The creator of “The Goon,” Eric Powell, spoke with CBR TV during this year’s WonderCon where he dove right into the topic of creator-owned comics and why he’s become a more vocal voice in support of the concept in recent months, the importance of expanding the comics base beyond a single overwhelming genre and how to tackle the difficulty in breaking wide to a larger audience with creator-owned works as opposed to books featuring established characters from Marvel or DC.
The Eisner Award-winning artist/writer discussed the feedback he received, positive and negative, for the PSA supporting creators working on their own projects he released last year and his subsequent reticence to follow up with another go-round or even release the commentary track he’s recorded for the original.
Powell also talked about the slow road he and director David Fincher are driving along in bringing Powell’s “The Goon” to the big screen, the rise of roller derby in recent years and his ties to the sport as both a fan and as the boyfriend of a derby girl.
CBR TV: Welcome to CBR TV, I’m Jonah Weiland in the CBR Tiki Room at WonderCon in Anaheim. Sitting to my right is Mr. Eric Powell, the creator of “The Goon” and all kinds of crazy stuff. Wouldn’t you agree?
Eric Powell: I guess — that’s what they tell me.
I’ve been following you on Twitter for years now and it’s interesting that — there’s been a lot of talk about creator-owned comics in the past year. Obviously, you’re a big advocate and the rhetoric has really, really been ramping up. You’re one of the, I’d say, feistier proponents of creator-owned comics and you’ve worked in mainstream comics before — but where does that come from? I’ve seen your level of discussion really heightened recently. Where is that coming from?
Well, I strongly feel the industry needs to diversify itself and start appealing to not just one genre. Everything is so focused on the superhero comics and it’s harder for any other type of comic book to find shelf space out there. I think our industry is suffering for it and I by no means am saying, “Let’s get rid of that stuff,” as much as I might make jokes about that, but those are jokes people. [Laughs] The thing is, if we have an industry like every other entertainment industry out there that has this — with music, it’s got metal, country, rock, pop, rap, whatever — and we focus mainly on one genre. If we can broaden our appeal, we can make our industry stronger. That’s really where my passion about it comes from. I just want an equal playing field.
Do you think some of that comes from the fact that yes, comics have gone in the mainstream lately. Not comic books, but the characters. Comics are driving pop culture in a lot of ways. It seems to me that some of this issue is driven by the fact that the mainstream just wants to talk about superheroes, that they don’t want to talk about anything else. I don’t know how we convince them. We get the occasional “30 Days of Night” or “Road to Perdition” that gets people talking about comics in a slightly different way, but I guess we have to start with ourselves and start supporting creator-owned books like you and Steve Niles.
I think it’s not just one area where you can point a finger and go, “Oh, it’s the publisher” or “Oh, it’s the retailer,” “Oh, it’s the reader.” All of it, the creators, the entire business needs to change its thinking a little bit and think outside the box because we don’t have the level of growth I think we should be having right now. You’ve got “Walking Dead,” a huge hit, you’ve got all these movies coming out, but it’s not really — you know —
It’s not translating into dollars for everybody.
It’s not translating into the sales for the comic book business because I think we alienate people from wanting to go in and try something because they think it’s just one genre. “Well, I’m not really into that…”
It’s something I talk about a lot with my guys and with other people in the industry, I think we have to change our thinking whole cloth when it comes to comics. This isn’t a criticism of any one individual. It’s creators, it’s retailers, it’s publishers, we have to find new ways of marketing it, we have to find new ways of selling to customers. The number of times I’ve gone into a comic book store and I don’t see anyone interacting with any of the customers at all or upselling at all when they go to the cash register. You know, if somebody brings up “The Goon” that they’ve never seen in their store before, you’ve got to sell them — at least offer them three to four other things. If they don’t want it, it’s fine, but I think we have — comics got very insular for a while. I don’t want to say we got lazy, but we got comfortable and now I think it’s time for us all to get out of our comfort zones and push as hard as we can because we do have the greatest stories in the world.
