IN-DEPTH: Erik Larsen

Tue, July 7th, 2009 at 8:28am PDT | Updated: July 7th, 2009 at 8:40am

Comic Books
Bill Mitchel, Contributing Writer

Erik Larsen by Erik Larsen

Erik Larsen has lived a life many aspiring comics creators would envy. Not only has he had the opportunity to work on such iconic characters as Spider-Man and Aquaman, but Larsen co founded the now legendary Image Comics, launched a successful creator-owned comic that spawned toys, a cartoon series and much more.

“Savage Dragon” just reached the milestone of issue #150, a true landmark for any title, much less an independent. This makes it a good moment in time for CBR News to talk with Erik Larsen and take a look back at his long career in comics, including very candid remarks about his work for Marvel and DC Comics, his ascension to Image Comics’ Publisher, and even some projects on the horizon including “Image United.”

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CBR: Do you remember the first comic you read, or at least what book got you hooked on the medium?

ERIK LARSEN: I can’t say for sure. I grew up with comics. My dad bought them when he was a kid so my first exposure to them was his wonderful Golden Age comic book collection. The first comic book I remember buying with my own money was “The Incredible Hulk” #156 but I know there were others before that. I have a recollection of having swiped Batman drawings from a Sal Amendola-drawn “Batman” or “Detective Comics” issue. Dragon sprang from Batman. I was drawing comics before I started buying them.

Erik Larsen's fanzine "Graphic Fantasy," with a proto version of the Dragon

Was there an artist from your childhood that was a favorite?

The first one I knew by name was Herb Trimpe. He was a favorite. And when I came across Jack Kirby I was convinced that was everything a comic book should be. Trimpe was on “The Incredible Hulk.” When I first saw Jack’s work it was on “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth.”

You have said you created your own comics during your childhood. Did you know then that comics would be the career for you? Or did you have other aspirations?

That was pretty much all I ever wanted to do. I was drawing comics for as long as I can remember. When I was in, like, first grade, some older kid found out I could draw and I copied some pictures of Popeye and Mickey Mouse for him and, as I recall, he paid me with markers and that was the greatest thing ever. The idea that I could draw something and get something in return for it was planted. I drew constantly. I think the genesis of the Dragon came shortly thereafter but I can’t pinpoint the date. I went to a free school in second grade and it had very little structure. Their idea was that kids are naturally curious and want to learn so they made an environment where teachers were there and accessible. I can remember spending more than a few days drawing all day long.

The Dragon has been with you for a long time, even prior to you becoming a professional. Has he always been essentially the same character? Or has he evolved from your original childhood concept?

He changed quite a bit. Dragon came from a combination of Captain Kirk, Batman, Speed Racer and Captain Marvel. Originally he was this superhero on a planet I’d called the Red Planet, who lived up in the mountains and would swoop down to fight crime. At that point he was essentially an alien Batman. He had a cape and cowl and utility belt--the whole nine yards.

I had a couple other characters that I liked; a Speed Racer clone named Flash Mercury and a Captain Kirk knock off whose name escapes me. At one point I had all three of these guys merge to become one and that became my new Dragon character. A while later I ditched some of that and had him change from Flash Mercury to Dragon by saying a magic word like Captain Marvel did. At this early stage I was all over the place. I’d do whatever I thought was cool. I’d ditch one version of the Dragon and replace him with another with little thought or explanation. A year later Dragon was William Jonson. William would turn into Dragon much like Bruce Banner would turn into the Hulk. Dragon was still wearing a mask at that point but a couple years later I ditched that. I separated William from Dragon and at that point Dragon became a green guy with a fin on his head.

Erik Larsen's first paid work was "Megaton"

You published a fanzine, “Graphic Fantasy,” which featured “The Dragon” that helped land you a gig on the book “Megaton.” What did you learn from the overall experience of producing “Graphic Fantasy?” Not just in the creation process, but perhaps in promoting yourself and your characters as well?

Everything is a learning experience. That was really the first time that I drew a full comic book on bigger paper and shrunk it down. I’d taken a cartooning class in high school and had gotten to see the process as bit and “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” was out by that point and it helped as well. Using the real tools and seeing what things looked like when they were reduced was a huge help. When “Graphic Fantasy” came out, we sent copies out to whomever we thought might review it. A few did and that led to a little exposure, which led to Gary Carlson and “Megaton.”

