Eric Powell has been in the comics field since 1995, but his career really took off with debut of his signature character, The Goon, in 1999 in the pages of Dark Horse Comics. And his success is building: He won two Eisner awards this year and five since 2004. The series follows the meandering underworld adventures of the title character, a brawny palooka who clashes with mobsters and zombies in a world that looks like “Sin City” channeled by E.C. Segar’s Popeye universe. Early work on an animated film adaptation is now underway with Blur Studios.
The Tennessee-based Powell talked with Hero Complex correspondent T.J. Kosinski about the film venture as well as the 10th anniversary of “The Goon.”
TJK: When you started “The Goon” in 1999, did you have any aspirations to see your comic book come to life in the world of film?
EP: I think everybody dreams about that, but it’s not a rational dream. It’s one of those “Wouldn’t it be great if?” kind of things, but to actually think that it would? No, I didn’t believe that. I had a hard time believing that I was even going to be successful at making the comic. My biggest ambition was: “If I can make a living off of this comic someday, that’s all I want.” And as far as it’s gotten, I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been able to make a living off of it and it’s become this independent success.
TJK: How did this whole project come about?
EP: There was some initial interest from Blur, the animation studio, and they kind of were looking for other people to be interested, then David Fincher came along, and they came together and approached us and I went out to L.A. for some meetings with [Dark Horse founder] Mike Richardson, and that went really well and I liked their view of the comic and what they wanted to do with it, in terms of content and things like that. They seemed to have this willingness or desire to really capture what the comic was. So that really drew me in, and they had a couple of great pieces of concept art that they showed me and I was like, “Yeah, I want to do this.”
EP: Well, I hope it’s successful. I’m actually not looking at it so much as “Will it be successful as a comic book movie?” but as “Will it be successful as an animated film?” I really think now is the time where you’re going to start seeing more animated films that aren’t going to have a lot of singing animals, y’know? I think you’re going to start seeing a lot more diverse animated material coming out there and you have this audience that’s grown up with animation, the Adult Swim kind of crowd is there now, and I totally see that whole market really getting into this kind of film.
I actually was on the fence about going with an animated film, but the fact is that you couldn’t really capture what “The Goon” is with a live action film. I mean, you just can’t. There’s something about it, it can’t really be real. It’s got to have that quirkiness to it. Like the fact that the Goon looks somewhat more realistic than Franky, but still, he’s only somewhat realistic and Franky is this really over-the-top cartoony design, and to just have two guys, that just takes that interesting quirk away a little bit. To have it as an animated film, I think really, it will stay truer to the world.
TJK: What about the artwork? Are they taking liberties with the comic? Are you helping with design?
EP: Yeah, we’ve been working on some tests and they’ve been showing me everything and taking my input. I’m pretty happy with everything they’ve been showing me so far. It’s just been great-looking stuff. I think the look is going to stay pretty close to the comic.
EP: I have so many that it’s hard to sum them up. Will Eisner is a big influence, Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, a lot of the EC Comics guys, and some of the newer people like Jeff Smith and Richard Corben. My tastes are kind of all over the board.
TJK: Can you talk about the Goon and its retro style?
EP: My style has definitely been evolving. If you look at the collections that Dark Horse has put out, you pick up the first collection and you pick up the last collection and flip through them, it doesn’t even look like the same guy drew it. So the style has definitely been evolving and I think that’s partially because I like to experiment. Just doing the same pen and ink sort of thing over and over again, I just get burned out on it. So I like to throw some pencil stuff in there and some washes and watercolors and that kind of thing, just to change it up a little bit and add some depth to the art.
TJK: Could you tell me anything about the film’s potential storyline?
EP: Well, what we’ve been talking about is taking the material we have and making it work in the context of the film. So it’ll be relatively the same story, however, we’re going to change things and make it work in the context of a film instead of issues of a comic book. Like, “Sin City” was done in this completely page-by-page adaptation. You can’t do that with the Goon. The Goon is kind of all over the place. It’ll be close, but it will be changed just enough to make it work in the context if the film.
EP: They’re keeping me in the loop. I think we’re all getting a vote, kind of a thing, which is the way I want it. Everyone’s input is being heard, everyone’s input is being listened to, and they definitely want me involved. They keep me involved, and they just want to make sure that I’m happy with what we make. It’s such the preliminary stage that there’s really not a whole lot to talk about, right now anyway. We are working on character design and test footage and stuff like that, but that’s about where it is.
TJK: What’s next for the Goon as far as the comics?
EP: I’ve been doing this, what we call “Goon Year,” which is this promotional thing where, because “The Goon” is usually a bimonthly series, but we took it monthly for a year to do this big storyline that I had in mind. So the last issue of that will be coming up in December and it kind of wraps up a whole lot of stuff really from the very first issue. So there’s a lot of material coming to a head in that issue. And then in 2009, it’s actually the 10th anniversary of “The Goon,” the first issue came out in March of ’99, so we’re planning on doing a couple of cool things. Dark Horse might get upset if I say too much about them.
All artwork by Eric Powell, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics