Comic Book Historians

Erik Larsen: Comic Book Maker Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

July 01, 2020 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 68
Comic Book Historians
Erik Larsen: Comic Book Maker Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Erik Larsen, in the second of a three parter,  discussing his run on Spider-Man, working with various writers like David Michelinie, trying his hand at a Nova comic book series, starting Image Comics with its cofounders, publishing material from his Highbrow Entertainment, creating the Savage Dragon comic book series, working with writers like Keith Giffen and artists like Dave Johnson, along with commentary on Marvel and the industry in general.  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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Jim Thompson:
I had one more DC story I wanted to go back to. You did a Legion of Superheroes issue, which I’m a big Legion fan. But you seem like the-

Erik Larsen:
I only did part of one. It was a fill-in issue they needed to get that book caught up and they had three different short stories with three different artists.

Jim Thompson:
You did the Block section though, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. I did that because, again, it was one of those situations where timing was everything. I was sharing a studio with Al Gordon who’s the inker of the book. He could recommend me when it came to that.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. He inked more than one thing for you, didn’t he? I noticed his name coming up-

Erik Larsen:
We came together on quite a few different things here and there over the years. I thought we worked pretty well together.

Alex Grand:
I see.

Jim Thompson:
And Block seemed like a character that was made for you. I mean, it did go to your strong points, it seems. Knocking down walls all the time and such.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, yeah. That was. It’s like I don’t really remember that much. My only real lasting thing on that was I remember designing a villain for that story that Keith Giffen killed next issue because he couldn’t figure out how to turn him because I’d drawn him from one angle. He was like, “I can’t figure… I’m sorry that I killed your guy, but I couldn’t figure it out.” I was like, “All right, whatever.”

Jim Thompson:
So when you were doing the Punisher, were you trying to get off of the Punisher while you were doing it? Or trying to get some other book instead?

Erik Larsen:
I was always pitching stuff and I had pitched… Terry Kavanagh, somehow I get hooked up with him on Marvel Comics Presents, he’s the editor of that, and at some point I had pitched to him writing and drawing a Nova serial for Marvel Comics Presents and it was approved. And so when it got approved I was like, “Well, I want to be writing and drawing my own stuff so let me jump on that. And so I left the book. And the editor was not super pleased with me leaving the book so abruptly but this is my big chance to write, draw my own stuff and I wanted to do that, so off I went. And then, once I had left the book and was supposed to do it, and they were like, “Oh no, we’re actually going to do something different with Nova and New Warriors. Your story doesn’t really work with that so I’m sorry but we can’t do it.”

Jim Thompson:
So you found yourself without an ongoing book after giving up Punisher.

Erik Larsen:
Suddenly I didn’t have a gig and so Terry came up with Excalibur serial in Marvel Comics Presents and so that’s why… It’s like I don’t read Excalibur. I’m not a huge fan of Excalibur but I need work.





Erik Larsen:
So that’s why I ended up doing Excalibur and then the Excalibur stuff actually is what ended up getting me more Spider Man, I think, because the editor of Spider Man had seen what I was doing on that and was like, “Oh, I need to try you out on doing some more Spider-Man.”

Alex Grand:
Who was the editor at that point?

Erik Larsen:
That was Jim Salicrup.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Salicrup, that’s right. Yup. And then before Jim talks to you about the Spider-Man, when that Thor issue finally got published with him fighting The Hulk, that came out in ’87, and Vince Colletta inked it, right?

Erik Larsen:
Well he had inked it way earlier so I had seen that thing and had had it in my possession as not a physical… I had a xeroxed copy…

Alex Grand:
Not a comic, yet. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erik Larsen:
So, yeah. That took the wind out of my sails. I was just like, “Oh, my God. This is the worst. This is terrible.”

Alex Grand:
Yeah, I was going to say, because it didn’t have that same feel of your other stuff. I had a feeling that the inking is responsible for that. So were you disappointed then about that inking job? Because of the Thor versus Hulk fight.

Erik Larsen:
I was but years later I looked back at it and think it’s pretty neat. Just because it’s like I’m getting inked by Vinnie and the story was scripted by Stan so in this kind of cool way I’m subbing for Jack as a lineup. And that would be the last issue of Thor that Vinnie would ever ink. And the last issue of Thor that Stan would ever script. So it was like, well in that respect it’s kind of cool.

Alex Grand:
Yes. And with the action and foreshortening and blow-outs in your comics it makes sense that you kind of carry that torch from Jack in a sense.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Well that part of it was kind of awesome.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That is awesome. And I got vibe too from it and I was like, “Oh, I think the end of those guys but the beginning of Erik, in a way.” All right, okay, Jim go ahead with Spider-Man.

Jim Thompson:
So at the time that you’re working on Excalibur and all of this, Todd McFarlane is sort of becoming on fire on Amazing Spider-Man. Right? People are starting to really notice his webs and his work. Did you know him at this point, were you all in the offices together?





Erik Larsen:
No, we never… None of us shared an office together at any point. Todd was living in Canada and then later moved to Portland and now he’s in Arizona. But I had met Todd, Todd was working on… What was the book he did at DC? Ongoing book?

