One Fan's Opinion

Fri, May 2nd, 2008 at 12:59pm PDT | Updated: May 2nd, 2008 at 1:08pm

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

(L-R) Chris Eliopoulos, Ron Marz and Erik Larsen at New York Comic Con 2007

So, I’m over at Chris Eliopoulos’s house.

Chris used to letter “Savage Dragon.” He lettered the book for 106 plus issues and then he left me in the lurch to go pursue a career in computer lettering and cartooning. I’ve always preferred having my book lettered on the pages -- I find I can balance the elements in the panels better and all that, spotting blacks and making adjustments when necessary but…

Uh…

Okay, never mind. The point is-- Chris and I worked together for years and we became pals and every year I crash at his place during the New York Comic Con and see him and his lovely wife and two lovely kids and we get all caught up and sick of each other and then I go home and don’t see him again for another year.

Chris Eliopoulos writes and draws all those “Franklin Richards” books for Marvel and letters a million comic books.

OK, I’m straying off topic again. I had an idea where I was going with this when I sat down to write this… in any case…

Chris says to me, “there are a lot of guys in this industry that are scared to meet you.”

Chris has said this to me before and it’s always seemed kind of odd to me.

I think of myself as being a pretty amiable guy. I have yet to slug anybody at a show or even yell at them. I’m generally in good humor. I love comics and I love my job and all the rest, but it seems that some people find me to be intimidating.

And you know why?

Because I’m honest.

That’s right -- it’s because I tell people what I think.

But I want to let you in on a secret…

I don’t just do that right out of the gate. With me it’s strictly a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask. It’s not as though I’ll just insult some wretched artist and let him know that I think his art is wretched, uninvited. Not at all. If some untalented slob comes up to me and introduces himself I don’t immediately tear him to shreds.

Not at all.

I’m a sweetheart -- really.

If some untalented slob comes up to me and introduces themselves I’ll generally say something like, “Hey, nice to meet you.”

Now, seriously -- is that something to get upset about?

Of course not!

Yeah, I’m honest and sure, if you want to know how I feel I’ll give you the honest truth, but I’m not a dick about it. And even if you are unbelievably untalented, I’ll still try to be nice about it. Just because a person has no talent or produces nothing of measurable worth or value doesn’t mean that he or she is not a decent human being. Some of my best friends have no talent and produce nothing of measurable worth or value (and no, Chris -- that was not a dig at you).

Some people don’t want to know what I think of their stuff but you know what -- unless they ask me directly, they won’t know.

If you ask, you’ll know. People that want me to look at their portfolio…? They’re asking for it.

Which is one of the reasons that I don’t like doing portfolio reviews. I have that Simon Cowell gene. I’m simply incapable of lying to people about their work. If you want to have somebody blow sunshine up your ass, go talk to your mom. She’ll tell you how wonderful you are and how talented you are, but if you want the truth? You come to me. But honestly, it takes a lot out of me to do that. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings or deflate their egos. I’ve been on the other side of the table wanting desperately to land a job -- some kind of job -- and I know what it’s like to hear the words, “you’re not ready.” Nothing burns me out faster or saps my energy more than doing portfolio reviews. I dislike telling people that they’re not good enough.

And some guys will cop an attitude and say, “what makes you think that you’re so great?

The two sides of Erik Larsen - Happy and Sad. Photo's taken at Comic-Con International in San Diego, 2004.

Well, I don’t think that I’m so great -- but I have managed to break in and stay in for 25 years so that’s something at least. I’ve been able to fool a few people. Don’t think for a moment that I‘m not acutely aware of my own shortcomings because, believe me, I am. I write and draw around them every day of my life. I have to delusions about my own relative abilities.

In any case -- like I said -- I generally don’t do that to anybody without them asking me to. I just don’t. There’s no point in going out of my way to be mean or obnoxious. That’s not me.

It’s actually gotten a bit tricky over the last few years. The problem is that a lot of people equate liking them with liking their work. And that’s nonsense. You can be a terrific artist and a complete asshole and you can be a terrible artist and a great guy. Just because I said to somebody that their work is terrible, it doesn’t mean that I’m saying they’re terrible as a human being.

Being the publisher of a major comic book company puts me in a peculiar spot. There are creators that I know have their fans that I feel are dreadful but -- as a publisher -- I’d be foolish to pass up. I have a hell of a time with that. I really want to love every book that Image publishes, but there are times that I have been tested. Thus far, however, it’s generally worked out okay.

As a guy writing these columns I’m often stuck because I don’t want to necessarily throw things out there for the risk of offending people. At one point I wrote a column about Spider-Man and its bold new direction with all of that deal with the devil nonsense and rewriting large chunks of history. I dared mention that I found Joe Quesada’s art to be inconsistent and that I found the story to be something of a mess.

Well, you can imagine the furor that caused!

Fans had asked. As a former Spider-Man scribe and artist, people wanted to know what I thought of the whole wrap up to the Peter/MJ relationship. What was I supposed to do -- lie about it? Pretend I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread (the gold standard of “greatest things,” for whatever reason)? Every news site and comic book publication was asking and I didn’t see the harm in saying my piece even if it meant pointing out that the emperor had no clothes.

And for the record, I’m generally fond of Joe Quesada’s work, I think he composes some terrific covers and lays out some compelling pages. And, again, just because I didn’t care for how he put a fork in the whole Peter/MJ relationship, it doesn’t mean that I think he’s an awful person. I generally get along with Joe and Marvel has certainly benefited from having him at the helm.

After him having said disparaging remarks about several projects that I had been involved with �" “Fantastic Four: the World‘s Greatest Comics Magazine” and the “Defenders” -- I would have thought he’d have been more receptive to be on the receiving end of such a thing, but apparently that was not the case. Several people have reported that he was somewhat upset by what I had to say.

Sigh.

The thing is, I genuinely think that valid criticism is helpful. It’s only through critical analysis that creators learn and grow. If nobody ever told anybody what they thought they were doing wrong, everybody would suck ass. I have valued, a great deal, the times people have cared to let me know what they thought. I’ve taken that criticism and learned from it and I’m a better artist thanks to that.

Which is not to say that critics are always right.

Or that I’m always right.

It’s tough to write this column. I’m in a precarious position. If it’s all butterflies and sunshine, then it’s dishonest and dull. If I criticize somebody or something I’m being “mean” or “unprofessional.” I’ve held my tongue more than a few times and tossed away a few perfectly good columns rather than risk hurting a few feelings. I don’t want to dwell entirely in the past to fill this space with nothing but rave reviews or pandemonious puffery for upcoming Image efforts. I’d like to be able to level with you and I’d hope that folks in the business could take put up with it.

The point I was hoping to make in all this is that you really have nothing to fear. I’d be pleased as punch to meet you and if you want to introduce yourself I’m sure we’ll get along just fine. If you care to hear what I have to say about your work you can ask but I’m not going to force my opinion on you.

And hell -- at the end of the day -- it’s only one fan’s opinion and you’re free to go out and get a second one.

TAGS:  erik larsen, chris eliopoulos, savage dragon

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