Eric Powell Talks 15 Years Of The Goon, Creator-Owned Comics, And Trying To Make A Movie

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This year, Eric Powell celebrated 15 years of drawing The Goon, his series that follows the exploits of the lovable gruff title character, as battles zombies, witches, and other supernatural types in a cursed town that seems doomed for misery.

Today sees the release of The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #4, the excellent conclusion of the most recent, and possible most dark, story of the Goon (you can check out our full review here). The follow up series, Once Upon a Hard Time, has already been announced for a February release, and will mark the 50th issue of The Goon to be published at Dark Horse Comics.

Powell took the time to talk to ComicBook.com about his career writing and drawing The Goon, championing independent comics, and trying to make a damn movie.

I’ve read Occasion of Revenge, and I’ve got to say, this story is incredibly bleak, especially by the ending. What was the genesis of this story for you?

It has been building from the beginning really. When working on The Goon, I’ve never set out with a huge, 15-years span storyline. It kind of evolved. I got to the point, after Chinatown, and started setting up this idea that there were other witches out there. There are actually a coven that were of the same race as the Zombie Priest. It just kind of snowballed, and dealing with the curse of the town, and that there’s never going to be any positive thing to come out of this town, because its cursed, and wanting to do something themed off of the idea of revenge, and revenge being part of the curse, and having a different revenge story in every issue, and how that revenge negatively impacts everyone in the story.

Despite how bleak the story is, I notice you still find room for s**t jokes. When you sit down to write these stories, is it a calculated decision to include these humorous bits, in order to keep things from getting too dark, or is it more than you can just only go so long without having to make a poop joke?

[Laughs] I don’t know if it’s something just in me, but I like really sad stuff, and I like comedy, like those theater masks that have one face that’s laughing and one face that’s crying. Those two things kind of juxtaposed against each other, I don’t know, it’s interesting to me. But I kind of just let anything happen in there, just throw it at the wall and just it let be what it will be, see what sticks. That was a rambling answer, I don’t know if it made any sense whatsoever. [Laughs]

The idea of, specifically, what you’re talking about came about when I was on a trip to Italy with my friend, who also works in the comics industry. We were in a hotel room, and only in one certain spot did it smell bad, but it smelled really bad. And we were trying to figure out, why the hell would it stink really bad in that one spot? And then I blurted out, at one point I said, “Well someone took a revenge-s**t there!” And then the idea of a guy who just would s**t on things out of revenge, we were making jokes about it the rest of the trip, and it turned into Revenge-S**t Giuseppe, and I was doing a book called Occasion of Revenge, and I thought that’s too good to not put in there, since it fits really well with theme. [Laughs]

I should tell everyone that’s the only reason it’s called Occasion of Revenge, because it’s got the guy that takes revenge-s**ts everywhere. [Laughs]

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Ramona was a very effective character in this story. You really get to like her, and especially to like her with the Goon, quite a lot, before the huge turn at the end. What went into developing her for the story?

I was actually trying to figure out what to do…you have this cast of characters, and you’re trying to figure out, “What do I do? Is this character played out?” Because I’m not one of these guys that I have to keep the entire cast of characters around, because sometime down the road I may want to do something with them, and I’m just building up this huge cast to just hang around. I think they have to have a purpose, and once they’ve served that purpose, they have to walk out of the story, or they have to come to some untimely end.

As I started looking at the entire cast, and trying to figure out what’s going to happen to everybody, I knew I wanted to put another tale of heartbreak in there with the Goon. I had the big one, with Chinatown, and to me the cruelest thing you can do to this guy - the one thing that he really wants is just to find one small bit of happiness, and to find someone who cares about him, and that’s what made Chinatown so heartbreaking.

So if you have this Coven of Witches trying to manipulate him, and get to him, they can’t hurt him physically. That would just be counterproductive to the character. If you read these stories, they’re like “oh, Spider-Man in danger.” They’re not going to kill Spider-Man. You know this, the readers know this, the readers know that there’s no way that Marvel Comics is going to stop making Spider-Man books. There’s always going to be somebody named Spider-Man.

