One Fan's Opinion: Issue #39

Fri, May 26th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

"Where do you get your ideas?"

If there's one question I'm asked more, I can't think of it offhand (and I'm going to try and cover a few of the more often asked queries this time out for a change of pace). Those hapless folks born without an imagination usually ask that timeworn question, but sometimes it's asked by folks looking for inspiration or hoping to become writers themselves.

I imagine that they're looking to find that secret source where all professional writers go get inspiration for every TV show, movie, book or comic book that they read. "They must be getting ideas somewhere and I'm sure as hell not stumbling across them, what's the deal?"

The deal is this: Ideas are everywhere.

That's why writers often talk about stories "writing themselves" or characters "taking on a life of their own."

The big lie that comic book writers like to sell you is that "they're the only ones that have to start will a blank page."

With so many stories set in established fictional universes or with established casts whose stories have already been set in motion, it's almost impossible to start with a blank page and even those that don't use established characters from established universes and use established menaces with established motives, they'll invariably cop to getting an idea from a book or a magazine or an episode of "Star Trek" or from the front page of a recent newspaper ("ripped from the headlines," my ass -- "ripped off" is more like it). The cold hard truth is that everything is inspirational and everything is fodder for a fine funnybook yarn.

Comics like "American Splendor" can be visual diaries of a man's life. R. Crumb's comics are often autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) and they're so fascinating and engaging because his interests and obsessions are so much different from most of us. I, personally, am not so obsessed with certain women's powerful butts and thighs. If there existed a comic, which sprang from my id it would be mind-numbingly mundane, I'm sorry to report. Same old obsessions and urges that most heterosexual males have after years of being beaten over the head with advertising, I'm afraid, nothing new or unusual to be found here.

Most stories do come from somewhere. But that somewhere can be an overheard conversation or an exchange with a coworker. You can get inspired reading somebody else's story and making up a new ending or giving it a twist. You can be inspired by TV or do variations on a theme (Sandman is made of sand -- what if I made up a dude made of wood or glass shards or metal or shit or clay or bed sheets or Jell-o or worms or leaches or bees or bubbles or water or paste or foam insulation?) or any number of things. The problem is never "where do I get ideas?" but rather "which of the thousands ideas I have are the best ones to use?"

Knowing which idea to use and which not to use is what separates the men from the boys.

Entire conversations can be used verbatim. Interesting choices of words or phrases can be put to good use. Family history can be used or abused. Any number of things can be used.

The second most popular question I'm asked is, "What kind of tools do you use to draw with?"

The answer is (these days at least) a pretty standard #2 pencil (often a Dixon Ticonderoga 1388-2/HB (soft) and a Staedtler Mars Plastic rubber (eraser) - or a kneaded eraser. To ink I use a Hunt 102 nib, a Winsor & Newton, Series 7, #3 brush and Higgen's Design ink. For straight lines I use a uni-ball pen or a Pentel Rolling Writer -- I gave up on Radiographs years ago because A: they clog too easily and B: markers look the same -- it's a straight black line, for cryin' out loud! When I used to "just pencil," I would sometimes do rough layouts with a Col-Erase pencil (blue), but I don't use them anymore -- they're a bit waxy and it's difficult to ink over their lines. I draw on 3-ply Bristol boards that Image has printed by the fine folks at www.bluelinepro.com.

Third up is "How did you break into comics?"

But I've covered that one a few times already so just flip through the other columns, okay?

Another popular question is, "Who are some your influences?"

I'm influenced by everything I read, see or hear. Artistically, I'm influenced by Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Walter Simonson, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Klaus Janson, Herb Trimpe, C. C. Beck, Pete Costanza, Michael Golden, Gil Kane, Jerry Robinson, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Rick Leonardi and Bill Sienkiewicz, sure, but there are bits and pieces of hundreds of others whose work I've admired and absorbed. Influence can come from any number of sources and these are just a few of them. There are a ton of others whose work I enjoy but whom I wouldn't consider myself influenced by like Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Adam Hughes, Simon Bisley, Humbero Ramos, Marc Silvestri and Carlos Pacheco. Writers would include Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Otto Binder and a whole slew of guys that write non-fiction books that I devour by the carload.

When it comes to my book, I'm often asked how many issues of "Savage Dragon" I plan to do or if I have an ending in mind like Dave Sim did with "Cerebus."

The answer to that is that I don't have any set number that I'm shooting for and that, health and sales willing, I'd like to do this book for the rest of my life.

