Comic Book Historians

Erik Larsen: Comic Book Maker Part 3 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

July 15, 2020 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 69
Comic Book Historians
Erik Larsen: Comic Book Maker Part 3 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Erik Larsen in this third of a three parter, discussing his development of Savage Dragon, the Savage Dragon cartoon series for the USA network, Marvel in-jokes present in the series, working with Steve Gerber on pulling Howard the Duck out of the Marvel Universe, the corporate structure of Image Comics and the organizing styles of Larry Marder, then publisher Jim Valentino and then Erik himself as Image publisher, working with Alan Moore, the partner shakeups with Rob Liefeld & Jim Lee, finally working on Nova at Marvel, going to Savage Dragon full time, his Inkwell Awards, Captain America The End, and Savage Dragon 250.  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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Erik Larsen:
Dave Johnson started drawing SuperPatriot. He’d done seven pages and it was really limp dick stuff. I had to call him up and just be like, “Dude, I hired you because I liked what you are doing in your sketchbook. Your sketchbook is awesome and this stuff is boring. What the hell? What are you doing?” He took it to heart. Yeah. “Yeah, man, Sorry about that. I just got this style that I can turn it out really quickly, but that’s not what you want.” “No, that’s not what I want.”

Alex Grand:
It’s funny, because I was reading some of your letters pages, because you were doing letters pages too with your comics, which is pretty cool. One of them responding to a fan, I think a fan said, “I love SuperPatriot,” and you said, “Well, we’re coming out with SuperPatriot miniseries. I’ve seen some art from Dave Johnson and it’s looking awesome,” but it’s funny to hear that. Maybe that was asked when you got the second wave.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, once he got a fire under his ass-

Alex Grand:
There you go.

Erik Larsen:
… he performed.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome.

Erik Larsen:
He did great stuff on that book.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, that’s important, that fire under the ass is actually a key thing.

Erik Larsen:
A lot of artists, you kind of will find that you look through their sketchbooks and you see what they like to draw and where their passion lies and sometimes you get something out of it like, “Oh, you really like to do this one thing and yet when you’re doing your regular comics, you’re not doing that. What the hell?” A lot of guys, I think, on their own, their stuff tends to be more cartoony and expressive but they feel like, “I’ve got to do this commercial work and this is my commercial style,” and it’s very refined. It’s like, it’s not necessarily what you do best. I think with a lot of artists, what they really need is to have that conversation where somebody just says, “It’s okay for you to do the shit that you like to do. Your natural whatever is better than so many other people. Just do that because there are a lot of guys who do that middle of the road comic book stuff. If we want middle of the road comic book stuff, we’ve got choices, man. But there’s nobody who’s giving me this cool thing, so if you can do that, that would be way better.”

Alex Grand:
That makes sense. Now, by 1995, Image was having reliable success with Savage Dragon, Spawn, The Darkness and Witchblade were also reliably successful and in that year, USA Network put together two seasons of the Savage Dragon cartoon, right?





Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
So how did that come about? That’s interesting to me.

Erik Larsen:
We had pitched it to CBS and had gotten a bunch of stuff together for that and then they ultimately passed on it and a couple of the guys who were part of it ended up being part of this new pitch to the USA Network and we just found a different approach. Initially, Mark Evanier was part of it when he was at CBS and he inserted some of his own characters that he had come up with as part of the thing and when we went and did it as USA, it was like, “No outside characters.” That didn’t work out so well. I think Mark’s take was a little too divorced from-

Alex Grand:
The comic.

Erik Larsen:
… the comic book, I thought. Remember Steve Lombard in Superman? He was kind of Superman’s foil or Clark Kent’s foil. He had introduced this Steve Lombard type character that was going to be in this Dragon thing, taking credit for shit The Dragon would do and stuff like that and it didn’t really work in terms of the book and in the tone of the comic. Ultimately they passed and we just ended up going elsewhere with it.

Alex Grand:
Then how did the USA people get on board with it?

Erik Larsen:
I don’t remember. I don’t even remember what that process entailed.

Alex Grand:
So it was just pitching and then eventually, USA said yes?

Erik Larsen:
I had a pitch at the time. I don’t remember if I was even in on those pitches.

Alex Grand:
That’s funny.

Erik Larsen:
I don’t even remember. It’s a long time ago and it’s just lost to me.

Alex Grand:
Did you find it to be a positive experience?

Erik Larsen:
It was positive enough. It was nice that it gave it an awareness that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. There were people who will even to this day go, “Yeah, I got into Dragon via-”

Alex Grand:
The TV show, the cartoon.

Erik Larsen:
“That was my introduction to it.” That was great.

Alex Grand:
Did it increase sales for you?

Erik Larsen:
No.

Alex Grand:
Okay, it didn’t actually increase sales.

Erik Larsen:
It didn’t have any effect as far as I could tell on sales of the book but it was a nice little paycheck, so I got a good chunk of dough for that.

Alex Grand:
That’s good.

Erik Larsen:
“Hey, here’s a little something extra for your efforts.” So that was nice. Then it was kind of a neat process just to go, “There’s my dude walking around.”

Alex Grand:
On the TV. So you didn’t really have much creative influence on the actual cartoon itself then?

Erik Larsen:
Not as much as I had thought going into it that I would have and so there were things where, when we were deciding who was going to voice the character, I had something in mind and then it wasn’t that. I picked one guy, they picked another guy.

Alex Grand:
That’s funny, so the voice you felt was off?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, the voice was off. There was a bunch of the story stuff that I wasn’t super happy with. There were a lot of different things here and there, just ended up being a problem for some reason to another. It’s like, “You can’t use this kind of character because that’s… This is a terrible stereotype you’ve got going on in your comic. We can’t have that.” The thing is that when you have a diverse cast in your comic book, you can do those stereotypes as long as you’ve got something else. There are people who are lazy individuals or who just want to take it easy and cruise with stuff and it’s like, those people, they exist. For me, it was like, as long as I’ve got 10 different characters who are a different way, it’s fine to have some character… You know what I’m saying?

