Eric Powell has been making independent comics for decades, including his signature series The Goon. Now he’s expanding the operation and relaunching his own indie comic label, Albatross Funnybooks, which he first tried years ago before folding to devote all his energy to The Goon. Albatross is starting off strong with a new series from Powell called Hillbilly, as well as a sequel to his controversial 2007 one-shot Satan’s Sodomy Baby. Both are available in comic stores June 29, though you can check out an exclusive preview of Hillbilly #1 below, and download a five-page preview on Comixology.
Like The Goon, Hillbilly features two protagonists going up against all kinds of supernatural evil. Except in this case, the story takes place in the Appalachian backwoods, and the two main characters are not Depression-era gangster figures but a wandering vigilante armed with Satan’s own cleaver and a gigantic talking bear named Lucille. As for The Goon, he’s not doing too bad, either. Deadpool director Tim Miller has been working on an animated movie adaptation for years. A Kickstarter a few years back funded an 85-minute animatic; now Powell and Miller are using the Deadpool shine to shop it around to studios again.
Powell spoke with EW about the inspiration behind Hillbilly, why he decided to relaunch Albatross, and updates on The Goon movie.
The Hillbilly concept is so interesting. What were your inspirations here?
I’ve always kind of liked the sword-and-sorcery thing. I wasn’t too heavily into it, but when I was a kid I was super into things like the Conan movie. I’ve always been drawn to more fantastic stories, but it felt kind of overdone. It’s definitely a genre that’s been tapped a lot. I think it goes back to that philosophy of “write what you know,” and growing up in the South. The South has kind of a creepy element, with the woods and everything. I always thought it would be really cool to take that Appalachian folklore environment and mix it with a fantasy story.
How did you settle on your two protagonists being a wandering vigilante and a giant bear?
I think the bear thing came along from Grizzly Adams. It was black bears in the Smoky Mountains. What I’ve got him with is more a grizzly bear or something, but as a kid we went on vacation in the Smoky Mountains and of course the game was “see if you can see a bear.” I think that naturally came to mind. I wanted to give him an animal cohort, because he’s kind of an outcast from the society that’s there.
What are the main differences between Hillbilly and The Goon?
The Goon is kind of all over the place with genres. I went back and forth between tragic stories and comedy. Hillbilly is much more straightforward. I’m trying to add as many weird elements as I can to keep it interesting for myself and the readers, but it’s much more of a straightforward fantasy story. There’s not gonna be a lot of Spanish-screaming lizards in there or anything like that.
Do you have a plan for the series? Will it be a bunch of short stories, or is there a larger arc in mind?
I have a big story in mind. It’s kind of the same thing I had with The Goon. When I first started working on The Goon, I had a bigger picture in mind, but I wanted to just tell shorter stories. I put hints of it into the Hillbilly story – I have a much bigger ambitious backstory for the character and where he fits into the world. But mostly I’m focusing on short stories, one-issue self-contained stories, because I personally prefer that. I like the short story format that a comic can give you, and I don’t feel like people utilize it enough.
This is part of your relaunch of your comic label Albatross. Why did you decide to do that relaunch now?
Well, I’m getting a little older. I’d always wondered what would’ve happened if I’d kept with that. Where would that company be now if I’d kept The Goon there and maybe tried to expand on it a little bit? I’m very happy with Dark Horse and the way they’ve done The Goon and the way they promoted it and everything, but I always had that in the back of my mind, what if? So I thought screw it, I’ll try to do my own thing and keep it going and just see what happens. It’s all a big experiment for me. I’m not getting in any kind of competitive spirit with this with anybody, I just want to make comics and have fun with it.
What does it entail right now besides Hillbilly?
We’re doing a comic shop exclusive sequel to Satan Sodomy Baby, which is kind of a notorious humor comic I did a few years back. From there, I’ve been talking to some people about doing some creator-owned work, but we don’t have anything in the pipeline yet. We’re still trying to figure those details out.
What was fun about revisiting Satan Sodomy Baby?
(Laughs) Well, I get to vent a lot of frustrations. I’ve been thinking about doing that sequel for a long time. Anytime something would pop up in the news that would really irritate me, I would always made a note of it, like “when I get to do that comic again, I’m gonna address this.” So I’m trying to work that in there. Society has gotten to a point where nobody compromises on anything anymore. It almost seems like everyone’s in a context to prove how much of a better person they are than the other person, depending on their political spectrum. There’s no compromise whatsoever, so I’m doing a lot of satire based on that.
What happened with Albatross last time around?
The main purpose of having Albatross was to publish The Goon and to keep it going, and once we moved from Dark Horse… The first time around I was doing it completely myself, publishing and promotion and handling all the printing and everything, and it was a large task to buy off. Once we moved to Dark Horse, all of my focus maintained on The Goon, so there wasn’t a lot of material I was able to put out through Albatross anymore. Although I put out my kids book, Chimichanga, and a graphic novel called Pub Davis by (Steven Universe creator) Rebecca Sugar.
Tim Miller’s been talking about The Goon movie again. Do you have any update? How involved are you in that process?
I’m pretty involved. Not in the day to day aspect, but I’ve actually been working on a lot of additional lines. They’ve been going back and doing more recording on the animatic we did the Kickstarter for. Now that everything with Deadpool is wrapped up, Tim is refocused on trying to get The Goon picked up by a studio. I’m hoping that with all the success he’s had with Deadpool, that the studio will finally give us the shot we’re looking for. We’re in a positive area right now. If Deadpool hadn’t done so well, we probably would be in trouble, but since it was a big hit Tim is kind of hot, and we’re hoping that pays off.
The hope with Deadpool was that it would open the door to different kinds of comic movies and different tones. Is that something you’re seeing?
Yeah. We’ve been struggling because Hollywood doesn’t have a whole lot of vision when it comes to anything original, and we’re trying to pitch a Depression-era gangster movie with zombies and monsters in it that’s gonna be animated and funny. There’s no real comparison to be made there with anything, so it kind of scares them.