Alex Grand:
Oh, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
Infinity.

Jim Thompson:
Oh, yeah. Infinity. That’s right.

Erik Larsen:
So I met Todd when he was working on Infinity Incorporated. I think he had just done a quickie fill in on Spitfire and the Trouble Shooters which was, I think, that was his first Marvel gig. They needed somebody who could turn out… They needed a fill-in and Todd said he could do it in three days. And so he did, that thing out. And then that kind of opened up some doors for him. And so he went from doing his regular gig over at DC to doing whatever he could get his hands on at Marvel. So I knew him. When I had done a fill in on Spider-Man I was friends with him at that point and had gone over to his house or apartment and there was a character Solo that was introduced in that story.

Jim Thompson:
Right, right.

Erik Larsen:
Well, I was the guy that first visualized Solo.

Alex Grand:
Oh, cool.

Erik Larsen:
And he appeared in 324 and Todd was first working on 323. And so when I went and visited Todd I was sitting there penciling in his costume.

Alex Grand:
Oh that’s cool.

Jim Thompson:
That’s right. I already heard that.

Erik Larsen:
So I could help him out.

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Alex Grand:
Yeah. I liked it. I liked Solo when he came out. I remember seeing that on the stands. Yeah.

Erik Larsen:
So there were a few little things in 323 where I could point to different panels and say, “Oh yeah, I went in and re-penciled some of this and then Todd inked it.” and stuff like that. Often in comics there ends up being a lot of those little things that go on between creators that you aren’t even aware of. You look years later and go, “Yeah, that panel always looked funny to me.” It’s like, “Oh, yeah. That’s because…” A bit like part of the Phoenix story where in the X-men there is one of those where Al Gordon inked some faces in there and when you’re aware of it, you’re looking at it’s like, “Oh, yeah. These faces don’t look like the rest of them. This looks a little out of place. That’s interesting.”

Alex Grand:
That is cool. And then you find out later why. That what’s cool.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, you find out later why, or you don’t. But in that Excalibur serial there is a panel or a figure that Bob Smith inked. It was like I could see it immediately when Terry said, “Hey, Bob inked something in here.” I was like, “Is it this?” But most regular people just reading comics I don’t think they’re that aware of situations like that when somebody will come in and do a little something.

Jim Thompson:
So you took over Amazing Spider-Man with 329. You’re not writing it, David Michelinie is writing it at this point and were you under pressure to make it look as much like Todd McFarlane as you could or was it just go in there and be yourself?

Erik Larsen:
It was go in there and be yourself, but when I had followed Steve Lightle on the Doom Patrol and did whatever the hell I wanted to, the reaction from fans was horrific. It was like, “Oh, my God. What’s going on here? This is terrible.” And it was such a strong negative reaction that I thought coming on Spider-Man, “Well Todd McFarlane is 20 times the fan favorite that Steve Lightle was or would ever be. I’d better do my best to try and ease in the transition here.” And at some point John Romita Jr. had followed Paul Smith on an X-men thing-

Jim Thompson:
Sure.

Erik Larsen:
And he was just like, “Well, I’m drawing the second half of that story that Paul had started. I’m going to try and ease into it.” And so that was kind of where I was thinking on this was, “I’m just going to play this as safe as humanly possible not get in there and go, ‘Hey, here’s my thing kids. Go fuck yourselves.'”

Alex Grand:
Well at the time it felt like a pretty smooth transition for me as I was collecting it in real time. And I think what, Jim, even John Romita Sr. did the same with Ditko. There was a transition going from Ditko to Romita Sr.

Jim Thompson:
That’s a good point. I think he failed, but he tried to look like Ditko.

Erik Larsen:
I think that’s the case here too. Where I look at it and go I didn’t pull it off at all as far as I’m concerned. When I look at it I don’t think it’s a successful transition in terms of looking like Todd but somebody thought it worked all right.

Alex Grand:
And I favor your Mary Jane over Todd’s because that was the first, you hit me at just the right age where that was the first-

Erik Larsen:
That’s the beauty of that. Is you hit people just right.

Alex Grand:
You hit me just right with that one, at that time. That was the first comic book crush I kind of had as I was reading comics. Yeah, that was the Mary Jane. I remember the panel too.

Erik Larsen:
Your welcome.

Alex Grand:
Thank you. Yes.

Jim Thompson:
Now Spider-Man, you’d read Spider-Man as a kid. But you were more Kirby influenced than Ditko influenced. Was this a title that you really wanted to work on a lot, or was just it was Spider-Man so you’re certainly going to take it.

Erik Larsen:
I understood that it was good gig, but I was always more of a Kirby guy and not a huge… I mean I like Ditko’s work but I didn’t consider him a major influence. And so it was a struggle for me to do the product and I just got out all the Ditko stuff I could and had it out there and was just looking at it, trying to pick things and, “Okay what can I do to make this look like Steve?” And there is a fair amount of that. Especially when Randy Emberlin came on board as inker, I think we were kind of able to do more Ditko-y looking stuff than I did earlier than that.