Alex Grand:
Yeah, yeah. It’s okay to have a little bit of stereotype because in a way, maybe they need representation too, in a sense.

Erik Larsen:
I think the problem with, say black characters in a lot of shows is that you’re going, “This is the only black character in the show,” so when that black character’s the only black character in the show, they’re representing their entire race. It’s like, this is all we have is the one guy. So if you’ve got just the one guy and he is a lazy guy or he smokes or there’s anything about him that’s deemed wrong or offensive or something, it just becomes, this is a bad thing. You’re saying this now about every black person. Whereas if you’re sitting there going, “I’ve got a million characters,” then it’s not such a big deal. In a way, if you look at the cartoon, Mulan, you can look at that cartoon and go, “There’s a couple of characters in this show, which isolated are super offensive,” but in the context of that show, they’re not, because you’re not saying all Asian people look like this one guy.

Alex Grand:
That’s a good point because there’s heroic, there’s this, there’s that, there’s this.

Erik Larsen:
And it’s nice to be able to have that kind of variety and that’s something, I think, ends up getting lost when you’ve got only one character, is you end up going, now every single character that’s just a single character, they’re really bland because they don’t want to offend anybody. Anyway-

Alex Grand:
That affected what choices they made in the cartoon, you’re saying?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, there ended up being some choices there where they’re like, “We can’t have this character be black because that’s offensive.” It’s like, “Well, is it fine if it’s a white guy who is overweight and lazy?” And it’s like, “No, no, it’s totally cool.” Awesome, so we’ll make all the white guys lazy and stupid and whatever and all the black characters will be awesome, which is fine, whatever.

Alex Grand:
I see. That makes sense too. It’s testy when you’re being a creator, you’re putting out stuff-

Erik Larsen:
A bunch of weird things that come up. It’s like, “How come Alex Wilde is colored darker?” It’s like, “Well, because she’s Mexican.” “Well her name’s not Mexican.” “Well, she’s adopted.” “That’s kind of a cumbersome backstory. Can we change her last name to Rodriguez?” Like, “No because that’s not the character in the comic.” And they’re like, “Well, then, does she have to be Mexican?” “Can she still be colored as though she’s Mexican?” It ended up being this weird compromise of, she’s no longer Mexican but she’s colored as though she’s Mexican. It’s like, how much would she be referring to herself as being Mexican anyway? People don’t really do that. So what’s it matter? Fine, as long as she can be colored as though she’s Mexican and we’ll pretend that she’s white. I have no problem with this because it’s the way it would be anyway, and they’re like, “Okay fine, but now we need a Mexican character.”

Alex Grand:
So now that just changes the whole thing.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. There ends up being a lot of weird back and forth on-

Alex Grand:
Compromise.

Erik Larsen:
… stupid stuff. At one point, they were really frustrated because they didn’t have any positive white characters. “We don’t have any positive, white male characters,” ended up being a problem. It’s like, “There aren’t a lot of positive, white male characters in the book and the lead character’s green.” What are you going to do?

Alex Grand:
Yeah, I was going to say, it’s like you’re creating this tentacled web in a way. So then, now in 1996, this is kind of fun, that whole project with Howard the Duck, and Steve Gerber and the Savage Dragon crossover and then it was this kind of interesting thing where you guys ended up having… a crossover with Marvel where it kind of, in a way, led to the real Howard the Duck now going over into Image and now he’s Leonard the Duck. He’s kind of undercover. What a fun thing. Tell us about that.





Erik Larsen:
That whole thing came about… Initially the idea was, it was just going to be this unofficial crossover, which will make it fun for Steve and fun for me or whatever. We’re just going to do this kind of unofficial thing and then Steve got wind that they were going to be using Howard the Duck over here and he was going to be used over there and they were going to have all these other writers working on other Howard the Duck things and he became really upset in disillusioned about the whole project entirely and he was sitting there going, “I don’t know that I can write this story anymore because I just don’t like what they’re doing. They kind of at one point were making it seem like it was my character and they were going to just let me be the only guy doing it but now clearly that’s not the case. They’re doing all this other stuff.” So what I talked him into was, “What if we kidnap him? Let’s just do a story where we just go out of our way to get him out of Marvel and we’ll just do it like that.” Then he got re-energized about the whole thing.

Alex Grand:
So that was your idea.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, that was my idea. That was just to get him to be able to do it at all because he was going to bail in the middle of it, which would’ve been bad for everyone… He ended up doing the Marvel story, which he wouldn’t have done otherwise. In a way, it’s better for them but I understand that, at one point, might have not worked out so well for some people at Marvel.

Alex Grand:
So then he became Leonard the Duck over at Image and then that Howard the Duck, that’s in Marvel, essentially is a clone of the original, which I love that. I think most people think Steve Gerber was Howard the Duck, in a way.

Erik Larsen:
He put a lot of himself into his work and I have not worked with many writers who struggle as much as Steve did. I mean, he put hours into that stuff and I guess it shows. It shows that he really is putting a lot of himself into it. It just never occurred to me, “Writing can be that difficult?” Because it always came very easy for me.

Alex Grand:
Was Steve a nice fellow?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, he was a great guy.

Alex Grand:
Because it’s cool that you helped him with that and Jack Kirby helped him with the Destroyer Duck stuff. It’s like another link to Jack you kind of have as far as being in his role in a sense.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Well it was kind of a crossover, in a way, happened because he wanted to reintroduce Destroyer Duck. He was writing Strikeforce for Marc for a Top Cow book and he had introduced this robot thing that was going to open up and it was going to be Destroyer Duck. Mark was not having it. He was just like… I Was like, “Dude, you’ve got a cartoon cat running around in your book. What’s the matter?” And he’s like, “That’s a robot cat. Destroyer Duck is a real duck.” He was just having this tough time wrapping his brain around this idea of there being a real duck walking around in his universe. He kind of foisted Steve off on me to see if we could find a way of doing it in my comic. That was how that came about in the first place. Just a lot of these, the conversations just work out, going this way or that and stories come out of it all, somehow.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome. Then in 1999, Marder left Image and then Valentino, who was used to publishing his creator owned comics, formalized Image Central. He became the publisher of Image. Tell us about that transition.

