May marks the twentieth anniversary of Fred Perry’s Antarctic Press series “Gold Digger,” the long-running manga-style series that mixes archaeology, fantasy and occasional parody for a dynamic and enduring adventure. With issue #126 in stores now, CBR News spoke with Perry about the series’ beginnings, where the Diggers sisters are in their epic and how he finds time to handle the writing, drawing and everything else for each and every issue.
Perry is quick to describe “Gold Digger” as a mix of “Indiana Jones” and “Final Fantasy.” The multitalented sisters at the focus of the series, scientist and archaeologist Gina Diggers and martial artist/shopaholic/body guard Britanny Diggers, have been adventuring together since accidentally discovering a dragon’s cave. “From that first adventure, Gina and her sister have been uncovering the world’s hidden history of legends, myth, magic and ancient super-science,” Perry said. “On their journeys, they’ve collected a gallery of awesome, heroic friends and dastardly, vicious enemies! Each fantastic discovery leads them closer to their hidden destiny which springs forth from the very dawn of time!”
Including the series’ three volumes and annuals, Perry’s “Gold Digger” has been running for nearly 200 issues, during which time the cartoonist has built up a considerable amount of mythology surrounding his characters, all of whom have grown along with their legends. “I love dynamic characters. Strong characters who have proper motivations and drives are easy to change because their core being remains [constant],” Perry told CBR. “Gina has changed how she feels about cute guys from her first stories (nowhere near as hunk-crazy these days), but Gina’s curiosity, ingenuity and adventurer’s spirit keeps her consistent. She’s evolved from n00b to professor in the course of 196 stories. ‘GD’s’ story has a beginning, we’re deep in the middle and it will have an ending. A huge, dynamic arc.”
Perry said, however, that the biggest change throughout the series may be in how the stories themselves are told. “I was inspired by the way ‘Doctor Who’ develops stories. In the recent series, everything you need to enjoy the beginning, middle and end of a ‘Doctor Who’ story is contained in that story! Anyone who views one for the first time has no trouble grasping that story arc because all the info needed to understand it is included,” he said. “Of course, if you’ve followed ‘Doctor Who’ for years, you know the weight and depth of a situation like the Doctor having a conversation with ‘The Last of the Daleks.’ But if you’ve never heard of ‘Doctor Who,’ you will still understand the conversation in the context of the plot.
“This is what I’ve applied to ‘GD,’ recently. Ever since issue 101, I’ve made the issues accessible to any reader. No previous historical knowledge of the series is needed to enjoy the plot. I have my newfound appreciation for the writers of ‘Doctor Who’ to thank for that! Much Love!”
That accessibility includes the most recent issues, of course. “If you want a great place to begin, you can start from #125. That issue revisits some old motivations and pits Dreadwing, the series’ main villain, against most of his old enemies, including Gina and Britanny.
“In #126, Gina and her friends have their showdown with Dreadwing. Violence alone won’t be enough. They have to work hard to unravel what he’s woven, and there’s a bit of a surprise at the end,” Perry continued. “In issue 127, the heroes have to heal the damage Dreadwing caused a long time ago. Some old wounds are now gaping open and the consequences are deadly!
“#128 will be a nice fun issue with some funny situations concerning Gina and her advanced archeology class. #129 will be another lighthearted story involving the Leprechaun defense force: ‘Vaultron,’ The Pirate Ninja Leprechaun team and the candy golems of the Oumpa Loumpas. Somehow, the world’s current UFF champion, Ayane Anno AKA ‘Mistress’ is wrapped up in the middle of this ‘slobberknocker.'”
Beyond the longevity of the series itself, “Gold Digger” is notable in that Perry writes, draws, inks, colors and letters everything himself, all while maintaining a monthly schedule. He also finds time for occasional side projects, usually short stories for Antarctic’s anthology one-shots. “I guess I’m a control freak. I can’t bring myself to publish something I wouldn’t spend my own money on, so I make sure of that the only way I know how. DIY,” Perry said. “I guess I learned a lot about discipline in the Marines. I haven’t met many former Marines who didn’t practice and apply what we learned about self-discipline as kids in boot camp. It’s not speed. It’s just getting the job done and doing it as well as possible. I wish I had more time for other projects. Doing one thing everyday can help you improve in one direction if you apply yourself. But I know if you branch out a little and try new things, you level up better.”
