Eric Powell Pops in Pop Comics
By C. Scott Satterwhite
Harley Orr doesn’t always throw a big anniversary party, but when he does, he invites the best.
This past month, Orr’s shop began celebrating its fifth anniversary in style. Joining him for the celebration is Eisner Award-winning artist Eric Powell. Best known for comic series “The Goon,” Powell is currently touring the US to celebrate his own anniversary—the 20th of “The Goon”—with major stops including Heroes Con in Charlotte, “Mecca” stores such as Mile High in Denver and finishing with the famed San Diego Comic-Con. Right in the middle of Powell’s tour is a little spot with a growing reputation in a strip mall on 12th Avenue—Pensacola Pop Comics.
“One of those places ain’t like the others,” Orr said humbly as he prepared for the event. Bringing Powell to Pensacola, especially for a small shop like Pensacola Pop, is a major coup. “My shop has been open for five years now this past May, and I wanted to do something fun.”
Humble or not, five years is a long time in the world of small businesses, especially when your business is small press. Nonetheless, Harley Orr has made it. Almost a decade ago, the former middle school teacher and UWF graduate decided he wanted to strike out on his own. After saving money and amassing a collection of comics, many from his own personal collection, Orr left a secure teaching position and opened up shop.
Slogging through the rough, early years of a small business ownership is a challenge for anyone. Days are filled with highs and lows, worries and concerns, and plenty of sleepless nights. It’s not all hard times, though. A stop by the comic shop, especially on the weekends, shows Orr in his element. While he fights against the Simpson’s stereotype, and he’s far from that character, he’s effectively become East Hill’s “Comic Book Guy.”
Orr takes that role seriously, often talking about literacy and the need for kids to read. As a Language Arts teacher at Ferry Pass Middle School, Orr brought comics into his classroom as a means to reach young readers. In a sense, he’s still doing the same thing, except the age range of his readers has grown.
Pensacola Pop carries a wide selection. Orr certainly carries all of the Marvel and DC comics one would imagine, the bread and butter for any comic shop, but his passion is the small press. This passion attracted Orr to Powell’s contribution to the comic world.
“Eric Powell is an artist I’ve long admired, not just because of his creative craftsmanship—he’s an Eisner Award-winning artist and writer for a reason,” Orr said.
Though Powell worked for Marvel and DC Comics, “he’s kind of eschewed the mainstream publishers for so long while he was putting out his creator-owned works.”
“He really shines when he’s doing his own thing,” said Orr.
Powell recently returned to self-publishing through his own press, Albatross Funny Books. “He’s really doing it all,” said Orr.
Powell is an artist who is truly wearing many hats. As his Albatross Funny Books press continues to grow, the comic book artist and publisher is very aware of how lucky he is to have been so successful. “The fact that I’ve been able to make a living off of this character [for 20 years], it’s definitely a source of pride,” Powell said in a recent interview with The Beat, a popular comic blog.
“But even after 20 years, I’m careful of the bottom falling out. Sometimes I think people are going to realize they don’t like this thing anymore. It’s the fear of every entertainment industry, going out of style or not being in vogue,” Powell continued on the blog.
But even as styles and tastes change, one look at the venues on his busy tour schedule makes it clear that Powell is still in good graces with his fan base.
Meet the Artist
For those unfamiliar with Powell’s work, “The Goon” is primarily a humorous series that follows two main characters—Frankie and The Goon—who run the criminal underworld and protect their city from an interesting variety of supernatural threats. To date, the “The Goon” has won five Eisner Awards, an honor most likened to the Oscars of the comic world.
Powell’s latest is a reboot of “The Goon” series, which means if you’re new to the comic, there’s no need to binge-read to catch up to speed. Powell is giving new readers a fresh start with this new issue.
“For the signing, you can bring stuff you already own by him,” said Orr. “Or if you come empty-handed, I’ll have a wide array of his works available, including a special edition of the new number one that is only available at tour stops.”
Orr said that he expects “a lot of gray beards and beer bellies in attendance,” indicating something that’s obvious to lots of fans—comics have grown up. But that’s not the only audience Orr is hoping to attract with Powell’s visit. “I hope to get some kids in too. He’s got a few really fun titles for the little ones, [such as], Chimichanga and Spook House,” said Orr.
For the young and old alike, as well as those simply wanting to celebrate a milestone with a small business owner, Orr hopes to have a great showing for his anniversary event.
“How cool would it be to meet a bona fide artist and writer of funny books?” Orr asked rhetorically.
Eric Powell at Pensacola Pop Comics
WHAT: “The Goon” 20th anniversary signing with Eric Powell
WHEN: 11a.m.. Saturday, June 22
WHERE: Pensacola Pop Comics, 909 N. 12th Ave
COST: Free to attend