Do you think people who are interested in working in comics should consider self-publishing their work in some form? Any advice you would give them?

If you want to do comics — do comics. Don’t let anybody get in your way. Just write and draw and produce comics. You can print them yourself or make photocopies, which you can use to show others but the important thing is that you actually produce work and work out the bugs. Seeing stuff reduced will give you an idea of what needs to be adjusted for storytelling clarity. I can remember drawing tight little panels with knots of detail that became incomprehensible snarls when reduced in size.

Would you consider “Megaton” to have been your break into the comic industry? And how exactly did your work on “Megaton” come about?

“Megaton” was my first paying gig. I do consider that my first big break and it helped a lot. “Megaton” writer and publisher Gary Carlson saw a review for “Graphic Fantasy” and he bought it through the mail and then contacted me. He was putting together an anthology and was looking for guys who could do the job. I was quite willing.

What did your experience working on “Megaton” teach you?

It helped me refine things and I learned a bit about collaborating with others. Gary Carlson and I co-created a character named Vanguard. That was a lot of fun. But I’m pretty sure that I drove Gary nuts because I just plowed through the material and asked for more and Gary was trying to get all of these other artists to produce and they just weren’t moving and I was there saying, “Gimme more!” Years later, Gary said that, in retrospect, he should have just had me do the whole book and gotten more issues out. There was a two-year gap between issues one and two because guys kept getting better gigs and leaving poor Gary in the lurch or simply not getting their act together.

"DNAgents" was one of Erik Larsen's early successes

“Megaton” led to work on “DNAgents” at Eclipse Comics and a fill-in issue on “Thor.” Do you think having previously published work helped you in gaining those assignments as much as your artistic abilities?

Oh, sure. I actually did some time at AC Comics as well drawing “Sentinels of Justice” and “Nightveil” and a few other things. Each gig led to another. I’d been pestering Jim Shooter for years and I ran into him in Chicago and showed him a mountain of stuff. Jim said, “So, you’re a professional now, eh?” and I said, “Yes.” And he asked if I’d like to do a story for “Marvel Fanfare” and I said, “Sure. Why don’t we plot it here at the show?” And he said, “Okay.” We sat outside the bar later on and plotted out what was to become that issue of “Thor.” Once I had that drawn, all kinds of doors opened up. I landed the “DNAgents” and I got a fill-in on “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

“Thor” helped land another fill-in, this time on “Amazing Spider-Man.” Was that exciting or nerve-wracking at the time to have landed an issue on Marvel’s biggest icon? Seeing as you’ve returned to work on him several times of the years, is Spider-Man a personal favorite of yours?

I liked Spider-Man but it was not a great time to do Spider-Man. He was in that black costume and the story I drew was very dense. I needed to use a lot more panels than fit on a page comfortably. I was still figuring out a lot of drawing things and there were too many pieces of action that I couldn’t simplify. It didn’t seem real. Because of the dopey outfit and Hobgoblin and the rest it didn’t really seem as though I was doing Spider-Man.

You drew a couple of fill-ins at DC around that time, on “Secret Origins” and “Superman.” Did working on those books help open the door to your first regular assignment, “Doom Patrol?”

Over at DC, [editor] Mike Gold was championing my work. He was angling to get me on “Teen Titans” and I ended up drawing a couple issues of “Teen Titans Spotlight” and an issue of “Secret Origins” featuring Nightwing. He lined up a few things for me. There was a Doom Patrol/ Suicide Squad crossover that I drew first, the idea being that it could run in either or both books if deadlines became an issue. That led to the Doom Patrol.

Were you a fan of Doom Patrol? Or did you welcome the opportunity to work on any book on a regular basis at the time?

An early Erik Larsen book from DC

I was not that familiar with the Doom Patrol. I knew Robotman from the Teen Titans and I’d read their revival in the revived “Showcase” book but I hadn’t read any of their old comics. That was before my time. I just wanted a regular gig and this book opened up so I jumped on it.

A return to Marvel came with a couple more fill-ins before landing the Punisher. Did you enjoy working on that character, or did you see it as more of an opportunity to help open more creative doors at Marvel?

