Eric Powell Sees An End For "The Goon" In "Once Upon A Hard Time"

Eric Powell's "The Goon" has always been home to the unexpected, from explosive fart jokes to gruesome beheadings and everything in-between -- and beyond. But in the wake of the recent "Occasion of Revenge" series, the dark nature of the award-winning creator's Dark Horse Comics series may be leading him to abandon the scarred face that put him on the map.

In a recent Reddit AMA, Powell explained to fans that major changes are afoot in February's "Once Upon A Hard Time" miniseries. "'Once Upon a Hard Time' is the climax to everything I've done in the Goon so far," he said. "In fact, it may be the last story entitled 'the Goon' I ever do. The mythology I've created will keep going. But I'm creating new characters to interact with the old ones, shifting barely used characters to the limelight, and putting everyone in different environments. The next miniseries I do involving this mythology will have a different title and will feature a large cast of characters including several who survive the last Goon series."

With that mysterious tease out there, CBR News reached out to Powell for the ins and outs of his major "Goon" finale. The artist explained how the series went from black comedy to hard-hitting horror, why he's not afraid to change things forever, the reason superhero death gimmicks can't compare to his plans and what exactly will become of the world of "The Goon."

CBR News: Eric, "Occasion of Revenge" -- as is appropriate to the title - ended on a really dark note for the Goon as a character. He's been betrayed and kind of emotionally defeated, although in many ways, it's not the end of the story. The war between the people of the city and the witches continues. Did you need to do this series to put Goon in a specific place to finish this battle?

Eric Powell: Yeah. I wanted to see him being attacked by this coven of witches, but not in the traditional way. They're not going to just go, "We're gonna have a big fist fight!" They're going for a much more psychological attack on him and trying to actually consume him into this curse that's been on the town. If they can make him a part of that, they can feed off him. That's the point where they win. As he becomes lost and just another part of the cursed town, it just feeds their power in the end.

I did have to drag him down, but "Occasion of Revenge" is just setting things up so he can hit rock bottom. When we get "Once Upon A Hard Time" in February, you're seeing him at that point. You're seeing him at his absolute worst as a person and how he's in pain and struggling. He's becoming corrupted and not acting like a really nice guy at some points. It may be a little harsh for some people to read and get this, but it's part of the process of the character. Sometimes we don't all act the way we'd want to, and we end up regretting it. It just adds layers to the character. I mean, the Goon has never been a squeaky clean character, but I'm trying to set him up as a more complex, conflicted character in this.

When "The Goon" first launched as an independently published book, it was more of a straight comedy despite its horror and noir trappings. I've never really gotten the impression that you're the kind of writer who's tacking up a bunch of note cards in order to plot his master plan for the story. [Powell Laughs] So what was it that really kicked things over from making this a comedy book and into this intense tragedy that the story has become?

Well, I always set out from day one to make this book something where I could do whatever I wanted to do. If I wanted to do the funnier stuff, I could do that, and if I wanted to do something more serious, I could do that. I started with the funny stuff, because that's just what came to me. I wanted goofy sidekick with "Little Orphan Annie" eyes and redneck monsters and all of it. But from the very beginning, I had this idea that I'd start with the funny stuff but then I'd tell the story of how he got his scars. And it was, "He got them in Chinatown when he got his heart broken." That's all I had. That was the gist of it. I wanted to use Chinatown because that was a pulpy, noir idea. But I knew that would be the moment it shifted.

I'd dabbled a little bit with the first Buzzard story I did. That had a bit of a serious feel to it, and it was a little heartbreaking. I really wanted to do that full shift with "Chinatown," and it ended up winning an Eisner and being one of the best reviewed books I've ever done. I didn't know that at the time. I thought people would go, "This is dumb. Get back to the fart jokes!" [Laughter] But I never set out going, "In ten years, I'm going to do this" and give it a rigid structure. I let the story evolve on its own. And if it's becoming more complex and more serious, that's just where the story has led me to take it.

Ahead of this new series, you took to Reddit for an AMA and dropped a pretty tantalizing idea for the future of the series. You said this may be the very last story called "The Goon," even though the story of this town and this world will continue in some form. That's a big change for things, but it's also kind of nebulous about what this all means. It's very different from when we'll see a big publisher declare, "We're killing the Human Torch in three months! Get ready!" I wondered if you approached it like that as a response to how comics usually do things.

Yeah. I'm not going to tell anybody about where this story leaves off, because I don't want it to be ruined for anybody. There are some significant changes, and some characters do die. I'll say that, but I won't say who dies. Whenever I kill off a character, it's for a point. It's not just some gimmick. It's not like "The Death of Superman" or "The Death of Wolverine." Those books might be well done or created by talented writers and artists, but when they get that together to sell it, it's a gimmick. People are selling this thing to say, "If we kill off this character, it'll boost sales. And then we'll bring him back five months later." That's all it is. Every time I've killed a character in "The Goon," it's been for a purpose.