Jim Thompson:
So let’s talk about the villains a little bit, because that’s, I think, what Ditko gave us, as much as anything, were one of the best rogues’ galleries in comics.

Erik Larsen:
Oh yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And you go in there and you’re getting to play instantly with all of the big ones. Who was easy for you to do? Who do you think you’ve contributed, really upped then a little bit? What was your experience with different villains of early Spider-Mans you were doing?

Erik Larsen:
Well my favorite was, I liked Dr. Octopus in terms of just visually, what I was able to bring to it. Because at that point he had just been this kind of pudgy guy in tights and it’s like, “You don’t put a fat guy in tights. It’s just cruel and unusual punishment for everybody involved.”





Jim Thompson:
That wasn’t Ditko’s fault because he had him in a lab coat which he liked to do because he did that with the Lizard too, but you put Doc Oc in a suit didn’t you?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. None of that was asked for at all. But what I really wanted to do when I was working on the book, was to kind of restore some of those villains to their former luster. That was more my goal than anything. You can see in there at some point there is transition on my part where I made that as a change. If you look at 327 there’s a panel that has the Kingpin in it and he’s just like a ball. I just draw him as this big ball. And it was kind of following, in my mind at least, what Sienkiewicz had done with him. And it was like, “All right, I’m just going to have fun with this guy.” And then later on, when I’m drawing Kingpin he’s much more formidable looking. And that is with me really internalizing the whole thought process and going, “Well what benefits Marvel more? Having this guy be a big cartoon character or having him be a formidable villain?

Erik Larsen:
Once they got into that mindset of let’s make these villains as awesome as they can be rather than make fun of them, then I was able to do some kind of cool stuff with some of those villains and trying to pump things up visually and make them meaner-looking and make them more powerful-looking or, whatever.

Alex Grand:
And I love the Dr. Octopus that you did. I think it’s my favorite because his tentacles are all over the place.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah. His tentacles are great.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, it was fun to play with that.

Alex Grand:
Amazing. Because it really shows Spider-Man’s acrobatics are tested to their utmost limit when you’re doing that Dr. Octopus.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. And it was fun to be able to play with that. I also liked that most often he is not really paying much attention to Spider-Man at all. He’s just pouring himself a cup of coffee or just doing any other thing. Because it’s like, “You’re so beneath me and I don’t really need to do anything.”

Alex Grand:
That’s right. I remember that.

Jim Thompson:
And watching Doc Oc punching back and forth with Spider-Man was always a stupid concept because he’s an old scientist guy and he’s got these great weapons, why is he using his fist, ever?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. No. There is no point in that. At that point I was sharing the studio with a couple of different people. One of them is an artist named Pete McDonald. Pete was doing commercial art and he had done, do you remember colorforms? Do you remember what those are? He did the Dick Tracy colorforms because the Warren Beatty movie was out around that time. And so he got all these character drawings of all the various Dick Tracy villains and that was kind of what influenced giving Dr. Octopus a suit. Because seeing all those gangsters in their suits I was like, “Oh, I’m going to give Spider-Man a suit.” That’s where that came about.

Jim Thompson:
And while you were doing this, were you feeling more and more like you wanted to write your own stories, even on Spider-Man?

Erik Larsen:
I wasn’t necessarily thinking I should do more Spider-Man stuff. A lot of the jobs that I got were just jobs that were available. They weren’t necessarily things that I sought out to do. And that’s just the way of the world. Very seldom, at least for me, very seldom did I actually end up with assignments that I really wanted. It would just be, “All right, this is available. You want to do it?”

Jim Thompson:
It did seem like that. What did you think when they told you, you’re going to do a Captain Universe Spider-Man? Did you know what that was?

Erik Larsen:
I knew what it was. Because I read everything.

Jim Thompson:
So were you actively enjoying comics at that point and reading everybody else’s work?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Oh that’s great.

Alex Grand:
That is awesome. I don’t hear that too often actually.

Jim Thompson:
Yeah.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, no. I was buying and I was reading everything.

Jim Thompson:
So were you buying DC stuff too?

Erik Larsen:
Sure. I was buying everything.

Jim Thompson:
I mean that’s interesting because Marvel had the artists that were really game-changers, but DC was where I was… I was in law school at that point and I was reading all the Vertigo stuff and all the Moore and Morrison and that was also game-changing.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Well I was reading Alan Moore’s stuff when he was working on Warrior magazine.

Jim Thompson:
Oh sure.





Erik Larsen:
So I knew all the Marvel Man and V for Vendetta and all that other stuff, so when he came over and was working on Swamp Thing, that store was ready for him. This guy is a bad ass. So they stocked up on that book. And at a time when all other stores were selling… X-men was their biggest seller, that store’s number one seller was Swamp Thing.

Alex Grand:
Oh, that’s awesome.

Erik Larsen:
And that was particular retailer knew this creator and was just, “You have got to read this.” To everybody who would walk in there. And enthusiasm is contagious, as they say.

