Writer/Letterer: Eric Grissom
Artist/Colorist: Will Perkins
COMIC BOOK YETI: Hi everyone, this is Byron O'Neal on behalf of Comic Book Yeti, sitting down with Eric Grissom and Will Perkins, the creators of the Dark Horse Comics graphic novel Goblin, among their other projects. Thanks for joining me today.
I want to kick things off by talking about Goblin and then move on to some of the other stuff you guys have got going on. Goblin has been described as a middle-grade graphic novel. Eric, I know you have kids. Several of your other projects have younger readers in mind. Did you start out thinking you were going to write something for that age group or was it more of an organic process as it went along?
ERIC GRISSOM: Yeah, it's totally organic. All the stuff that I do is set up that way. I just fall in love with a concept, or a story, or an image, or something that sparks that initial idea, and then I build something off of that. So there wasn't a concerted effort to say, "Okay now I'm going to do a kid's book or middle-grade book." In fact, the idea when it first started was much darker. It was full of violence and was going to be much more of a standard revenge tale. For people that may not know the basic premise, it's about a goblin who's orphaned by a human warrior who kills his parents and takes his family's stuff, then he vows revenge. So the initial idea was much darker, and it wouldn't have been a middle-grade book. As I played with the idea, and found the story, and found the characters, and fell in love with that part of it, it lent itself much closer to middle grade. It's really 10+, but I think adults can find just as much joy in it as a kid. It sort of naturally found itself there, and I think that's a format or a type of story that I like, so it fell into that place anyway.
WP: "I try to draw dinosaurs in absolutely anything I'm drawing all the time. Either it's asking Eric to let me put them in or me trying to hide them in the background, it's where all my work kind of comes from. You don't realize it until you have it all laid out in front of you, but I love drawing monsters."
CBY: Why did you want to tell that story from the goblin's perspective?
EG: It came from video games, really. Many, many years ago, I had done some really dumb sketch comedy, a little short video about what people in Legend of Zelda would have thought of Link because he's just a disaster. He just walks into people's houses and starts smashing their pottery looking for rupees in there. He's always doing weird things with chickens. So that idea of some of these other characters and how they would interact with a more traditional hero was always something I was interested in. Fast forward to 2011 or 2012, I was playing a lot of Skyrim. In a game like that, really all of these action-adventure games, you find goblins or whatever the quote unquote "monster" is, you kill the thing usually without waiting for a conversation to happen. You're like, hey there's a red thing on my radar, therefore that monster's the enemy. You put a bunch of arrows in them, and you're going through their pockets. So it was like, what would that be like from the goblin's perspective? How would the Goblin deal with that? That was the germ of that idea, and it became something much more. It became this coming-of-age thing, processing grief and how you deal with the idea of revenge, and what sort of value you get from following that path. It all initially came from that, I guess. So, hats off to Skyrim. Thank you.
CBY: Yeah, video games are great cultural influencers. It's just kind of amazing. Touching on influences, I've seen on both of your social media streams, there's shared love for the older D&D choose your own fate adventure books. Did those influence Goblin at all?
EG: Oh yeah, I think those books were a really big influence on me as a person and as a creator. For people that aren't familiar with the choose your own adventure series, TSR, the people that created Dungeons and Dragons in the '80s came up with their own version of that. They were called the Endless Quest Series. I fell in love with those as a kid because I loved games, and I loved the idea of fantasies and dragons. That was my first introduction into a book that did both, a book that acted as a game and put you in charge where you were able to make choices. So that was 100% a big influence just as I was getting into fantasy, getting into all of that stuff. There's nods to some scenes, particularly this book Returned To Brookmere that was written by Rose Estes. There's a scene in Goblin that's 100% a nod to how much those books affected me.
CBY: Oh, I love that book.
EG: Yeah, I remember reading that as a kid, and I still have all mine. You can tell the ones I really liked because they're just completely worn from having been read so many times.
CBY: I'm so excited because I've got an artist on here, too. So Will, I want to throw a couple questions at you. With Goblin, was it easier or more difficult to visually translate the idea of creating empathy around a character that is usually seen as evil?
