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Sisterly Love | Fred Perry Talks Gold Digger

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Early on, their adventures took a turn toward the fantastic, as Perry conjured an epic battle between the werewolf, were-cheetah, and were-rat clans, a battle in which Brittany, as the last surviving member of her family, has a vital stake.

 

Long before Lara Croft strutted her stuff as either a pixelated goddess or Angelina Jolie, an artist named Fred Perry had an ingenious idea: Wouldn’t an action epic be a lot more fun with three beautiful heroines instead of one hardened hero? “After the fighting was over for my unit in Desert Storm,” Perry recalls, “there was nothing to do except clean up the vehicles, square everything away, and wait for our turn in the long line to go home. So I traded sketches of ‘good girl’ art for things that were really difficult to get out in the field. Cookies. Batteries. Soda. One of my crewmen commented that when I got back Stateside, I should make a comic featuring ‘good girl’ art, but just drawing cheesecake would get old really quick. I needed the characters to have their own personalities, motivations, and stories, but I didn’t know where to begin. Then I saw a Three Musketeers ad in the back of a Captain America comic that had some Indiana Jones–type characters discovering a giant candy bar in an Incan pyramid. From that image, everything began to spark to life in my mind.”

What came to life was Gold Digger, the story of the Diggers sisters—brilliant, boy-crazy, and librarian-sexy archaeologist Gina Diggers, her adopted were-cheetah sister and protector Brittany, and Brianna, the half-Gina, half-Brittany clone with a wicked mecha fetish—traveling the world seeking fame and fortune. Early on, their adventures took a turn toward the fantastic, as Perry conjured an epic battle between the werewolf, were-cheetah, and were-rat clans, a battle in which Brittany, as the last surviving member of her family, has a vital stake.

Perry’s Japanese-influenced art accentuates the furious action and gorgeous babes, but the heart of Gold Digger is found in the very real connection between the sisters. Despite the admittedly cheesecake nature of the art (skimpy costumes are guaranteed, and Brittany is the epitome of cat-girl sexiness), the characters in this book have a genuine connection, captured with snappy, realistic dialogue. “I like female characters who solve their own problems,” Perry relates, “rescue themselves, make their own way, and tell their own stories. Helpless damsels and cheesecake mannequins with superpowers turn me off. I like cheesecake that thinks, acts, and feels…and probably would have nothing to do with me,” he laughs.

In an era where six months is an eternity for some comics creators, Perry’s conviction to the book is what makes it truly stand out from the pack. This year marks the book’s 15th anniversary with Perry as its sole creator. Perry wrote, pencilled, inked, and lettered every page of the book’s first 54 black-and-white issues, then added “colorist” to his resume for the 71 issues that make up the book’s current run. “Well, it’s really 80 percent out of necessity,” Perry reveals. “I can’t afford to pay for everything I want for GD. Creative freedom is expensive, so I have to give some sweat equity.” And as if that wasn’t enough, Perry has also personally animated two half-hour GD video adventures, with a third DVD promised for 2006.

Perry’s publisher, Antarctic Press, has made GD available in a variety of formats, including digest-sized “pocket manga” editions and the enormous “gold brick” collections (phone book–sized behemoths that collect 25 issues at a time, the fourth volume of which is due shortly). To celebrate the book’s anniversary, AP and Perry are revisiting the four-issue mini-series that started it all with Gold Digger Color Remix starting this January. “It’s hard for me to look at my early work,” comments Perry. “It seems so primitive to me.” Perry’s manga-styled art is still in development in those early stories, but the script is as witty and sharp as any in the book’s long history. The major missing link between early GD and the book’s current incarnation is Brianna. As Perry explains, the main reason Brianna does not appear in these early stories is because she was never meant to last in the first place. “Brianna was originally a disposable villain that was going to get blown up in issue four of the regular series. The moment I got to that panel, I changed my mind.”

Though Perry still has big plans in the offing, particularly for the fast-approaching 75th issue, an end is in sight for Gina, Brittany, and Brianna—but, thankfully, not any time soon. “All good stories have three parts,” says Perry, “a beginning, middle, and end. My end is coming around issue 111.”

 


The Complete Fred Perry Interview

Where did the initial idea for Gold Digger come from?

After the fighting was over for my unit in Desert Storm, there was nothing to do except clean up the vehicles, square everything away, and wait for our turn in the long line to go home. So I traded sketches of "good girl" art for things that were really difficult to get out in the field. Cookies. Batteries. Soda. One of my crewmen commented that when I got back stateside, I should make a comic featuring "good girl" art, but just drawing cheesecake would get old really quick. I needed the characters to have their own personalities, motivations, and stories, but I didn't know where to begin. Then I saw a Three Musketeers ad in the back of a Captain America comic that had some Indiana Jones-type characters discovering a giant candy bar in an Incan pyramid. From that image, everything began to spark to life in my mind.

What is your impression of the original GD mini-series, looking back on it 15 years later for the Color Remix project?

It's hard for me to look at my early work. It seems so primitive to me.

Are there any plans to recolor the remaining 50 black & white issues?