Jim Thompson:
Being in the industry at this point, did you get to meet some of the people that you thought were some of the best? Did you get to ever meet Ditko? Did you meet Alan Moore? I know you did a script for… but that was after you’d already written it. What were your experiences with some of those people?

Erik Larsen:
I talked on the phone with Alan at one point about 1963 and that was a long time later. And that was the only time I talked to Alan. I’d met Ditko up at the Marvel offices, Terry Kavanagh’s office, so I did get to meet him. I met Jack several times in San Diego at different functions. Met Herb Trimpe, met Gil Kane.

Alex Grand:
Oh cool. Because you basically came in right as these guys were all kind of fading out in a sense. Still doing stuff, but… but how was Ditko, meeting him?

Erik Larsen:
He was just very quiet. He wasn’t a chatterbox. And I’d known Robin Snyder so that was my only connection there. It was like, “Hey, I’m good friends with Robin Snyder.” And he’s kind of like, “Oh, okay.” Then after that, so it’s sort of like I didn’t have any follow-up.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. He didn’t give much to follow-up on in a conversation, it sounds like.

Jim Thompson:
Is there anybody that you didn’t get to meet that you would have like to have met?

Erik Larsen:
I can’t think of who there would be that I would have liked to have met, mostly because I would hear tales of, “Hey, this guy’s pretty cranky.” So it’s like, “All right. I don’t want to meet this cranky guy. I’d rather have my lasting impression of them being that they’re awesome.

Alex Grand:
Like Alex Toth.

Erik Larsen:
Like Alex Toth I’d heard was somewhat cantankerous and I heard that John Buscema was at one of those conventions and was like, “I could have met John.” He wasn’t a huge influence on my work and I wasn’t a super big John Buscema guy. I understood that he was a talented individual, but I wasn’t like, “Oh, I must meet John.” So I didn’t.

Alex Grand:
And then was Kirby, was he nice? Did you enjoy talking to him?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. For what it was. I mean it was talking to a guy in a situation where nobody could hear anybody very well.

Alex Grand:
Oh, I see.

Erik Larsen:
So, that’s really what those situations were, there was nothing that I could hang my hat on and say, “Oh, I got this valuable insight into Jack Kirby.”

Alex Grand:
Right, right.

Jim Thompson:
We’ve talked to a lot of people where they had one of those guys be sort of a genuine mentor. Like Howard Chaykin it was Gil Kane, Continuity with Neal Adams and Giordano influenced a lot of people we’ve talked to, was there anybody that you actually worked under that taught you things?

Erik Larsen:
No.

Jim Thompson:
It sounds like not.

Alex Grand:
You’re basically self-taught, from childhood.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. No. Well, we were all scattered about so by the time I was, I moved down to San Francisco when I was 24 and that’s when my career was getting going.

Alex Grand:
But a lot of the guys are these New York dudes and you’re a West coast guy.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. There is a lot of that. And most of the guys that I knew that were in the industry weren’t New York guys they were just kind of here and there. And everything, Fed Ex was going great guns by that point, so we would just be mailing everything back and forth.

Alex Grand:
Right.

Erik Larsen:
We didn’t have to live in New York. We didn’t have to do all this other stuff.

Alex Grand:
So where were you living when you did Spider-Man?

Erik Larsen:
San Francisco.

Alex Grand:
I see, yes, of course, you wouldn’t be hanging out with them like that. Interesting. Okay. That’s obviously important. Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
This is very different from the ones that we’ve talked to, so many of which grew up in Brooklyn, they were all New Yorkers, they said this is why we were doing comics because we lived where comics were. And you’re a different era than that in a lot of ways.

Alex Grand:
But I relate to it more because I’m from Northern California also so it’s kind of cool to hear your version of that. Because I’m local to here.

Erik Larsen:
All right. I’m still on San Francisco, so..

Alex Grand:
Yup. I’m in Sacramento.

Jim Thompson:
I’m in Los Angeles. We’re an all California podcast.

Alex Grand:
This is an all California podcast today.

Erik Larsen:
Sweet.

Alex Grand:
So now, Jim, did you want to ask anything more about Spidey?

Jim Thompson:
I was just going to finish the transition from Amazing Spider-Man to Spider-Man in 1992 and the few issues you did of that before leaving. Was there a difference in your work between the two books?

Erik Larsen:
Just that I wanted to learn how to ink. And I hadn’t really inked anything before and at one point I called up Terry Kavanagh who edited a bunch of stuff and I know that he is just going through a lot of short stories in Marvel Comics Presents. So I was just like, “I want to learn how to ink. What can you send me that I can just learn to practice on?” And he sent me a Namor Annual.

Jim Thompson:
The 1991 Annual.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, so I was just teaching myself how to ink. And he also sent me a Steve Ditko Human Torch story.

Alex Grand:
Ah, wow.

Jim Thompson:
I remember that. Was that fun to ink? And how-?

