Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Erik Larsen, and the issue is Savage Dragon #199, which was published by Image and is cover dated October 2014. Plus, just for the fun of it, I included a few scans from Popgun volume 1, which was published by Image in 2007. Enjoy!
Larsen has mostly drawn Savage Dragon over the past 22 years, but I don't buy Savage Dragon, so that's a conundrum. However, the latest issue is all double-page spreads, and while I probably wouldn't have bought it if I weren't planning on featuring Larsen, the fact that he managed to do the entire thing in double-page spreads is pretty cool, and I may have picked it up regardless of what plans I had with Larsen. First, though, let's take a peek at "Cheeseburger-Head," his contribution to Popgun in 2007!
This story is about Carl, who wakes up one morning to discover his head has turned into a cheeseburger. Yeah, Kafka it ain't, but it's still absurdly entertaining. I love the fact that it's Larsen stripped down - I imagine he just used a pen and winged it, and the results are basic but very cool. You can just imagine him trying to do each panel without lifting his pen from the paper, like one of those challenges you did when you were a kid. Look at Jerry in Panel 5, for instance, when he touches Carl's head. The folds in his shirt look like one continuous line, and that's just cool. Larsen does nice work with the backgrounds, filling in just enough to give us an idea of where the two characters are but not being too specific. And I love the way he shades things, like in Panel 3. It's just raw drawing, and it shows that Larsen, whatever you may think of his style, knows what he's doing.
Jerry realizes he's late for work and leaves Carl in the street, and Larsen is really effective making Carl's plight tragic even as it remains absurd. The way he frames Carl in Panel 4, as the reader moves away from him, is very nice, as he shrinks him and isolates him - we're leaving with Jerry, because we too are, um, late for work. Yeah, that's it. The final panel is excellent, as Larsen wrings as much pathos out of a guy with a cheeseburger for a head as he can, and he uses nice thick lines and black chunks behind him to show the murkiness of the bar, while Carl's head casts a shadow over his body. It's really well done.
As I noted, Savage Dragon #199 is all double-page spreads, and as you might recall, my tiny scanner can't handle an entire comic, so I found some of these on the Internet and some I just had to scan each page, which means I have to make them smaller. You can click on the final two scans to make them bigger, but of course, you're only getting half the image. Sorry!
This is a nice "late Larsen" drawing, as he's still using several of the tics he's developed over the years, but thanks to modern technology, his work is richer and lusher. Nikos Koutsis colored this book, and he does very nice work with the reds, oranges, and yellows on this page. Larsen also does a lot of nice work with the black chunks, and all of this makes his work a bit rougher than it was in his formative years, which adds nice texture to everything. It's still recognizably Larsen - that big demon (I don't know if he has a name) has a stereotypical "Larsen face" (even though he's a demon), with the wide nose and giant mouth, while the female demon, we can tell, has large breasts and the tiny Larsen waist. The large demon also has the wide chest tapering to a relatively narrow waist, which is a Larsen staple as well.
I'm not going to get into everything on this page or even who the characters are (I suppose I could find out, but let's just say they're various Image characters, except for Daredevil there in the red and blue, who Larsen obviously loves and is using now that he's in the public domain), but we see a lot of the classic Larsen tics here - I guess that's Malcolm's step-sister in the star-spangled outfit, and she has the large eyes, big mouth, and wide face that Larsen loves, while the blond thing down in the lower right also exhibits some classic Larsen characteristics, as his nose is tiny but his mouth is still large, making his philtrum gigantic. There's just a lot of good work on this page.
We've seen Larsen do the whole "3-D" thing before, as his characters often reach toward the reader in some way, and that happens at least thrice in this issue (the obvious ones, that is). Larsen has become excellent at using this extra dimension, as it gives his comics a vibrancy and depth that many artists don't achieve as well (obviously, if you're a good artist, you can do this, but many artists don't seem to take advantage of it as much as Larsen does). Once again, there's just a lot of terrific heavy inks on this page, with the colors of hell clashing nicely with the colors of the surface world.
This is from my scanner, which is why it's smaller than the others. Sorry! Like so many other of the splashes in this book, Larsen puts a ton onto the page and makes sure almost every character is in motion, yet it all hangs together very well. I'd be interested to see how long it took him to lay these pages out, because they have so many moving parts. In the background, the big demon finally is able to swallow Malcolm, which is nice for him (for a second, before Malcolm punches his way out of his stomach). Meanwhile, in the foreground, a bunch of demons (what's the name for a group of demons - a hex of demons? a hell of demons? a summoning of demons?) emerge from the ground, and Larsen makes sure we see every ugly detail. He has to place Maxine close enough that she's in peril but not too close or she'd be knocked backward immediately, and on the other side of the page, we already have Malcolm's step-sister (Angel?) in peril, so that would be too much peril if Maxine was getting grabbed as well. And notice the female demon in the upper right (you can see her better in the banner pic at the top of the post). She could be Rhea's demonic twin, as Larsen hasn't changed the way he draws female forms in bikinis all that much in 25 years - she has large breasts with a decent gap in between them, a very tiny waist, and long, somewhat angular legs. It's interesting to see that some things stay the same!
As I noted, Malcolm punches his way out of the demon. Is this another example of Larsen excellently using perspective? Yes! His tic of drawing his characters with larger hands than is probable is another benefit here, as not only is Malcolm's fist "closer" to the reader, it's probably even bigger than a "normal" fist would be, so it's even more impressive! This is such a quintessential Larsen drawing I think it's best to stop right now.
Larsen has been one of the more interesting Image creators, because he just chugs along with Savage Dragon long after the rest have bailed on their own creator-owned projects and even returned to the Big Two whence they fled. Larsen has gone back to the Big Two as well, of course, but never at the expense of this comic, and it's pretty impressive that he keeps plugging along. I'd also like to thank Larsen for stopping by and making some very interesting comments about the work he's done. That's always very cool to hear!
Tomorrow I'm going to check out an artist who made a big splash, then disappeared into the bowels of game design before his triumphant return to comics! You know who it is! You certainly won't find him in the archives, but you can find a lot of other cool artists!