Most people complain about being too busy. I know I do (constantly, I'm sorry to say). But then, I look at someone like Erik Larsen, creator of "Savage Dragon" and Publisher of Image Comics. When hearing about everything he accomplishes in a typical week, I look at my life and wonder how I can do more?
In addition to running one of the top publishing companies in the comic industry, the man writes, pencils, inks, letters, and colors his own book. And it's not as though he doesn't have other responsibilities as well. When explaining why he was out of the office earlier in the week, Larsen said he was taking care of his kids because the Oakland teachers are on strike.
Oh, and he also writes a weekly column right here at CBR (the entertaining and thought-provoking) "One Fan's Opinion."
Throw an "S" on his chest and a cape on his back, and I've found my new hero.
Recently, "Savage Dragon" published its 125th issue – a 64 page supersized special. This is a milestone any creator would be pleased with, but it becomes even more extraordinary when one realizes that Larsen wrote and drew every one of the issues in the book's run. How many other creators can you name who have accomplished this feat? Personally, I'm not even going to try.
CBR News contacted Larsen to talk about reaching this milestone, and his plans for issue #128 of the book. It seems that fans will be treated to the return of some very popular characters from another Image series, namely the villains from Mark Millar's "Wanted." But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We began the interview by asking Larsen what runs through his mind each time he hits a milestone.
"Usually the thought is, 'I wish I were better prepared,'" he chuckled. "Unless (the milestone) is a big round one like issue #50 or 100, generally I'm not planning something that's exceptionally special.
"I want every issue to be special. I'm not sitting there going, 'Well this one, for sure, I'm going to do x…' (A milestone) may be the time when I'm going to go 'Okay, well, this month I can roll out this kind of story that I wanted to do as a back-up just to add something to it.'
"I know when I went and did issue #100, I had all sorts of back-stories that I wanted to establish, and so it was like, 'Here's an opportunity where I can do that sort of thing and not have anyone look at me funny for doing it.'
"Whereas with #125, it was less of a 'Well, this is going to be a real celebration kind of story.' And more of a 'I'm doing an issue of my book and it's going to be another fine issue.' You know, I can't have there be these big retrospectives every twenty-five issues, because it would just get to be ridiculous. So I just try to do the best job I can in whatever issue it happens to be. And generally, I like to either start something or finish something in an anniversary-type of issue like that."
Most writer-artists who have long-running series tend to do less work on their books as their comic grows older. They may delegate the writing or art to others so they can focus on new projects that have captured their attentions. Larsen, as indicated, is completely the opposite. Writing, penciling, inking, lettering, and coloring – the man is a comic machine. In explaining his reasons for taking on all these tasks, he admitted, "It's kind of foolish. I don't recommend anyone else try this. The other people have common sense. Me? Not so much.
"I guess it's just me being such a control-freak, in a way. When I was working with other people, as good as a lot of them were – and I think I've been blessed to have worked with some really talented individuals – there's just something about wanting to do it all; wanting to be able to control the final outcome…what it's all going to look like when you're done with it."
As one can imagine, doing all the tasks on a comic can take quite a bit of time. However, choosing to tackle them all can be liberating as well. Larsen detailed how this feeling arises in attempting to describe how long each individual task takes him.
"Well, I don't necessarily do it in order, so it's kind of hard to tabulate," the creator explained. "For instance, the issue that I'm working on right now, I had a general idea of where I was going with it, and then I drew a couple of pages without really sitting down and typing out a long plot or anything. I was just, 'I've got this idea for these pages.' So because I have the idea for a couple of pages, I just jumped right into that rather than feel like I've got to have the whole thing done.
"It was like, 'Okay, I'll do what I have ideas for. And then, if it turns out later on that I've got some other idea and add something to it, then…awesome!' And you hope that that's the case, given that you're doing a full issue of something. But I just had a couple-of-page sequence that I was like, 'Okay, well, I can do this today.' So I drew up those.
"And when I'm penciling it, I'll letter it at pretty much the same time and then ink them, but the rest of the issue hasn't been started yet. Then, a little while later, I start going through what would be the rest of it and just penciling that in and figuring stuff out. I still have a couple of pages that haven't been laid out yet, even though there are pages right now that are completely done – they're colored, they're lettered, they're ready to see print.