Yeah, I think that’s part of the thing. We’re going for the easy sell and this market is really tough right now, especially for retailers. They’re having a really hard time. It’s hard to argue with the fact that a retailer has — maybe he has space on his shelf for fifty books and that’s the budget he has, for fifty books, and Marvel and DC put out fifty superhero titles that he knows he can easily sell because it has name recognition. It’s hard to argue with the fact, “Hey, you should be putting a creator owned book up there, you should be putting something new on the shelf to try to get new readers and generate new properties in this business.” It’s hard to make that argument. So there’s not one easy solution. I just think as a whole, every publisher, every retailer, the readers, we need to start taking some shots and some chances and trying new things because we need new content. We’re not seeing remakes of “I Love Lucy” on TV right now. We’re not just living off of TV shows from the ’60s. We’re putting out new stuff and that new stuff, if we were doing “I Love Lucy” remakes, we wouldn’t have “Game of Thrones” or any of the other stuff that’s great. I don’t know. There’s no easy solution. I don’t have an answer, I’m not telling anyone what to do, I’m just trying to bring awareness to it, let’s give some attention to these creator-owned projects.
But you did have some fun with it, with that PSA.
Yeah, I had fun with it and made a lot of people mad. So–
[Laughs] Did you really get a lot of angry feedback on that?
What was really disheartening about it is, I was doing this thing and I thought, “Well, people have read my book, they know I’m a smart ass, you know? They know I’m going to try to be funny with it.” And a lot of people just didn’t have a sense of humor about it. It didn’t have the intended effect which was, hey, let’s bring some awareness to this and maybe we can get some camaraderie going in the comic book business. Instead, it just got everyone fighting. Everyone was yelling at each other, no one was agreeing on anything and it just caused a bunch of strife and a bunch of arguments completely the opposite of what I was trying to do. In that way, it failed, but it got some discussion going.
It got the discussion going. I don’t think you should think of it as a failure at all. It got the discussion going and you know what? Now you’ve got to do a second PSA.
Say, “Well you guys got all pissed off at me last time, let’s do this again!”
Well, after we did that, I did — a couple of the guys who made it with me, we did do the director’s commentary track for it and we were going to put it back out there. I don’t know, I’m just waiting for the right time. I don’t want to — I’m going like — I had so many people telling me — completely miss the point and just saying all these horrible things about me and stuff. It was just kind of like, “Do I want to open that can of worms again?” I’ll wait for the right time or something.
You know what? I think you do want to open up that can of worms because you know what? You’ve got to stir the pot once in a while. Success only comes with taking risk and that was a bit of a risk, putting yourself out there, but that being said, it was really nicely done. So I’m wondering, is there a filmmaker inside of you that would like to do some of that stuff?
I think there is a filmmaker inside of me but a filmmaker that is like, I could never be a filmmaker. I don’t have the patience or the ego, I think, to get in front of — like, “I’m going to go out to Hollywood and be a director,” something like that. No, I love tinkering with video and stuff. That’s fun but as far as any ambition to actually do anything with it professionally? No.
Well you can’t move to L.A. because I don’t know if you know this but you have a doppelganger in L.A. If you put in Eric Powell in Google, it’ll come up with you first with “The Goon” and then some L.A. wedding photographer.
[Laughs] Oh yeah, I think I come across his website. He sent me an email once saying, “Everyone’s asking me about my comic book.”
Yeah, I didn’t know he was in L.A. though.
That’s pretty funny. You live in Lebanon, Tennessee. I’m really curious, what’s the comics scene like in Lebanon, Tennessee?
There’s none. [Laughs]
Are you the scene?
I’ve heard there are a few comic book people in Nashville now, but I don’t know who they are. So I think I’m the only — as far as I know, I’m the only person left in middle Tennessee that does comics.
Do you ever feel isolated being in Tennessee and no other support in the immediate surroundings?
Yeah, sometimes, but a lot of the times, I like it because you can just kind of remove yourself from it.
Do your comics, make your funny books and move on.
