Recently featured in CBR’s Comic Book Creator Iron Men Countdown, “Gold Digger” — written and drawn by Fred Perry and published by Antarctic Press — is considered the second longest running, creator-owned, self-contained North American comic book in history, only exceeded by Dave Sim’s magnum opus “Cerebus.” The series counts among its influences “Indiana Jones” and “Final Fantasy” as well as the current BBC “Doctor Who” television series in terms of storytelling and delivering self-contained adventures in every issue, which are threaded with an overarching theme.
Debuting in 1991 as a one-shot, the manga-style comic quickly expanded into an ongoing series following the adventures of super-scientist/archeologist/adventurer Gina Babette Diggers and celebrates its landmark 200th issue in April — though technically Perry already claims 290-plus issues of “Gold Digger” when he includes specials, spin-offs, annuals and technical data books that he also wrote and illustrated. CBR News connected with the Gulf War veteran-turned-comic book creator to mark the occasion and discuss his prolific output.
CBR News: You have now lived with Gina Diggers for more than 20 years. Take us back to the First Gulf War and your tour of duty. How did you conceive and develop “Gold Digger” and specifically, your leading lady?
The Gulf War had plenty of close calls for me. I was in a special unit innocuously named General Engineer Support Unit. Our job was to go ahead of the main fighting force into a two-mile deep minefield during the initial battle and clear it.
Mission accomplished. But after the conflict there was a bit of time to relax after morning maintenance, so I started drawing good girl art to trade for snacks, batteries, toilet paper, stuff that was hard to get. My drawings were pretty popular too. My crewman told me, “Cpl. Perry, when you get back, you should make a comic with some of these babes in it.” And it seemed like a nice idea to me.
When I returned I started to search for a theme on which to base the adventures of my new comic. I found an Indiana Jones-themed Three Musketeers ad in the back of a “Captain America” comic that my brother purchased and was inspired.
Was Gina inspired by any heroines of the day, historical figures and/or pop culture icons?
Actually, Gina’s curiosity and adventurous nature is based on my sister, Tina. But since she was going to be sexy as well as smart, tough and funny I decided to make her blonde. [Laughs]
Do you have any formal training as an artist or writer?
I wish I had formal training. I’d have advanced sooner. Re-inventing the wheel is no way to progress. I studied books. My first how-to book was “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” (by Stan Lee and John Buscema). But I found plenty of others that helped me. The major advances I made were with practice.
When you returned home, you released your first one-shot in Antarctic Press’ “Mangazine” in 1991. How did you hook up with Antarctic Press and why has the working relationship lasted so long?
I had sent work to AP from 1989 all the way until I left for the Gulf War. Before that time, it wasn’t serious. It was part time and for fun. I was mostly interested in computer science. It wasn’t until I came back from Saudi Arabia with my inspiration that I decided “Gold Digger” was what I really, really wanted to do.
Also, Antarctic is pretty creator-friendly. They let me do what I want, the way I want to do it. I enjoy the freedom to create in my way, unconditionally here.
Did you ever consider or have the opportunity to take “Gold Digger” to another publisher?
I would if AP put constraints on what I could do. They know why I’m here. That and I trust the guys here. Without that I wouldn’t be around.
To what do you attribute your fan loyalty and the concept’s 20-plus years of longevity?
I consider part of my payment for working on “GD” is hearing and reading about the reactions of my readers. I think they know I try to keep attuned to their input. I think they realize “GD” is sort of a collaborative effort. And I think they know that I want them to be emotionally invested in the stories and the characters.
It’s sort of the same connection a GM (game master) has with his players. I feel like “GD” is a 20-year-old role playing game session and the adventure results come out each month in the form of a comic.
Despite 200-plus issues, “Gold Digger” exists in relative obscurity as compared to mainstream characters like “Spider-Man” or “Batman.” Are you OK with that?
The comic industry is an intensely competitive market and a lot of great work is overshadowed or obscure. It’s hard to be satisfied with a small audience, but I feel encouraged by the fact that the work does well enough to support me doing another issue. As long as that condition exists, I can continue.
How do you feel the industry has changed since 1991 and specifically, how do you feel that you have you changed with it?
In 1991, multimedia was a bit harder to come by. These days, just a few keystrokes and you’re watching a movie you haven’t seen in years or reading a story you haven’t read since you were 12. We’re saturated with entertainment options so it’s really touching to me that my readers still choose to read and support my work.
Doing something new each month means I’ve had to keep my eyes and ears open for anything that can spark an idea. But I’m use to it. “GD” is still my personal role-playing game universe and I run it for fun: first and foremost. This is why you see so many reference gags. I put in what I like to see.
With 50 black-and-white issues and an upcoming 150th color issue, “Gold Digger” is about to reach its landmark 200th issue. In 10 years, will we be talking about “Gold Digger” #300?
You will. Though technically, I’ve already got 290-plus “Gold Digger” issues but we’re just counting the regular series and none of the specials, side stories, spin-offs, annual stories or technical data books that I wrote and illustrated.
Where do you take the series from here? What’s your next arc going to be about?
For the next 12-14 issues, I’ll be leaning towards lighter, funnier stories. It’s a chance for me to get in touch with all of the cast and explore their quirkier sides. Down the road, I have just a few more large arcs to complete before “GD’s'” finale. I think 350 issues total might be the stopping place.
“Gold Digger” #200, written and illustrated by Fred Perry, is set for release on April 24.