"It can work any number of ways. Sometimes it's very organic, and sometimes it's very…not. It used to be – when I was working with other people on it – what I would have to do is essentially draw and write the whole thing at once, because I was sending it off to somebody else to letter. So that kind of forced me to work in a certain kind of way. Now that I'm doing it on my own without there being anyone else involved, it's just allowed me the ability to do things in a very unorthodox kind of fashion."
On top of "Savage Dragon," Larsen also helps to oversee the production of other creators' books as Image's Publisher. This can add up to quite a bit of work on any given day. So what kind of "magic" tool does he utilize to get everything done?
"I've got a headset," he responded. "Therefore, I can talk on the phone with creators and go over stuff and ink, or be sitting here coloring or something like that. There's certain tasks that take their toll mentally – that you really need to concentrate on – and there are other parts that are, if not automatic, require less…attention, I guess. That kind of sounds worse than it actually is, but if you're sitting there deciding what color people's skin tones are going to be or how to do various things in that kind of artistic way, it requires less attention than penciling something.
"When I'm penciling, I really have to concentrate on 'Is the reader's eye being led in the right direction?,' 'Am I conveying the information that needs to be conveyed?,' and a hundred different things that go into that. I couldn't talk on the phone and write a story at the same time either. So you just try to organize your life in such a way that you've got one of these other kinds of tasks that you can be doing while you're dealing with the person on the phone."
Writing superhero tales that are original can be a tricky affair. After all, how many times Superman catch Lois Lane while she's falling out of a building? (More times than I care to count, actually…) So in writing the same character for 125 issues, we asked Larsen if he's ever concerned with repeating himself.
He replied, "To some extent, but I'm in control here. It's not like I don't have the ability to change things up if I want to. I think, if anything, people might complain that I'm not doing the same thing over and over again enough, because a lot of what people kind of read comics for and get into is 'Hey, there's Green Goblin and he's coming back, and this time he's pissed off.' Whereas, I have a tendency not to use the same characters over and over again, month after month.
"Dragon's Rogues Gallery, such as it is, is probably well over a hundred characters and spread out over 125 issues – that doesn't make for a lot of repetition. There's been a couple of characters that have come back and he's faced them again and again, but not a lot. You'd have a tough time picking out any one guy and saying, 'That's Dragon's big foe – this is his main guy,' because I just tend to do whatever I want and invent new characters at the drop of a hat.
"The one constant in all of this is that I'm going to be drawing a green guy with a fin on his head at some point in nearly every issue. But even then, if I got in the mode of 'You know, this month I'm not going to do that at all,' I could do that too. And it's nice to have the kind of freedom where you can just literally do whatever the hell you want to do. And I've built up enough of a supporting cast in the book that if I'm doing a story that focuses on some of these other characters, people don't really get pissed off about it. They're kinda, 'Oh cool! We're gonna find out more about this guy? Awesome!' Which is good too."
Part of the reason it is rare to see a book reach issue #125 nowadays is that comics are constantly relaunched with new #1 issues. Larsen has never done this with "Savage Dragon" though, much to the delight of his fans. While not the highest selling book on Diamond's sales charts, Dragon does have a solid core of readers. Since he has never succumbed to the temptation of renumbering, one might assume Larsen doesn't worry about his sales numbers. Those people, however, would be wrong.
The creator said he wishes his numbers were higher "every single month. I don't think there's anybody out there who looks at the numbers (for their book) and says, 'Yeah, that's fine. I'm good with that.' I think everybody would like to be doing better than they are doing. But there's not really a hell of a lot I could do about that. I could kill characters off, but unless people know who those characters are, then that doesn't mean anything. Having the Dragon get new clothes or whatever, it's like, who really gives a rat's ass?
"It's like giving the Thing a new pair of pants. He's still the Thing. He's still covered with orange rocks. You're not fooling anybody. Or giving the Hulk different clothes, or giving Hellboy new shorts. He (the Dragon) is visually distinctive enough as a regular guy that to try and mix up with that kind of nonsense is just kind of silly. It would be like doing a story where YOU get a new shirt, you know? To me, it's not like that's a real news story."
For readers who aren't aware of Dragon's latest attire – and other story points – Larsen was happy to bring everyone up to date. "The idea I've been leading up to for a little while is that Dragon's had this Mr. Glum character living in his house, who came over from another dimension and just sort of appeared in his daughter's bedroom. And he thought when he was coming over that he could be this menace that could wipe out Dragon and all this other stuff, but he was a little off when he judged the whole 'scale' thing. When he showed up, he realized that he is about a foot-and-a-half tall compared to Dragon.