WILL PERKINS: In the beginning, it certainly was. I was actually just going through my sketchbooks looking for stuff to farm for my social media feeds, and I came across hundreds of goblins. Just like Eric was saying, when we started, it was more of that traditional Legend style, "vile creature" goblin. The more I dealt with it, the more I expressed with the character's face, the softer it kept getting. So it was constantly this balancing act of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Like if I simplify this so that I can give some emotion to this thing's face, how do I also make it still a little monstrous? How do I shave off a little bit of the edge? Eventually, it was a eureka moment. Eventually, I found it, and it was a lot easier from that point forward.
CBY: With respect to your color palette, I'm a professional photographer myself so I'm really curious about your your process and your color choices. There was a restrictive color palette. It was greens and yellow tones, for the most part. I noticed the boldest choice you made was with the speech bubbles for the minotaur which was this more bold yellow. Was that a conscious decision from the beginning?
WP: The lettering is all Eric. It comes in at the second part, the finishes that bring it all together, so that's all him. For me, no, I stuck to the reference points of the old Don Bluth cartoons back from the '80s and early '90s. This is actually my first full color book so there's a lot of learning as we go. I try to choose the color palette for each environment so we can take you on an adventure rather than just feeling like you're stuck in the same spot. The whole book revolves around a lot of earth and earth magic, so I wanted to make sure there was a heavy use of those browns and greens to the whole thing, surrounding Rikt, our main character, so that we can break that up when we needed to from some of the stuff that happens later in the book.
CBY: Do you use pen and ink? Do you start that way or are you using mostly digital tools at this point?
WP: I'm all digital on this book. I started sketching right in the script digitally on my tablet. I do my layouts on a tablet, and then I import it all into Clip Studio and pencil, ink, and color right from there.
EG: "The scene has to be about whatever the story is. Whatever that conflict is, whatever the character wants to get, all of that stuff has to remain true otherwise it's going to become boring, or it's gonna feel like just a bunch of exposition being dumped on you. None of that is fun. So finding ways to make this stuff fit in makes it feel real but doesn't work against the story, or doesn't distract from the story or some of the emotional beats that need to happen."
CBY: I'm curious, I'm a big dog person myself so the inclusion of the wolf as a central character really resonated with me. Are either of you dog people, and how does the wolf push the narrative of the story?
EG: Yeah, we're both dog people. I have two dogs currently. I've always sort of had a dog and tend to put dogs in everything that I do. Most things that I do, you can usually find some kind of dog there. I just prefer dogs to people. (laughter) For Rikt specifically, it's about finding family in places, not being given your family but finding your family. The idea of him finding someone like Fish Breath, apologies for coming up with that name, and becoming Rikt's companion, it was important for me because wolves are also seen often in fairy tales and other things as a villain. From Red Riding Hood on, the wolf is usually something you keep vague rather than fall in love with. So that was a great way for me to tie it directly to the way that people within the world of Goblin look at Rikt, that's also the same way they look at Fish Breath.
CBY: I know you have worked together on a previous Dark Horse Comics project, that was Gregory Suicide. With several collaborations now under your belts, is that genesis of creating something easier with that greater understanding of how you both work?
EG: Oh yeah, speaking for myself, once you work with someone a few times, you develop an unspoken communication system. I know that I don't have to spell things out in a certain way or maybe I have to be more detailed in one area because I know Will, and Will knows me. So, we can talk to each other in the script and otherwise in shorthand. I have a ton of confidence in what he is going to turn around. I think for any kind of collaboration there's always that initial phase, then you sort of figure each other out and see where someone's strengths are. Once you do a couple of projects together, it's much, much easier. You get over all of that stuff where you worry about hurting each other's feelings and all of that kind of thing. There's so many different layers of the human psyche that you have to go through when you're working with someone. We're through all that. Working with Will is super easy.
CBY: I've seen hinted that we might get another chance to visit the Goblin world. Are there any future plans for that or other collaborations?
EG: That's something we 100% would love to do. I have figured out, sort of, what that second book would be. It's nothing officially announced or anything like that, and we haven't talked to Dark Horse or anything. But, certainly Will and I both I think would be happy to return there. If people like Goblin and they want to tell Dark Horse that they like it, I would not stop them. I would not be surprised if you didn't see them again.
CBY: That's exciting. You've got a concept here to certainly build on.
