Comic Book Madness – Tales of The Goon and Tank Girl keep coming
Brett Parson considers himself a comic-book artist, even though he tossed that term out when he noticed the odd looks it elicited. “Like it was a joke,” he says as he rests both his forearms on a work in progress. In the village of Southfield where his studio is found in The Whip Shop (once a tannery dating back to 1791), Parson is happily ensconced in his craft as an illustrator. He sits between two large touch-screen computers and an old-school wooden drafting table, dipping a sable brush into India ink then making contact with a sheet of Bristol board that bears the computer-generated equivalent of pencil sketches. “Right now, I’m just warming up,” he says, noting, “it’s like every day I forget how to use it.”
It doesn’t take long for him to bring it all back, though. His small workspace is littered with Sharpie markers, masking tape, and utility knives. It’s the very place from which The Goon—a comic book series written and drawn by Eric Powell—will rise again in time to mark the legendary character’s 20th anniversary this summer. Relaunched under Albatross Funnybooks, Powell is rolling out a series of four Goon stories, and then Parson will step into the ostensibly hard-to-fill creator’s shoes.
This is the first time anyone other than Powell has illustrated a full arc of The Goon—defined as the succession of four floppy issues, published monthly, then bound and released in book form. Come July 31, the fruits of their collective efforts will be available when Parson’s first of four floppy issues hits bookstores and comic book shops nationwide. This is a whole new world for the self-taught illustrator who was raised in Mill River and graduated from Monument Mountain Regional High School. Powell first came across Parson’s work on Instagram under the username Blitz Cadet, and the two got to chatting. What inevitably emerged was this creative collaboration.
The Goon, set in a depression-era world, mixes comic and violent elements with a supernatural slant—ultimately pitting the title character against a series of phantasmagorical antagonists. The panel that Parson is working on depicts cult followers kidnapping Goon’s sidekick. The bearded illustrator, with baseball cap slung low on his forehead, drafts his concept digitally before printing it in blue line on Bristol board—the only paperboard malleable enough to be fed through his hulk of an Epson printer. Once the digital sketch has been inked by hand, Parson scans the image to add color in Photoshop. The final product is delivered to the publisher digitally, effectively creating a seamless and efficient system that allows Parson to work from anywhere—even the confines of a turn-of-the-century whip factory in rural Berkshires.
“It’s going to be a busy summer,” Parson jokes. In addition to putting the final touches on his series debut for July, he remains hard at work on Tank Girl, an equally iconic series that he began illustrating several years ago. Launched in 1988, when Parson was just four years old, Tank Girl is an absurdist adventure series that follows an outlaw girl and her mutant kangaroo boyfriend who live in a tank. “It’s kind of vulgar,” Parson admits, but he was willing to look past all that for the chance to work on what he calls, “one of my favorite comics growing up.” Parson cites Tank Girl creator Alan Martin as having a huge influence on his art, style, and general approach to comics. Parson goes on to call the collaboration, “pretty surreal,” modestly adding that to date he has drawn more Tank Girl than any other artist—including the creator.
Parson pauses to dip the tip of his sable brush into a pint-sized Mason jar of water. He’s been making an effort to get back to creating in pen and ink; he wants there to be physical artwork for his wife and children to show others or simply to hold. “I think of Rockwell and all those great old pieces of artwork,” Parson says. And so he continues to turn his craft, seeking both the challenge and satisfaction of creating, while searching for balance. It is a major feat that hinges on blending the past and present, old school and new age, tradition and progress. The physical space where Parson’s art takes shape is a symbol of this possibility: The very building in which his own father was once employed, doing drafting and design work, is evidence of a bygone era and captured by a hand-painted sign (done by his father) that hangs in the hallway and reads “Turner & Cook Whip Manufactory.”
“I always felt like if I was doing my art because I loved to do it, that would show, someone would notice,” says Parson. Indeed, they have.