I was not a Punisher fan. I liked [writer] Mike Baron’s stuff from “Nexus” but I didn’t think this stuff was quite as strong. I took it because I was a Marvel guy at heart and I hoped it might lead to me working on a Kirby book. I knew it was a good assignment. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I was unsuited for it. I like drawing bigger than life stuff and the Punisher was anything but that. They wanted real planes and real guns and it was a real struggle.

Having worked at both Marvel and DC at this point, did you prefer one company over the other? Did either have a more appealing stable of characters that you wanted to work on?

I was always a bigger fan of Marvel Comics. I preferred their characters.

You left “Punisher” to work on “Marvel Comics Presents,” but things didn’t go as originally planned there. What happened with your “Nova” pitch?

I was a big Nova fan and I wanted to write and draw Nova. I pitched a Nova serial to “Marvel Comics Presents” editor Terry Kavanagh and he approved it. Based on that, I quit “The Punisher.” And then it all fell apart. The New Warriors were introduced and there was a New Warriors book in the works and my story did not jibe with what Fabian Nicieza had in mind in that book and so it was canned and I was unemployed. Terry offered me an Excalibur serial and, having nothing better to do, I took that. I had no love for Excalibur but I took what I could get. Terry told me that he was trying to get Al Milgrom to ink it but that didn’t end up happening. Terry Austin ended up inking it and he did a bang up job so no complaints.

Eventually you ended up taking over as the regular artist on “Amazing Spider-Man” following Todd McFarlane. Was that a high point for you in your career?

At that point, sure. But Spider-Man was not a natural fit for me. I naturally gravitate toward bulkier characters like the Thing, Hulk or Thor and Spider-Man wasn’t that. It was a good assignment and I enjoyed doing it but it didn’t come easily.

Cover from Larsen's "Doom Patrol"

Did you feel any pressure following McFarlane, as he’d made such a mark on the character and became one of comics’ top artists at the time?

When I did the Doom Patrol, years earlier, people just hated what I did following Steve Lightle. I knew going into [Spider-Man] that following Todd was ten times what that was. Luckily, for me, my own natural style was not as far off from what Todd was doing so I pushed things here and there to ease into my style much like what John Romita, Jr. had done when he followed Paul Smith on the X-Men. When I eased into my own stuff—it was not as abrupt as my Doom Patrol shift had been so readers seemed fine with it. Sales actually went up.

You followed Todd McFarlane again when he departed the adjective-less “Spider-Man” title, this time writing and drawing the book. Was this the first time you got the opportunity to write and draw a book outside of your self published material?

I’d written a Spider-Man/Wolverine three-part story for “Marvel Comics Presents” earlier. And remember, I’d pitched the Nova serial and I actually pitched a few other things that went nowhere so I wasn’t a complete novice. I had a bit of a track record.

Did you have a lot of creative control over the storylines or did your editors lay it out in detail for you?

It was entirely mine. The editor made a few changes and I couldn’t use Wolverine for some reason but the initial idea was mine.

“The Revenge of the Sinister Six” storyline was jam-packed with characters from “Ghost Rider” and “The Hulk” as well as Deathlok and more. Did you want to take a crack at drawing and writing in as many as you could into this story?

The idea was the “New Fantastic Four” pitted against the Sinister Six—but then Wolverine was pulled out so it became something of a mishmash. I was following Todd and I was trying desperately to keep the numbers up. I didn’t want to be the guy who killed Spider-Man.

What was your role in the development of Image Comics? Were most of the other members already on board, or were you there from the start?

I was there from day one. It started with me, Rob Liefeld and Jim Valentino. It came from a conversation with Malibu’s Dave Olbrich. Rob had been entertaining the idea doing an X-Book somewhere other than at Marvel. He figured that they didn’t own the letter X—so why not? He asked Dave if Malibu would publish a book by him and he said, “Yes. I’d publish a book by any of you” and it grew from there.

Larsen doesn't think he was a good fit for The Punisher

Was “Savage Dragon” your first choice for your launch book with Image? Or did you consider one of your other characters first?