Erik Larsen:
I don’t know much about it. Honestly, I can’t shed too much light on there. My recollection of it was that Marder felt that his… Maybe I do know more. Suddenly it’s coming back.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, it sounds like you might know…

Erik Larsen:
My recollection of it was that Todd had some internal stuff going on at his toy company, TMP. So Larry had been brought aboard as kind of a peacemaker of sorts but by the time his tenure ended, a lot of the reason he was there was no longer there because Jim Lee had left and Rob Liefeld had been kicked out. As a peacemaker, there wasn’t really any peace to be made because there wasn’t any points of conflict at that point. Then Todd had points of conflict at TMP, so he needed a Larry to come in and negotiate some kind of peace agreement over there. That became, “We need this guy,” and then we became, “We need a publisher,” and Valentino was, “I kind of would like that gig.” He at that point was kind of done making comics.

Alex Grand:
Right, ShadowHawk.

Erik Larsen:
He always felt like… I think he struggled a lot more as an artist than some of the rest of us did. I think he was not getting the kind of success making his own comics and he was kind of like, “I need something.” He’s like, “I need this.” He did love that job.

Alex Grand:
The publisher job?

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Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Was he a good publisher then? It sounds like he was.

Erik Larsen:
He was an interesting publisher in that he made some unusual choices, which I think some worked out pretty well and then some really didn’t. The bad was that a lot of the mainstream guys were less inclined to pitch stuff at Image and I actually heard from a few people who said, “I just don’t want to be turned down by Jim Valentino.” “That’s kind of a shitty way of putting that but okay, I understand.” But he brought in a lot of his alternative guys and so there were some interesting choices being made and he brought in some people that probably would never have come in otherwise and some of that stuff were interesting books.

Alex Grand:
I see. So he was turning down some books that could be categorized as possibly more mainstream and then-

Erik Larsen:
He wasn’t turning things down because they weren’t knocking on the door anymore. I think a lot of people who would’ve been more mainstream, were just kind of like, “Image is doing something different now. There’s not really a place for me there.”

Alex Grand:
Because it is alternative stuff he was kind of pushing through.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. So it was like, “Well, we’ve got to publish a certain number of books in order to make the nut, so let’s do that.”

Alex Grand:
That’s fascinating. I mean, that goes back to his… Was that Normal Man? That’s what that was, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Normal Man, yeah. Then one more question before Jim talks about the next phase is, when Liefeld left, you guys had to do that vote and some conflicts were happening, [Jim] Lee sold WildStorm to DC Comics. What was your impression of these guys at that point? Were you like, Times are changing and people come, people go,” or did you feel like, “Man, I can’t believe this is happening”?





Erik Larsen:
Yeah, more the latter. I wasn’t happy with how things were going down. I certainly would’ve preferred that we would’ve all stuck with our guns and stuck with our books and done what we could do but Jim Lee was having… He was having problems. He was not finding huge success once things had settled in. His own creator owned stuff wasn’t setting the world on fire. People like Jim Lee on books that they like. They don’t like him necessarily in the abstract. There’s several artists who were like that. George Perez. When George Perez is on books that people love, people love the shit out of George Perez. When George Perez is just working on random other stuff, his creator owned stuff never really did much of anything.

Alex Grand:
That’s interesting and that’s true though, but I never formalized that in my head like that before.

Erik Larsen:
Same thing was happening with Jim is that he wasn’t as into Wildcats as he had other things that he wanted to do and Wildcats was kind of going with other people and so he did a… I don’t remember the name of his book. Max Faraday was part of it. It had a long title and that was going to be his new creator owned thing and nobody wanted it. It just wasn’t a big book and I think what was kind of happening with a lot of guys is they were looking around going, “I am hip deep in this stuff. I have rented this huge studio space. I’ve got a lot of people that work for me and if my books don’t sell at a certain level, I can’t make payroll. I’ve got guys here. I can’t do this shit.”

Erik Larsen:
Whereas, on my own, I didn’t do any of that. I never had a studio that was a physical thing. I just worked out of my own house and everybody just worked from their own houses-

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s right.

Erik Larsen:
They would send in books and I would publish it and I would coordinate everything but I never had a studio and because of that, I also never had a house style, as some of the other studios seem to do. Rob’s would have a room full of guys who drew like Rob who were big fans of Rob and Jim Lee, the same thing, would have a bunch of guys who were kind of doing half assed Jim Lee.

Alex Grand:
That’s interesting. So basically by having that low overhead, you had more freedom to just be creative and produce and you didn’t have that… That’s right, I’ve heard of the overhead with Liefeld was kind of high at one point and then with Lee also evidently. That’s an interesting distinction. It puts more pressure on them and then now you have Lee maybe not hitting that same point and then selling to DC Comics.

Erik Larsen:
Yep. Basically he had to sell to DC because he was going to go away, like, here are our options. I can sell to DC and then with DC, they were into it because, “Hey, we can get Alan Moore back, if we wanted Alan Moore on stuff, but he wouldn’t work for us.” Part of him making that sale was, “I’ve got to go talk to Alan Moore and make sure Alan’s going to still do this stuff if it goes to DC.” Then Alan, that became, “As long as I’m not dealing with anybody there and I’m just dealing with you guys.There’s none of this, We’ll be fine.” I think is how that ended up being sold to him.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, as long as he’s isolated and away from the DC stuff, in way. I love his Image stuff. I took some time to read all that six months ago. I’m glad I did. He’s always a good writer though. I like all this stuff.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, he’s a talented guy.There’s no two ways around it.

Alex Grand:
All right, Jim, go ahead.

Jim Thompson:
It’s 1998 and obviously there’s still stuff going on at Image but what made you go back to DC and do Aquaman?

Erik Larsen:
It became that I hadn’t done anything else in a long time and I kind of felt like people at Marvel and DC may not have remembered who the hell I was and because it had been a long time since I’d done anything and my thought was, “I’m going to go do some stuff over at Marvel and DC and then maybe I can get some of those readers to follow me back to Image.”

