As if Erik Larsen's "Savage Dragon" wasn't already fairly twisted, the long-running Image Comics series is about to tap into a whole new meaning of the word thanks to "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies," an upcoming series of flipbook back up stories featured in the "Savage Dragon" monthly title. Spearheaded by Michel Fiffe of ACT-I-VATE, the May-debuting project offers humorous, wacky and downright bizarre tales featuring Savage Dragon and his surrounding characters, all rendered by indie comics creators including Andrew Dimitt, Rachel Freire, Fiffe himself and many more.
"I always want to see more comics by my favorite new cartoonists and there's never really enough of their work out there. With that in mind, I noticed that Erik Larsen had started to feature back up stories in 'Savage Dagon' with more frequency, so I thought it'd be great to combine the two," Fiffe told CBR News of the project's origin. "I felt it was a long shot, but I contacted Erik anyway and told him my concept of making 'alternative' versions of his characters and running them as short back ups. To my surprise, he actually went for it! However, he wanted to see what I had in mind first, so I amassed all the cartoonists in order to try and pitch the project to Erik before he came to his senses. Not only did he approve all the stories we pitched, but he extended the proposed four page stories to a higher page count, suggested the flipbook option, and named the project. Something tells me he liked the idea."
"We were kind of debating whether to do it as a one-shot like DC's 'Bizarro Comics' or a series on its own or just what, and we ended up deciding to run it on the flip-side of 'Savage Dragon,'" Larsen told CBR. "I'm all about making the monthly books special and this was something that would definitely do that."
While Larsen enthusiastically approved the project, he'll keep the majority of his focus on the monthly "Savage Dragon" title while Fiffe handles the bulk of the work on "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies." "Erik made it clear from the get go that he wasn't going to edit any material beyond fixing spelling mistakes," said Fiffe. "I'm doing the editing on the back ups and I've worked closely with all of the contributors. I run every step of this project by Erik for approvals, though, and he's been nothing but supportive in letting us do our thing with his characters."
That's not to say that Larsen didn't lay down a few ground rules about how creators should proceed with the "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies" material. "For copyright purposes, I insisted that any characters based on preexisting characters that I created must be owned by me," said Larsen. "I didn't want to run into a situation like Todd [McFarlane] did on 'Spawn' and have some guy throw Dragon on a horse in medieval times and claim to have created a new medieval Dragon character. If somebody decided to do a SuperPatriot dog, I didn't want them owning a character who was ripped off from my character. Any wholly new characters were theirs to keep, of course. Also, I didn't want characters smoking. Dragon is a tough guy, sure, but he doesn't smoke and I didn't want other creators having him smoke because they assumed he would. There were a few other rules as I recall, but nothing comes to mind."
Even with these parameters in place, Fiffe said that "Savage Dragon" is still "the perfect title for this kind of experiment. It has an insanely large cast of fun characters that lend themselves to this type of reinterpretation."
To be sure, there are plenty of reinterpretations seen in "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies," which has already lined up the first full year of contributions. Ulises Farinas, for instance, created a story that thrusts Dragon into a strange and savage land alongside another one of his kind, but their initially peaceful partnership quickly becomes less than friendly. "I always love when more mainstream characters are allowed to loosen up a bit, and you can see different artists' interpretations," said Farinas. "It always reminds me of what I love about the character and also sheds new light on different aspects. Being able to draw Savage Dragon myself was a great opportunity, because he has such a unique character design."
Chris Sinderson, meanwhile, summarized his own contribution with only four words: "Vicious Circle Therapy Group." "Savage Dragon has so many great villains," he said. "How can you see characters like Powerhouse, Skullface, and Brainiape and not want to draw them or put words in their mouths?"
Fiffe himself contributed a story, "The Date," which sees Dragon braving previously unchartered territory: the world of online dating. "I thought the idea of a huge, green, aging ex-cop going on a date with a girl he met online was funny," said Fiffe. "It wouldn't be a Savage Dragon comic without some brutality, so I threw Abner Cadaver into the mix to screw things up. Instead of acting like the mysterious Agent of Chaos he's known to be, Abner's more like a crusty version of Mister Mxyzptlk."
With the eclectic collection of creators pitching in on "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies," Fiffe said that the project gives similar efforts, like Marvel's "Strange Tales," a run for their money. "I don't mean to compare them too much, but we are applying the same sensibility to a similar theme," said Fiffe. "I think what Marvel's doing is great in having these creators in front of an audience that otherwise wouldn't see them, but why should they have all the fun? In crafting the 'Dragon' stories, we were all more interested in telling solid stories rather than just taking the piss out of established characters. We produced some excellently crafted comics that capture the brilliance of these young cartoonists perfectly. They may not be indie darlings yet, but their efforts are just as good if not better. I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise."
"I'm extremely happy - these are really cool little stories, the art is terrific and they're a lot of wacky fun," said Larsen. "We've done a number of books at Image over the years that have given noteworthy new talent a showcase for their talent, 'Popgun' being the biggest and best, and it's always a source of pride to be able to give an artist their big break. I've done back up stories in the past where I've written the stories and had new guys draw them and some have gone on to fame and fortune. It's a way of expanding the talent pool and giving folks the kind of break I was given years ago. I have no doubt that you'll be hearing a lot more from quite a few of these guys."
According to Fiffe, the first year of "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies" is roughly 80% finished at this point, and his hope is that the project will continue "in one way or another" beyond the last installment in 2011, which will feature a wealth of currently unannounced guest artists. "There's a staggering amount of distinctive, innovative comics people out there who would be absolutely perfect for the Dragon-verse," said Fiffe. "Some folks other than Erik Larsen were born to draw Savage Dragon, too."
"Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies," a monthly back up feature contained in Erik Larsen's ongoing "Savage Dragon" title, begins with May's issue #160.