But for them try to put a physical threat on the Goon, that’s just kind of boring. But the idea of them really just destroying him mentally, that’s where I felt the story was. Them manipulating him. And then I happen to have two character that are shapeshifters, and have just really been peripheral characters. So I thought it would be really unexpected if I don’t hint at it all, and then you have this big reveal that she was really just playing him the entire time.

And you said, in the first couple of issues, you had really come to like her, and I appreciate that, because in doing it I thought that was key. You have to like her first, you have to think she’s cool, and this is a really cool thing for the Goon. I wanted to kind of set up where people were thinking, “Aw, something bad is going to happen to her, and Goon’s going to be sad and go get revenge, and that’s why it’s called Occasion of Revenge.” And instead, the most positive thing about the story ends up being the worst part of it.

We know that next year you’re following up Occasion of Revenge with another miniseries, Once Upon a Hard Time, starting in February Can you talk a little about where the new series picks up?

You could have put these together and made one, 8-issue miniseries, but because of time and everything I wanted to split it up, so I could get it out in a reasonable amount of time. It picks up directly where Occasion of Revenge leaves off, and it’s really dealing with the Goon, who is complete losing his mind. He’s going down a really dark path, and kind of verging from the person his Aunt wanted him to be. His Aunt Kizzie is the moral compass of this entire series. The Goon is this thug in a brutal kind of world, but he still has some sense of morality and still helps people, to the best of his ability, but he’s kind of losing sight of that and kind of getting sucked into the curse of the place. So it continues down a dark road in the next miniseries.

Even darker than where we just came from?

I think, if you’re looking at Occasion of Revenge and Once Upon a Hard Time as one big story, the end of Occasion of Revenge is the dark turning point. I’m not sure it gets darker than that, but it does get pretty brutal.

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The solicitations are teasing big changes for the Goon in this series. Can you talk a little bit about what those change might be? Will he be getting a new costume, or will there be an all-new female Goon?

[Laughs] Yeah, it’s going to be an all-new female Goon. [Laughs]

I’m not going to go into too many specifics, because it really is, like you said, a big change, and I don’t want to give any of the story away. I think there’s going to be a few “oh s**t” moments when the readers are checking this out. A lot of things will be resolved. Pretty much everything I’ve established from issue #1 of The Goon will be resolved. So, it’s a pretty big shift.

You said there will be some big “oh s**t” moments. Will there be any big “oh revenge-s**t” moments?

[Laughs] I don’t know, I’ll have to see. I’m still writing some of the issue for Once Upon a Hard Time, so we’ll see if “Revenge-S**t” sneaks his way in there. [Laughs]

You’ve been writing the Goon for 15 years now. When you first drew him, did you have idea that you’d still be working on him a decade and a half later?

I had no idea. At the time when I created The Goon, it wasn’t the best of times for me in my career. I was trying to work in comics, but I wasn’t getting a whole lot of attention, and the little bit of work I was getting was starting to dry up. No one was giving a crap about me at that point in time, so I hardly could believe that anyone would give a crap about this character, then or 15 years later. It’s still a big surprise that it’s been as popular as it has been, and has allowed me to do virtually whatever I want. I feel like I hit the funny book lottery with this.

Even in entertainment industries and stuff, there aren’t a lot of people who can say that they get to wake up every morning and do exactly what they want with their creativity. I’m in a very lucky situation and extremely thankful for that every day.

You’re approaching the 50-issue mark for publishing The Goon at Dark Horse Comics. Do you or the publisher have any specific plans to mark the occasion?

We do have an alternate cover coming out for Once Upon a Hard Time #1, which is the 50th Dark Horse issue. I think Dark Horse might have a couple of other related things to turn out there, but I can’t say anything specific yet. We do have a special cover for that issue.

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I was at The Goon 15th Anniversary Party that you threw in Nashville, and I saw the rough animation that was shown for The Goon movie. Has there been any progress for you there?

I kind of want to groan when you say that, because I was pretty angry that night. There was supposed to be a guy there to do projection and stuff, and he didn’t show up to run any of the stuff and make sure it would project right until 10 minutes after people started coming in the door. So we didn’t get to test anything, it was just like “alright, put it up there.” And it was cropped, so people could only see like a quarter of the screen, and I’m like “we’re trying to make a movie here, you know?” If someone had a camera phone and pointed it at the screen, you could only see like a quarter of the screen and it would look like s**t. So I’m still pretty pissed off about that.