Jim Thompson:
Because you’d been gone for a long time, so for Marvel readers and those fans, you needed to reestablish your name a little bit.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, that was the thought process going into it and I had been talking to Chris Heliopolis. He was my letterer, was also doing stuff over at Marvel and DC and we just started talking about, “Hey, they’re looking for a writer on Aquaman. What would you do if you were doing Aquaman?” And then we just started kicking ideas back and forth and then it just became, “Shit, I’ve got too much stuff here that I could do that would be kind of fun. Let’s see if they’re into it.” Pitched it at them and they said okay. That became a thing.

Jim Thompson:
Was that fun for you? Returning to Aqualad.

Erik Larsen:
To an extent, it was. I don’t always get along very well with editorial.

Alex Grand:
I see. Because you’re your own editor in a way.

Erik Larsen:
I’m my own editor on my own stuff so I don’t have to deal with anybody else’s bullshit. When you’re thrust into a situation where you’re having to deal with somebody else’s stuff and what they want and what they expect, it can get complicated.

Jim Thompson:
That leads to an interesting question for me. Having done this twice back earlier at the beginning of your career and then here in the late ’90s into the 2000s, was it different working for Marvel versus DC and what were the differences? And when you went back in the late ’90s in the beginning, had those companies changed a lot?

Erik Larsen:
I never found there to be much of a difference between the two in terms of much of anything. I mean, there were a couple of people who worked in a different way that was different from what I was used to in that Mike W. Barr on the Outsiders was writing full scripts, which was not something that I was working with with other people. Other people were writing plot style and I took some liberties with that. I always took liberties. I never even thought, this is going to upset people. I do shit and then I find out later, that really pissed that guy off.

Alex Grand:
That’s funny.

Erik Larsen:
“Wow, what do you know?”

Alex Grand:
Because I mean, you’re a storyteller and a creator yourself. How can you not figure out stuff?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, it’s totally fine. Mike, when he did his Outsiders, I know this is jumping back, but he wrote a full script, which seemed like he had just written it all out and then just broke it up into panels afterward because it was like, this whole issue, you got a splash page and then every page thereafter is all five-panel pages. There’s none that had more or less and both of the issues that I had worked with him on, he had done that. One was all five-panel pages, next was all six-panel pages and I just thought, as a guy drawing this stuff, we need to open this up when there’s a big villain show up and there’s a big reveal, that needs to be a splash page.

Erik Larsen:
What I did was, I’d go, “All these panels are going to be in here. They’re all going to be in the same order but when there’s characters talking or there’s small action going on, I’m going to move those to these other pages and open it up so I can have there be a splash at the villains and I can have there be… When it’s a more complicated fight scene, I can show it better, which I guess he wasn’t super happy about.

Alex Grand:
But your storytelling is effective. It’s worked for 30-something years, obviously.

Erik Larsen:
It’s worked out all right.

Jim Thompson:
When you went back though, did you have more clout? Were you able to push a little more because you were far more established than you were back in the Outsider days?

Erik Larsen:
Not really. Not a lot. I mean, I was writing at this point and I was coming at it as a writer, not as an artist. It was a little different in that regard but before when I was just an artist, I wouldn’t have that much back and forth with editors because there just wouldn’t need to be any but now, when I was working with… Other than meet your deadlines, that sort of thing, but now it would be like, “Here’s your proposal.” Then you have to write a proposal to get the book and then it is, “Now you’ve got to write the stories that are in this thing. What are you doing here? Where is this going?” And all that other kind of stuff. That’s a very different kind of process than, “Draw this.”

Jim Thompson:
Aquaman, that was the only thing you did at DC? The main thing you did at DC over that period, right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
But at Marvel and around the same time, you went over and took over what was probably their biggest character at the time, with Wolverine right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah but first I pitched Nova.





Jim Thompson:
Yeah, I was going to say… you never gave up.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah I pitched Nova.

Jim Thompson:
You actually got to do Nova this time.

Erik Larsen:
This time they bit. It was like, “All right well finally I get to do Nova.”

Jim Thompson:
Was it as much fun as you thought it was going to be?

Erik Larsen:
It was different because I wasn’t drawing it and so that in itself created some different things. In retrospect, probably it would have been better to have my Wolverine artist do Nova and my Nova artist do Wolverine.

Alex Grand:
That’s interesting.

Erik Larsen:
But you know, it is what it is. And I mean yeah, it was fun to finally get some of those stories out. And man they tried to promote that thing but it just, it did not do super well.

Jim Thompson:
Did Wolverine do well?

Erik Larsen:
Wolverine did very well. Yeah. But by that point the editor actually asked me to do Wolverine, whereas with Nova and with Aquaman both, I had to write proposals. But with Wolverine it was a situation where I just said to the editor, “Look man I am really tired of writing proposals so you and I are going to have a conversation here. If at the end of this conversation you want me to do the book, I’ll do the book. If not, no harm done.” So we talked through the Wolverine versus Galactus story. Over the phone. And at the end of it, it was like, I had the book.

Jim Thompson:
So let’s talk about the Fantastic Four, World’s Greatest Comics project. How did that come to be? You were a pretty major player in that whole series, that 12 issue series right?

Erik Larsen:
And that was from several conversations with several different people. One of them being Bruce Timm, who was somewhat instrumental in that and with Eric Stephenson who was also somewhat instrumental. And just being fans of the Stan and Jack Fantastic Four and just coming and going, “Isn’t it a shame that it petered out the way it did? Wouldn’t it have been cool if they decided let’s go out in style. Let’s just tell the biggest, boldest Fantastic Four story we possibly could on our way out the door.”

Jim Thompson:
That had so many artists who obviously were super influenced by [them].

