Larsen on "Savage Dragon" and "Herculian"

Erik Larsen just can't stop the ideas from flowing. Pulling creative double duty on the "Savage Dragon" ongoing series, a character he first began writing and drawing regularly almost two decades ago, he constantly comes up with situations and scenarios ripe for comic book fodder, no matter how bizarre or esoteric. And soon, fans will get a chance to pry into the creative mind of the Image Comics co-founder, not only through the continuing adventures of "Savage Dragon," but with the March one-shot "Herculian," a collection of Larsen's short tales and one-off stories from throughout the comic book landscape.

"And I've got a few more ideas in the fire, but I can't talk about that," laughed Larsen while speaking with CBR News about the two titles.

The ability to pull these ideas from the fire and onto the comic book page have certainly helped the 48-year-old creator keep things fresh on the title he is most identified with, the aforementioned "Savage Dragon," which first began as a three-issue miniseries in 1992 before graduating to ongoing status the following year. For over 150 issues, Larsen has pitted the titular Dragon against criminals, supervillains and godly beings alike, first as a member of the Chicago Police Department and later as an independent agent and well-known and much respected hero in the Image Universe. However, one of those infamous ideas of Larsen's recently changed everything for the title: Savage Dragon died, blown away by his old nemesis and leader of the Vicious Circle, the Overlord.

Dragon appeared to return a few issues later, but body switches, memory wipes and brain eating led to the revelation that Dragon actually reverted into the evil Emperor Kurr -- the character's evil tyrant persona bent on wiping the Earth clean of its people. And despite the best efforts of various heroes and villains both, not to mention Dragon's own super-powered teenaged kids, Malcolm and Angel, Kurr succeeded in his efforts and killed every living being on the planet. However, intervention by the powerful Damien Darklord helped restore the heroic Dragon, who gave his own life in order to reverse the effects of Kurr's plot, save the world and bring his children back to life. With Dragon dead once again, the book now falls into the hands of the remaining heroes of Chicago and the Savage Dragon's kids.

"It's really tough to say, because you don't want to give away too much, but it's largely the changing of the guard," Larsen told CBR when asked about the future of the series. "The book has always been somewhat of an ensemble cast from the get go. There's this body of characters that inhabited the book, and those guys, for the most part, are still around and kicking. The other part of it is that his two kids are big enough that they can be, and kind of have been, the focus of the book. It's been them essentially fighting their dad for the last year and a half. Now it can be them, period."

As expected, Larsen has more than a few ideas for the title moving forward. In fact, running out of ideas has never been the problem for the creator. Rather, it's never having enough room for all of the ones he does have. "There ends up being so much that I want to do at any one point that that becomes overwhelming," he admitted. "It's like, 'There's fifteen stories I want to do today. How do I distill all this down to the one I'm actually committing to paper?' That gets to be more of a problem. It's never been, 'How do I fill these 20 pages?' It's been, 'How do I take this 60 pages of material that I've got and distill it into 20, because I can't fit all of it in?'"

With so much constantly swirling around all at once creatively, even planning becomes a bit of a variable process for the creator. Larsen said that although he plans for the bigger points of the book, key moments that change the dynamic of the characters -- many of which stem from the fact that he long ago established that his character age in real time -- he also makes sure to leave the general story and plot points open enough for last minute changes.

"There are things where I'll be, 'When he's drinking age, boy oh boy, that's going to be a great issue.' 'Once she's legal, man oh man.' Various things like that," the artist explained. "If this character is old enough that she can drive, that opens up a little bit of stuff you weren't be able to do before. Malcolm right now is in 8th grade, and come September, he's starting high school. That dynamic changes things somewhat. There ends up being a lot of long term plans, but at the same time I try and keep stuff open. I've got the overall broad strokes of, 'I want to get from here to here to here,' but at the same time, if somebody came to be tomorrow and said, 'I'd really like to have your character crossover with my book,' I can still do that. There's still possibilities of doing stuff that comes along fairly short term. But I still have the broad strokes of knowing, I am going someplace. I'm not just meandering here. There is an actual direction and payoff in this way."

None of which is to say that the big plans don't change every now and then in unexpected ways. Larsen told us that the recent "Emperor Dragon" storyline took place because of such a sudden change in direction, which ended up spawning an entire year-and-a-half worth of action and adventure and, ultimately, "Savage Dragon's" new status quo.

"When I had penciled the cliffhanger where you saw Emperor Dragon, initially my idea was going to be that he was going to revert to a blank slate. I thought it would be cool to have him being back to what he essentially was when he woke up in the burning field [in the first issue], and not having any memories of friends or not having any memories of kids," said Larsen. "Then I would develop him into something of a different character and somebody would devise a way to restore him. But the other characters would be like, 'We kind of like this guy. We're going to miss this guy.' It would be about how to make that kind of decision after having a year or two to get attached to this essentially new character. Initially, that was where I was going to go with that.