"So what I've been building up to for awhile there is to have him actually be functional," Larsen laughed. "And to be able to be the menace that he always wanted to be and saw himself as, and go off and do something with that rather than just ranting and raving."
All of this feeds into issue #128, which will contain villains from Mark Millar's miniseries, "Wanted." For those unfamiliar with this comic (now available in TPB), the story was about a world where supervillains had defeated all the superheroes in existence and were secretly in control of the planet. It included such unforgettable characters as the Killer, Mr. Rictus, Johnny Two-Dicks, Shithead, and Fuckwit.
"I don't know where the idea came from," the creator said. "I know that Mark and JG Jones (artist of 'Wanted') are Dragon buffs, and having been a guy who's read 'Wanted' on my end and knowing the two of them, it just occurred to somebody at some point that 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool if these characters came over?'
"What I've wanted to do is have it be that Mr. Glum takes over the world, and so he's really kind of got control over the whole thing. And then have there be a crisis arise – much like the kind of thing that Dragon deals with all the time – where somebody's threatening to take over the world, or somebody's threatening to do something big and major, and then have to have Mr. Glum deal with it in some kind of way with Dragon in the middle of the whole thing.
"And it seemed that the 'Wanted' characters were perfect for that, because in their miniseries, there was that scene where they were popping into another universe to get something. And I thought, 'Well, they could just pop over here and interfere with the whole thing and fun times could be had by all.' So I ran it by (Millar and Jones), and they were pleased and stoked about the idea of characters crossing over that way. And they've been very good to work with."
Regarding which characters from "Wanted" will appear in #128 and how long they'll be hanging around, Larsen said both were undetermined at this point, but he had a general idea about the latter.
"They'll be in the tail end of issue #127 to just kind of announce that they're there, and then we'll deal with them much more in #128. And I'm thinking they'll be gone by the end of the issue, but I'll have to see…there may be a frantic call to Mark at that point," he chuckled.
For "Wanted" fans who have missed these particular characters, CBR News asked Larsen if Millar has mentioned any future plans to revisit his twisted, little universe of villains.
"He has not," the publisher replied. "I think his idea is to not do more. I think he's of the 'Let's keep this special' mind. Like 'Watchmen' was special, in that there weren't any sequels. It works best that way. Rather than spoil it all by…'Hey, Rorschach is getting his own book and he's teaming up with Blue Beetle!'
"I think, for him, he can look at (his characters appearing in 'Savage Dragon') as 'This isn't me cashing in on my own stuff. I'm just lending my guys to this nitwit to let him do what he wants to.'"
With everything he is currently working on, it's hard to imagine that Larsen could have other projects on his plate. And it turns out he doesn't – not anything he could mention, at least. But despite having a schedule that would make the average person go cross-eyed, this driven creator still wishes he could do more.
"Things come up, but generally what happens is I'm so busy doing everything else that I'm not able to do what I would like to be able to do with other stuff. I know that there is a creator, who shall remain nameless for the time being, who is interested in doing a miniseries with me and having me lay it out for him. And while I am really excited about that idea, I haven't been able to find the time to do any of that and it's kind of frustrating for me, because I don't want him to lose interest, but at the same time, I've got stuff to do, you know?
"And the downside of writing, penciling, and inking your own stuff is that you've got to write, pencil, and ink your own stuff! And if you're lettering your book and coloring your book and you're doing everything else, it just adds up and there's no two ways around it. There's a certain amount of time that all this stuff needs to take to be able to be done in a proper fashion, and there's not really a lot of shortcuts that can be taken if I'm going to continue to do that…and I want to. So, it's not like I'm sitting here going, 'Yeah, I've got to do all this stuff now because I have to.' It's not that way at all. It's just, I wanted to do this, and now I'm doing it.
"I'm happy to be doing it. And I think a better book will be the result, so I don't feel bad about it. But at the same time, it would be nice to be able to do more than I'm capable of doing at this point. Just to be able to do another book or…more stuff. I liked that period when I was doing 'Freak Force' and 'Superpatriot' and 'Vanguard' and…whatever else. That was just a period of time there where I was just able to work on a bunch of stuff all at the same time. That was fun!
"But I can't do that. If I really wanted to do that again, something will have to give, but I'm not in any hurry to have anything give at this point."