The origins of “Gold Digger” stem from Perry’s service in the Marines during the first Gulf War, though the initial idea evolved over time. “I came up with the idea to do a series in Desert Storm. ‘Gold Digger’ came about after developing for a few months,” Perry told CBR.
“In 1991, there were some restrictions to what kind of tapes, magazines and media we could have as personal items in Saudi Arabia. They didn’t want anything like the ‘Sports Illustrated’ swimsuit edition lying on someone’s rack for some innocent Saudi Arabian adult to trip over, I guess,” Perry continued. “But there wasn’t anything to stop me from drawing pin-ups for my crew and my section. I didn’t do it for money. We all had cash from spending months and months over there. No one cared about trading for cash, because there was nothing to buy. Saudi Arabia had meager shopping opportunities available to ‘tent city.’ The things of true value were AA batteries, sodas, snacks and care-package goods like non-military toilet paper. I’d trade ‘good girl’ art for that stuff.
“One of my crewmen suggested, when I return to the states, I should make a comic based on the characters I drew and traded. After the war and upon my return to the US,(an adventure in its own), I begin to work up ideas for the spark that was still there from Saudi and Kuwait.
“The first few ideas bored me. Damsel in distress-or-something stories didn’t interest me. Then I noticed my little sister watching ‘Sailor Moon’ and took some time to look at what the characters on TV were doing. The battles always seemed interesting until Tuxedo Mask reared his head and spoiled everything. ‘Saving the day,'” he continued. “I was like, ‘What the heck? Lame! The writers should have had the scouts solve that problem on their own. They had everything they needed to figure it out. The writers should have let them figure it out!’ I decided not to let that happen in my stories. Whoever the protagonist is, male, female or machine, they’ll work through their own problem and come out on top by using their own efforts! The next day, I caught sight of a Three Musketeers ad in the back of an old ‘Captain America’ comic. The ad depicted a team of ‘Indiana Jones’-ish explorers going into an ancient temple to discover a giant candy bar. That ad inspired me to make my creation about exploring. Exploring the fantastic and weird history of earth’s legendary past.
“I was working up ideas for the main characters when I saw ‘Street Fighter 2’ appear on the scene in a gaming mag. At first, Britanny Diggers was a sort of female version of Blanka. Gina was sort of an elf explorer type who was a bit of a prude but always seemed to fall into the middle of risque situations. Back then, I called Brit ‘Cheetah.’ She was sort of a female Tarzan type who chased guys at lightning speed to pounce on them instinctively but, inexperienced as she was, wound up being confused as to what to do with her victim next. But Gina and Brit began to develop on their own as I fleshed them out. Eventually, and I know it sounds a bit schitzo, they began to tell me what they wanted to say and do and how they’d act in various situations.
“After that, I let the stories write themselves!”
Perry began his manga-styled series a few years before manga exploded into the popular consciousness in America. Asked how he came by the style, Perry cited early crossover anime and another Antarctic Press series. “I’ve enjoyed anime since it first appeared on local television for me in the late seventies. ‘Speed Racer’ and ‘Marine Boy.’ I didn’t know it came from Japan until the mid to late eighties when ‘Robotech’ aired. I guess ‘Robotech’ was the show that made my love for anime and manga really click,” Perry told CBR. “In 1989, I saw a comic called ‘Ninja High School.’ That book is what lit the spark for me to want to draw manga. But not in Ben [Dunn]’s style. He already was doing an awesome job at doing Ben’s style. I wanted to find my own ‘manga’ style. So I studied the references I could get at that time — mostly Viz comics: ‘Xenon,’ ‘Street Fighter 2’ and ‘Lum.’ Eventually, I learned enough about the style that I was confident in my ability to practice without references. I filled tons of sketchbooks!”
The market for manga in America has undergone seismic changes in the 20 years since “Gold Digger” began, rising in prominence through the mid-nineties and early ’00s until it reached a critical mass, before contracting into a still very popular medium, but one which no longer has the automatic cache it did only a few years ago. “Funny thing is that the readership hasn’t really jumped or fallen in all this time,” Perry told CBR. “Those who get what I create read it and give me feedback. I use that feedback to feel what kind of stories I should tell that further GD’s timeline and tell those stories. The style is manga, but its feel is personal and local.”
“Gold Digger” #129 will mark the twentieth anniversary of the series; #126 is on sale now.