Comic Book Historians

Erik Larsen: Comic Book Maker Part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

June 15, 2020 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 67
Comic Book Historians
Erik Larsen: Comic Book Maker Part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Erik Larsen, in the first of a three parter, from his childhood reading his dad's Golden Age comics like Captain Marvel, creating the Savage Dragon as a kid, his early Fanzine Graphic Fantasy, his run in the Independent Comics like AC Comics for Sentinels of Justice and Eclipse for DNAgents, then breaking into DC Comics working on various titles like Doom Patrol and then his early work at Marvel Comics like Punisher & Excalibur before Spider-Man.  Edited & Produced by Alex Grand.   Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians

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Alex Grand:
Okay. Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Today we have a very special guest, Mr. Erik Larsen, co-founder of and former publisher of Image Comics, known for drawing and writing comics since the 1980s, including Megaton, DNAgents, Punisher, Doom Patrol, Spider-Man and his magnum opus flagship character, Savage Dragon. Erik, thanks for joining us today.

Erik Larsen:
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Alex Grand:
Jim and I are probably going to actually jump between different topics. So Jim’s going to start with your early life, and then I’ll take it from there, then he’ll go back. So go ahead Jim.

Jim Thompson:
Erik, what we usually do is I like to ask questions about where you were born, when your first comics, that kind of thing, so let’s start. I know you were born in 1962.

Erik Larsen:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
You and I are practically the same age by a year or two off and a day off. You’re December 8th and I’m December 9th. You’re born on the same day as my dad.

Erik Larsen:
Oh, okay.

Jim Thompson:
So that’s a really good thing.

Erik Larsen:
Awesome.

Jim Thompson:
You were born in Minneapolis, but I know you moved to Washington and then California, talk about whens, and how, and whys.

Erik Larsen:
I’m not really 100% sure on all the why’s. I think it was people going to school at the time and I was just like, “All right, we’re done with the university of Minnesota, time to move on to something else.” My dad was a teacher eventually and he’s kind of a nomad, didn’t like to settle down anywhere. It never seemed like we were living anywhere for very long.

Jim Thompson:
So he was a professor?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
What field?

Erik Larsen:
He was teaching a lot of English stuff and he was doing a lot of plays, and doing the drama stuff, so he’s-

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

Erik Larsen:
… kind of all over the place.

Alex Grand:
He sounds like he was a creative person.

Erik Larsen:
I never took any of his classes, so I can only just go, “I think it was this.”

Jim Thompson:
In terms of you becoming a writer, which you are, was he in any way an influence?

Erik Larsen:
Just in that he did it, so I know there was an awareness that he was writing stuff. And he in his later years was more doing self-help and creating your own kind of everything. He was really trying to get people sort of in the whole back-to-the-land movement that was going on in the ’70s. He was hip deep in that kind of stuff. So he was self reliance, and barter, and all this other kind of stuff. He was way into that.

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

Jim Thompson:
Now, were you an early reader?

Erik Larsen:
We grew up with his comics. He bought comics when he was a little kid, and so we had his comics that had been kicking around and he gave them to us way too early, and we wrecked a lot of comics that probably would be worth a lot of money later on.

Alex Grand:
Which comics were those?

Erik Larsen:
He started in the ’40s, so-

Alex Grand:
Oh, wow.

Erik Larsen:
… it would be all that golden age stuff that is so treasured by everybody.

Jim Thompson:
Oh boy. Did you have an appreciation then for those early artists? Did that in any way impact

Erik Larsen:
Oh, sure.

Jim Thompson:
… your formative style? Oh, that’s interesting.

Erik Larsen:
He had a big collection of Captain Marvel Adventures and I was really super into that stuff when I was young. And then as years went on, I started getting into my own comics and buying my own stuff, but early on it was all about the Marvel stuff. He bought comics and probably he grew up with comics and comics grew up with him. And when they stopped making comics for people his age, then he stopped buying them. So he was-





Alex Grand:
I see.

Erik Larsen:
… getting comics up through that the EC stuff.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, great.

Erik Larsen:
And when EC stopped, he even got them right up until Psychoanalysis, and M.D., and that]. But when they pulled the plug on their comics, he stopped buying comics.

Jim Thompson:
So you were being exposed to people like Jack Davis, and people like that rather than a lot of the people we talked to, especially of your age were instead growing up on the earliest stuff might be Ditko and Kirby or the next phase after that, but you were getting exposed to some of those ’50s great artists.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
That’s really interesting.

Erik Larsen:
There’s a lot of that and there was the later stuff too, but really, I’m not old enough be around for the early Marvel comics. Those were really before my time. When I started really reading and buying comics, it was the mid ’70s.

Alex Grand:
Right.

Erik Larsen:
So I don’t have any like, “Oh, I remember when I was reading Fantastic Four 1.” It’s like, no, no, that never happened.

Alex Grand:
You were drawing your Dragon before you were reading those comics then? Sounds like.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. I had barely anything at that point when I started drawing comics. I think I had like one or two comics and that was all I had. Dragon was more influenced by Dick Sprang Batman than he was kind of any of that other stuff.

Alex Grand:
Wow.