Erik Larsen:
The idea was we had pitched it as, let’s try to have this be on model, Jack Kirby. That was the idea. Because Bruce being from animation where people have to draw in other people’s styles all the time… Like you’ve got this all the time. Where you’ve got people that you try to do. Couldn’t we get a bunch of guys to draw like Jack Kirby? Then we managed to get a bunch of guys who could not draw anything like Jack Kirby all together to do this book. I was like, “Could you, if you really tried to, draw just like Jack, Bruce?” He goes, “Well you know that Avengers 1.5?” And I go, “Yeah.” “I was really trying to draw like Jack on it.” I was like, “Bruce, you suck.” He’s like, “I know. I know.” And so, God, we tried. It didn’t seem like the memo that what we were trying to do even got out to some of those guys. And you know, some issues are better than others. Some pages are better than others. We did what we could.

Jim Thompson:
There are some nice pages… Steve Rude did one in the last couple of issues. He’s always a great Kirby artist.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, so he’s always good. Ron Frenz, sat there and did a bunch of pages with obviously Jack Kirby sitting out on the drawing board while he was doing it. There was a lot of swipes in there from a lot of people trying their best to make it look like it belonged.

Jim Thompson:
And you were doing layouts on some of [them].

Erik Larsen:
I did layouts on it. I ended up doing layouts in nine of the 12 issues so I think I got credit for more of them than I actually did. I managed to get really sick over the course of that. I had taken on way too much because I was at the same time doing the Defenders at the same time. And so, between Savage Dragon, the Defenders and this book, it turns out that that was a little more than I’m capable of doing.

Alex Grand:
Yeah, you felt stretched thin.

Jim Thompson:
That was the last one I wanted to talk about for this period of your Marvel stuff. And you wouldn’t come back for almost 20 years I guess.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah but I did… My initial foray back in there, drawing wise, was they needed somebody to do an issue of Spider-Woman, the John Byrne thing, and John Byrne I had had words on numerous occasions.

Alex Grand:
Oh really?

Erik Larsen:
Never met the guy. But he was… To say that he was a little jealous of the success of Image Comics is to put it mildly.

Alex Grand:
Fascinating.

Erik Larsen:
He really felt that the Image creators were the worst things to ever happen to comics and that we were all terrible and we were destroying comics. And then sort of from that, it just… But I was always a big fan of John’s work growing up and so it was kind of like, well this is not cool, to find out that somebody who you’re a real fan of just has this huge dislike for you. From my point of view just kind of out of the blue.

Alex Grand:
Right, just for existing.

Erik Larsen:
In the abstract. Like, I didn’t do anything. So this issue of Spider-Girl or Spider-Woman was… They needed somebody and a friend of mine, Andy Smith, who is pals with Bart Sears, had worked with me before and he knew that I could do a comic pretty quick if need be. So he contacted me, asked, talked to his editors and saw if I could work on that. So I decided, “All right. Let me do it.” That was kind of fun because it was… John wrote full script but John just broke it down into panels. He didn’t break it down into pages at all. So I could kind of do what I did with Mike Barr, where I would just tell the story however I wanted to tell the story and kept the panels in the right order and we’re good to go.

Erik Larsen:
But something I decide to do on that was to have little caricatures of myself and John Byrne being the best friends ever. So in the credits page it was like me with my arm around John and with a little word balloon going, “Just visiting folks.” And several places along the line when there would be a caption I would just put both of us in there just clowning around. Just tiny little cartoon versions of us. And then that seemed to be fine.





Jim Thompson:
That’s great.

Erik Larsen:
I’m sure he was just seething when he saw that.

Alex Grand:
Did you guys ever talk on the phone with each other?

Erik Larsen:
No, never did. Did we? I don’t know that I ever talked with him. No. Not on that. I know at one point I did ask him about participating in the Fantastic Four thing but I think I asked him via email and he, “This doesn’t sound like a project that I would be interested in working on.” I think mostly because he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. And I don’t know that he would have done a great job had he been a part of it, but what I didn’t want is for him to be out there telling everybody that nobody ever asked.

Alex Grand:
That’s a good point.

Erik Larsen:
I’m going to at least ask, knowing that there’s a really good chance that he’s not going to have… I’m going to do it.

Alex Grand:
Right. Because from an ego standpoint he can say, “I turned that down.”

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Which is fine. I would rather have him saying, “I turned that down,” than, “They never asked.”

Alex Grand:
Right. That makes sense.

Jim Thompson:
Let’s just do the Defenders real quick. You know, with something like Nova, I understand how hard it is for that book to make it, for whatever reason. But the Defenders seems like a book that just… It has some of Marvel’s biggest stars and yet besides its first run it’s never really had a lot of luck. What did you want to do with it? How did it work out?

Erik Larsen:
I kind of wanted to do what we did. But it didn’t work out. It just, it didn’t sell as well as I would have liked. I eventually had to leave just because I had gotten sick and it was like, “I can’t continue to do this because it’s killing me.” Because I was doing too much stuff. It was like, “Well I know I’m not going to quit Savage Dragon. So I think I need to wrap this up on the Defenders and have this be the end of it.”

Jim Thompson:
Was it sad for you to do because it was a fun book? I mean I thought it was very-

Erik Larsen:
It was a fun book. I think in… Yeah there were things I like about it and things that I was less happy with. I thought it would be a better book than it was. There were some things that I didn’t think worked out super well. There was some reveal with a Valkyrie that I thought that that story was really convoluted. I didn’t… I, as a creator, didn’t really follow what it was. But there was a scrambling that had to go on there because the story that we wanted to do ended up being really similar to something that was going on in Thor that Dan Jurgens already set in motion. So it was like, well we can’t have it that the Enchantress is disguising as one character in Thor the same month that she’s disguising as somebody else in the Defenders. So Dan started first, “You guys have got to come up with a different story.”

Erik Larsen:
So we ended up using Lorelei, which just seemed like, a little out of the blue. I don’t think it ended up being as solid a story as it would have been had it been somebody else. So there’s a couple little fumbles here and there but also I didn’t think it was as good as a Kurt Busiek comic and I don’t think it was quite as good as an Erik Larsen comic. So in some way the combination of these two guys just weren’t as good as we were on our own. I’m not really a hundred percent sure of why that was. But somehow it was that way.

Jim Thompson:
So was there a lack of chemistry or a different vision between the two of you?