Erik Larsen:
It was a gas. The thing with that is that I inked that with markers and was like, “Oh, that’s a regret. I should have inked it with the real stuff.” On the Namor thing, I was like, “Send me whatever inking tools you have too and I’ll see what I’m comfortable with.” And so I did that job, super quick too. They needed it really fast. At one point they called me up and said, “Oh, we’re worried about this thing. How many pages can you do?” And was like, “Send me all of them. I’ll do it.” So that was fun.

Jim Thompson:
All right Alex, I think it’s time to go to Image.





Alex Grand:
All right. So, as 1992, we’re in that point of time and then you’re kind of finishing Spider-Man as both writer and artist and so now you’re kind of emphasizing those skills.

Erik Larsen:
That came about because they just needed a warm body again, and I actually had had a proposal in to do Nova. And so I was kind of waiting and waiting on that. Are they going to let me do Nova? Because I really want to do Nova. And that was my unfulled ambition was to do Nova. And so I was waiting on that and eventually they gave me the Spider-Man thing as something to do, which was fine. And my house burned down in the midst of doing this Spider-Man thing. So that was less fine.

Alex Grand:
That was the Oakland fire, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yes that was East Bay fire storm and a huge ton of houses went up in that fire. People lost their lives and all that stuff. We weren’t even there, so I couldn’t grab anything out of the house or do anything. It was just, sorry. Saw our house burned down on the news kind of thing. We didn’t even get what was going on and kind of pulled in there couple of days later and it was like, “Oh, yeah. It’s gone.”

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Alex Grand:
Oh wow.

Erik Larsen:
And so eventually they approved Nova but as a mini-series.

Jim Thompson:
So was this a different proposal from the first one you did?

Erik Larsen:
I kept wanting to do Nova. But this is as an ongoing book, I had a story that I wanted to do and had a bunch of notes for that. And they approved it as a mini-series. And I was like, “Okay, well since this is approved as a mini-series not as an ongoing book,” and I had lined up doing Lobo at DC, it was like, “I’m just looking for something.” And so they had said they would give me a Lobo mini-series. So I was like, all right I’m now kind of committed to doing these two mini-series, but I might as well do this Image Comics thing. I’ll do a mini-series there too.

Jim Thompson:
One last Nova question and then Alex can take over. You were so interested in the character, was that because of the John Buscema early stuff or was it the later Carmine Infantino? Or what was it about Nova that was so cool?

Erik Larsen:
I was all in on Nova. I was all in. When that book started, I was there from issue one. And that was one of the few books where I could be in on the ground floor. Because most everything else had been going and gone on forever by the time I got into it. So this was the first book where it’s like, “Oh, I’m in on the ground floor. I’m in with issue one.” And I was a Nova guy. I’m ready. I love this book. I want to do this book. I want to work with this character.

Jim Thompson:
That’s great.

Erik Larsen:
At that point, I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do and I was like, “Oh, it’s frustrating.”

Alex Grand:
And so then, when the whole Image discussion started, so how did your involvement in that start? Did you get a phone call from Todd? How did that work?

Erik Larsen:
How it worked was, in San Diego, me, Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld had dinner with Dave Olbrich from Malibu Comics.

Alex Grand:
Malibu. There you go.

Erik Larsen:
And Rob asked Dave if he would publish a comic by him. And Dave said, “I’d publish a comic by any of you guys.” And so that was just the seed had been planted. And Rob had decided, “I’m going to do something for Malibu and see if the audience that I’ve got over at Marvel would transfer over to something else. Just to see how much of a thing.” And they worked out a deal of what they were going to be. And then he took out an ad in the Comics Buyers Guide for this new book. I think it was called The Executioners…

Alex Grand:
Yes. That’s where he got a cease and desist, right?





Erik Larsen:
You got it, yeah it had an X in it. But those guys just freaked out at Marvel. They read him the riot act, they were calling him up and yelling at him and saying, “You can’t do this.” And really what we got out of that was that they were really scared that something like that could work. And at that point it was like, “Hey, guys. I think there’s a possibility here.”

Alex Grand:
Let’s do it. Yeah.

Erik Larsen:
And let’s try this out and see how this goes. And at that point it was like, “All right, who’s out there? Who could we get on board that would make this really work?” And it was like, “Well, we got to get Todd on there. We’re all friends with Todd.”

Alex Grand:
Okay, there you go. So he came in more later.

Erik Larsen:
Todd got he was like, “Oh, why didn’t you guys let me know you were doing this? This is good!” And so, once he was on board, then he was the most militant and active recruiter of other people you’d ever run across. So he was, “Oh, we’ve got to get Jim Lee because he’s Marvel’s golden boy.”

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s funny.

Erik Larsen:
So, that was a big one. A big catch. Because if we could get Jim, then it was like, “Oh, we got all of them. We got all the big guys off all the books.” You don’t have anything left at that point.

Alex Grand:
Right, right, right. And that’s right. That’s interesting. So it’s basically a little bit of a rebellion, test market with that Comics Buyers Guide ad with Liefeld. But it was actually this dinner with Malibu and then also McFarlane’s kind of leading the charge on making it happen.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. And how did you feel about that? Were you like, “Okay, well this could work.”? Or, “I’m going to do a few mini-series so I might as well do this too.”? How was that?