Jim Thompson:
It’s a little bit of C.C. Beck, Captain Marvel too because you had the code word, right? You had like say the word

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Fon-Tee and their characters would change and-

Alex Grand:
Wow.

Jim Thompson:
I heard that the car basically was from Speed Racer. At that point, were you aware of that kind of stuff as well or was that just a coincidence?

Erik Larsen:
My Speed Racer was just from… we had family who lived someplace else and they had Speed Racer on their TV and I was super into it, but it was a such a limited thing, but I had just seen it like once or twice and it made this huge impression on me. But I didn’t grow up with Speed Racer as a thing because we just didn’t have it where we were at on our TV. We were-

Jim Thompson:
The Captain Marvel influence, I assumed when I was researching this that that came from the re-launch in the early ’70s, but you had grown up reading the early stuff-

Erik Larsen:
Oh, yeah, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
… the actual Beck stuff.

Erik Larsen:
Now from the ’70s, my dad brought that home like, “Oh look, he’s back. Isn’t this awesome?” But those comics weren’t very good. And even with C. C. Beck doing some of the artwork, I was like, “These are pretty shaky and kind of dumb.”

Alex Grand:
Well, that’s what people said, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
It’s like, I can see why this didn’t catch fire again because these comics weren’t very good.

Jim Thompson:
Even when you were that young, before you started buying your own stuff, were you more drawn to the C. C. Beck more cartoony style rather than the Captain Marvel Jr. Raboy kind of things

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, my dad didn’t like the Raboy stuff, so he didn’t get any of that, so I didn’t have any of that. His collection was weird and it jumped all over the place. So he had very little in the way of DC Comics. The DC Comics he had had a decent run on Boy Commandos, so that was my experience with Jack Kirby. And then he had like a couple Batman comics and a couple of Superman comics, but it wasn’t a lot at all. He loved Captain Marvel Adventures, he had tons of that. He liked Mary Marvel, so we had a fair amount of those and Marvel Family. He didn’t have any Captain Marvel Jr. at all, so the only time I would see Captain Marvel Jr. was in a Marvel Family.

Erik Larsen:
There’s books that I go, “I don’t understand the appeal of this comic at all.” And he would have like these long runs on… I can’t even remember the name of the character now. It was just like, “This is just some dude doing sports. It’s not too anything cool.” He’s just like, “Oh, do you think he’s going to jump the pole vault?” “Yup.” Like, “All right.”

Erik Larsen:
Somehow he was really like, “Oh, this is great.” Blue Bolt I think was the name of that.

Alex Grand:
Right, the Joe Simon Blue Bolt with Jack Kirby. Yeah, exactly.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, that’s interesting.

Alex Grand:
That is actually really notable. I think you’re the only one in your age group or even a little bit older than you that even grew up on that. That’s really fascinating.

Erik Larsen:
Oh, most people go back and they rediscover, they later on become fans of that golden age stuff, and they like Jack Cole or they like something like that, but it’s not as a kid. So that’s really interesting that you had that exposure.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Which I think impacts your career.

Erik Larsen:
… Jack Cole is another one. He bought a bunch of those.

Alex Grand:
Oh, wow.

Erik Larsen:
He had a bunch of Plastic Man, he had The Barker. You know that book?

Alex Grand:
I don’t know Barker.

Jim Thompson:
No.

Erik Larsen:
That was another Quality Comics, so-

Alex Grand:
Oh, really? I’m going to look that up.

Erik Larsen:
… he was into that. That was a fun one because it was set in a circus and a bunch of the circus characters were solving crimes and getting them to stop. I don’t know who drew it. I’d have to look it up to-

Alex Grand:
That’s pretty cool, The Barker, how fascinating.

Erik Larsen:
Be like this guy who had four arms and he was out like he was a circus freak, and then there was the fat lady and stuff like that, a strong man who was a big dope. I was like, “Oh, this is cool stuff.” He had eclectic taste, he was kind of all over the board.

Alex Grand:
That’s pretty cool.

Jim Thompson:
Did you have those books up? Were those part of what you lost in the fire?-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. He had given me all his comics at one point and then they all went away.

Jim Thompson:
Oh boy. Did you use those as references when you were first starting and doing stuff?

Erik Larsen:
Not really. Not a lot, no. There was certain things that I would look at and go… look at the approach for drawing covers that these guys would do, but I never really been one of those guys who sits there and draws with a bunch of artwork scattered in front of me. I was just like, “I got to get my work done. I can’t just be sitting there reading this stuff or I’ll never get anything done.”

Alex Grand:
Right.

Jim Thompson:
So when you’re reading your own stuff and you’re picking out things that you’re interested in in the mid ’70s, now, Marvel’s still… it’s still doing some of the horror stuff, but it’s kind of faded. That’s more of the very early ’70s. I was reading a lot of that, the Man-Thing and Tomb of Dracula, and all of those books. Were you more reading the superhero things?

Erik Larsen:
I was doing more reading the superhero things. I did get some of the Mike Ploog Man-Things, so-

Alex Grand:
Oh, Man-Thing.

Erik Larsen:
… I did get some of that stuff, Man-Thing, Giant-Size Man-Thing, all that stuff, but I wasn’t big on the horror books. I didn’t get into Tomb of Dracula at all as a kid. I was reading all the mainstream Marvel stuff, so it’s Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, all that sort of thing.





