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Savage Statements with Erik Larsen

By Austin English

The Savage Industry

Austin English: One of the things I've encountered about Dragon is, I'll talk to people, and they'll say, "Oh, I don't read Dragon" and they classify it as just another mainstream hero comic book. Because I like Fanatagrphics and Drawn and Quarterly as much as the next guy, but how do you respond to that Comics Journal snootiness?

Erik Larsen: Fuck you! (Laughs)

Austin English: That's perfect.

Erik Larsen: There's really not much you can say. If you like something you like it, if you don't you don't. I mean we get into this really weird thing in comics, where people go "I only like Fantagraphics, I only like Vertigo books. I don't like Image comics." I mean it gets to this thing like "I don't want to read that. That's an Image comic. I won't read that. I'm snooty." Who in their right mind, would ever go "Oh, I can't read that book--that's a book from Simon and Shuster."

Austin English: Right-- "I only watch Warner Bros. Movies"--

Erik Larsen: You don't say you want to see a Paramount movie-- you don't even think about it. Good cast, good story, and it interests me, and I'm there. But in comics, you get this real weird clique thing. And it goes to the retailers too, where they're being snooty and self-serving. I mean you go to some of these stores and-- I mean, can you imagine a grocer, gets tomatoes, supplies tomatoes, has a vegetable shelf full of tomatoes, actively telling people when they come in, "Oh you don't want that. You want peaches. Peaches are far superior to tomatoes." But in comics you get that all the time. You have retailers who have bought Image comics. They've got a bunch of Image comics. They're trying to sell Image comics. Yet they're telling people "Oh, you don't want to buy Image comics." And they're cutting their own throats, and then wondering why they're going out of business.

Austin English: Well, I'm sure that's one of many contributing factors to retailers going out of business.

Erik Larsen: There's a hell of a lot more to it then that. There's the mentality that "We have to order some of everything. We've gotta have everything on our shelves, and we've got to service everyone, with everything." I mean, that hurts people too, because it's hard to be a full service store that can take care of everybody's needs on every front. That's a tall order. You look in the catalogs and there's 500, 600 comic books. There's some cases-- y'know there's 600 comics out this month? How could one store possibly go "I'm gonna order 600 comic books. I got 600 comics, and I'm gonna order one of each." They can't do it.

Austin English: Right, there really is a lot. I was talking to Jeff Nicholson (Colonia, Through the Habitrails), and I was asking him about whether or not he felt there was a need for more programs like the Xeric grant, which provides money to young cartoonists. And he said "Well, I see my book in the back of Previews and it's surrounded by so much-- I just don't think more help like that is needed, because if one person gets it, everyone will want it. And there's so much stuff out, that it's almost an unsolvable problem."

Erik Larsen: The only solution is for somebody to be making a decision, and everyone's gonna bitch about that too. It should be where diamond says, "If you sell less then 1,000 copies, were not gonna carry you." That will get rid of a lot of people. And it'll also piss off a lot of people, cause someone will go "Well, my favorite comic only sells 900 copies." And--it's just kind of an unmanageable thing. I don't know that there is a solution.

Austin English: Well, you've had some experience with canceling a great book, with Freak Force. What is it like to have to cancel a book that people love?

Erik Larsen: It's-- it's a pain in the ass. And I cancel books that I created, that I nurtured, that I hired everybody to do the jobs on, and it's a frustrating thing to not have that work out. But there's-- I don't know what the solution is, other then me going in the hawk, to keep this stuff going, which some people have suggested I do. And it's like-- that's insane. I mean, yeah, I love comics, but, I'm not gonna take my house payments and pour them down the drain in order to keep the few hundred people who are really into that book to keep reading it. It's unmanageable. You can't keep doing it.

Austin English: But you really do make an effort--

Erik Larsen: Yeah, and I don't think people really understand that, on the course of 4 issues on the last Superpatriot mini series, I probably lost $2,000. When I did Freak Force as a miniseries, I lost several thousand dollars doing it. But it was a story I wanted to tell. There's a Mighty Man mini series that may get drawn by Gill Kane, or may not. He's had it in his possession now for--

Austin English: For years! I've been hearing about that one for years.

Erik Larsen: I mean he may draw it or he may not. He may never get to it. But, there's no rush, because that books gonna loose a ton of money when it comes out.

Austin English: But beyond just your own books, you publish other books like "A Distant Soil", and others.

Erik Larsen: But those aren't my financial responsibilities. I'm not paying those people or anything. It's all back end stuff.

Austin English: Well what role do you actually have in those books coming out?

Erik Larsen: Nothing. There's no participation on my part at all. I just put those books on. And some of my Image partners are like "You're an idiot, for putting on these books, and not taking anything from them." But I look at it as, I'm not doing any work on the books themselves. The people who are doing them are responsible human beings, and they're good books and I think Image comics should be publishing good comics. I don't see anything wrong with image publishing good work.

Austin English: Now that we're sort of back on the subject of Image, could you talk a little bit about what's going on with image, with so many people leaving? Could you talk a little about what you see Image's role is in today's industry?

