The Erik Larsen Interview
Erik Larsen is a comic book writer, artist and publisher. He worked for Marvel and DC Comics through the 1980’s and early 1990’s before being part of a group of creators to break away from the “big two” and found Image Comics. Larsen continues to write and illustrate “Savage Dragon” for Image Comics. Geek Genie caught up with Larsen to talk heroes, movies and the future of comics.
GG: What are your earliest memories of comic books and how did you get into them? Which titles did you collect?
EL: I grew up with comics. My dad had collected them when he was a kid, so they were always there. Before I started buying anything myself – – there were always his books, which included nearly everything from EC Comics, Captain Marvel Adventures, Uncle Scrooge, Boy Commandos and many more. As kids we read those things until they were rags. My dad later gifted them to me years later and there were nearly 700 books which survived our beating. When I started collecting them myself, the first book I started collecting regularly was the Incredible Hulk. But shortly thereafter I started buying nearly the entire Marvel line and a smattering of DC books. At that point Jack Kirby was at DC working on books like the Demon and Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth. That’s where I got introduced to his work again. I’d seen it before on Boy Commandos but I’m didn’t quite make the connection until years later.
GG: Do you still get time to read comics? if so which ones? Do you have a big collection and do you still hunt for back issues to complete?
EL: Not so much. I get the bundles of Image Comics and page through and keep about half of them and I still go to the comic store once a week but honestly I don’t come home with much. DC lost me with the new 52. At this point I’m just following Superman because of John Romita Jr. and at Marvel I’ll follow artists from book to book. Mostly Chris Bachello and Humberto Ramos. I’ll thumb through a few books but nothing floats my boat writing-wise. I’m no longer invested in those characters and the constant re-numbering has made it very easy to drop books. A great jumping off point for old readers. I read Southern Bas***d and Invincible and the Walking Dead. I’ll buy Hellboy when I see it.
In terms of the old stuff – – my house burned down in ’91, which eliminated everything that I had accumulated over the years, including my dad’s comics and all of the crude self-made Savage Dragon comics that I wrote and drew as a kid. I’ve re-purchased a lot of books but there were many, many titles that I didn’t bother to fill in, which I used to have. I bought pretty much everything Kirby did and all of the Trimpe Incredible Hulk comics, and I bought runs by various artists on various titles. A lot of trades. For a while, when the Next Issue Project books were and ongoing concern I would buy a lot of obscure public domain comic books but that’s pretty much dried up. My interest waned when it became obvious that there wasn’t enough support to keep that title going.
GG: Did you always believe your future lay in comics?
EL: Yeah. I pretty much put all of my eggs in one basket. There was no other goal which I pursued. It was draw comics or live on the street.
GG: Which artists/writers did you take inspiration from growing up and why?
EL: Jack Kirby was the big one. Big ideas, huge scope, incredible power and inventive, imaginative characters. Others taught me things on a storytelling or artistic level–Herb Trimpe, Walt Simonson, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, John. Byrne, Steve Ditko, Alex Toth and all the rest but Jack is the biggest influence.
GG: What was your first job in comics?
EL: Megaton #1. A small independent superhero comic book. That was the book which introduced the character Vanguard, which I co-created with Gary Carlson.
GG: When did you first get the idea for Savage Dragon and was it pitched to Marvel or DC etc?
EL: I created Savage Dragon is a little kid. He was kind of an amalgam of Batman, Speed Racer, and Captain Kirk. In terms of Marvel and DC, no. I always knew what the deal was with them – – that they would own whatever they published, so I had zero interest in them taking control of my character.
GG: You’ll always be associated with the founding of Image Comics. Do creators today appreciate the impact you and your colleagues had on their rights and opportunities?
EL: I think so, for the most part. I get a lot of guys coming up to me and thanking me for forming Image Comics. I’m certainly glad we made that decision. It’s worked out rather well.
GG: Did you always believe that Image Comics would work? Were there any times before you made the jump that you had second thoughts about leaving a giant like Marvel?
EL: We didn’t know for sure. Plenty of comic book companies have come and gone over the years. And certainly things like this where there are a number of people all working together it can present problems. There can be personality conflicts. Luckily we’ve weathered that.
GG: The comics industry has seen a lot of tough times since the advent of Image Comics. Speculator crashes, Marvel bankruptcy followed by a degree of stability. Sales are not (and will probably never be) near the level seen in the 1980’s and 90’s and yet the visibility of many characters through licensing has probably never been greater. What’s your take on the overall health of the comics industry?
EL: There are more books than ever and they cover a wider variety than in generations. Increasingly these books are aimed at a more diverse audience as well. The challenge is, as it’s been for decades, getting those comics into the hands of the audience who would appreciate them. Digital helps, yes, but that presupposes that people are into comics and actively looking for them, it doesn’t really provide that spontaneous impulse
purchase from a casual person whose eye is caught. Having appealing books in places where people can stumble upon them is key. Getting that gateway drug into receptive hands is essential. Otherwise we’re pandering to an ever-aging, ever-shrinking market of jaded veteran readers. Marvel and DC seem content to do that but it’s detrimental in the long run and we’re all being punished for their folly. Happily, there are others willing to explore new possibilities and find new avenues.
GG: Marvel has led the way in bringing their universe to the big screen with DC ramping up their response. Has this been a positive thing for the comics industry as a whole?
EL: It’s a non-issue. It doesn’t seem to impact sales for the most part, with few exceptions.
GG: Are there any plans to use Savage Dragon on the big, or small, screen?
EL: Not at this point. It’s not really a dream that I chase. If it happens it happens but I’m not inclined to put a lot of time into selling it. I’d rather just do comics.
GG: How has the comics fan base changed from when you were starting out? if so, how?
EL: It’s just gotten progressively older. There was a period where it really expanded in the late ’80s, early ’90s–we’d see a ton of kids at shows–just an amazing number of young readers–but they weren’t around long.
GG: Does the comics industry have a future?
EL: I think so. It’ll evolve and that’s to be expected but it’ll be there.
GG: Finally are there any projects that fans should keep an eye out for from your studio?
EL: Just Savage Dragon for the time being!