CBY: Moving away from the book for a bit, you have a companion to it called Beware of the Dark Sisterhood which is a D&D adventure on the realmofgoblin.com website.
EG: Yeah, it's a role-playing game that you can use. It's free and anyone can download it. You can play it with the 5th edition rule set. It was a really fun thing to do. I had never done anything like that before. I had hardly played Dungeons and Dragons before, but I was intrigued with the idea of writing a game or writing an adventure like that. It was a lot of work. It was definitely one of the hardest things that I've done, but it was a lot of fun, too. It's something that acts as a prequel, but it's not necessary to play it and then read the book or anything like that. You do see more of the world getting filled out, there are characters that exist within the game, there are events that happen within the game that you see the aftermath of in Goblin. In future things, characters from the game may reappear and all that kind of stuff so it's just another way of building out that world. There is a part of me that wishes, we talked about the Endless Quest books, like what if I had done that as well. That's something I wouldn't mind doing either, doing an Endless Quest-style Choose Your Own Adventure in this world.
CBY: Have you gotten any feedback? Has anybody played it and reached back out?
EG: Yeah, I hadn't really played Dungeons and Dragons. I bought the core books and read through them. Plus, I ran a couple of games with my kids and their cousins to get a feel for it. But I was like, if we're going to put this out people have to be able to play it so I had beta testers play it. I was able to get really good feedback. Will actually ran a couple of games himself for people. He knew the game better than I did so he was able to say, hey this works or this doesn't work. I also worked with an artist, Paige Connelly, who knows Dungeons and Dragons really well, has GMed a bunch of tabletop games and other series as well, she was able to be a consultant. Then once it went out, I think a couple of places reviewed it. I think Drive Through RPG has a couple of decent reviews. So, it's been good to hear when people actually played it. When I did this, and maybe it's more of a limitation of me because it's such a different format, it's probably closer to the way I would have crafted a video game, I guess. It's a completely self-contained thing. You don't need to use your own characters. You don't have to roll any dice to get the characters set up, there're six pre-defined characters. I tried to make it as easy as possible for someone that hasn't ever played 5th edition or is new to Dungeons and Dragons. You can just literally download this thing, download the free rules and be off.
CBY: Will, I want to get back to you for a sec. I noticed on your website that you describe yourself as an amateur paleontologist. I've got an anthropology degree myself that's focused on North American prehistory and mythologies so I'm fascinated by material culture. How does that love of yours pop up in your work?
WP: I try to draw dinosaurs in absolutely anything I'm drawing all the time. Either it's asking Eric to let me put them in or me trying to hide them in the background, it's where all my work kind of comes from. You don't realize it until you have it all laid out in front of you, but I love drawing monsters. I saw dinosaurs described once as the first lore that kids ever fall in love with. That's really it for me, if it's a world of monsters, they are just always fun to draw especially when you're a kid and all you have is an encyclopedia of thousands of dinosaurs. There's endless things to doodle when you're bored and 10 years old. It's something new and exciting you've never seen before and now you've got something completely made up, and boom there it is and it was in the ground a couple million years ago.
CBY: With the pandemic, we've all had to change the arc of what we're doing. Marketing Goblin, I'm sure you had a plan in place prior and at some point realized that's not gonna work anymore. You can't integrate with local shops, can't do cons or signings. How did you pivot?
EG: We were in a unique position where our book was supposed to come out. Will, correct me if I'm misremembering, but I think we were supposed to come out maybe in 2020 initially, then COVID hit. Dark Horse froze a bunch of projects, including ours, and we had a period of time where we weren't sure if it was happening or not. Once we started ramping up again and things started to improve, our whole marketing strategy was always knowing none of those things are in play. There's really not going to be any signings, there's really not going to be any conventions. For me, who's an introverted person, it's almost a blessing because I have all these excuses why I don't have to go. I can do everything by making dumb videos, or putting stuff in a box and sending them to stores, or doing whatever, I don't even know, the Dungeons and Dragons thing. To answer your question, you're right, it's a totally different thing so it was all about thinking of ways outside of the norm. It's pretty impressive how stores and publishers have gotten around that. You see so much more of the things we're doing right now. We're Zooming things, or I've seen virtual signings that people have done where you log on and watch the author or the artist physically sign your copy and then they mail it to you. So it's been interesting, and I think it's gonna change everything. Look at cons, we have these panels and now they're all available on YouTube. Why would that ever change? How great is that? You get to see a panel online that you're never going to get in the door to see in person. To walk one hundred feet at the New York City Comic Con takes 45 minutes. So there're some benefits, I think, to some of the changes.