Another popular question is, "What are your favorite comics ever?"

As you might imagine, "Watchmen," "Dark Knight Returns" and "Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth" are right up there. Others include "Killing Joke," "Batman: Year One," "Sin City," "Hellboy," "Daredevil" (by Frank Miller), "Fantastic Four" by Lee and Kirby, "Amazing Spider-Man" by Lee and Ditko, "Incredible Hulk" when drawn by Herb Trimpe -- #156 in particular written by Archie Goodwin - "Ronin," "Cerebus," "Minimum Wage," "Big Bang Comics," "Elektra: Assassin," Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" and "Miracleman" (especially when it was called "Marvelman" and ran in "Warrior" magazine, I thought it lost a lot with new artists after the publishing break), "X-Men" by Claremont & Byrne or Claremont and Smith, "Thor" by Walt Simonson, "American Flagg" (especially the first 12 issues), issues of "The Nam" that Mike Golden drew, "Captain Marvel Adventures" by Otto Binder, "Batman" drawn by Jerry Robinson, Almost all EC Comics, anything by Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Michael Golden, Walter Simonson, Simon Bisley, Marc Silvestri, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Brian Bolland or Gil Kane. These days "Scott Pilgrim" is entertaining the hell out of me.

Another favorite is, "Will there ever be a 'Savage Dragon' movie?" and the follow up, "Who would you like to see play Savage Dragon?"

The answer is that I don't know if there will be a movie. It's not out of the realm of possibility, but it isn't something I'm pursuing. I don't have an agent on the case and I've never pitched it. At this point, there isn't a "Savage Dragon" movie in the works and it has not been optioned. As far as actors that could play the part go, I would have said "Bruce Willis" as the most viable option, but he's a tad older than the Dragon should be at the beginning of his career at this point.

I also get a lot of "what do you think of this guy" or "what did you think of this book" and all that. I'm often questioned about books or characters that I used to be affiliated with. More often than not, when I've moved on, I stopped following the adventures of those characters. I know how these companies work and the whole business of creators coming onboard and undoing or trashing the work of the creator that proceeded them and I'd rather have lasting memories of these characters the way they were when I left them.

Rattling off a list of creators and what I think of their work could fill a few columns and I'm not convinced I should jump into such a thing just yet. I seem to piss off enough people as it is. No point tossing any more fuel on the fire.

Often fans will ask what I would do. How I would "fix" Marvel or DC or this character or that. Most often it would involve scraping off the barnacles and finding the essence of the characters involved. I got a flurry of questions in regard to Spider-Man recently -- it seems a number of readers are tired of the Peter/MJ relationship and long for the days of Spidey being a single guy. I don't disagree and while I thought that it worked well to begin with for the two to be married, successive writers have fallen into the trap of making them an old married couple instead of a young married couple and nobody wants to read a comic book about their parents.

My answer: have them get a divorce.

Yes, it's simple. Yes, it's pat. But killing MJ off would be redundant. Peter has lost too many friends and relatives in the past and it would just be another in a long line. As a story, you could play out all the reasons why these kids are splitting up and get a lot of drama out of the situation.

And, in the end, you'd be left with a single Peter Parker.

No, it's not "clean." Peter will forever be a "divorced man," but there's no reason that you'd have to bring that up and mention it over and over again for all eternity. Give it a year or two and you could stop referencing it in conversations and it would be as if they were never married. And sure, older readers will remember, but there's no reason to keep dredging it up. And I'm not suggesting that they should say that he's never been married -- I'm not suggesting that they should "ret con" it out or undo what's been done -- I'm just suggesting that they should just tackle it head on.

Besides, part of what's missing by having Peter married to a supermodel is that he's no longer a "loser" and nothing says "loser" like having your wife leave you.

Boy, am I going to get mail about that one.

But seriously, I not only think it should be done, but that it needs to be done. Superman can't do that. Superman has always had Lois Lane and he's never had a serious fall back girl. Superman can't be a divorcÚ. Superman is stuck forever. But Spider-Man? That could totally work and work well.

I'm telling you, two years from the event and they'd be kicking themselves for not doing it sooner.

In any case, I've got a million other questions that I could answer, but that's about all the time we have for today, kids. I hope this answers a few of the questions you might have had and if it doesn't, well, I hope you could stay awake during the proceedings.

Just remember -- the opinions expressed here are mine and mine only. They don't necessarily reflect those of Image Comics, Comic Book Resources or anybody else you can think of. It's just one fan's opinion, folks and I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.

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