Alex Grand:
Did you ever look at Warren magazines, any of those things?

Erik Larsen:
Nope.

Alex Grand:
Okay.

Erik Larsen:
They didn’t exist where I was.

Alex Grand:
I got you. Distribution.

Erik Larsen:
A lot of this stuff, it’s just limited to whatever happened to be at the spinner rack and in Rexall Drug at Fort Bragg, California.

Alex Grand:
That’s right.

Jim Thompson:
Now, were you drawing… What I used to do is I would just take issue of The Hulk like a Herb Trimpe issue and just copy the splash pages. Were you drawing things like that or drawing your own comics? You would draw your own comics.

Erik Larsen:
I was drawing my own comics starting about fourth grade and they would just be eight and a half by 11 paper folded in half. And then I would just tell my own stories and even use Marvel and DC characters. I would have just Superman just come by and be part of the story and whoever else I just felt like, “Oh, here’s Batman. What’s going on with Batman?”

Erik Larsen:
Me and a buddy of mine in sixth grade created these characters called the Deadly Duo, which we later used. And we just used that, that book was basically just our team up book, and so we had all sorts of unauthorized guest stars who just drop on by and be part of that.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome.

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Jim Thompson:
And they were real characters-

Erik Larsen:
Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
… from other comics?

Erik Larsen:
It was just like, “Hey, here’s the Deadly Duo teaming up with Batman.”

Alex Grand:
Crossovers already.

Erik Larsen:
… getting into a farting contest and it’s like, “It’s totally what they would do.”

Jim Thompson:
So at what point did you think, I’m really going to try to do this, I want to be a comic book artist or a comic book writer?

Erik Larsen:
I knew it early on then I really enjoyed it, and then I wanted to continue to do it. It must’ve been super early, but I’m not sure how conscious it was until later on when Jim Shooter at one point in one of those Marvel Fanfares was kind of talking a little about the process and … “Hey, people can make a living doing this sort of thing.” But at that point, I had already been drawing my own comics for quite a while, but just the idea of, oh guys actually do this stuff. I think like the How to Draw Comics the Marvel way ended up being super influential for a lot of people who didn’t even realize, oh, this is a thing that people do.

Alex Grand:
Like the John Buscema Stan Lee Book

Erik Larsen:
Yes. It’s like we didn’t know really how this stuff came about. And so it’s like suddenly there’s this instructional book on that, it’s like, “Holy crap, this is opening up a whole new world here.”

Alex Grand:
Wow. That’s cool. That makes sense.

Jim Thompson:
When Kirby left DC and came back to Marvel, were you reading the 2001 and Devil Dinosaur… Some of that seems like stuff you would have loved to have drawn yourself.

Erik Larsen:
I was getting Jack stuff when he was still at DC towards the end. My early Jack would be Kamandi and Demon. It was all post New Gods, but Mister Miracle was still coming out. I had some of the Mister Miracle stuff.





Jim Thompson:
Did you read The Losers?

Erik Larsen:
Did not even see The Losers until some years later.

Jim Thompson:
Me too. I don’t know where they put that, but I never saw that. And I bought everything that Kirby was doing at that point and I didn’t even know about The Losers until years later.

Erik Larsen:
I managed to get all of his first issue specials, so Atlas, Dingbats of Danger Street and Manhunter we’re all like, “Oh, these are awesome. These are the greatest comics ever told.” I was totally into his work once I keyed into this is this guy and this is his style. I was definitely on board. And then when he came back to Marvel, it’s like, “Oh, holy crap, here we go.”

Alex Grand:
Oh, that’s awesome.

Erik Larsen:
So I was down for him doing Captain American and all that stuff because at that point those were books that I wasn’t reading them yet.

Alex Grand:
But you jumped on the bandwagon once he started doing them.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. As soon as Jack was there, I was like, “Oh, I know this guy was great and he’s now doing this book that I’ve heard of.”

Alex Grand:
Like the Bicentennial, Madbomb and all that stuff.

Erik Larsen:
Oh, yeah, yeah. All that stuff. All that stuff and Treasury Editions and everything.

Jim Thompson:
Was Kirby your biggest influence at that point or who else… I know you were reading like Ross Andru’s Spider-Man, but I assume that you recognize the difference between Ross Andru and…-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Jack was huge and Herb Trimpe was really big for me because he was the Hulk guy and I loved the Hulk. Those two were-

Alex Grand:
Those are the two.

Erik Larsen:
… key. Gil Kane early on too and I’m not sure what he was even doing because he never stayed on anything for very long.

Alex Grand:
He was doing so many covers. That’s maybe the problem with that.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, he was doing a million covers and he would occasionally do something, and then I would jump on that, whether it’s a Giant-Size Spider-Man or whatever it was. I would aid those things up, but I was always kind of like I wanted him to do a run on something and he just wouldn’t do it.

Erik Larsen:
I guess his runs were earlier on. He had done Green Lantern and-

Alex Grand:
Green Lantern of the DC Comics, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
… for years and years. But once he had been somewhat established for whatever reason, he never got back to doing longer runs again.