Erik Larsen:
I mean, once it really got going and the discussion really was, we’re going to do this, then all the other stuff just kind of fell by the wayside pretty quick. Because the enthusiasm was contagious in that regard where it’s just like, all right, these guys are definitely into this, everybody’s excited about working on this, let’s just keep this ball going.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s cool. So then, you were just all in at that point.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
So then, there is that famous room discussion were Defalco and Terry Stewart and McFarlane and a couple of guys were talking about, “Okay, we’re going to do this.” And I think-

Erik Larsen:
I was not there.

Alex Grand:
And you were not there. You and Silvestri weren’t actually in that room, right?

Erik Larsen:
I don’t know if Marc was, because I wasn’t there.

Alex Grand:
You were not there, right?

Erik Larsen:
So it’s like I had no idea who else was in that room.

Alex Grand:
And what was your impression? Did they tell you about it after? What was your-?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. They told me about it afterwards. All right, that’s the way we’re doing things, that’s fine. But what’s weird is that they went and they crossed the street and went to talk to DC. And DC was like, “Oh boy! We’re excited that this is happening. That these guys could come over.” And basically came over to say, “And we’re not coming here either!”

Alex Grand:
Right, right. That’s right. It was like a call of arms and almost like a declaration of war, right? In a way?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. That was some fun.

Alex Grand:
And I just find that so interesting. That that actually happened. So as far as starting Image, also Whilce Portacio was originally a part of it but then he kind of left, right? He had some family issues or something?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Initially, he was going to be one of the partners. And he was one of the founders, but he didn’t really like the decision making process of it and he just wanted to be part of the creative process.

Alex Grand:
I see. So yeah the more corporate part

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. The setting things up and the deciding who gets to do an Image book and who doesn’t, who’s in and who’s not, he wasn’t really into that part of it so it’s like, “All right, we’re not going to force anybody.”

Alex Grand:
Right, and then so you and the five others stayed. And then each one had an imprint. You formed Highbrow Entertainment, right?





Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
And so, under Highbrow… Right now this is still under Malibu as publishing but you guys have your own imprints. Or you guys have your own little companies, but then it’s all under, it’s Image Comics.

Erik Larsen:
Malibu’s was out of it really quick. We were part of them for one year.

Alex Grand:
There you go, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
So, by the time I was doing other stuff like… We were gone. It did not last long with those guys.

Alex Grand:
I see. So then, as far as setting up the company, because you had already done and worked in Independent Comics in the earlier ’80, and also Jim Valentino did some independent stuff back then, you felt pretty equipped as a team to put it together, then it sounds like?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Well I mean, at that point on Spider-Man I was doing all the jobs. So on my own, I had written stuff years ago so there was really no part of the production that I hadn’t done including printing comics and stapling them.

Alex Grand:
Right. Right. Yeah, exactly. Because as a writer/artist on Spider-Man now being a writer/artist on Savage Dragon, that’s a smooth transition creatively. But then corporate wise, how did you guys… Did Jim Valentino have some, was he kind of a main ingredient of that or was it more of like…? How did you guys figure out the corporate end of things?

Erik Larsen:
It was just round table discussions with everybody there just trying to figure out how we could make this work and what the structure of everything was going to be. And it was very give and take in that regard. And it was sort of decided really early that we were just going to all, all on our own stuff and there wasn’t going to be any cross-pollenization or any of that. There’s not going to be any co-owners or anything, we would just everybody, you’re on your own. And then we decided early on, okay, if there are team-ups or cross-overs, everybody just owns their own book. So, if a character is crossing over, everybody just keeps their own money on their own books and the other guys just considers it advertising for their stuff. So it’s like, let’s not be suddenly having to own pieces of other peoples’ stuff. This is just going to get too cumbersome. We don’t want that.

Alex Grand:
And so then, was there anything in particular that led to creating its own company and separating away from Malibu? Or was it like, “Look, we’ve done a year of this. We’re viable, we can save 10% if we just do it ourselves?”

Erik Larsen:
Yes. Basically.

Alex Grand:
That’s basically what happened then?

Erik Larsen:
It was that. It was just, “What are these guys bringing to the table at this point and why are we still here? We don’t really need them. So let’s go.”

Alex Grand:
“Yeah. Let’s go. Let’s do it.”

Erik Larsen:
That’s what that was.

Alex Grand:
So then, even though you guys still had your own separate brands, you still had a bit of a shared universe though? Like they’re big crossovers.

Erik Larsen:
Shared forever. For a long time.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, so you guys really did create an Image Universe, basically. So was there ever, “Hey, I want to use your guy for this?” Or how did that happen.

Erik Larsen:
It was very much like that. It would just be, “Hey, can I use Savage Dragon in this issue?” “Sure.”

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. It wasn’t even… And my thing with that, even to this day is, if you’re publishing in Image Comics and you want to use Savage Dragon, the answer’s yes.