No. I'm afraid I'm too busy with the current issues to continue. 1-4 of the limited is where I'll stop.

Now, Brianna Diggers did not appear in that initial mini-series. Had she not been created at that point, or was there a specific reason why you wanted the first story to be just Gina and Brittany?

Nope. Brianna was originally a disposable villain that was going to get blown up in issue 4 of the regular series. The moment I got to that panel, I changed my mind.

The snappy back-and-forth between the Diggers sisters rings especially true, and is one of my favorite elements of the series, so I've gotta ask: do you have sisters yourself? If not, what was the inspiration for the relationship between Gina, Brittany, and Brianna?

Yes, my little sister Tina. She and my cousin Michelle had all kinds of hijinks together. Originally, Gina looked like Tina...with elf ears. But I didn't feel right drawing her in skimpy outfits, so I made her blonde and that fixed it.

The book has some of the strongest-written female characters in comics, but it also has a strong cheesecake element in it for the guys. Do you find the book to be a hard sell with female readers?

If you only look at the pictures, yes. I salute all, male and female, who browsed the shelves and decided to read a little before moving on. I like female characters who solve their own problems, rescue themselves, make their own way and tell their own stories. Helpless damsels and cheesecake mannequins with superpowers turn me off. I like cheesecake that thinks, acts, and feels…and probably would have nothing to do with me. [laughs]

As one of the first "Amerimanga" artists, what is your take on the explosion in manga's popularity over the last few years?

I like the explosion. It's about time I can get manga at the book store! I don't like elitists who think good/true manga/anime only comes from Japan. [laughs] Anime hasn't been made completely in Japan for years. And not every Japanese name you see on the cover is Japanese. Judge by content, not by race or nationality.

Has GD's readership seen an increase from the rise of manga fandom? I imagine the "Pocket Manga" editions must help a lot.

The American comic scene has been on the decline these past years. GD sales remain steady, so relatively, that’s a good thing. But now manga sales have been sliding at book retailers as well. A lot of browsers only read books there and make few purchases. This is what worries me. Eventually book stores will start to reduce the number of titles available, and I won’t be able to collect as much as I used to. To increase the manga presence in the US, we can't just browse. Find what you like and purchase it. Support the comics/manga you want to see tomorrow.

Were you a big manga and anime fan before starting GD?

Robotech was my first real manga/anime experience. True, I watched Star Blazers, Marineboy, Battle of the Planets and Speed Racer...but I didn't really realize I was watching anime until Robotech.

What are some of your favorite comics these days, manga or otherwise?

I love anything Masahiko Nakahira produces! His Cammy, Street Fighter Zero, and Sakura are my favorite. This artist knows how to pace dynamic action and I look up to him star-struck! I also like The Losers. Andy Diggle needs to write for movies, and he'd better have Jock backing him up with storyboards/directions.

What's your take on Tokyopop's line of O.E.L. ("original English language") manga? [Editors Note: “O.E.L. manga” is Tokyopop’s term for the books they publish which are made to imitate the Japanese “manga style” but are created by American artists. Mr. Perry was asked specifically to respond to recent complaints directed toward Tokyopop, as CBR’s Rich Johnston reported this past November, wherein “mangapod” audio dramas of some books were created for the Tokyopop website without consulting the creators. Tokyopop owns a majority share of these properties and is within their rights to do so, but creators have been quick to voice their displeasure. - JG]

It's probably in the contract. I have no dealings with Tokyopop, so I don't rightfully know what their story is, but a creator has to read contracts they sign. Creative freedom is expensive. Getting that and getting people to back your work with their money and time is really rare so you have to be careful before you sign. On the other hand, Tokyopop must understand that creators are at their best when they have the freedom to express themselves without fear of censorship, alteration, or interference. Creators do their best when they can put their hearts and souls into their work. And you can't do that when you feel your work could easily get butchered, chopped up and sold by your publisher.

On the animation front, are there any more GD OAVs in the pipeline?

I'm setting up my schedule for 2006 to do animation.

You're famous for exercising complete control over your book, writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, and even animating the book all by yourself. Is this out of necessity, or a desire on your part to make sure that you alone control the destiny of the book?

Well, it’s really 80% out of necessity. I can't afford to pay for everything I want for GD. As I said, creative freedom is expensive, so I have to give some sweat equity.

While you maintain complete control over the main GD monthly, you also give fans the opportunity to play with your toys in specials like the GD Annuals and Swimsuit Specials. How do you find the fans' takes on the characters different from your own?

For the most part, my readers connect pretty closely to what I've envisioned for my characters. It's kinda creepy sometimes.

Any big anniversary plans for the upcoming 75th issue?

I'm working on it. The anniversary is coming fast so I can't do what I really wanted, the third OAV, but I'm going to make a special anniversary four-part poster edition.

Fifteen years on one book is an eternity in today's comics marketplace. Is an end in sight for the Diggers sisters, or are you going to keep going until you pass Dave Sim?

All good stories have 3 parts. A beginning, middle, and end. My end is coming around issue 111.


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