In the world of
An Interview with Erik Larsen
Erik Larsen is one of the fortunate few in the industry who has been able to make his mark on such popular characters as Spider-Man and Wolverine and also be able to develop his own creator owned character, The Savage Dragon. Erik was one of the founding members of Image Comics, a company founded by the more popular members of Marvel Comics creative team in the early 1990s.
Critics were quick to attack Larsen and the rest of the Image Group. They said the company would never make it with fans. No one believed that these creators could accomplish anything on their own. As usual, the critics had their heads up their asses. People point to the success of Todd McFarlane and the Spawn franchise when acknowledging Image's success, but Erik Larsen has set a feat not likely to be reached anytime soon. He holds the record for most consecutive issues written and penciled in a super-hero book. Spawn reached issue #100 first, but while Todd gave up the writing and drawing chores to focus on the business aspect years ago, Erik has been handling every aspect of The Savage Dragon for the past 75 issues and plans to keep plowing away for at least 75 more.
AG: Why did you want to work in the comics industry?
EL: I've always read comics, ever since I was a little kid. My father used to read them when he was young and he always had them lying around and I usually read those. When EC comics shut down, my father pretty much stopped reading, I mean, there was nothing really left for people his age to enjoy. I used to draw my own comics ever since the 4th grade. I had the 8 ˝ by 11 pages folded in half and stapled on the side…I knew at some point that I wanted to do this for a living. The key was finding a way to get paid for doing what I loved.
AG: You never considered any other areas to put your creative talents to use?
EL: There aren't that many different mediums that offer the same opportunity. Comics are pretty much the only place where you can tell a story completely on your own without having anyone else interfere. With film, there are different actors and directors and producers each offering their own interpretations. Animation has several different people that become involved in the process, too. Writing a novel would probably offer the most freedom, but I've always been a visual person and novels aren't a visual medium.
AG: How did you break your way into the industry?
EL: It was a gradual process. When I was 19, me and 4 other people started our own fanzine. My father had his own printing press at the time, and we just did our own comics on there. It was great. We made our own comics and gave them out or sold them. Some people who purchased them through the mail happened to be aspiring publishers and they offered me some deals. This gave me the opportunity to have some samples to show others. I then began to network and leapfrog and do the convention thing, wishing that I would hopefully find something halfway decent. I finally met Jim Shooter at a convention and he gave me my first big break.
AG: You don't have the reputation for being the most soft spoken guy in the field. Do you think criticism towards you stems from being outspoken?
EL: Oh yeah, definitely.
AG: Is it hard to take that criticism?
EL: It doesn't really matter to me. I wish people would realize that they shouldn't take what I say personally. When I criticize something I've read, I'm doing it because I don't enjoy the particular book, not because I hate the creator. I'm speaking as a fan in those instances and certain people can't differentiate between the two. If you suck at writing, I'll tell you. It doesn't mean you're a bad person. Hell, I could want to hang out and have a beer and be your best friend, I just won't want to read your crap. I don't really care if people don't like my work. I actually think I'm a pretty easy going, amiable person. I do vent, but then I get on with my life,
you know? It annoys the hell out of me when people decide to take this stuff personally. I'll criticize a story or whatever and all of a sudden, they treat me like I'm their enemy. I like going on message boards and talking to different creators and asking questions just like any other fan. I'm only on Image's comp list. I have to go by the other books just like anyone else. Why shouldn't I be allowed to have an opinion and speak my mind if that's the case.
AG: Do you pick comics off the rack or reserve them?
EL: Off the rack.
AG: Okay. Do you flip through them on the shelves and read them a little and put them back or do you buy them and read them at home?
EL: A little of both, I'd say.
AG: You gained notoriety back at Marvel penciling and later writing
Spider-Man. Now, after several years you've come back to the character for a brief penciling stint. What is it that appeals to you about him?
EL: Actually, I never really cared for the character all that much. It was just a great gig and something I'd be crazy to give up.
EL: Yeah, I'm more of a Kirby fan than a Ditko fan. I liked both of them, but if I was forced to choose, I'd go with Kirby.
AG: So which characters do appeal to you?