Alex Grand:
Sure. Yeah. I think at point he was just like, “Look, I want to just draw a bunch of covers, have fun, make some money,” at that point probably.

Jim Thompson:
He did some good Conan stuff though. Some of the stuff he did with Roy Thomas on Conan was really… seemed to revive his interest in actually caring to some degree. You were eight when you started to create a version of Savage, or at least somebody called Savage?

Alex Grand:
A Dragon.

Erik Larsen:
He wasn’t called Savage, he would’ve just been Dragon at that point, but-

Jim Thompson:
Tell us a little bit about that character.

Erik Larsen:
He was a combination of Batman and Speed Racer at that point. So he would drive around in a super cool car and… I had just a bunch of stuff that I was really into, so it was, “Oh, I got this guy who’s basically Captain Kirk and he’s a cool character.” And so at some point I kind of merged a bunch of my characters together to become one dude, and that was the Dragon at that point.

Erik Larsen:
And none of it makes a damn bit of sense when you… At this point, it’s hard to even talk about it because it doesn’t make any sense. Is all through the eyes of a child, and the child is like, “I don’t know how any of this shit works. I think people rode around in the desert on the backs of dogs. Isn’t that all that?” It’s like, “No.”

Jim Thompson:
Like 10 years later when you were self publishing Graphic Fantasy, you’re putting… Is it the same character as Dragon or what’s the pathway from when you’re drawing it and when you’re actually putting it out as part of the fanzine?

Erik Larsen:
Graphic Fantasy really followed directly from what I was doing as a kid. So it was putting a cap on those ideas that I had at that point. So there’s very much a continuation, but I kept reinventing the characters as a complicating factor in all this is I would keep just going, No, maybe I’m going to have him be this way, no, I’m going to happen to be that way.”

Erik Larsen:
At some point I decided it would be cooler to do a Hulk kind of thing and I had a character named William Johnson would turn into the Dragon in times of stress like the Hulk. And then he’d put on a costume. He wasn’t a green guy, he would just be a beefier version of William Johnson. And then he would wear this green mask like Batman and instead of the two ears he had the fin and so he’d be running around doing whatever.

Erik Larsen:
And then at some later point I was like, “I’m just tired of drawing this stupid cape and all this nonsense that goes along with it.” So then I just decided to pull William Johnson and Dragon apart and make them two separate characters. And then once I did that, then the obvious choice was just to make Dragon a green guy because it was pretty much the same visual except now it didn’t have the mask line on it.

Alex Grand:
It was the actual guy himself, yeah.

Alex Grand:
And then at Ajax Comics Group, we chatted about this a little bit on Facebook is, although it says Ajax Comics Group, it is a fanzine. Did you and your friends publish it or what was it?





Erik Larsen:
My dad like I said, he was a teacher and later on when he was doing workshops, he was printing up these books that would go to these workshops. And so he had bought a tabletop offset press and I was like, “I could print comics on this press.” And so those comics were physically printed by me-

Alex Grand:
Oh.

Erik Larsen:
… in my living room.

Alex Grand:
Oh, that’s awesome. I didn’t know that. Oh, okay.

Erik Larsen:
So it’s me and a couple of buddies got together and we printed the comics, and collated them, and put everything in proper order, and really it was very, very hands on what we were doing.

Alex Grand:
Wow.

Jim Thompson:
Do they exist anywhere? Do people have those?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah

Alex Grand:
I think I saw one on eBay or something, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, they go for a gazillion dollars because it’s this rarest appearance of Savage Dragon and nobody-

Alex Grand:
Sure.

Erik Larsen:
… has it. It’s like, “Sorry man, if you want to get this thing, it’s going to cost you a lot.”

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Alex Grand:
Okay. And then just something about the Graphic Fantasy fanzine is that it got good reviews through the Comics Buyer’s Guide and Catherine Yronwode was noted to have enjoyed your writing at that point. It wasn’t just drawing, you’re actually writing dialogue and things.

Erik Larsen:
Oh, I was doing everything. I was penciling, inking, lettering, it was sending stuff ready to be printed and it was terrible. By anybody’s definition is like awful, awful comics.

Alex Grand:
But did you cut your teeth on it? Yeah, you got better at it and everything.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. And you better start somewhere.





Alex Grand:
And then it’s a little bit of a rewind from the Graphic Fantasy is Charlton Bullseye Comics, that went from 1981 to 1982. Contributors would work for free to Charlton, they’d send their stuff in, but they would build their portfolio for work and in other professional comics. And you actually submitted the Dragon to this, is that right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, that’s what the story that I published in as Graphic Fantasy 1 was the story that I submitted to them when I had heard that they were doing this. And everybody, when they would do a story for Charles Bullseye, you’d be able to retain the copyright. Even at that point, I knew that was important.

Alex Grand:
That’s good. That’s very smart.

Erik Larsen:
So I drew this for them knowing… Because I had already… By the time I was almost done with it, it’s like this comics, I had heard that it was already been canceled. So when I sent it to them they’re like, “Yeah, by the way, this has been canceled.” And I was like, “I kind of knew that.”

Erik Larsen:
It took me enough time to get it done that, that had happened in the interim, so I’m like, “oh, well.”