Erik Larsen:
I think there probably was but I can’t pinpoint it, as to what exactly went wrong. It just, I didn’t seem to me like it quite worked as well as I would like.

Jim Thompson:
And then you went back totally to Image. Was there a reason that you didn’t go back to DC or Marvel for as long a period? Almost, frankly up until just recently.

Erik Larsen:
No not really. I mean for a lot of the… A lot of it is just people not asking. So if they’re not knocking on my door I’m not necessarily knocking on theirs.

Jim Thompson:
Sure.

Erik Larsen:
Then it’s kind of how that works out sometimes, is you’re just… I wasn’t really thinking about it. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh I’m not going to work for those guys ever again.” It’s just, “I’m doing this other stuff. I seem to be enjoying doing this other stuff. I’m going to continue doing that.”

Jim Thompson:
Okay well I will be back with Marvel at the very end but Alex, take us back to Image.

Alex Grand:
Okay so then Valentino left being a publisher in 2004 and then you became publisher. So how did that shift come about? Why did Valentino leave and what made you decide that you wanted to try your hand at being the publisher of the company?

Erik Larsen:
I thought that with the books that he was pumping through being less and less kind of mainstream, I thought that something needed to change because we weren’t having huge success with these indie books. Something needed to happen. It needed to happen soon I thought because it’s like, “We need to right this boat because this isn’t going the way it ought to go.” So I was the dick. I actually came in there and said, “We need to get rid of this guy.” So it was not a situation where he wanted to leave. He did not want to leave.

Alex Grand:
I didn’t know that. Okay.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah and I… It wasn’t nice. But I think it was necessary.

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Alex Grand:
Did you paint your body green and wear a fin when you did that?

Erik Larsen:
I might as well have. It was a shitty situation and I fully acknowledge that it was a shitty situation.

Alex Grand:
So did that have an effect on your guys’ personal relationship as well?

Erik Larsen:
I can’t imagine that it didn’t. But we were never like super super chummy anyway. It wasn’t like we had ever shared a space together or worked together super closely so in a way it didn’t change things and in another way it really did.

Alex Grand:
Does Valentino still work at Image?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, he still works at Image. He’s publishing stuff now. There’s a bunch of books that say Shadowline on them.





Alex Grand:
Yeah, yeah. Right, right. His imprint.

Erik Larsen:
Those are him.

Alex Grand:
Right. He’s still publishing stuff from people submitting him, basically.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Alex Grand:
Through his brand.

Erik Larsen:
Basically he just started doing his indie… Still doing his indie stuff but through his own kind of imprint at Image. Rather than have the whole company be that.

Alex Grand:
The whole company do it.

Erik Larsen:
Kind of wanted to get there to be stronger mainstreamed stuff-

Alex Grand:
For the Image banner.

Jim Thompson:
Did he bring in Kirkman or was it you? It was right around in that transition time with Invincible.

Erik Larsen:
It was kind of both. Basically what he… Kirkman wasn’t having any success getting anything done and getting anything approved through Jim so what ended up happening is I had him and Cory Walker do a SuperPatriot miniseries, which I said, “Let’s just treat this as though it’s your own book. I’m not going to take a dime from it. It’s just going to be your own book and you do what you do on this thing. I’m going to approve it and what have you but let’s just treat this as it’s yours.” That was kind of a proving ground, which led to him eventually doing Invincible.

Alex Grand:
Invincible and Walking Dead. Yeah I loved his Marvel Zombies. I thought those were fun. So then as publisher then… Oh and Bomb Queen, that’s under Shadowline then?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah that was definitely Jim.

Alex Grand:
Yeah. That’s a fun one. So then as publisher… So what were your main duties as publisher? Let’s say separate from the Savage Dragon and High Brow Entertainment, what were you doing as publisher that was in addition to then what you were doing before? As far as like your daily routine and the job and everything?

Erik Larsen:
Well I was going into the Image office for one. And I had a desk there and I was dealing with any correspondence that needed to be dealt with. I was approving books and trying to recruit other people to come on board and do stuff here and going through the submission heap and picking out creators to do things. A lot of what I was doing early on was fairly hands on in terms of books that existed at Image already to just go, “Okay well this book isn’t doing so well. Maybe you ought to consider doing a different logo. Have you tried this approach?” At one point I was doing some character designs for Noble Causes that he wanted some different looks for stuff and I was just doing drawings for characters from that. And coming up with logo ideas or coming up with suggesting different artists or finding different artists for people to work with on a number of different things.

Alex Grand:
Was it a fun job? Did you like it?

Erik Larsen:
It was a fun job and it was kind of fun to be in the office and to deal with other people. Because it’s like, doing comics can be like solitary confinement. It’s nice to suddenly be in a situation where you’re suddenly having to interact with other people. It’s like, “Oh, this is kind of neat.”

Alex Grand:
What city are the Image offices in?

Erik Larsen:
At that point the Image office moved from being in Southern California to being in Berkeley.

Alex Grand:
Okay so that’s close to you.

Erik Larsen:
And I at that point was living in Oakland, which is right next to Berkeley.

Alex Grand:
I see. There you go.

Erik Larsen:
So that became the new normal. I became a guy who went to work.

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome. As opposed to kind of doing the work at home all the time. Were you then doing also Savage Dragon at the Image offices too? Were you just combining it?

Erik Larsen:
I was but it was going really slowly. There was a couple years there that I ended up putting out just one or two issues a year, which was not what I wanted to be doing. Once the ship was somewhat righted and we were doing books that were doing better, eventually I got to a point where I was like, “All right I want to get back to doing comics.”

Alex Grand:
Yeah and that was in 2008 right? Where then, you were like, “Okay I’m ready to retire from this and do comics now.” Right?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah something like that. I don’t even know the years. But yeah. That came about and it was like, “All right. Let’s just call it a day.”

Alex Grand:
So now I’m going to go over some milestones after that, then Jim has a couple other last questions. In 2015, you worked on Spawn as a writer and penciler with Todd McFarlane co-writing. He inked the book. The collaboration went from issues 258 to 266 and ended in a Savage Dragon crossover right? How was working with Todd on a book like that together? Is he fun to work with? And when it works between Image creators like that then you’re basically working as a freelancer under his thing at that point right? Is that how that works?





