Somewhere deep in the Appalachian mountains, where shadows never fade and communities remain sheltered away from the world beyond, where terrifying denizens of Below still creep up into the real world, you’ll find man with no eyes carrying a big-ass cleaver. And when he comes across one of those terrible things from way down Below, well, he’s gonna kill it — real good.
Welcome to the world of Eric Powell’s latest creation, “Hillbilly.” Debuting from his self-published Albatross Funnybooks imprint, “Hillbilly” is a monthly series chronicling the adventures of Rondel, a man born with no eyes, yet cursed with terrible vision, who is out to rid the world of foul demons and witches. In short, fans can expect plenty of mayhem, drama and humor in the manner of Powell’s cult favorite “The Goon.”
CBR News spoke with Powell about “Hillbilly’s” genre stylings, and how he’s grounding the book in a visual style specific to its universe, The creator also opened up about his conversations with “Deadpool” director Tim Miller about bringing “The Goon” to cinemas near you.
CBR News: “Hillbilly” has a lot of backwoods, black magic mythology about it. Are you drawing on any real folklore, or is this predominantly a whole cloth mythos?
Eric Powell: Both. I’ve got a few little things I’m drawing from Appalachian folklore, but for the most part I’m just making a new fantasy universe — just throwing in whatever I feel fits the tone of the world and works within the parameters of what an Appalachian myth might be. Of course, the Bible belt plays a part in that, so Satan and witches seem like obvious bad guys for it.
For a big, mysterious dude living in the wilderness, the Hillbilly — or Rondel, as we learn is his name — is very open with his history in this first issue, isn’t he?
Ha! The readers have to find out somehow! But who’s to say it was the truth? Or all of it?
Good point. There are lots of mysteries left in his world: the fate of the witch Eldora, for one, and the origin of the Hillbilly’s friend Lucille, the talking bear. Do you have a long-term plan for this series?
I have the overall vision of this world. I mean, I know the bigger story connected to Rondel, but these stories are going to be self-contained, stand-alone comics. I prefer the short story format. That doesn’t mean I won’t reveal some of that larger story or connect them. I just want to tell vignettes of Rondel’s life rather than a linear, drawn out saga.
I love the Devil’s Cleaver; it has great visual power. How important is having the right visual iconography to make your world come to life?
To me, it’s incredibly important. In comics, you have to have that visual cue to put a real stamp on something — something symbolic or distinct, like a great hook in music. The Cleaver is his Excalibur. It had to have the right look. I didn’t want to go too extreme, like fantasy video games where guys have twenty foot-long swords that look like a logo for a death metal band. It had to be somewhat plain — it was just a piece of cutlery, nothing meant to be special — but I also didn’t want it to look like an ordinary cleaver. I think I did OK. It has a simple rustic tool vibe, but is also a little weird. There are more secrets about the cleaver that will be revealed to readers in future issues.
How far does this idea go back, and what brought it to fruition now?
It’s been sitting in my sketchbook at least ten years now. It was one of those, “Yeah, I’ll get to that at some point” projects. As soon as I knew it was time to step away from “Goon,” it was the first thing I knew I had to do. It had been waiting too long.
Despite the demonic overtones and spooky-as-anything setting, “Hillbilly” is very much fantasy adventure. You give the example of the Cleaver as Excalibur, but will there be other high fantasy tropes adapted to this Appalachian setting?
Yeah, it’s meant to be a straight-up fantasy story. Of course there are a lot of horrific elements — it’s what I’m drawn to. I can’t help it. But I would definitely categorize this as fantasy, and the stories will be playing out within that genre — with some twists, of course.
Why the return to self-publishing for this?
Because I’m stubborn, possibly dumb. There were a lot of reasons, but the main factor was just my own curiosity. I just wanted to see what would happen if I gave it a shot, see if I could build my own thing instead of relying on someone else. Luckily, I’ve got an extremely loyal fanbase that allows me to try stuff like this. If they weren’t willing to follow me over the wall, I wouldn’t be able to continue doing creator-owned comics, let alone self-publish.
Will Albatross Funnybooks be working with any other creators, or is it strictly your own work for now?
I’m gearing up to publish other people’s work. A couple of projects will be coming out as soon as the creators finish them, but nothing to speak of just yet. For this first year, though, the majority will be my stuff. The main reason is I work very cheaply for myself. Eric Powell is paying Eric Powell peanuts. Just like any business, the startup year is the hardest. We’re functioning on a tight budget until we start getting some product rolling out. But we’ve gotten our orders for the first couple of months now, and I’m pretty pleased. I think we’re in a comfortable spot.
As a reporter I’m required to ask, what’s the status of “The Goon” — both in comics and on film?
The “Once Upon a Hard Time” miniseries wrapped up the book, but I have a spinoff called “Lords of Misery” I’m working on. I’m taking my time writing it and figuring out the format I want to present it in.
The film is still moving forward. Tim Miller has obviously got a little more heat since coming off “Deapool.” We’re hoping that can finally get us over that last hurdle. I think he’s more positive about it happening now than any time through this whole long process, which is instilling me with more cautious optimism.
With this ongoing and a potential “Goon” spinoff at least a little ways off, do you have anything else in the works?
We’ve got several things lined up with Albatross. The solicitations haven’t been released yet, so I won’t speak of them, but keep an eye open. And Dark Horse is rolling out the “Goon” Library Editions now. They’re a great place to start if anyone out there has never read “The Goon.”
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