Sympathetic Monsters, an interview with Eric Powell, part 1

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Eric Powell, by his own measure, is a quiet guy. But you wouldn’t know it reading his comics, especially his horror/comedy series The Goon.

The Goon is a monster comic in which a muscled thug ? the Goon ? and his absurdly violent sidekick, Franky, tackle crime, monsters, zombies, and generally try to keep their illegal rackets going, all while doing some high quality violence against the undead and other creatures.

In another creator’s hands, The Goon might be grim, joyless, and bloody. Instead, Eric Powell’s vision is all primary colors and strong lines, sly references (the series’ main villain and his army of zombies live “down at the end of Lonely St.?), amusing bombast and a funny, exciting romp through a criminal underworld populated by flesh eaters, evil Christmas elves, and Lovecraftian bugaboos.

Just as Powell’s stories are rich in tone, his characters – even the monsters – are nuanced. From the constantly thwarted Zombie Priest to the misunderstood (and misunderstanding) mad scientist Dr. Alloy to the cuckolded Cthulhu Fishy Pete, the cast of characters populating The Goon are all, to one degree or another, sympathetic monsters.

The Goon has seen many incarnations in its short life: the book was first published by Avatar, then self-published, and has now found a home at Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse publishes the periodical series and has brought out four trade paperbacks of the series so far. The series’ fifth trade paperback, “Virtue and the Grim Consequences Thereof?, is out now.

In this interview Powell talks about The Goon, himself, what he likes and doesn’t like, and comics about monkeys and ducks (you’ll see).

SC: Even though we’re well past the grim and gritty comics of the early 1990s, it still seems like a lot of comics these days are deadly serious and self-important, that they have no sense of humor, no irony, no self-awareness. The Goon is so different than that, so light, straight-forwardly concerned with having fun. Was that intentional?

EP: I’ve had a few serious stories in the Goon but even those are intended to be fun. Mostly I’m concerned that I’m having fun doing the comic. I do the types of stories that I want to do. For some reason a lot of the publishers aren’t doing comics anymore that are unabashedly fun.

Why go in that direction?

Again, because I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t want any limitations.

You’ve said in other interviews that you liked monster movies a lot as a kid. Are there any that stand out as having been particularly influential on you?

The Frankenstein movies.

What was it that you liked about those movies?

The weird atmosphere and I prefer sympathetic monsters.

Is that what draws you to The Hulk, too?

Yeah, and I just like big monsters.

What were you like as a kid? Were you more like The Goon or Franky? Or neither?

I think we create characters that are more like we would like to be, or a side of ourselves that has been repressed. People are always saying when they meet me that they can’t believe I do the Goon. They expect me to be a crazy person like Franky. I’m actually a pretty quiet introverted person. I’m more like the Goon than Franky. Goon just quietly sits at the bar and has his drink. He’s not a talker. But there’s a little bit of me in all my characters.

It seems like some people can be funny in real life, while others can be funny on the page. Obviously, you’re very funny on the page. Are you also funny in real life? Would people describe you that way?

It depends on who I’m with. I’m more comfortable around people I know. I’m definitely not the class clown. I’m more of a quiet dry wit kind of person.

You live in Tennessee. Is Tennessee a funny place or a scary place?

Both. The countryside is beautiful. The people, while being the nicest, most polite, considerate people you’ll find anywhere, can also be narrow minded, hypocritical, racist, and stupid. Depending on the situation, that can be either funny or scary.

Many people, fans and comics creators alike, seem to view (whether conscious or not) getting to work on one of Marvel or DC’s big, iconic characters as the only real goal for comics creators. You’ve done some work for both companies. What do you think about this?

That was my goal to begin with. I wanted to draw Spiderman or the Hulk. As more time goes by the more I realize that’s not for me. The kind of comics I want to do aren’t being done by those companies anymore. I also realized you have no job security working on those titles. At this point I’ve got a book of my own that’s becoming successful and I can never be replaced by another artist on it. I don’t see any reason to change direction now.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion.

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