Alex Grand:
But they should ask you first, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. They should ask, and run things by me, and there was some goofy-ass shit that happened because people just didn’t understand some pretty basic stuff.

Alex Grand:
About the character?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Just about the character or how things work, or a lot of stuff. You start working with other people, you’d be amazed how wrong things can get. “Oh, you don’t understand my character a bit.”

Alex Grand:
Right, right. So then, what? You would just kind of call whoever had used them wrong and say, “Hey, maybe next time do this instead.”? Or something like that?

Erik Larsen:
I think for the most part we just kind of were like, “Oh, well.”

Alex Grand:
Just more fun.

Erik Larsen:
That happened.

Alex Grand:
That happened. Okay.

Erik Larsen:
In my own brain, I kind of reconcile how this sort of thing goes on. Whenever you’re talking to somebody and they’re telling you about some event that you’re aware of, you’re always sitting there going, “That’s not how that played out at all.” It’s sort of like eye-witness testimony that you realize after a while that eye-witness testimony is really unreliable because people’s memories are really subjective and it’s it really bullshit. And on my own stuff, I would just like, my character in other people’s comics is essentially eye-witness testimony.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s interesting. That’s a good way to look at it. Like a Tarantino movie, right? Where it’s from different views.

Erik Larsen:
It’s like, “Oh, whatever. I don’t care if you get wrong particularly because I don’t even really care that much.

Alex Grand:
And it’s not like you have to reconcile it in a later story.

Erik Larsen:
And I didn’t want it to be like that. Where we’re constantly like, “Oh, and then I got to write your story out of continuity.” It’s like don’t even fucking worry about it. Just move on.

Alex Grand:
Just have fun. And I love what you did with Savage Dragon. Because that four-issue mini-series and the series after, I really felt like it stands apart, I think, from a lot of the stuff coming out at that time because, yeah there was hot women in tight costumes, there was big buff dudes fighting but the dialogue and the message, it felt like they were real characters talking. I felt like there was a lot of humanization. It felt like you had a real knack for that. I mean, obviously, you still have a real knack for that. But I read it, and it’s like this really stands out. I could sit, I could read this, and I could keep reading this. That’s how it felt.

Erik Larsen:
Okay. Yeah, no. I somehow stumbled on that, having a knack for just fairly natural sounding dialogue.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. And they sound like different people. That’s not easy to do. And then also I liked how you made him a cop in Chicago which is just such a cool idea. And then you did it, but it wasn’t like totally… You still also commented on some of the problematic things that can happen in the police as well. It wasn’t like a one-sided thing. It was like there was a lot of texture and dimension just being police officer, being an honest police officer, but sometimes there’s some that aren’t. It was all just done in, I felt like, a really balanced way. And I like that you picked Chicago too, because you don’t get that a lot.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. No, no. I just wanted to be able to destroy a city and not have anybody else get mad. It was like, “Just let me have my own place so I don’t have to worry about what you got going on in your place.” And Gary Carlson was from the Chicago area so there was kind of, all right I’ll just use that as kind of a jumping off thing. And also, way back when I had done my fanzines, years and years and years ago, those stories were kind of the end of the comics that I did when I was a little, little kid. So what I wanted to do at Image, was to basically go, “Well, this is the point that I want to work toward. I want to work toward those stories. And then I’m going to re-draw those stories at some point and then I’ll take it from there. I’ll finally be able to continue on from where I left off when I was in high school.”

Erik Larsen:
And what happened with that was, because in those stories Dragon was like an ex-government guy. And so when it came to doing him in Image, it was like what would logically lead from into that? Where could I start him? So having a police officer, I thought was, “Well, I could see this as progressing from this job to that job. That would make some sense.” And so that’s where that idea of having to be a cop came about was just working backwards. Basically the idea was I’m not going to repeat the same crappy story as I did when I was a kid, but they’ll both kind of be working towards the same goal. And then once I got towards that goal, once I got there, then I could go and do anything.

Jim Thompson:
Have you ever had feedback from police? Any fans or kids of police or any interaction with actual officers that read the book or read the book?





Erik Larsen:
Yeah. I’ve had some. I’ve had some. I know when there was a Dragon statue that there was a bunch of guys who chipped in and bought one for somebody who was in the… “Oh, we got this for the Sergeant.” And stuff like that. There’s some camaraderie of sorts. Where somebody could be like here I gave you she shoulder patch from blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, “Oh, that’s cool.”

Alex Grand:
That is awesome. And I noticed that there was some fun, and maybe I might just be reading into it, too much, but it felt like there were some Marvel references in some of those early Savage Dragons. You had this character Arachnid.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
And the thwip his webbing felt like a Spidey reference to me.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, yeah. There was definitely some stuff in there. Some meta message.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. Meta, yeah. And then the Dragon was called the Incredible Hunk by his neighbor. And then there’s one where he fought Overlord and he punched him against the wall, like a big page spread, and then it says Doom! And when I read I’m like, “I guess Overlord does kind of look like Dr. Doom a little bit.” I didn’t make the connection until I saw that.