CBY: I'm sure it has been challenging. You find new trajectories, you think in different ways. It's just fascinating to me.
EG: "For me, I love the limitation in the form of the graphic novel of having a finite start and end. I feel like with that structure and with limitations, massive amounts of creativity can spring from that knowing that you're under constraints."
EG: Yeah, it is definitely challenging. It's challenging for properties like ours that are unknown, new properties. Especially in the book world, things that are established, that have authors or artists that are established, are much easier to sell. You have an audience. You put the thing out. They do an interview, people know who they are and tune in. Whereas in the old days, you would just send these people to conventions, see a whole bunch of people and you would see things on their tables. That part, I think, is still a bit challenging until you make a name for yourself. It's basically just throw things out there, see what works and just keep pushing forward.
CBY: I know this is random but, Eric, you have a Doctor Who podcast, I believe?
EG: I do. It's insane. This January it's going to be seven years, which is seven years that I've been asking myself that same question. You have a Doctor Who podcast? It's true. It's all classic Doctor Who, none of this newfangled stuff from 2005. We only do the classic show so here in the States it was something that was on at three in the morning. We're coming near the end, finally, with the shows we are reviewing so we're getting mail from listeners saying you know, the Russell T. Davies Doctor Who from 2005 is going to be 20 years old. That is now considered a classic, so we're deciding what we're going to do at that point. Yes, to answer your question, I do the old Doctor Who show with my friend Dan Johnson.
CBY: Anybody else have a question that's listening in for Will or Eric?
CHRISTIAN: Hi, this is Christian. How do you guys tackle world-building? What was the process like? How do you start?
EG: For me, when I'm putting together the story I usually have to know as many details as I can fill in, as much of the history and where the characters are coming from, and what events happened. Maybe there were some goblins there from many years ago that don't even get mentioned, but I sort of know it's there. I do a lot of that work anyway. So, the more of that I do, the more real it feels. Then when I'm writing, I pepper in little things, like I mentioned in Goblin of this dark sisterhood that then fueled that whole Dungeons and Dragons campaign. So, for me, that stuff just sort of happens, I guess, organically, where it's just coming out, and then I'm able to leave something for myself for later. I'll know I'm going to revisit that idea or there's this thing that gets mentioned once, in my head and in my notebook, I know what that means. Later, I can draw from that if I want to.
WP: From my standpoint, I'm incredibly lucky because Eric shows up Day One with tons of references. He's done all of his homework. He's not resting on his laurels in any way. When I approach something, for example if the goblins are in a leather hut, in my mind I have to figure out where these goblins are getting that leather. Where do they live? Are they living on the forest floor? Are they living in the trees? Then, I have to come back to Eric. "What do you think of this?" And hopefully, it doesn't clash, because he's thought out so many of these different things that may have impacts on future stories or stories we don't even tell. It's why we've developed an amicable relationship where we can come back and forth because there is so much world-building at stake.
EG: One thing to add on to that too, one of the challenges, to address a little bit of the second part of your question, he's making that stuff all come across organically and naturally and to have it work within the scene. The scene has to be about whatever the story is. Whatever that conflict is, whatever the character wants to get, all of that stuff has to remain true, otherwise it's going to become boring, or it's gonna feel like just a bunch of exposition being dumped on you. None of that is fun. So finding ways to make this stuff fit in makes it feel real but doesn't work against the story, or doesn't distract from the story or some of the emotional beats that need to happen. I think that's always a danger. You get to world-building, and you forget that there's drama that you have to be showing. There's got to be something to the story, to the character, for people to care. Yeah, it's a lot. I think that's one thing that could get hard, because sometimes it is fun to just add all these little elements and stuff. Oh, look how wonderful this world is. If you're not telling a good story, what's the point?
CHRISTIAN: Thanks so much for your insight. I've had similar problems myself world-building before.
EG: Thanks for the question.