"Then, when I was sitting there drawing it, I was like, 'What if I had him revert to being the son of a bitch that he used to be?'" he continued. "I started thinking, 'What would be the ramifications? Where would that lead? What would come of that?' A lot of my writing comes about, not always from long-term plans, but a 'choose your own adventure' kind of thing. Where would these two different choices go? One would lead to this. One would lead to that. Which is most interesting as a story, most dynamic, most compelling? Ultimately, I ended up choosing to go with Emperor Dragon just because I thought it was a better route than amnesiac Dragon."

The paths continue to branch in surprising ways for Larsen and "Savage Dragon," taking him in new directions all the time. Even when it comes to the ultimate question in regard to Dragon -- "When is he coming back?" -- Larsen said that the only direction he knows for sure is, things won't go backward. "Even if we did go there [and bring him back], the book is moving on," he said. "I just don't see Dragon being able to really be the lead of this book for that much longer, even if he was around, just cause he's got to be pushing 50 at this point. At what point, physically, is he not able to do what he was able to do when this book started? His kid is getting older and able to assume some of that stuff. He's getting progressively weaker as his son is getting progressively stronger. At a point, it just won't work out that well for him as a character. It's moving on. Things are changing and this is where things are going to be at this point."

While "Savage Dragon" continues to flex Larsen's imagination muscle in terms of monthly ongoing titles, the upcoming "Herculian" collects some of the other creative ventures the writer/artist partook in over the last few years. From his short tales like Reggie the Veggie from the "Popgun" anthology to his 24-Hour comic "Guy Talk," the one-shot contains not only previously published tales, but some new ones as well.

"There ended up being some new stuff in it just because I did the pagination wrong and I thought I had 48 pages worth of stuff, but it turns out I didn't," laughed the creator. "I'm sitting there putting it all together and I'm like, 'Holy crap, I'm short. What do I do?' So I ended up coming up with some new stories for it."

The previously mentioned "Guy Talk" takes up the bulk of the book. Larsen first created the comic as part of 24-Hour Comic Day, an event first established by Scott McCloud in 1990 that challenges creators to make a complete 24 page comic over the course of 24 hours. The story Larsen wanted to tell during his 24-Hours actually stemmed from an idea he came up with while reading the 80s black and white comic "The Trouble with Girls" by Will Jacobs, Gerard Jones and Tim Hamilton. Larsen recalled that in one particular issue, a superhero battle unexpectedly interrupted the conversation between two of the series' lead characters. The moment came and went quickly, but to Larsen, it sparked an idea for a full story.

"I had the idea to do a full story about two guys going into a restaurant and having a very tense conversation. Meanwhile, across the street would be a bank robbery with superheroes and supervillains, which I would have be this big visual. But we never hear the big visual at all," explained Larsen. "We see it. We see the guys fighting and we see the action, so that part of it is all told pantomime. We're focusing on the conversation between these two guys. It's a 24 page conversation with these visuals of these guys kicking the shit out of each other across the street. It was a visual challenge to myself and it was an artistic challenge and all the rest -- trying to make the conversation compelling enough that you want to stick with it while at the same time artistically make it interesting looking enough that you'd be attracted to it, just being a person picking it off the racks."

The rest of the one-shot contains shorter, one-off style tales. These include stories like "Zombie John," told entirely from the perspective of a recently reanimated corpse, and Cheeseburger Head, the tale of a man with, obviously, a cheeseburger for a head. Larsen said that many of these ideas stemmed from goofy conversations around the Image offices.

"We were talking about Mayor McCheese or something and it's like, 'What if you actually did have a head that was a cheeseburger,'" he explained. "You've just got to take it from there and ask, 'What would it actually be like? How would your life be different?' There's other stories in here where you expand that basic premise. 'If you really were a talking duck, how would your life be?'"

As for the title's new stories, Larsen revealed one about a character he created years ago in a sketchbook. "I was like, 'I should do something with Carl Cosmic.' Originally, I was going to have a longer story with him that was going to take up every page that I needed to fill," he said. "The story I came up with was too complicated and tried to accomplish too much in the short amount of pages I had to fill. So, I did another quicker Carl Cosmic story instead."

However, Larsen may still get the chance to tell that Carl Cosmic story in the future. The writer said that he thoroughly enjoyed the idea behind and putting together the giant-sized "Herculian" and would "absolutely" do more titles of a similar nature. And why not? After all, the ideas just never stop flowing.

The latest issue of "Savage Dragon" smashes into stores February 23, while "Herculian" makes its mark a week later on March 2

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