If you don’t know who Eric Powell is, then you’re missing out on some of the best comics being made today. Powell created The Goon fifteen years ago and his creation has grown in stature to stand alongside such comics icons as Hellboy and Usagi Yojimbo. It’s a powerful mix of comedy, horror, and pathos that is both a love letter to comics and something entirely new. Powell recently returned to The Goon after taking a hiatus and spoke with Comics Bulletin writer Chase Magnett about the series at San Diego Comic Con.
Chase Magnett for Comics Bulletin: So it’s the 15th anniversary of The Goon. You’ve been doing this for a while and The Goon has become an icon within comics. One that I think is comparable to Hellboy or Usagi Yojimbo. How are you feeling looking back at the very first issue and seeing where you are now?
Powell: I would have never expected to have this level of success when I did that first issue. It was a hope, but I never could’ve expected it. I still look at it like I’m still chugging away. I’m not satisfied with the art. I always want to strive for more. I keep working, and doing a better job with the book, and telling better stories, better artwork, and – even though I’ve been doing the book for a while – I still want to make a better product.
CB: Are you still excited about telling The Goon after all these years? Is that the thing that’s still your burning passion?
Powell: It’s still fun. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years and it’s still fun. I get pretty fickle easily, pretty bored with things. But every time I draw something, it’s still fun. At some point I might get tired of it, but so far, not so much.
CB: You mentioned that you’re not always satisfied with the artwork. Occasion for Revenge… There’s a change that I think is noticeable. You’re doing your own coloring on it, which is a change. What are the things you’re trying to change with the new mini-series, since it’s almost a new re-launch for the series?
Powell: With the coloring I definitely wanted to take a different direction. I wanted to use color to set mood and tone rather than just slapping color on everything because that’s how it’s done. I mean there’s a standard way that comic books have been done for years. People are breaking out of it, they’re starting to do different things, but they’re still going from pencils to inks to colors. That process, it’s just… Why? Why not try different things?
I’ve always experimented a lot with the art in the book and it’s never been a constant look, because it’s something I do to keep myself interested. With this new stuff I really wanted to desaturate it a little bit. I always wanted The Goon to be a black and white book for one, and because of the way the industry is there are a lot of shops that won’t carry something if it’s black and white. So with this I really wanted to desaturate it to give it the feel of a black and white book a little bit, but there’s still enough color in there. I’m using it in places to give it a little bit of impact and really set an atmosphere. That’s really the approach I’m taking.
CB: It’s interesting you mention black and white coloring. One thing that struck me about the first issue of Occasion for Revenge was it felt like I was reading a noir film on paper. It actually felt like actually watching that type of movie to some degree, like it captured the feel of sitting in the theater watching The Big Sleep.
Powell: Thank you, that’s kind of what I was going for there. It’s kind of straddling that line of trying to get that film noir look but also something that’s a little bit more modern and – I don’t know exactly how to put it – a graphic kind of design to it. I’m playing around with that a little bit.
CB: One interesting thing about The Goon, especially with the back-to-back publication of One for the Road and then Occasion for Revenge, is that you have these big tonal shifts in the story, and the art shows that as well as the writing. You’re able to go from slapstick humor with Nazi gorillas and move to a story that’s outright heartbreaking. Did you design The Goon to allow you to experiment and go in those different directions?
Powell: Yeah. When I first set out, I was always like “I’m going to do whatever I want to do in this book”. If I want to do a sad story, if I want to do a funny story, science fiction story, horror, just run with it and go in the direction I want to go. And I think it makes it more fun for me. Again, it’s one of the reasons I can do this book for fifteen years and not get tired of it. It keeps it exciting for me because I can do anything I want, and I think it also keeps it exciting for the readers, because every time you pick up an issue you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get. Something as a comic reader myself that I get tired of, I see something that is just predictable. It’s like “Well I’ve read that book, I pretty much know what’s going on. The story might be a little different, but I pretty much know what’s going to happen in every issue.” And that’s the good thing about The Goon and the way I start it off is that I can explore and take it in a bunch of weird directions.