I considered SuperPatriot. I’d intended to introduce him at Marvel in my “Revenge of the Sinister Six” story and the editor balked at it because he was shooting up a mall and had a flag on his mask. He thought it would be too controversial, so I changed it. Fabian and I had pitched taking over “X-Factor” and that look was my redesign for a character called Crimson Commando. We were going to shorten that to Commando but we didn’t get the gig. Fabian had set up the character in the X-Men annuals and I had intended to pay it off in my Spider-Man yarn. I ended up changing him to a character I named Cyborg-X but if you read his dialogue—it’s all from Fabian’s X-Men annual yarn—it’s supposed to be him having flashbacks.

In any case, I had promised myself earlier that if I ever started doing the Dragon professionally that I’d do it forever and I didn’t want forever to start just yet so I toyed with doing SuperPatriot instead. But ultimately I gave in. I just liked Dragon more and I thought I should put my best foot forward.

Originally, “Savage Dragon” launched as a miniseries. Were you testing the waters with the character? Or leaving your options open once the first mini was completed?

I had other assignments at both Marvel and DC. I had intended to do that miniseries and then do a Nova miniseries at Marvel and a Lobo miniseries at DC before doing an ongoing Savage Dragon book. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

Were you surprised by the sales numbers coming in for your book? 640,000 is an enormous amount of copies for a new character in a new book.

It was not a huge surprise, given the times and the numbers “Youngblood” got. I was pleased, to be sure.

You have mentioned in other interviews that you saved your money from those early Image days. Did you anticipate that the sales figures of that era would not last forever? Or did you simply not see the need to spend lavishly?

I paid off the mortgage. After that, I didn’t have any real desire to accumulate stuff. I’m not a very materialistic person. I’m not a car guy. I don’t really collect anything other than comic books. It just seemed like the prudent thing to do. I had the feeling that it couldn’t possibly last and I saw the other guys putting together studios and my sense was that that was not a good idea. I played it safe. It also helped that I got married in 1992 and my wife was a sensible person. I proceeded with caution.

Larsen followed Todd McFarlane on "Amazing Spider-Man"

What were your thoughts behind making Dragon a police officer instead of simply a vigilante like most superheroes? Did it just make more sense to have him on the force?

My goal was to work toward the stories that I did as a kid. When I was a kid, the Dragon was a superhero and any number of things, and the last two stories I did were published in that “Graphic Fantasy” fanzine. My thought was to start at a different place and work toward those stories and then take it from there. In those stories, Dragon had been part of a government super team so I tried to think of what would be a step back from that. I had a friend who was a police officer and it seemed like a natural fit—a good starting point.

Did you have an overall game plan going into the ongoing series on where you wanted to take “Savage Dragon?” Or did you just take it issue-by-issue, story-by-story?

I had the story I was working toward and a vague idea of where I wanted to go but not a lot of specific plans. There were a bunch of characters I wanted to introduce and pieces I wanted in play but if you’d have asked what was going to be in any given issue—I couldn’t tell you.

Unlike some of the other Image founders, you didn’t seem to expand your corner of the universe too quickly or to the large degree others did with entire studios filled with creators and titles. Was this a conscious effort on your part?

I wanted to do what I could manage. “Savage Dragon,” “Vanguard” and “Freak Force” as ongoing books sounded reasonable and everything else would be miniseries. Getting a big studio and managing talent seemed like it would take away too much time from the drawing board and might be financially risky. Everything I do has a purpose and I didn’t want to just put out product for the sake of product. I wanted each book to have its own purpose and identity.

Did you feel any of the rivalry or competition between Image partners that has been made mention of from other members? Or were you more concerned with putting out the best books possible with Image? Were you pressured to do more books at the time?

I didn’t feel as though I was part of that. I let the others slug it out. It was never about being #1 with me—it was about doing the kind of books I’d like to read. I was making comics for myself--for the kid in me—the fan.

Was there any difficulty producing “Savage Dragon” while overseeing your other books? Did you avoid directly managing books and creators so you could produce your own title?

Larsen finally brought his childhood creation to life wih Image's "The Savage Dragon" #1

There was difficulty, sure. I kept on top of most everything. It was all a matter of knowing when and where to step back. With most everything that I did it started with a character arc. I’d start out by saying, “The character is here and I want to get him to here.” Even books that I edited had that in there. Most often it worked out pretty well but there were a couple times that I dropped the ball.