We’re still working on it. Blur is doing more edits and more voice recording for the story reel, because we know we’re only going to get one shot to throw this out there. Once the world sees it and we show it to the studios, with the hard road we’ve already had trying to sell the thing, if we don’t blow them away with the story reel, that might be our last shot. We’re working really hard on it and fine tuning it and getting it in just the right spot, and it’s looking really amazing so far.

You’ve been a big proponent of creator-owned comics, and independent comics, and encouraging creators to go out and do their own thing. As someone who has championed that cause, what’s your take on the current independent comics scene, compared to when you started? Do you think it’s better and healthier now than it was then?

Oh yeah. Its way better. There’s so much cool, creator-owned stuff coming out right now, and you can definitely feel the shift. You know, in my books, my humor and everything, I poke a lot of fun at Marvel and DC, because they’re easy to make fun of, honestly. It’s always easier to tear down the top dog, kind of thing, and they have kind of weird business practices. It’s always easier to poke fun at those guys, and that’s just what I do, but it’s not about tearing them down, it’s about making a level playing field for everyone. Stores shouldn’t only order books because of the company logo. I make this comparison a lot: you don’t go to the movie theater and only see films by Paramount, or Sony, so why is that the case with comics? When we had record stores, you wouldn’t go to a record store and only see one label.

But you can feel it shifting. The classic characters are always going to be there, because they’re great characters, but we do need fresh blood, and we do need a wider variety of content to appeal to different people who don’t necessarily care about the superhero stuff. That’s the only way to really have a really strong industry, and I feel that happening. You see so many different people reading comics than when I first started in this business. When I started it was mainly white, nerdy guys, and now you see all races, women, children, adults, and it’s a much healthier readership that we have now, a much broader readership, and that’s nothing but a good thing.

GOONOR #4 PG 04Do you have any particular favorite books that you’re reading at the moment?

I usually follow creators more than titles. Anything that Mike Mignola does, I’ll read it, and guys like Jeff Smith. I usually read all the stuff Alan Davis does, I think he’s my favorite superhero artist. I’ve been reading Southern Bastards, that’s a good book.

 

You mentioned Jeff Smith, who was one of the early success stories of self-published comics, with Bone. Was he someone that showed you that you could make it in comics without having to work for the big two?

Jeff Smith and Mike Mignola were definitely my business models when I started. I looked at what they did, and saw that they were doing creator-owned stuff, and they maintained the focus on one thing. Because there’s a lot of guys that might do something creator-owned and get a little bit of attention off of it, and then jump to work on something else, and you can see it kind of lose momentum. But Mike Mignola and Jeff Smith both stayed focused on this one thing for several years, and you could just see it gradually build, and build, and build. So any time I had an idea about something, I would find a way to work it back into The Goon universe so I could maintain focus on that. Like the character Buzzard, I had initially intended as its own series, but I knew jumping off and doing another book would have been counter to that idea of maintaining focus on that one thing and building it up, so I worked that character into The Goon.

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Do you have any advice to offer any young creators, who are in the same position starting off that you were those years ago?

Yeah, use the internet [laughs]. Its way cheaper. When I was starting out, webcomics, people kept trying and they would fail, and no one was really paying attention to it. But now, if you can do a comic strip online and actually get people to look at it, that’s a really easy way to build up a following. Then there’s digital comics, where you don’t have to pay for printing and all that other stuff, so that’s a whole new tool to use to get your name out there a little bit more.

The only other advise I would give is the same thing Stephen King says, which is “if you’re a writer, write.” If you’re a cartoonist, draw comics. Whether it’s going to be published or not, your have to keep working, because that’s the only way you’re going to improve and get better. So if you’re sitting around going “oh, I want to be a comic book artist, but nobody’s giving me a job,” well, you need to be drawing a comic and not complaining that nobody’s giving you any work, because the only way you’re making it better is if you’re making comics.

The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #4 is in stores today. The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time #1 goes on sale in February.