tend to lay stuff out and go back and forth with it, but casually I can do a page a day. I’ve done more and I’ve done less. It all depends on what I’m doing, but as far as a casual page, I’d say I can do it in one day. But when you add in things like the writing and the layouts and the other stuff that goes with it, often I can’t crank out a page a day, because I spend so much time doing all the other stuff. It would be nice if there were two of me. Then I could just knock it out.
CB: Do you like the mini-series format?
EP: I like it. I really wish we had done it earlier. Because I think when we were just putting out random issues, whenever I got them done, and keeping the numbering going, everyone just thought the book was constantly late. In reality, it wasn’t late, it was just coming out whenever I got it done. I think all it did was confuse people. I really wish we’d done this format earlier. Just put the book out in increments whenever I could get them done or get to the book. I just think this is a lot better.
People react with, “Oh, the new mini-series is out. Great!” And there it is. I like working this way a lot because it allows me to put a little bit of extra effort into the issues and not be killing myself to maintain something. “All right, I have to pace myself for these four issues so that this thing gets cranked out.” Then I can go back and take my time and write the next arc and I won’t be rushing the story because I know I have to get the next one done at this point in time. I can take a little bit of extra time and polish the story a little bit more and start drawing it.
CB: Is the Goon movie still in the works?
EP: We’re still working on it. We’re trying to get things moving ahead. They just did the first edit of the story recently. We’ve all been taking notes and going back and forth trying to tighten all the screws. We’re pretty sure we’re just going to get one shot at this when we present this thing. It’s a hard sell to try and get animation done that’s not thoroughly aimed just for kids. We want to have this story reel be the best that we can absolutely make it. We really want to blow the socks off these guys and put it out there and try to get a studio behind it.