Were characters such as SuperPatriot, Freak Force and The Deadly Duo additional characters you created during your childhood? Or were they new concepts you had conceived while at Image?

SuperPatriot was based on a superhero I had as a kid but it was really a matter of throwing the outfit I’d created for Commando on him. Freak Force is a mix of old and new. Barbaric, Ricochet and Rapture were new. Dart was old. Horridus was old. I created mighty Man as a character to fight Vanguard in “Megaton” #2. SuperPatriot we’ve covered. The Deadly Do was created in sixth grade with my pal Aaron Katz who came up with Kill-Cat. Those characters were revised quite a bit.

In the early days of Image, during the first big expansion of the next wave creators such as Dale Keown and Larry Stroman, how were the creators chosen? Did they approach Image? Or did founding members approach them? Was their addition to Image put to a vote?

It was fairly chaotic. Mostly we asked them. Todd was very actively recruiting guys as were we all and sometimes we'd call each other up and check with each other and sometimes not.

One of the creative teams that produced a SuperPatriot series was “Invincible” creators Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker. Did you see Kirkman’s potential early on? Did you ever imagine he would become such a prolific creator at Image?

Robert approached me at a time when I was pretty much through with the idea of doing other books. He had a story that he wanted to tell and I was familiar with him through “Battle Pope.” I knew that he wanted to do a book at Image and wasn’t having much luck getting through to Valentino, who was the Publisher at that time, so I just let him do it. It showed that he could get a book done and it was a good book. It led to “Invincible.” It proved he could do a monthly book. I knew he had a fire in his belly. I had no idea just how good he’d get.

Are there any creators out there you would love to see do something for Image?

Sure -- a lot of them. Mostly because I'd like to see what these guys have to offer. I've seen a million guys draw Spider-Man or Batman-- seeing somebody draw Spider-Man or Batman doesn't interest me a whole lot. I'm more interested in seeing what these guys have of their own. There could be hundreds of Savage Dragons, Hellboys, American Flaggs and Invincibles out there but we'll never know if those creators are sitting there drawing Iron Man or Green Lantern. 

"Savage Dragon" frequently guest-stars other indie comics characters like Todd McFarlane's Spawn

You’ve had Dragon appear in his own cartoon as well as toys. Did you have much creative input in either? Did you like the end results?

It was hit and miss. I had some input with the cartoon but little control. They sent over tapes of people reading for the part, for example, and then they overrode my decisions. It was pretty frustrating. The toys varied. With the Playmates toys I brought in my own guy, sculptor Clayburn Moore, who did the Battle-Damage Dragon and She-Dragon toys. Those two were pretty awesome. Some of the others were less awesome. I loved the detail that Todd's guys brought to the McFarlane toys but I didn't think they quite nailed the face.

In 1998 you returned to DC to do a run on “Aquaman,” followed by additional work at Marvel with ‘Nova,” “Defenders,” “Fantastic Four” and “Wolverine.” Why did you return after working with your own creations for so many years? Did you miss working with DC and Marvel’s characters?

I missed it. And I thought that if I did work elsewhere that it might get me more attention and that might help Savage Dragon. I thought it would be fun. It wasn’t as much fun as I’d hoped it would be.

You had been trying to do a Nova story for years, first with your pitch for “Marvel Comics Presents” and later with a series pitch after you left Spider-Man. Did you finally get to tell your Nova story? Having attempted and finally succeeding to work on the character is it safe to assume he’s a favorite of yours? Was there an aspect of Nova that interested you the most?

“Nova” was the first comic that I followed from #1. There weren’t a lot of first issues back in the ‘70s, so every book I followed had been running for years when I started reading them. With “Nova” I was able to be there from day one and I just really liked the character. I thought Fabian Nicieza did an awful job of capturing the character. He turned him into a different character and I was not a fan. I wanted to do what I felt was the “real” Nova. That was always the goal—to get him back to what he was.

I remember working on “Doom Patrol” and watching the writer Paul Kupperberg slowly build the book and set things in motion and I can remember him getting fired after I quit and I thought that it was a damned shame that he didn’t get to tell the stories that he wanted to tell. He was building to them and he was getting there and he did use a few of the classic Doom Patrol villains but it just seemed like there was too much filler in there.

