Erik Larsen has a lot to say. The creator made a name for himself drawing “Adventures of Superman,” “Doom Patrol” and The Amazing Spider-Man before jumping ship and becoming a co-founder of the independent artist collective that soon became known as Image Comics. While he had played with the character of Savage Dragon for years, a tweaked version of the finned amnesiac made a splash as one of the very first Image Comics released. Larsen wrote and drew that first miniseries and he hasn’t stopped since. Next week, the series will print its 178th issue, a milestone for any comic, let alone a creator-owned book with a single writer/artist at the helm.
Unlike many of his other fellow Image founders, Larsen has stuck around since the company’s inception, going so far as to become the Publisher from 2004 to 2008. He even gave a young kid by the name of Robert Kirkman a shot at writing one of his “Savage Dragon” characters SuperPatriot. With “Savage Dragon” getting ever close to the 200 issue mark, the series split between an earth-bound invasion with Dragon’s son Malcom in the frontlines and Dragon off in space.
CBR News spoke with the creator about everything from “Savage Dragon” to his involvement in the relaunch of “Supreme” as well as the state of Image Comics, what books he’s reading now and his thoughts on the shift towards digital.
CBR News: Congrats on surpassing the #175 mark, when you started “Dragon” back in 1992, did you ever expect to have such an epic run?
Eric Larsen: Not really. I mean, I had hoped to but until it happens — you never know. I can remember making the first few issues stand alone issues, fearing that each could be my last — which is pretty silly in retrospect. The books were selling hundreds of thousands of copies, many times more than anything on the stands now, but I didn’t know. I certainly wasn’t making long-range plans that lasted as long as 180 issues. That would have been madness.
How do you keep a character who’s been around for 20 years fresh and interesting to both readers and yourself?
By keeping things changing. From day one the book has been set in real time, so the characters age as we age and that makes it so that a lot of things change — and have to change over time. Since I’m not forced to maintain a certain status quo, there’s no reason for it to ever get static. One of the problems a corporate comic company has is IPs — intellectual properties, characters — they have one Spider-Man and if that Spider-Man dies, they have nothing and they really can’t count on a creator handing over the next big thing. With me on this book, I’m the same guy who created every character in the book. If I kill off a guy he can stay dead, because I can count on myself to create another character to take his place. That makes for exciting comics and one that doesn’t get stagnant.
You’re obviously not afraid to get political with “Savage Dragon” considering appearances by Barack Obama and Osama Bin Laden. Will you be tackling anything involving the primaries or the election in upcoming issues? Or will that just not fit given the invasion storyline?
Part of keeping it fresh is not repeating myself. I feel like I’ve kind of done politics in the book enough already. It’s time to move on. Dragon’s not going to run for office again — so it’s time to do something else.
Has Malcolm’s rise to hero-hood changed the way you write and plot the book? Given his age, he seems to have given you a few more archetypes and situations to play with.
It’s quite different from what it had been just a few years back. With Malcolm being a freshman in high school, it’s likely to stay that way. Things keep changing. Dragon’s foes are getting older and less capable and younger, leaner, hungrier foes are taking their place. It’s always evolving.
Moving forward, it looks like the book will be split between Dragon in space and Malcom and Angel on Earth. At any point were you considering starting a second book to accommodate both stories?
No. I don’t have time to do that and I wouldn’t want to. It would be too much of a good thing. I can switch off and on for a bit. I like that “Savage Dragon” is kind of a catch all title for all of these related characters but if I have extra time, I’ll generally do something else to take a break from “Savage Dragon.”
When you tackle an idea like the alien invasion, do you look at similar stories from other comics or mediums and try to go further than those others might be willing to go?
No, no. I avoid it all for fear of repeating what others have done. I prefer working in a vacuum.
Can you say anything about what will be going on in the book post-invasion leading up to #200?
The immediate plan is to finally reveal who Overlord is. That was a mystery set up in issue #150 and it’s long past due getting resolved. Life goes on. [Dragon’s adopted daughter] Angel graduates high school this year and more changes are put into motion.
In the past, you’ve had other writers tackle some of your characters like Robert Kirkman on “SuperPatriot” and the current Vanguard back-ups. Is that expansion something you look for or was that just a right place at the right time kind of thing?
Things happen when and where it feels right. If a good idea presents itself, it happens. I’m not actively trying to expand but if the right story comes along, I’m not going to stand in the way.
Handling “Savage Dragon” must keep you busy, but do you ever get the itch to start a new creator-owned project?
When I do, I can do that and I have over the years. Right now I’m starting up Supreme and I have a few issues of that under my belt. I really do follow my muse as best I can. Time permitting, of course.
How did you first get involved with “Supreme?”