EL: I'd love to have free reign on Superman, or The New Gods, Hulk or Thor or The Fantastic Four.
AG: If Image would have never happened, would you have tried to publish The Savage Dragon through the Big Two?
EL: Absolutely not. I would never give the Dragon up. This is a character I created when I was a young kid. I knew when I started in the industry that if I ever did The Savage Dragon, it would be as an independent. I've seen and heard about too many popular creators being fucked over big time. I would never give some company control over my own creation, no matter what the deal was. I'd rather not have it published at all, than to lose it to some corporate entity.
AG: How sweet is the satisfaction in The Savage Dragon's longevity?
EL: I'm just relieved that I have been able to do this comic that I created when I was little, and make a living at it. I have the opportunity to work on and nurture this character of mine and that's great.
AG: And you set a record.
EL: We went well beyond the record for consecutive issues of writing and drawing a super-hero comic. I will hopefully continue to do this for as long as I can stand.
AG: How far ahead do you plot out your stories?
EL: I don't box myself in, in the sense that I need to have something go this way or that way for issue 89 or whatever. But I do start to think, as I'm writing, where the story is headed. For example, I'm already starting to think, what am I building to for issue #100.
AG: How would you describe the industry now?
EL: Pathetic. Comic stores become fewer and fewer in number and smaller and smaller in terms of size and no one is doing anything about it. When they do try and do something, they end up going about it the wrong way.AG: What would you suggest?
EL: Something a bit radical, but pretty much common sense if you ask me. Instead of marketing comic books to comic stores, which are dying, why not try and put comic books with a publication that works. I mean I've seen fishing comics in some stores. There's no way that a comic book about fishing is going to make it. But if you put that comic as an insert with say, Field and Stream, you'd be reaching a market that wouldn't normally go to a comic store and could love the idea.
AG: So you're suggesting that the comics move out of the stores and piggyback onto magazines and other publications?
EL: Even newspapers. When you get the Sunday paper, most people throw all the ads away. What if there was a new Spider-Man comic as part of those ads every week? What if there was a catalogue for Toys R Us and a Spider-Man comic combined in every paper? Would people still throw it away? It'd be a collector's item. People would buy newspapers just for the comic. Now instead of Spider-Man having a circulation of what, 60,000, you have a circulation of 60 million.
AG: The creators would like the exposure.
EL: Of course. Who knows, they might all work on a standardized page rate, but they'd be seen by a huge amount of people, which could lead to other offers: movies, toys. Instead of expanding comic stores, we need to take our product to things that are already successful. If it worked with one title, maybe other publishers would do it.
AG: The content of the books would have to be pretty tame.
EL: Cookie-cutter. Main stream America wouldn't want to get too shocked at the comics they were reading, but perhaps the stories would capture enough people's attention to get them to go into the stores and check out other types of comics. It's about broadening our horizons instead of continually running around in circles and offering the same half assed solutions to the problems that we have.
AG: Have you told anyone about this idea?
EL: Fuck no (laughing). It's a lot of work. A company like Toys R Us would have to be pitched the idea. I don't have the time, money or effort to do something of this magnitude, but I'm sure someone out there does. I just need to work on Savage Dragon.
AG: Anything else besides The Savage Dragon, that you're working on?
EL: I'm going to be doing an on-going series at Marvel next year that we're really excited about. Now we'll see how good I am at keeping two monthly books on schedule. Wheew.
AG: Why should people read Savage Dragon?
EL: Because it's the most fun you can have with your clothes on. I mean, honestly, if you aren't interested in comics, you probably won't like my book. However, if you are a comic book fan, Savage Dragon has everything in it that you read comics for. There are fantastic stories, larger than life characters and it's a damn fine funny book. What the hell is your excuse for not reading, then? I'm having a hell of a time doing it and I think it's terrific, but I'm biased. I think that the fans of the book would probably do a better job at explaining what they like about it. They get more specific than I would. I do know that a lot of comic professionals keep it on their 'must read' list. I guess all I can say is, read Savage Dragon or don't bother reading anything at all.
Copyright©2000 GrayHaven Magazine and contributors