For example, I killed off this supporting character, Merle, who's a werewolf who kind of betrayed the Goon's gang. I felt that was another point where it was a goofy character in a goofy world, but I could do something that punched the readers in the face a little bit. It reminded them that these guys are gangsters, and this is what they do. It was, "He betrayed the Goon and got another character killed, and so the Goon is going to kill him." He actually killed him pretty brutally, and I got complaints from some people that it was too much. But they're gangsters. That's how they're going to behave in a story.

So when I'm saying that "Once Upon A Hard" time has people that are going to die in it, it'll serve the characters and the progression of the mythology that I've made. It's not a gimmick-related thing I'm doing, and I won't treat it like that.

As we step into this series, like I said, there are a lot of threads still running from "Occasion of Revenge." While the Goon has been knocked down a peg, his forces still have a deal with mob boss Rigatti to get some help battling the witches. How do you take all those pieces and get them rolling again considering this is actually issue #50 of the series?

Really, "Once Upon A Hard Time" is the "Empire Strikes Back" of this story. "Occasion of Revenge" was the setup of everything, and when we step into this story it gets pretty dark pretty quick. The Goon is letting everyone feel his anger. He is not in a playing mood, and it gets pretty violent in that issue. I don't want to give too much away, but it definitely sets up a lot. There's a lot going on at the end of "Occasion of Revenge," like you said, but those ideas continue in "Once Upon A Hard Time" to set up some new conflicts as this all evolves.

Whatever happens to the Goon as a character, you've said you're committed to sticking with this world moving forward. What is it, if not your lead character, that makes this a playground you feel you can continue in with a different cast or different mission statement?

It's just everything that I love to do. It's the stories I want to tell and the stuff I want to draw. I love the look and the dress of the Depression era and the '30s and '40s. That's what I gravitate to. I've created this comic where I can get away with doing all that, and I'm kind of surprised myself that I haven't gotten bored with it since I've been doing it for so long. But every time I draw something new in this world, I have fun with it. It's very hard to step away from that. I just want to keep doing it.

You've said there will be a mix of new characters and old in the future of the franchise. Are there any characters in particular that have grown into main players in a way that surprised you?

Characters have definitely come in with little throwaway bits and stuck around. The best one I can think of is Mabel. That's someone I drew at the bar once for a gag, and then I liked the gag so much I did another take on it in the next issue. I liked the character so much, he became a recurring one. And he's had a much bigger role in the last two miniseries, and he's becoming a prominent force. Fon Rigatti also shows up again in this next miniseries in a pretty pivotal scene.

"Occasion of Revenge"was an art-intensive series for you. Did it wrap the way you thought it would in terms of producing this big story you'd been carrying with you?

A little bit. I switched from working with a colorist to trying to do it myself. The book is mostly in black and white, but there are still a lot of painting effects in it where I was almost doing a black and white painted book. That was almost more labor intensive than I was expecting, but now I'm in more of a rhythm with it. I'm using a slightly different technique on "Once Upon A Hard Time," but having just finished the first issue, I feel like I've got a good rhythm with it.

The last series was also one that thematically became about characters who had done something terrible in their past and then watched it come back to haunt them. Since you're teasing all these big changes for "The Goon," do you have any fear that you'll look back on the big shake up at some point in the future and regret going that far?

Not really, no. If you enter into doing any creative task with fear, you're already fucking up. That's my opinion. If you ever go, "I can't do this because it could be bad," well, your sensibilities will always play into that. You're not going to do something that's completely repulsive against your own tastes. Maybe you can do that with someone you're trying to make repugnant, but not a character you want the reader to care about.

"Occasion of Revenge" was a book about the consequences of revenge. It was about multiple characters taking revenge into their own hands, but in no way did it help them in a positive way. There were some very negative things that happened in that series, but when it comes to that or how this latest story is unraveling, the only regrets I have are ones where I wish I could have done things better. I still don't have a single issue of "The Goon" out there that I feel is exactly what I want. But as far as any kind of content? I don't think you can go on any creative endeavor and second guess yourself or play to anyone else's sensibilities. You have to put the story on the page as you see it and let it live or sink as you will.

I don't think I'll look back on this and say, "I shouldn't have done this." From the beginning, this is a story that's changed as I tell it. I'll get new ideas and run with them, and the story has become bigger and bigger because of that. It's gone in directions that I never saw it going. You just have to have faith in that.

Whatever it's called and whoever it stars, do you feel like this franchise will be a new kind of comic once you get into its next major series?

That's kind of why I'm doing the shift after this miniseries. I've always set out to let the story do what it's going to do, and once I finished the return of the Zombie Priest story, I knew I that the next big thing I'd want to do would be a conflict between the Goon and the coven of witches that belong to the priest's race. As that story came together in my mind, it really felt like a final chapter. It wrapped up all these ideas I'd had from the very first issue of "The Goon." So rather than fight that, I'm just going to go with it. I think it plays out pretty well.

"The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time" launches February 4 from Dark Horse Comics.

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