Erik Larsen:
Yes. That was work for hire. Yeah I didn’t like it at all. Yeah that was kind of… If we’re ranking most miserable times doing comics, that’s going to be high up there.

Alex Grand:
Oh really? Why?

Erik Larsen:
Just because we had a very, very different sensibility as to how to do comics and ways, approaches to doing things. I think we were just kind of not seeing eye to eye on that in any respect.

Alex Grand:
That’s fascinating. Okay.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah and I just kind of… There would just be things where he’d decide he was going to move panels around from one page to another- I would write dialogue and then he would rewrite it. He had a tendency to repeat the same information over and over and over again and it was just like, “What are you doing man?” He kept wanting to slow this… Slow everything down. “No we’ve got to build up to this and take more time.” Todd inked digitally so I would actually send him… I sent him inked stuff. You could have printed what I was sending him. Then he would draw on top of it, sometimes using what I did. Sometimes straying somewhat. But it was fairly collaborative in that regard. But yeah, it was much more contentious in terms of the writing end of it. So I was sitting there just going, “Man. I hate everything about this.”

Alex Grand:
That’s funny.

Erik Larsen:
The books would come out and be like, “Man. I had in mind a much different comic than this.”

Alex Grand:
Yeah I guess flavor wise… Because Savage Dragon is more like… It’s action. There’s story. It comes at you at a pretty fast pace. And then I guess Spawn, it’s like more of a noirish thing right?

Erik Larsen:
And he is wanting to do something else. He wants to build up to stuff. I’m on Savage Dragon… The book’s set in real time so I’m sitting there going, “I’ve got to cover a lot of ground because I’m covering a month worth of stuff at any point.”

Alex Grand:
That’s interesting.

Erik Larsen:
A month is going by so I can’t have characters doing nothing this month. They’ve got to get somewhere. Whereas Todd is not in that same mindset at all. He’s doing something completely different.

Alex Grand:
That’s an interesting contrast there. Then in 2016, 2017 a couple things happened. Inkwell Awards, you got two Inkwell Awards for inking your own pencils. You also in 2017 saw the release of Savage Dragon 225, celebrating 25 years of the Dragon and Image Comics in an epic 100 page extravaganza. So when these things are happening it must be kind of gratifying right? To see the fruits of your labor over decades, people are celebrating it. How does it feel? Is it a positive feeling or is it kind of laced with some, “Well it wasn’t always easy.” What is it?

Erik Larsen:
I mean it’s all of the above. It’s never been easy. There’s never been a time when making comics has been like, “That was a snap. No problem.” You know? It’s always just this epic struggle of pushing the rock up the hill time after time after time. And it’s always like, “I’m amazed that I was able to somehow get this done. Now I got to do it again.” But like everything else, you don’t really sit there and think of it in terms of, “I’m going to sit down and write 200 issues. I’m going to sit there and draw 200 issues.” You kind of do it bit by bit and then suddenly over time you look at it and go, “Oh. This is this huge amount of stuff.” Had I come into this with the thought process of “I’m going to do 300 issues damn it,” that might be more than you could even conceive of. It’s so overwhelming because there’s so much of it. But when you’re just doing it, “Well I can do a page.” Or, “I’ll just do this page.” And suddenly 200 issues passes. “Oh okay. That’s how that happens.”

Alex Grand:
So then now it’s the year 2020 and you’ll have published 250 straight issues of Savage Dragon. I think it’s making it the longest running comic book character from a single writer artist right? Of all time?

Erik Larsen:
There’s probably a couple others in there. Dave Sim did an awful lot of-

Alex Grand:
Cerebus.

Erik Larsen:
Cerebus. So the 300 issue mark there was kind of one that Todd noticed and I noticed and was like, “We got to do 300 issues.”

Alex Grand:
We got to go 300 yeah. Savage Dragon as a character has grown. How much of you is in the character of Savage Dragon? Because I’ve heard some people say maybe that was like a imaginary friend, imaginary childhood friend of yours or something like that. Or it’s his id and his superego kind of maximized on a volume of a hundred. Would you say that you are Savage Dragon?

Erik Larsen:
Not so much. My quips don’t come as quickly as they do with him. Mine is like… He doesn’t have any hesitation whereas in real life I would be one of those guys who comes up with the clever retort on the drive home. You know? “Should have said…” But when you’re writing comics you’ve got time to think about that. You don’t need to have that split second. So there’s little pieces here and there where I’ll go, “That’s kind of something I would say or something I would do.” But not really. Not a whole lot. Mostly it’s, I’m just making up a dude.

Alex Grand:
All right, Jim go ahead on your thing and then we’ll wrap up.

Jim Thompson:
Okay before I get to your current work at Marvel I do have a form question in relation to Savage Dragon and everything that you do, which is, I kind of feel like you almost… That people should have to get like an equivalent to a drivers license before they’re allowed to do double page spreads. Because so many people don’t know how to do it. They just drive into the ditch or they abuse the process. And you’re really good at it. I mean I say that having looked at a lot. I remember that issue that you did that was nothing but double page spreads, which is really hard to do.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, I will attest to that.

Jim Thompson:
In your opinion what is the secret to doing a good double page spread? What does it need to have in order for it to be worth doing?

Erik Larsen:
Well that’s ultimately what it is, is it’s got to be worth doing. You’ve got to pick a moment which is visually compelling and visually interesting. And then you’ve got to fill that space wisely. You can’t just have it be a bunch of dead space, it’s got to have that moment where you go, “Wow cool.”

Jim Thompson:
Do you look for multiple dimensions? I mean does it have to have a foreground, a middle ground and a background?

Erik Larsen:
I mean ideally yes but you can do a double page spread that’s just a big face but you better have a good reason story wise for that. And it better be a nice looking face.

Alex Grand:
Right. That face better be good if it’s two pages.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. It’s like, if we’re pulled in on something, why are we pulled in on it? Why shouldn’t this be one of many panels on another page? Why is this worth the space that you have devoted to it? That’s what you do is you try to find the answer to that question.

