Pipeline: Pipeline Special: Larsen off Aquaman

Wed, March 17th, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

ERIK LARSEN LEAVES AQUAMAN

Erik Larsen sent me the following press release, which I present here in its entirety:

AQUAMAN #62 will be my final issue of Aquaman. There were great many things that I had hoped to accomplish in this book but month after month, this became a wrestling match between the editor and me. "Creative differences" is the phrase Peter David used when he left the title and it certainly applies in my case as well. I found the process working on this book to be extremely frustrating. Most of my best work ended up on the cutting room floor and I kept setting up things that wouldn't get resolved because they would get shut down in mid-stream.

I know that some Aquaman readers will respond to this with a collective, "Thank god, he's leaving" and I've got to say that I certainly share this sentiment. It was an extremely difficult book to write-- on the one hard, the editor wanted me to make Aquaman more cheerful and positive while at the same time he had Aquaman's wife leave him. The "just do it" directive that to me contradicted any logic or reason lead to some very tense exchanges. In addition to this, there were several instances where I was requested to basically rip-off stories from other people and I could not, in good conscience do this.

Ultimately, these are not my characters and not my decisions and when it came right down to it--it was clear who had to stay and who would go. My big regret is that nobody ever got to read an issue of Aquaman the way I wanted to write one and that nobody ever gets to see how these things read before they were altered to the point where I couldn't stomach reading them.

I'll do the best that I'm capable of to resolve some of the stories that I've set in motion but as always, I can't guarantee what will actually make it to the printed page. I hope that a writer can be found that can see eye-to-eye with the editor and that in the future there will be Aquaman stories we can all enjoy.

So here now I find myself in the odd position of writing a post-mortem on a series which still has 7 issues left. (No, AQUAMAN is not being cancelled. I just won't bother with it once Erik leaves.)

First of all, go out there and read the latest issue, AQUAMAN #55. It's simply the best of the 6+ issues Erik has done so far.

There are a number of reasons for this:

It's co-written by Chris Eliopoulos, late of DESPERATE TIMES. There are a lot of little moments which just scream his name, I think. I might be mistaken, but it seems that on a couple of occasions the punchline deliveries read right out of Desperate Times. Oh, and did I mention the title of this story is "Desperate Times"?

Secondly, and most importantly, Mike S. Miller does the pencilling on this issue. Eric Battle's artwork is wretched. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, but seeing a story drawn by someone else makes me realize that Battle has been weighing down this book from the start, making it hard to read and tough to follow. With Miller doing pencils, the book is easy to read, easy to follow, and generally makes sense. His artwork is not perfect, but the inker had to have gone through 3 less bottles of India Ink on this issue without all that hideous cross-hatching.

Third, with Chris Eliopoulos doing co-writing duties, who's left to do the lettering? John Workman. Pipeline readers with long memories may remember that I've written in praise of Workman before. He is, in my mind, probably the single best letterer in the business after Todd Klein. It's open, bouncy, legible, and active. Lettering doesn't always have to sink into the background, and the computer stuff is leaving me cold these days.

Fourth, I'll be darned if this doesn't read like an issue of The Savage Dragon, plot-wise. You have a series of small sub-plots going on, which each get a page of two. You have Erik's trademark dark humor. You get characters who aren't stagnating on the page. You get a book not over-burdened with expository material. And for the first time in a while, Aquaman comes across as generably likeable and a man you feel sorry for. (That might not be the best position to put your protagonist in, but it's better than being irritable and moody!)

So it's a great issue. Things are starting to click at last. Then I open up my e-mail program (Pegasus -- I recommend it highly) to find Erik's press release in there. (Well, this is about as technical a press release as you'll generally get from Erik. They tend to be more informal and conversational.)

It just seems a mighty shame that with all the editors DC has taken great pains to scoop up lately (Matt Idelson, Heidi MacDonald, and Bob Schreck), they can't seem to properly control the ones they have. The main question to ask here is why would Dooley ask Larsen aboard if he wouldn't let him write the damned book?!? Why would any editor do that to any writer? You hear it happening again and again, but usually it happens in a book like you'd find in the mutant universe over at Marvel. Or with a Superman book. They're intricately woven into the plots of other books and so must be controlled. AQUAMAN is pretty well self-sustaining. Aside from any JLA activity, AQUAMAN is a loner and the book is rather self-contained. Stupid editorial dictates like, "Superman must appear this month" are easy enough to blow through. But this seems too weird. I suppose if I wanted to be conspiratorial, I'd fashion this theory: Sales on Aquaman were sliding. Sales were low. Nobody cared about the book anymore, and those that did were leaving when PAD left, too, after considerable editorial dictating became impossible to deal with. (I sense a pattern already.) Even Aquaman's presence in DC's most popular title, JLA, couldn't boost sales.

So what better way to boost sales than to invite on as writer the man often considered PAD's greatest enemy? The man who's had 13 column tirades in his letters column against PAD? It certainly would fuel interest, wouldn't it?

(And let it also be known that the animosity between PAD and Erik Larsen goes back a ways to a statement PAD completely misinterpreted in Image's founding days. And the letters column in question is almost 5 years old now. It was merely unfortunate and eery coincidence of timing that at the same time PAD left HULK he left AQUAMAN. The former is a book Erik has had interest in since childhood, and the latter he was offered out of the blue. Hmmm. . . )

Erik did the best he could. He set up some new characters so he could go wild with somebody in the book. He progressed the relationships set up previously so they made sense and were so simple that any reader could get a handle on them. But he was crippled from a reader's end-perspective by a terrible artist and from behind the scenes by an editor who wanted control at any cost.

In the end, Erik bows out graciously, but I doubt his hopeful words at the end of the press release will ever come true. I don't think Dooley is looking for a writer to work with. I have to think in the end, he's looking for whatever gimmick he can use to sell the book. And he's looking for another power trip. He'll have much more time on his hands to accomplish this goal, too, with VEXT being cancelled.

Maybe Dooley should get the coveted Pipeline Idiot of the Week award.

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