Alex Grand:
So you press forward and then-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
… you published it through the fanzine, and then Gary Carlson, if I’m getting the name right found you through the Graphic Fantasy work. Was that because it got good rep in the Comics Buyer’s Guide? Is that pretty … much how that happened?

Erik Larsen:
I think so. Yeah, he had bought it through the mail. Actually a couple different people bought it through the mail who were actively trying to do their own comics and they contacted me about doing work for them on their whatever they were doing. That was early, early work.

Alex Grand:
And so then that’s how you got hooked up through Gary Carlson to do Megaton 1 in 1983, right?





Erik Larsen:
Yeah. And I did a character… And that was like an anthology book, so it had various things in it, and so the thing I did with him is we co-created a character named Vanguard. And there’s that, so-

Alex Grand:
There it is. And then you also reintroduced the Dragon in the second issue, I think, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. He had a cameo on that

Alex Grand:
And so was there like this stipulation that you still own the rights to Dragon even though-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
How was that discussion take place? Do you remember saying, “Hey look, I got to keep the rights.”?

Erik Larsen:
There was never really a discussion about it. He would be aware that I own the character already and so I was like, “Okay, we’re doing this now.”

Alex Grand:
And as independent comics, those things become a little more assumed then, I guess.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, there was never any question about that at all.

Alex Grand:
I got it. Okay. I got you. Then after that you started working for AC Comics and Eclipse or rather you did some work for some comics under those banners was in 1985 Sentinels of Justice, right? For AC comics?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
And that’s a pretty eclectic book there. And the background just for the listeners is that Charlton wanted to license some of their characters to AC Comics with Bill Black, and then they ended up making some comics, but then Charlton ended up not publishing them, so AC Comics published it under Sentinels of Justice. And this is before DC bought the Charlton characters rights. And you did some work on that series.

Erik Larsen:
But when I was doing it, Sentinels of Justice wasn’t those characters.

Alex Grand:
Right. They were those different guys, yeah.





Erik Larsen:
Yeah. And a lot of the characters that Bill Black did were characters that are in the public domain that he took in and gave a little twist to. There was the Captain 3-D that Jack had done on his own. He changed the name and he became something else. And-

Erik Larsen:
So there’s a lot of that that had gone on there where it’s just, well… So he wanted to own names and be able to… Like Phantom Lady is in public domain, but DC had the name that they were using, so he was like, “Oh, I’m going to use the same character and the same design, but I’m going to call her the Blue Bulleteer”

Erik Larsen:
So there was a fair amount of just, “We can do this because these are the rules.” And he’s a big golden age comics guy, so it was all about, “Yeah, what can we do and how can we do this?”

Alex Grand:
Sure. And did you get hooked up with AC because of being found through the Megaton comic? Is that it just kind of grew from there?

Erik Larsen:
I’m not sure how he got ahold of me, I might very well have just submitted stuff to him-

Alex Grand:
Okay. I gotcha.

Erik Larsen:
… because I was pretty actively just looking for some kind of gig whatever that might be.

Alex Grand:
Sure. And did you have fun doing those?

Erik Larsen:
I wasn’t very good at it. It was a real struggle. At that point, I had my strengths and my strengths were characters kicking the living shit out of each other. And whenever I would have to do scenes of people just sitting around talking, I wasn’t very good at it. And so there would be the pages in there that just were lifeless-

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Alex Grand:
I see.

Erik Larsen:
… and it was like, and that’s a problem. And so I did get to work out a little of that, but not enough of it. It took me several years to get some of that stuff figured out.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. I noticed in Savage Dragon you’ll have a page of dialogue and it’ll have like 12 boxes, and there’s always something different in each one to help drive the conversation forward. Right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
And you weren’t doing that in those old ones, you’re saying?

Erik Larsen:
No, those… Well, it was just a struggle. When you’re starting out just having a character sitting in a chair properly-

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Erik Larsen:
… can be one of the most difficult things to draw. You’re just sitting there going, “How does this even work? I don’t understand how bodies conform to chairs. This doesn’t make sense to me.” But having characters that are in motion, you don’t have to worry about a lot of that stuff as much. And so that was the struggle.

Alex Grand:
Okay. And you got to keep it interesting too. Yeah. And then you did some work for DNAgents for Eclipse. That was the Mark Evanier, Meugniot comic for Eclipse Comics. And so do you feel like by this point… First, how did you get hooked up with that work at Eclipse? And then do you feel like you’re getting better at this point at pushing the story along?





Erik Larsen:
The connection was I had met Jim Shooter at a convention several years earlier and we had been corresponding to the mail because every time I would do something I would show it to him because my goal was I want to be working at Marvel Comics. That is what I wanted more than anything.

Alex Grand:
That was the goal, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
That was the dream. And so I kept showing Jim stuff whenever I would do stuff, and at some point I bumped into him at a show in Chicago. I finally got to meet him after corresponding for a couple of years and keep showing my stuff and he would send back notes saying, “Close but no cigar,” and that sort of thing, and I’m getting closer.

Erik Larsen:
And so he looked through my samples, at that point I was working on Megaton stuff and was working on maybe AC, I’m not even sure; I think some AC stuff. And then he was like, “So you’re a professional now?” And I’m like, “Yes, yes I am.” And then he said, “Would you like to do something for Marvel Fanfare?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” What I didn’t know was Marvel Fanfare is code for, would you like to do an inventory job… that was likely sit in the door for years before it’s ever published.