Jim Lee's issue of "Savage Dragon"

I knew that Nova was a hard sell so I tried to frontload it and do everything I wanted to do right out of the gate. I used all of his major villains in those seven issues. And it was very true to the original Nova character. Needless to say, the New Warriors fans weren’t too taken with it. Oddly enough, both New Warriors and Nova’s second series had pretty much restored Nova so my take wasn’t a radical departure but people were comparing Nova to when they read the book and most of those readers followed it when Fabian wrote the book.

Did you approach DC for “Aquaman?” Or was it more of a case of approaching DC to see if they had anything opening up and he happened to be the character?

Chris Eliopoulos called me up and said the book was open and they were looking for a writer. We talked about it at length and came up with enough ideas for the book that I felt I had to give it a shot. I gave them my pitch and they bit.

“Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comics Magazine” took place, continuity-wise, during Lee and Kirby’s run. Was it a creative kick for you being a fan of Kirby and the FF?

It was. I wish the end result was a better series. It was produced with the best intentions but it was something of a mess.

Would you ever consider working with Marvel or DC again?

Never say never, but at this point I hope that it would never come to that.

Back to Savage Dragon, you’ve had him team up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles several times over the years. Are you a big fan of the characters? And was it your hope to bring them into the Image publishing family?

I was pals with Michael Dooney, a guy who worked at [TMNT publisher] Mirage. I really just wanted to do a crossover with him. I don’t have a huge love for the Turtles. I like them okay but I don’t love them. When they decided to stop publishing TMNT they asked me to do it and I agreed.

You’ve really put Dragon through the ringer over the years, not just in terms of physical abuse, but some rough patches in his life as well as deaths. Do you think that it’s the adversity a hero faces and how they deal with it that makes them appealing?

That’s certainly a big part of it. Life is like that at times. You just roll with the punches as best you can.

Hellboy guest-ars in "Savage Dragon"

One of your more memorable if not controversial stories in Savage Dragon had him going to Hell where he witnessed a fight between God and the Devil. It was even featured on the cover. Did you expect to see fire and brimstone from any fans from this?

I didn’t know what to expect. It actually generated almost no negative mail. After that I figured I could get away with anything.

You’ve had a number of crossovers with other characters in “Savage Dragon,” not just with other Image characters such as The Maxx or Invincible, but also with characters such as Hellboy. Have the creators given you free reign when using their creations, simply signing off on the end result? Or has there been a bit of collaboration when you’ve featured someone else’s character in your book?

I generally run things by the other creators. Sometimes they want to see it sometimes not. With Hellboy, Mike Mignola changed a few balloons and had some plotting input. When I did a crossover with Spawn we didn’t see the other guy’s book until it was published. It just depends.

Image has not been without its headlines over the years. Two of the largest were the departures of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, both under different sets of circumstances. Was there difficultly having so many big personalities trying to run a company together?

The biggest problem was that we were competitors in addition to being partners and that was a problem as people raided each other for talent. It just got messy.

Any chance fans could see a Savage Dragon film? Who would you cast as Dragon if given the chance?

Bruce Willis is my ideal Savage Dragon -- although he's probably too old for the part. That's the kind of actor I'm looking for. One that can be funny but also a badass.

During a Free Comic Book Day appearance a couple years back, all seven Image founders were reunited. From that gathering a project was born, “Image United.” Can you give a bit more information about the genesis of the project and what fans can expect?

Erik Larsen courts controversy by depicting the Savage Dragon decking President Bush

I’d done a team up with Megaton Man, years ago where I drew Savage Dragon and Dandy Don Simpson drew Megaton Man and it worked out pretty well. What made it interesting was that both characters looked right. It wasn’t as though either character was being filtered through some other guy. Years earlier, Wally Wood had inked Daredevil in an issue of “Fantastic Four” and before that Mac Raboy had drawn Captain Marvel Jr. in a Captain Marvel story and I always thought that was a cool idea. We’d drawn jam pieces before and we were doing one at that FCBD gathering and it just clicked. I ran the idea past the other guys and they were into it and then I called Robert Kirkman about it during his signing. It was funny to talk to him because he was in front of people not trying to give away what he was talking about.

In any case, it’s it the works. Originally we were each going to layout an issue but that idea became too unwieldy. I’ll be doing most of that.

