A skilled craftsman by any measure, Eric Powell has put in his time all over the industry, from more independent works to superhero franchises like Batman and Superman. The Lebanon, Tennessee-based artist is, however, most content to do things on his own terms, reveling in the rare manner of freedom afforded to him by his own Dark Horse series, The Goon, the ever-evolving tale of a classically-styled pipe wrench-wielding ruffian doing battle with whatever manner of strange and fantastic villianry the artist’s mind can concoct.
After nearly a decade, the series has become Powell’s major creative outlet, and the hard work has paid off in spades. The book has become one of Dark Horse’s most popular creator-owned works and has garnered Powell numerous awards, including a handful of Eisners. It’s also recently been optioned by David Fincher in hopes of being transformed into an animated feature.
We sat down with Powell at this year’s New York Comic Con to talk about his work in the industry and why all roads lead back to The Goon.
How many conventions do you come out to a year?
About four or five a year.
Any favorites, or do they all tend to blend together?
They all kind of blend together. I know lots of people don’t like San Diego because it’s so big, but I have to say, I love San Diego because it’s the one show, because it’s so big, that you feel like you’re doing something. You don’t feel like you’re stuck in a closet. There’s so much other media.
It’s the non-comic people who come by the booth. The ones who aren’t as familiar with the medium.
Yeah. It’s just cool to be there. And I love San Diego, the town.
Is it more difficult in the superhero shows—shows like Wizard World—to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing?
Yeah, it is. But that’s the case in the industry as a whole. It’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to you when you don’t have a superhero title coming out from Marvel or DC. But things have changed. I feel that, because more bookstores are getting involved and carrying comics and manga is making such a big impact, that the superhero genre is kind of losing its stranglehold and other types of material are getting looked it. It’s really exciting.
I read an interview with you some time ago, in which someone asked you what The Goon was about. You seemed to have a hard time describing it. Is that still difficult?
It is, but I have my standard answer now: “It’s a dark comedy about a street thug, in a world of monsters,” which doesn’t even begin to describe what the book is all about, but that’s my standard answer now, when people ask that question. Because it’s so all over the place and just any weird thing that comes out of my head, it’s hard to describe exactly what it is. It’s really something you have to read to really get, I think.
When you come to a show like this, you’re really selling yourself to passersby. That’s got to be difficult when you don’t have a straight ahead pitch—“it’s Superman meets Aquaman, meets Love & Rockets.”
Exactly. It doesn’t have that automatic hook, like, “I’m doing this book and it’s Spider-man versus zombies.” Everyone automatically understands that. I can’t really say The Goon is like The Matrix meets Indiana Jones. That’s how everyone tries to categorize what they’re doing, and with The Goon, I can’t really make those comparisons.
How did it evolve when you were putting the pieces together?
It still evolves. Because the one goal I had was that I was going to play to my strengths and do exactly what I wanted to do. And if you look at the book, for better or worse, that’s what I’ve done. The art is always changing and evolving, because I love playing with the medium and experimenting. And the stories go anywhere from completely absurd to, with Chinatown, overly dramatic and serious. I don’t plan on changing that. If I want to do Goon fighting giant robots, I’m gonna do that. If I want to do a serious love story, I’ll do that. I’m going to do whatever I want to do, and if people like it, that’s awesome.
I know you’ve done some stuff with the Marvels and DCs of the world, specifically the Bizarro book. Does that sort of thing appeal to you at all? Or are you surrendering too much creative control?
Yeah, I’ve been offered quite a few jobs in superhero books, but, for the most part, I turn them down, just because they’d take my away from doing The Goon. The amount of creative control I have in doing The Goon is the main reason. Because this is my job and I’m making a living off of it, but also, not to sound pretentious about it, I feel that I am an artist, so if I want to draw a big guy punching shit, I get more fulfillment out of that than I do working in the constraints of a superhero universe, where, if I want to do something completely off-the-wall, they tell me that it doesn’t fit with the rest of the universe.
It’s all by committee, basically.
Yeah. That’s their system, and that’s fine, but for me, that doesn’t work. I want to be able to do what I want to do. I want to tell the stories that I want to tell, and if I was working on a superhero book, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
[Concluded in Part Two]