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

Erik Larsen:
And they would do those kinds of jobs all the time because they just needed material. Back in that day you had to get the book to the printer on time. If you didn’t, the printer would fine you. So there was no such thing as late books. They would slot in a story from anywhere else, they would put a reprint in rather than have there be-

Alex Grand:
a late fee.

Erik Larsen:
… have to pay those late fees. And so, back in the 70s, you would get those occasional reprint comics and it was always like, “What the hell? What happened? I thought George Perez was fast!” And so when Shooter came aboard, rather than to have there be those reprints, what he started doing is getting inventory stories done so that if something was running late, rather than run a crappy reprint of something, they’re going to run a crappy fill-in story-

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Erik Larsen:
… which was superior from a fan’s point of view because at least it’s something new.

Alex Grand:
Yes. Right. I get it.

Erik Larsen:
When I met Shooter, it was, “Hey, do you want to do a story for me and it was for Fanfare?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” And I said, “Let’s plot it at the show.” And so he was a little taken back and then he’s like, “All right, let’s do it.” And so we sat down at the hotel bar there and banged out a plot for an issue of Thor, it would eventually be.

Erik Larsen:
And so after I had done that with him, then I had the ultimate samples that I could show anybody because it was like, “Oh, there’s the Hulk and he’s fighting Thor.” And I know those those guys, and you are awesome.

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Erik Larsen:
And it played to my strengths because they were just kicking the shit out of each other.

Alex Grand:
Right. No sitting on chairs on that one.

Erik Larsen:
There was no sitting in chairs for anybody in the story.

Alex Grand:
Right.

Erik Larsen:
It just was everything that a comic book needed to be by me, and so when I met Mark Evanier at a convention in Vancouver Island, he saw those samples and was like, “Oh, I’ve got to put this guy to work on DNAgents.”

Alex Grand:
Wow.

 

Erik Larsen:
And so I met a couple of different people there who were like, “Okay, you seem like you’re about ready.” And some of those things pan out and some of them just don’t. At the same time, I think I met Bill Willingham and talked briefly about possibly doing some elemental stuff and that never came about. That just dried up immediately, which was fine because I ended up doing all sorts of other stuff, but-

Alex Grand:
Sure.

Erik Larsen:
… at the time-

Alex Grand:
That would have been fun to see though. I would’ve liked to see your version of that.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, whatever. There’s characters there, I would have had some fun doing it. That was fun, but-

Alex Grand:
So you worked on the DNAgents, and then there’s also a Giant Size Mini Comics number four in 1986 for Eclipse where the Dragon was in a one page gag story where you’re interacting with him, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. That came about through Paul Curtis. Paul Curtis was a guy who had done… A bunch of guys just do these fanzines and do this stuff on their own, and he was publishing these mini comics, and he published a ton of them. And a lot of guys just kind of cut their teeth doing these weird little one-off mini comics.

Erik Larsen:
So it’s like, “All right, that sounds like fun.” And so I did something for them. So it’s all fun.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, it’s fun. And is it fun interacting with the Dragon in print like that?

Erik Larsen:
I don’t even really remember that much doing the story in all honesty. Yeah, I had done a story for Paul that he never ended up printing because I think he just ended up going off and doing something else, or losing interest, or whatever. And eventually I did print that story in the back of an issue of Dragon… years, and years, and years later. So if you’re looking through one of the issues of Savage Dragon at one point come upon a story where Dragon looks really funky-

Alex Grand:
That’s it.

Erik Larsen:
… and it’s backward story. I think the name of the title of the story is Angel Fueled Quake-

Alex Grand:
Okay. There you go.

Erik Larsen:
… and it was just Dragon and Angel because Dragon was the single dad raising a daughter in some of these early stories.

Alex Grand:
Now, in 1986 also, you did some work with Renegade Press and you penciled and work with scripts from, I saw Robin Snyder and Jim Senstrum. This was like in Murder issue one and Murder issue three, and this was kind of like a Snyder and Ditko comic. How do you get hooked up with them and how was working with them on that?





Erik Larsen:
Robin Snyder lived in the same town that I lived in and went to the comic store that I went to-

Alex Grand:
Oh.

Erik Larsen:
… so he became aware of my work because he lives up in Bellingham, Washington-

Alex Grand:
I see.

Erik Larsen:
… and that’s where we had settled at some point. So it was purely, I know this guy and he can do this basic stuff and-

Alex Grand:
And he’s close to me, so.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. I was really just a warm body. It wasn’t anything more than… I don’t think he was looking at me as, “There is this tremendous untapped power.” I think he was just, “I need somebody to do stuff, you’re somebody.” And I did some stuff for him that I really shouldn’t even have been doing because he was like, “I need somebody to letter this. It’s either going to be you lettering it or me lettering it and you’re a better letterer than I am.”

Erik Larsen:
And it’s, “What? Terrible. We shouldn’t be lettering anything.” But I ended up doing some little things that he needed just because he needed somebody and I was there.