Waaaaay back with issue #13 you took part in the Image event where each of the creators took over each other’s books for an issue, Jim Lee being the one to do “Savage Dragon.” Did you enjoy what Lee did with his issue? Why did you come back and do another #13 when you returned to the series?

I liked Jim’s issue fine. I just wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having my run broken up with this one issue by another guy. It was no slight against Jim. I just wanted my run to be intact.

You have never been shy about voicing your opinion or opposition to news or events in the comics industry. Do you think it’s important for creators to use their voice and speak their mind? Do you think more creators would do the same if they had the freedom that came from success through self-publishing instead of relying on work from publishers?

That’s just me. It can piss people off and alienate fans so I don’t recommend doing it, actually. In a number of instances it created an uncomfortable situation where fans felt that they needed to choose one creator over another and that’s unfortunate. You should, as a fan, feel free to read anything you want to. The personalities of the creators should really not come into play.

I can remember a fan very flamboyantly announce that he was going to go get a book signed by Peter David in a voice loud enough that I couldn’t help but hear as though he was somehow defying my wishes and that struck me as really, really stupid that anybody would feel compelled to do something like that. I’ve gotten into pretty nasty arguments with some creators but still bought books they did. I’m not going to let my opinion of a creator cloud my opinion of their work. I would hope that fans could get beyond the personalities involved and just enjoy the comics that they enjoy.

Erik Larsen was the pioneer of the Barack Obama cover appearance

“Savage Dragon” has also been a place of public expression. You’ve not only had Dragon support a Presidential candidate in Barack Obama but also go as far as to show Dragon slugging George W. Bush on a cover. Do you ever worry about the backlash that may result from fans when you write these stories?

Sure. I just don’t let it stop me. For every fan that may disagree there is another who might use that as an excuse to start buying the book. It works both ways.

You took over as the Publisher of Image after Jim Valentino. How did you come to take the role? What was your game plan once you did take the position?

I didn’t care for a lot of the books Jim was publishing. I wanted Image to be publishing better books. I talked to my partners, they agreed and that was the end of that. My background is pretty Mainstream. Jim comes from an Alternative world. I thought that Image was going too far in a market that was shrinking by taking on creators that weren’t helping us grow. It was getting to a point where I didn’t want to look at what we were publishing. We did a lot of very amateurish-looking books. I wanted to make things better.

You’ve since handed the job over to Eric Stephenson. Did you feel you had accomplished what you had set out to do? Or were you ready to get back to creating full time?

I thought that the ship was heading in the right direction. I wanted to focus on doing more creative work and being the Publisher impeded me from doing that. Ultimately, it was better for Image for me to be producing monthly books. And I hated being a bad example.

As of this writing, “Savage Dragon” is about to hit issue #150. Are you proud to have had the book continue to be released and having built such a loyal fan base? Is there anything looking back that you would have done differently?

I would have done things completely differently if I were to do it again. But there’s no turning back. I’m happy to be where I am now but I’m never satisfied. There’s nothing I wouldn’t tweak, given the opportunity. I am very happy that readers have stuck with me as long as they have and I hope to keep them coming back for more for decades to come.

"Savage Dragon" hits issue #150

What exactly would you have changed if given the chance?

Well, switching to a parallel world was, in retrospect, more than a little confusing for a lot of readers and it made the backstory unnecessarily cumbersome. But really, if I was doing it all over I'd do something else because I'd already done it that way before and it wouldn't be all that fun repeating myself. Sometimes it's hard to look fifty issues into the future and see where a decision might lead you. I write myself into a corner all the time. Luckily, I have a backup plan in Malcolm. If I totally ruin Savage Dragon I can always have his son take over the book. He's only 12-years-old now but the book is set in "real time" so he'll get older. 

Do you plan on working on “Savage Dragon” until you retire? Or do you not plan on ever retiring?

I hope to do the book until the day I die. If “Savage Dragon” is on the drawing board when I pass away, I’ll have lived a happy life.

Do you have any new projects or big stories coming soon?

Always. Besides “Savage Dragon” and “Image United” there will be more issues from the “Next Issue Project” and another ongoing series as well as a special book with Bruce Timm and a cast of thousands. I’m keeping busy.

TAGS:  image comics, erik larsen, savage dragon

 
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