We were in discussion with Rob Liefeld about his books and bringing them to Image and, completely off the cuff, I said, “If I were doing ‘Supreme’…” and rattled off a few things, thinking, “Here’s an editorial direction that could be given to anybody. I think it’s a good foundation to build something on” and both Rob and Eric Stephenson were crazy about the idea. They just flipped out over it and then they spent the next six months trying to talk me into doing it.
How has it been working with Rob again?
It’s been great. He’s very supportive and very hands off. It’s as if this is my book.
At least the first issue is being drawn from an Alan Moore script that was still on file. Is there more than just the one? How will the story proceed past that point?
There was one script and it was left on a complete cliffhanger. Alan had intended this to be his last issue and for it to feed into the next guy’s run. My impression was that he was going to either plot it or guide it after this issue but he really left it on an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger so the next guy had a guaranteed audience. There’s no closure here — you can’t walk away after reading Alan’s last issue and feel it’s a good place to stop.
The script obviously wasn’t written for you and Moore’s known to have incredibly complex panel descriptions, so what was it like drawing his scripts? It must have been challenging considering it was written for another artist and he tends to be incredibly descriptive in his panel descriptions.
[It was] absolute hell. He does not write to my strengths and there were all kinds of things he asked for which were a pain in the ass to draw — there were panels with multiple things going on in the foreground and background and I spent a lot of time combing over other issues looking for reference. It was easily the most difficult script I’ve worked from. It was torture.
I had the option of not using it, actually. Alan had written scripts for a few Extreme books including “Youngblood” and “Glory,” which weren’t being used, and it was thought that it would be better to start fresh — but I really wanted what I did to spin out of what Alan did. What better way than to draw his final script? On both “Youngblood” and “Glory” Alan had barely gotten started but he’d had a rather lengthy run on “Supreme,” so it made more sense to use his script and jump off from that. I’m glad I did it and I’m glad it’s behind me. My hat’s off to anybody who’s been able to work with Alan over the years. I have nothing but respect for those people.
Aside from the trouble with that first script, was it difficult adding these issues to your already busy schedule?
The first one took me months and I was just sitting there struggling and thinking, “This is impossible. There’s no way I’ll be able to keep on schedule,” but following that, it all fell into place. I drew my second issue in a few days. It just flowed. My second issue is considerably stronger than my first. Sometimes fans get it into their heads that more time equals better work, but I’ve found that the opposite is true. The worst issues of “Savage Dragon” are the ones that I took a lot of time on and struggled with. The best ones came together quickly. They materialized.
Image Comics is 20 years old this year. How do you think the company has changed in that time? What do you see as Image’s role in the comic marketplace?
We’re the number one home of creator-owned comics. We’re the place creators come when they have a story to tell.
Have you been keeping up on any the new DC books? What are your thoughts on the New 52 reboot in general?
I really don’t have any interest in what they’re doing. Who cares? In five years time — in ten — it’ll be wiped clean again. I just can’t get myself to get invested in the lives of characters whose existence can get rebooted at the whim of an editorial directive or a writer with an agenda.
What comics, either from Image or other companies, are you reading and enjoying these days?
“Invincible,” “Mud Man,” “The Walking Dead,” “GÃ¸dland,” “Butcher Baker Righteous Maker,” “Fatale,” “Madman,” “Luther Strode,” “Hellboy,” “Sin City,” “Thief of Thieves,” anything the Luna brothers do — and I’ve been checking in on Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, the Hulk and Thor from time to time. With the Marvel books I’m somewhat less steady. If there’s a fill in or change in the creative team, I’m gone. I follow artists more than books from them. The bulk of my reading is Image books.
What are your thoughts on digital distribution, day-and-date publishing and the changing relationship between comic companies and physical comic shops?
It’s hard to know what to think. I mean, certainly for a number of readers print is inaccessible — or at least not in a timely manner and digital is instant. On the other, there’s no question that physical comics look sharper and crisper than anything you can see on a screen. Day and date is inevitable and I think. Eventually, things will shift and we’ll see more books that are digital only with collections being the eventual physical version. I prefer print myself but I’m also not a kid. My youngest son is all about the computer and his laptop and iPad. He seems fine with having books on those. His room is relatively uncluttered, whereas my office is packed to the gills with paper of various sorts. It’s a strange thing — books, a library is something like a trophy room with various tomes lining the walls announcing to the world that you read this thing or that. 95% of the comics and books in my collection are things I’ll never look at again. Is there a really good reason to possess them? Some would argue that there isn’t and now that I’m getting ready to move I can see their point. I just picked up a couple books at the library knowing full well that, had I bought them, they would be taking up space in my life, and now I can simply return them after I’m through reading them. I’m really not sure where I fall at this point. The jury’s still out on that, but it does make sense to sell a product to readers in a format that they want to buy it in.
“Savage Dragon” #178 hits comic shops on February 1, followed by “Supreme” #63 on April 4.
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