Erik Larsen:
The reference there was more, at my end, was Simonson doing that.

Alex Grand:
Oh yeah. The font. The font looks like that. Right, that’s funny.

Erik Larsen:
I wasn’t actually thinking of Dr. Doom, but he is kind of a Dr. Doom sort.

Alex Grand:
And one that was funny, because there’s like commentary, Jim and I were talking earlier, that there’s commentary on the industry, like you’ll kind of critique some aspects of the comics industry. You age characters in real time. There’s also one Johnny Redbeard’s Nixed Men which is pretty funny, which felt like a John Byrne’s Next Men commentary.

Erik Larsen:
It was supposed to be all the characters from all the books that he had just left in a huff.

Jim Thompson:
That’s funny.

Alex Grand:
Because, I mean, I read those because I like John Byrne, sure, but when I read that, I related to what you’re writing because I felt some of that. There would be those kind of things going on.

Jim Thompson:
And can we just add that Alex’s statement there about liking John Byrne is his own opinion and it does not reflect Comic Book Historian’s.

Alex Grand:
That’s true, yeah. Jim is not as much as a John Byrne guy. I wouldn’t say I’m totally into it, 100%, but when I was a kid I loved it, I’ll tell you that much.

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Erik Larsen:
I was all in on it to a point. And then at that point it was like, “Oh, he’s kind of a dick what the hell?”

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, that’s my point.

Alex Grand:
That’s the whole thing, yeah. Then there’s some other things, so let’s see, now there’s this whole talk about the books are doing awesome, a lot of money was being made. A lot of comics were being read, fans were loving it and you guys were basically the rock stars of comics. But there was some discussion of some books were late, some weren’t, but those late books were kind of affecting comic shops and sales. Tell us, so you guys hired Larry Marder to act as an executive director for Image, what was the mentality behind that and what did he end up doing for Image?

Erik Larsen:
I think Larry Marder was supposed to be there to keep the peace within the guys because prior to that we had Tony Obida who was just like a pal of Rob’s. And kind of the thought was well this guy’s really in Rob’s corner when push comes to shove, so maybe we need somebody who’s going to be more of an impartial person when it comes to Image in general. And I think that was the thought process. I didn’t know Larry at all. I didn’t know his background, I didn’t really know where he came from or anything about it. I was always like, “Whatever, guys.”

Alex Grand:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Because you were reading Tales of Beanworld?

Erik Larsen:
I’d never read or seen anything.

Alex Grand:
Read what?

Jim Thompson:
Tales of Beanworld.

Alex Grand:
No.

Jim Thompson:
That’s what Marder was famous for.

Erik Larsen:
I knew it later on and I knew he did this stuff, but it’s like, well what’s this got to do with us?

Alex Grand:
So Highbrow Entertainment, you’re just kind of doing your own thing then basically, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Because your books weren’t really known for being late, right?

Erik Larsen:
Mine were known for being what now?

Alex Grand:
Your books were not known for being the late ones, right? Your books were always on time, right?

Erik Larsen:
Not really. I had one book that was late enough that was returnable and that was enough of a lesson to decide not to do that again.

Alex Grand:
Right. Right. Because I think you’re pretty much always that reliable, like you’re reliably pumping out product all the time I think.

Erik Larsen:
To a degree. I mean I’ve had my days, I’ve had times when it hasn’t been so reliable as I would like. And that’s usually cases of me just taking on too many stupid things. There still is writer’s block that does come.

Alex Grand:
Oh, I see.

Erik Larsen:
flying in the face of whatever you want to get shit done suddenly it’s like, “Oh, by the way, your brain has decided it can’t figure this out.”

Alex Grand:
Oh, I see, yeah. So now on top of doing your own writing and art for Savage Dragon, Highbrow Entertainment was also publishing other titles as well, right? You did Superpatriot with Giffen, with art by Dave Johnson. That was in 1993, I think, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yup, I think.





Alex Grand:
So basically were creating these characters like Superpatriot and Mighty Man. Mighty Man was like a Shazam kind of guy, right? Like a…

Erik Larsen:
Captain Marvel.

Alex Grand:
Captain Marvel kind of guy, right. And so then, how was working with other artists and writers on characters that you created? How was that process?

Erik Larsen:
It was pretty simple. We would just sort of talk through. Usually would be a situation where I would go here is point A and here is point B. I want you to get from this to this. And that was kind of where things were at with Superpatriot kind of had been mind controlled to something when he showed up first in Savage Dragon.

Alex Grand:
Right, brainwashed, yeah.

Erik Larsen:
So it was like, all right, kid. I need to get from him being controlled by somebody to him being able to be a functioning person so I can have him join Freak Force. So, get me there, buddy.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, right. Right. Were you basically hiring them as freelancers? How was that exactly?

Erik Larsen:
Yes, I was art directing stuff. I mean I was a real editor in that when stuff would come in and sometimes you’d have to talk people off a ledge in a way. Where they’d go and do something that wasn’t very good or didn’t… It was always complicated.
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