Alex Grand:
That’s cool. And I think a lot of times it’s like that where you’re there, you’re available, you can do it, they need something to be done. And that’s just how it works a lot of times. All right. Now we’re going to go to the meat of the things.

Alex Grand:
Jim’s going to talk to you about DC and Marvel, and then I’m going to talk to you about some Image Comics. So go ahead, Jim.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. So you’ve already met Jim Shooter and you’ve done that which doesn’t see publication for a long time, but your first published Marvel is a fill in issue of Spider-Man 287 in 1987, right?





Erik Larsen:
Yup.

Jim Thompson:
And you’re 25 years old, and it’s a Jim Owlsley script with the black costume, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And the villain is Kingpin.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, kind of. It’s Daredevil in a fat suit.

Alex Grand:
That’s right. It was, yeah. That’s true.

Jim Thompson:
That’s right.

Erik Larsen:
It is an awful, awful comic in every description.

Jim Thompson:
I was going to say, it’s funny because you talked about that Thor issue with the Hulk and all the action. Nothing happens in this story.

Erik Larsen:
I know it’s terrible.

Jim Thompson:
You barely see Spider-Man.

Erik Larsen:
It’s so bad. He does eventually get into a fight with daredevil, but there’s so much pieces of stuff going on all the time in that it’s just really, really… I couldn’t expand it, I had no room to move.

Jim Thompson:
Were you disheartened after you turned it in? Or did you think, well, what could I do? It wasn’t my fault? Or what were you thinking?

Erik Larsen:
I don’t know why I didn’t follow up with the editor on that book. To this day it doesn’t make any sense as to why I wouldn’t have said, “Hey, this was work, let me get more work.” I think it was around the time that I was… when I met Mark Evanier back on and he was doing DNAgents. I had also met Mike Gold who was working at DC at the time.

Alex Grand:
Okay.

Erik Larsen:
So Mike Gold was actively trying to get me stuff at DC, so he was my guy. He saw something that other people weren’t seeing in my work and he wanted me to do the Teen Titans. That was where he was at. And so he-

Jim Thompson:
That was super clear because you start off with that Secret Origins of Nighthawk, which looks like it’s an attempt to get your name associated with the Titans more than anything else.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. And I did Teen Titan spotlight. I did two different ones, one in The Omega Men and one in Aqualad. I even did an issue of Teen Titans, issue 33, but he was… I think what it was, is me just letting somebody else take the… it’s like this guy’s looking for work for me, meanwhile, I’m asking for stuff over at Marvel.

Erik Larsen:
Rather than having to chase jobs down, I’m just going to take the path of least resistance and stick with this guy who’s trying to get me something.

Alex Grand:
Yes.

Jim Thompson:
Lets talk about those issues a little bit.

Erik Larsen:
He eventually got me Doom Patrol.

Alex Grand:
There you go.

Jim Thompson:
In terms of the Teen Titan stuff, that first Nighthawk Secret Origins doesn’t look like-

Erik Larsen:
Like me.

Jim Thompson:
… you very much. It looks like sort of a George Perez filtered through Pat Broderick or something. Were you trying to really look like the next step in the Teen Titans book at that point?

Erik Larsen:
I think it was more of a case that inker was so heavy handed that he just went his own way with it.

Jim Thompson:
I’ve wondered about that.

Erik Larsen:
I was just doing whatever I was capable of at that point. That’s always the cases like, “All right, what can I actually do here?”

Jim Thompson:
Because when you get to the spotlight 10 and you’re doing Aqualad, that looks like you more than anything I’d seen up to that point. That was full out Larsen looking and it was fun. Did you enjoy doing the that issue?

Erik Larsen:
It was all right. I think he’s such a terribly designed character and I really struggle with that because he would just have that terrible afro that he had. It was just like, “Oh man, I remember where you were the father of The Brady Bunch and then you came back that next year and suddenly had an afro. You were looking cool Mr. Brady.” And it’s like, “That’s not a lucky one for a superhero.”

Erik Larsen:
And I couldn’t make it work, so I was… But I don’t remember who… Was that Romeo Tanghal then? I don’t know.

Jim Thompson:
I don’t think it was for that issue. Might’ve been maybe for the actual Titans one, I don’t know.

Erik Larsen:
I know he inked me on something. God, I don’t remember. I don’t remember all those guys, it’s been too long.

Alex Grand:
That’s a lot of long ago like 30 years.

Erik Larsen:
That was a long, long time ago. And that’s not one of those comics that I pull out every now and then to go, “Oh yes!”

Alex Grand:
This is where it is, yes.

Jim Thompson:
And you did some Outsiders too, but-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
So you didn’t step into the Teen Titans time but-

Erik Larsen:
No, I didn’t. He got me a bunch of stuff. I did like an issue of Superman too, Adventures of Superman. He was trying to find me something and I was really grateful that he was out there looking out for me.

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Alex Grand:
Yeah, for sure.

Erik Larsen:
I sure needed it at that point.

Jim Thompson:
And your very first drawing for DC Comics with that Secret Origins was a Batman. You got to draw Batman from day one.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Never drawn an actual Batman story.





Jim Thompson:
I was going to ask you about that, but you got that which turned out to be more Titans than it was anything else. It was almost a false advertising.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. I did what I could with whatever I got.