Jim Thompson:
Did you look at other people’s work in terms of mastering that particular concept? Like looking at how Kirby did it or how Steranko did it or different people?

Erik Larsen:
Jack’s really good at it, Steranko is really good at it and then a few others are okay. Walt’s pretty good at it. And then it drops off from there because some people… Some people just can’t do it at all. It’s just a mess.

Jim Thompson:
I think Tim Sale knows how to do a double page spread. There’s a few people.





Erik Larsen:
Well you’re making good use of that space. I think that that’s it is you’re just… You’re not drawing a small panel bigger.

Jim Thompson:
That’s exactly right.

Erik Larsen:
You’re putting more information in there and that’s why it’s a double page spread. It’s a double page spread because it needs to be that.

Jim Thompson:
That’s great. That was the question I most wanted to ask you because I think you’re really good at it like I said. So now let’s go back to the current stuff you did. You’ve got a Captain America The End book coming out now, which has already caused… Segue into a-

Erik Larsen:
It’s just one issue. That’s all that is. It’s a one shot.

Jim Thompson:
But I want to segue that into what you think of social media as a creator because I saw the dumbest things posted about that because of the credits where it said created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. People were writing things like, “Well this is probably Larsen’s doing.” It’s like, “No. It’s not some plot by you.”

Erik Larsen:
No, well that’s the only page in the book that I had nothing to do with.

Jim Thompson:
Of course.

Erik Larsen:
I didn’t place the ads either. Sorry if that offended anybody.

Jim Thompson:
So do you ever get tired of fandom in terms of that kind of jumping to ridiculous conclusions?

Erik Larsen:
Sure. Yeah no I mean that’s… But what can you do? There’s a certain number of things that are within my power and there’s a bunch of things that aren’t. That’s one of them. And that ultimately, when there are things like that, that can lead back to, “I’m not doing this again. I’d prefer to be in a situation where I’m in control.” That always ends up whenever I stray, I always end up coming back to doing stuff at Image and going, “Thank God.”

Alex Grand:
Right back to the normal world. Yes.

Jim Thompson:
Is there some other stuff still to come from Marvel? You also did a Spider-Man something as well. Are there other things that are coming out from your Marvel assignment stuff?

Erik Larsen:
Nothing that’s been announced.

Jim Thompson:
Anything super exciting that we’re not going to hear about?

Erik Larsen:
I’m actually not sure at this point. I know that there was some talk on stuff. I’m not sure if I’m going to end up doing it just because of the way things are. I’m not pissed at anybody or anything like that but it’s just so much easier and more fun to do this shit on my own than it is to suddenly be working with other people in these other constraints. Some of it is just really basic stuff that are things that just drive me up the goddam wall. But I don’t even know that other people even notice. But it’s definitely things that I notice. It just drives me crazy.

Alex Grand:
Because you have something to compare it against right? Whereas a lot of these people, they don’t know any different.

Erik Larsen:
When I do this on my own, this turns out like this. When I do it with somebody else, this turns out like this. What the hell happened?

Alex Grand:
That’s right. When you have your own business and then if you were to like work in some big corporation where you’re kind of in that cog, you know… I totally get that.

Jim Thompson:
Last question. Do you have a finish date in mind? And do you have a last story for Savage Dragon?

Erik Larsen:
No. No and no.

Jim Thompson:
So you don’t know how it’s going to end.

Erik Larsen:
No.

Jim Thompson:
That’s awesome.

Erik Larsen:
Because it keeps changing. Characters keep getting older. Life keeps going on. It’s like I’ve got places where I want to get but it’s like… It’s kind of like life. You sit there and you go, “Well I know where I want to be in five years.” But you’re not necessarily sitting there going, “Well how’s my facial hair going to be at that point?” You don’t necessarily have all the little stuff figured out but you might have the broad things. Like, “I want to be married in five years. I’m going to work towards that because I’m getting old, damn it.” And so I think all of us have these kind of just little life goals and a lot of the characters have their life goals where they want to go and their places they want to be. But it’s like, how do I know that I don’t get sick two years from now and that I’m not sitting there going, “Well I’ve got to wrap it up now.”

Alex Grand:
Anything can happen.

Erik Larsen:
So my last issue is not going to be the last issue that my last issue would have been if I knew that there was going to be more time.

Alex Grand:
Right for sure. That’s interesting. That’s a good way… I mean that’s… Existentially that’s an interesting observation.

Jim Thompson:
Sort of the opposite of Dave Sim where he knew it was going to be 300 for a long time and it was always going to be 300.

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. I’d like to do more than 300. I’d like to be able to go… I want to do the kind of run where you just go, “All right maybe I’ll do the second longest run.” That sort of thing. Where you look at it and it’s just like, “What the hell? You did 500 issues. That’s insane. Who would sit down and do 500 issues?” But I don’t also want to set that out as a goal either because it’s like, if I’m sitting there three years from now going, “That’s it.” I want to be able to go. I want to be able to leave it at any point.

Alex Grand:
That makes sense and that’s more of a free way to do it.

Jim Thompson:
Alex that’s it for me.

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Alex Grand:
Okay good. Well Erik, we really enjoyed today’s podcast. Something I want to say is, there’s a thing about the comic book auteur, the writer artist, you have people like Kirby, you have Simonson, Chaykin and Byrne is a writer artist. For certain you’re in that category where you’re creating and writing and drawing and a true storyteller. It’s also the nut and bolts of running a business. I think you really bring an interesting west coast perspective on comics and I really like it because that’s kind of in my mind and comics as a fan, that’s where I came from. Jim and I are just really excited that you were able to spend some time with us today. Thank you so much.

Erik Larsen:
All right.

Jim Thompson:
For all the time. This was a long one. We really appreciate it.

Alex Grand:
So this has been another episode of Comic Book Historians with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson with a very special guest, Erik Larsen. Cheers Erik and excited for the next issue of Savage Dragon.

Erik Larsen:
As am I.
© 2020 Comic Book Historians