CB: Obviously, your direction for Occasion for Revenge, is that it’s going to a very dark place. The opening is a sort of side-story that sets up a mood that is very ominous for the future of the rest of the series. Is there something in particular that pushed you to want to tell this story and create that mood?
Powell: Well, it’s been a build up. In the “Return of Labrazio” storyline I introduced one of the zombie priest’s race of witches. He leaves during that story and says “I’m going to collect the others and return”. I wanted that to sink in and give it some time to build. I took time to come up with stories. I don’t want to just throw something out there and have it like “Well, I want do this. I don’t have all the story in mind, but let’s just fudge through it”. I want to give it enough time to really develop in my head and have a good, solid story. So when I did bring them back, it wouldn’t feel like some big throwaway. It’s got a lot of impact, it’s going change the mythology of The Goon for the future. It’s pretty somber. It’s pretty sad.
CB: So there is a bit of a map as to where you want to take The Goon long term and of the big moments that will occur down the road?
Powell: Yes. This mini-series, Occasion of Revenge, and the one to follow it, they’re not just stories. It’s going to change the mythology. It’s going to be really impactful on the future of the book and how I’m doing it. If you are a Goon fan, then you don’t want to miss it. You definitely want to pick these books up so you see what happens.
CB: You obviously have a very clear image of the story you want to tell and the overall arcs and themes. I think one of the cool things about The Goon is that when it wants to, Frankie and The Goon can capture a real sense of humanity. Does much of their personality or their stories pull from your own life?
Powell: You always put a little bit of yourself in a story. There are always experiences or people you meet or just your view of the world that goes into the art that you make. So the Goon and Frankie are not based on real life people or friends of mine or any kind of interaction like that. But friendship and loyalty are extremely important to me as a person. I feel that I don’t make close friends that easily, but when I do, I’ll walk over glass for that person. And I expect the same out of my friends and I feel lucky that I’ve been able to surround myself with really good people that I love dearly and are really great friends. So that plays into the art I make, where their friendship is really important. I think you always put a little bit of yourself in your work, but at the end of the day it’s fiction.
CB: One for the Road and Occasion for Revenge are the first comics after a bit of a hiatus. How does it feel to be back? Is it invigorating at all to be doing the series again and putting the work back out there?
Powell: Yeah, it feels really good. I’m especially excited about the new format. Because the bi-monthly thing we had going, and I would have to take breaks to work on other things, so with it being a bi-monthly format with breaks in-between, I think it was really confusing for the readers. With the new mini-series format, it’s straightforward. It’s like, “Here’s four issues, they’re going to come out monthly, and then a few months down the road, four issues, come out monthly” and keep it a whole lot less confusing for everybody.
CB: One last thing I wanted to touch on is that The Goon is a series that has a very strong voice and holds a unique place in the medium. But I think you’re also somebody that does a good job of wearing your influences on your sleeve and being aware of the people that inspired you. There’s a great Frank Darabont essay where he talks about Will Eisner and how The Goon isn’t necessarily an homage, but you can see comics history in it and then see history being made. How aware are you of your influences? Are there certain people you look to that really shape how you see comics and how you create comics?
Powell: Those guys are huge influences. Jack Davis, who we just got a cover from and I was over the moon to get that, I’m a huge fan. Will Eisner is amazing. He’s obviously a huge influence. I try to be influenced by people and not copy people, which is a hard thing. I don’t want anyone to ever look at my work and go “Oh, that was a great Will Eisner story” or “That was a fun Will Eisner story” or something like that. I want them to go “That was a good story. You could tell he’s influenced by Will Eisner.” I definitely want people to see the influence because I want to pay respect to those guys, but I never want people to view it as a rip-off or anything like that. That’s the worst to me. Be influenced by people, but don’t copy. It’s a fine line, but I try not to do that.
CB: Moving back, what’s the future of The Goon hold?
Powell: Well you’ll have to read Occasion for Revenge to find out, because I’m not going give anything away.