Yeah, pretty much.
Your girlfriend is into roller derby. She does that. I’ve gone to roller derby a number of times in L.A. and I’ll tell you this —
Is it bank track or flat track?
Okay, well, she plays flat track.
Oh, is that better or worse?
Well, it depends on what you want. I think — I don’t watch a lot of the bank track stuff. I’m not sure, so no derby people yell at me, but I think the bank track is still a little theatrical and the flat track stuff is totally a rigid set of rules and playing it for the sport.
It’s huge in L.A. They’ve got about a thousand people at every game, which may not sound like a lot compared to a basketball game, but I think a thousand people going to a roller derby, a thing that I grew up with in the ’70s on Channel 9 in L.A. on Friday nights, it’s gained a lot of popularity. Is that happening in Tennessee and across the nation?
Yeah, there’s a lot of support for the sport in Nashville. They’re really proud of their team, they went to the national championships two years in a row.
It just fascinates me, that whole culture, the vibe once you get there, the energy is so high — and I’m not a hippy guy, but I dig on that, I really dig on that. For a kind of rough and tumble sport, there’s a lot of positivity in that room, it’s not violent.
Yeah, it is. Everyone always talks about how inclusive it is. You can be Democrat, Republican, gay, straight, fat, skinny, whatever and these people accept you. If you want to put on a pair of skates and go out there and work your ass off and play derby, they’re like, “Come along.”
So, is there a roller derby comic in you?
I did one. I did a story for, I believe Oni put it out, an anthology called “Jam.” I did a little Nashville roller girls thing in there.
Oh, that’s cool. Nothing more, though? That’s enough?
I think I get enough derby between — [Laughs] We are working on a book. Tracy Marsh who co-wrote the “Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters” series with me, we’re doing a kind of prose humor book called “How to Survive Dating a Roller Derby Girl.” We’re working on that, it’s almost wrapped up, so I’m not sure when it will be coming out, but it’s pretty fun.
That’ll be fun. I want to finish up with a question — every time — I’ve only interviewed you once over the phone — but I’ve always got to finish with this and you’ve got to be a little sick of it, but “The Goon” movie. But I want to ask the question a little differently here because having known so many people who have had their products optioned, the one thing I don’t think most people understand is how close you can get and then it all falls apart. Then you get close again and I want you to talk a little bit about that journey because here you are, you’ve got an Academy Award nominated director — he’s not won, I believe, David Fincher —
No, I don’t think so. I know he’s been nominated for the past four years or something…
And he’s certainly a hot director right now. So here you go, you’ve got your property in his hands, but he constantly gets pulled in different directions or you don’t get your money — talk a little bit about the journey you’ve taken with this movie leading up to where it is right now and if you think it’ll ever actually happen.
Well, Fincher said something to me. He said, “When you have a property that’s this unique and weird, it’s either a thing that gets snapped right up or it takes a while to get off the ground” and right now, we’re in the take a while.
You’ve been in “take a while” for a while.
Yeah. It’s just the combination of finding the right people, the people who understand it and get it and don’t want Goon to have a singing, talking dog and coming up with the right budget. They’re still plugging away, they’re still talking to people — it’s not dead by any means. But it’s just a waiting game, it’s finding the right people.
Do you focus on it at all or do you just put it to the side and say, “If it happens, great.”
Well, in the beginning, I was focusing more on it because I was working on the screenplay and stuff and we were working on the test footage —
Right, which is great stuff.
Yeah, it’s — yeah, I love that test footage. If nothing else, I have that. It’s just great. If you put any kind of expectation on something like this, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. You just have to throw up your hands and go, “Ehn, I’m gonna wait and see.”
I want to see it happen, I really hope it happens and hey, a Fincher-directed “Goon” movie — we’ve all been thinking about it since it was announced, just thinking, “It’s going to be crazy.” With your sensibility and his filmmaking abilities, I think it’s a beautiful marriage, so good luck, I’m really pulling for you.
Thank you, yeah. We’re trying to get it done.