Alex Grand:
That’s right. And then with the Doom Patrol in ’88, you worked with Paul Kupperberg on that?

Erik Larsen:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Alex Grand:
So how were those scripts? He would like give you a full script and then you would draw out the full script. That’s kind of how they did it at DC, right?

Erik Larsen:
No, they were plots. They were plots.

Alex Grand:
Oh, it was? Okay.

Erik Larsen:
Pretty much everything I worked on with the exception of the Outsiders was plot style.

Alex Grand:
Okay. I see. Oh, cool.

Jim Thompson:
And you weren’t the first artist on that. Steve Liddell had done the first .. four or so issues and then you stepped in. Did he leave the book because he didn’t want to do it?

Erik Larsen:
I believe he had some deadline issues.

Alex Grand:
Okay.

Jim Thompson:
And then, you worked on it longer than anybody. You worked on it almost to the very end. And then Nolan came in at the very end.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Did you know it was going to be canceled at that point?

Erik Larsen:
No, no, it wasn’t canceled. It went on long, long beyond me.

Jim Thompson:
Did it go long beyond you? I thought it was only a few issues?

Erik Larsen:
No, no, no, it went on for years.

Alex Grand:
You’re talking about Grant Morrison, right?

Erik Larsen:
… The Vertigo run

Alex Grand:
Yeah, Vertigo there you go.

Jim Thompson:
Oh yeah. No, no. But there was a time… Yes, I think of that almost as a different thing entirely, but yes-

Erik Larsen:
It was right on the heels… I had decided I was… I was offered some stuff at Marvel and at that point I was not super happy doing the… Doom Patrol for whatever reason. I’m not even sure why. The writing stuff wasn’t awesome, it was just okay and every issue we would be like, “How do I make this make sense?” Because it wasn’t quite there. And the editor was really just giving me cart blanche to do whatever the hell I wanted on it.

Erik Larsen:
And in some cases I was really taking some huge liberties with the plots because I was just like, “Oh, this doesn’t work. I know better than this guy.” And it’s like, really at that time and at that age, it’s kind of crazy that they were just letting me do whatever the hell because it’s like I didn’t have any real experience doing this stuff.

Erik Larsen:
I’ve barely been in the business for a couple of minutes and already I’m just sitting there tossing out huge hunks of his plot because I just think it worked very well. I was like “There’s no reason that they should have let me do that.”

Jim Thompson:
Were you learning to be a better cover artist at this point? Because I think of that General Immortus cover, I think it was the last… You didn’t even do the art for the inside, but that was your last cover for Doom Patrol, and it’s a great cover. It seems like you’re really coming to an understanding of what makes a good cover at that point.





Erik Larsen:
Yeah, I was working on that. The cover editor at that point actually had me start laying out covers for other artists because he liked what I was doing.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, you could see it.

Erik Larsen:
So yeah, there’s a couple other books out there that I could go, “Yeah, I laid out that cover of that one.” So that was a neat period to be able to do some of that.

Alex Grand:
Sorry, were you Walt Simonson fan also?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Also, yeah.

Alex Grand:
Because it feels like in those, there’s almost Simonson feel to it but it’s your stuff.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, I was very much into his stuff.

Alex Grand:
Okay.

Jim Thompson:
Did you go back and look at the early Doom Patrol, the original part?

Erik Larsen:
I didn’t have any … access to that at all.

Jim Thompson:
Okay. All right. Because that’s fun, that’s fun stuff.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, I know. I got it years later after the fact and was kind of like, “Oh yeah, this is actually kind of cool. Oh well, this would have been nice to have at the time.” But I didn’t so-

Jim Thompson:
And during this period before you went back to Marvel, you did do a Hulk overt op of McFarlane’s layout, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Todd had done thumbnails so they were on separate sheets of paper and yeah, that was kind of fun.

Jim Thompson:
And like that Spider-Man, it doesn’t really have the Hulk in it. It was funny-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, I know it’s-

Jim Thompson:
… looking at that. It’s got a great Hulk but barely in the issue.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, it was funny for anybody but me. Yeah, I know at the time I was like, “Ah.” I wanted to do the book and didn’t really get to do the character even in the book and it’s-

Jim Thompson:
That’s what I noticed, it was funny to see two in a row like that. And then you go to Marvel in 1989 and they give you the ideal book for you, right? Punisher?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
And he’s joking by the way because he mentioned he knows that you had your heart set on doing Nova, right?

Erik Larsen:
Well, At that point I just would take whatever I could get my hands on and they had offered me that and it was like, “All right, that’s a book.” And Mike Baron would draw the script so-

Alex Grand:
Oh, Okay.

Erik Larsen:
I would get these like really poorly drawn, but decently enoug told stories were broken down into panels. You knew how many panels were going to be there, you knew what the action was going to be, all the dialogue was there. And so you could just follow along and do the best you can with it. At least he had done that part of it, breaking that part down for me. So that was neat.

Alex Grand:
Those were prime years for me as a teenager reading comics and stuff, so I like your Punisher a lot.





Erik Larsen:
Oh good, good. I know some people do. Some people are like, “Yeah, that was awesome stuff, but I don’t know what your problem was.”
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