Erik Larsen: I don't know that I have a good answer for that one. Everyone has a different idea of what they want to get out of this stuff. Some people's goal is, they just wanna get a bunch of cash. That was never why I got into this. I was always in this-- the only reason I wanted to do Image comics was that nobody would fuck with me. I mean that was it. That was the whole thing. I mean I could do my own characters, I could own my own character, which was important because, I didn't want to be in a situation, that so many other people have been in, where suddenly your going, I created something, and I like what I created, and now I don't own it. And, somebody else can do my creation. It occurred to me the other day just sitting there writing an introduction to Nova. Nova was created by Marv Wolfman when he was a kid. And now I am drawing a comic that Marv Wolman created when he was a kid. And-- and I mean there's something wrong about that! Why the hell am I doing somebody else's character that they created. But, to me it was always like, "This is a marvel comics character-- cool. I get to do this character, I've always loved this character. Great." But-- I don't know that this is a character that he's super passionate about or whatever.

Austin English: Speaking of Wolfman and his characters, he's pretty pissed off about The Blade movie lately.

Erik Larsen: I can see that if you're Marv Wolfman saying, "Hey, Marvel how come you didn't ask me to do Nova?" the answer might very well be "Cause you're suing us!" (Laughs). The only answer to this whole thing would be, "Well, I guess I'm not going to do that book."

But then, Marv's characters were created for Marvel Comics, and he knew going into it "Hey, I'm creating something that I don't own, and I'll never be able to own it." And you've got to keep in mind, when you're creating something for Marvel Comics, or anyone else, you don't get to have that anymore.

Yeah, I think it was really cool that Frank miller created Elektra, and that he did cool stories with Elektra, and then he killed Elektra. And they (Marvel) were saying at that time "Well, this is your character, we're gonna let you play this story out, and do what you wanna do." But--he had to know, he didn't own it. He gave that ownership to somebody else, and that those people-- can get Mike Dedato to draw an Elektra series and resurrect that character. And he can't say a damn thing about it. He can't do a damn thing about it.

Austin English: So you see creating character for Marvel as a contract where you have to understand, you're not gonna have it forever, and you have to know that going in.

Erik Larsen: Yeah. You absolutely have to know that going in. If you think that any of those hand shake agreements are gonna be honored, you're a fool, because there not. But there's nothing wrong with creating something for somebody else to own.

Austin English: As long as you don't see anything wrong with it.

Erik Larsen: Yeah. I mean, I've created stuff for Marvel Comics, I'm going to be creating stuff for Marvel Comics. But I know going into it that this is something that I don't own, that I won't be able to use in Image Comics. And that's just the breaks, y'know. I mean generally, the kind of stuff I come up with, I try to use Marvel's characters, because there's quite a few which I can play around with, that are very under utilized. And I don't know that Marvel want's a huge amount of repetition. They don't want to have ten Elektros, because everybody will say, "I wanna use Elektro", and then the editor say, "No you can't", so they say, "Alright, I'll come up with my own Elektro." Marvels actually been pretty good about saying "Were gonna have one Elektro, and this is how it goes."

Austin English: What advice would you give to someone that is creating his or her own little universe of characters, and does eventually want to have those characters published?

Erik Larsen: Don't give anything you wanna keep. That's the best advice I can give anybody. In terms of how to get into the business, just learn your shit. Learn how to draw and draw it well. I mean people ask, "Well, how do I break into the industry?" And there's really no magic solution, but somebody with enough initiative or whatever to break in, has to have enough to stay in. You actually have to have a fair amount of talent to keep going, because people won't hire you if you do bad work. At least they won't hire you too often, unless you're really really nice. And they're a few of those out there where people go "Well, this guys so nice and he's so bad and awful, but he gets the job done." But generally to get in and stay in, you have to have a fair amount of talent.

In terms of doing stories with your own characters and owning it all, I would say, don't rush it. Don't get so hung up into "I've gotta get this printed today", that you miss the big picture. I think what people do, is that they go with the first people that let them do that, and then they'll find that, "Oh, I'm telling my story to an audience of four people. I didn't go out and build myself an audience doing something else."

I think it was real helpful of the Image guys to do stuff for Marvel and DC. It's like we had that audience, which came along for the ride, when we did our own stuff. Had we just decided to do our own characters right out of the gate, and not do Marvel Comics and all this other stuff, I don't think that audience would have been there, especially for superhero kind of stuff.

I don't see superhero comics coming out of other companies, and being drawn by unknowns, that make it. That just doesn't happen real often.

Austin English: Unknowns usually do more alternative kind of stuff.

Erik Larsen: Every now and then, somebody will decide, "Hey, I'm gonna do my own superhero stuff". Almost invariably it fails.

Austin English: Because there's no shortage of heroes in today's market. Why make more (laughs)?

Erik Larsen: But why would I want to buy a superhero comic from amateur guy, when I've got professional slick Marvel comics right here? I don't want this nonsense.

Austin English: Who besides Bob Finngerman do you really respect today?

Erik Larsen: Lot's of guys, I respect, and can say, clearly, this person has talent-- but it's not my cup of tea. I think Colleen Doran ("A Distant Soil") is a sweetheart. To look at her book, I think it's really nice. I think it's pretty. But I don't read it. I've never read it. And she knows it, that I've never read it. But, a number of people have said to me that they like her work and they like the book. So I go, these are people who's opinions I respect, clearly this is a good book, and so the people that like this sort of thing, tune in! And I can admire her for that. My opinion doesn't necessarily translate to everybody. I know that.

And people should be aware of that themselves. Just because you don't happen to like TSD, doesn't mean that TSD is a bad book. It's just-- not your taste. And that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that.

I think that-- since we're at a point where these things are being sold based on people's personalities, more then the work itself that gets to be weird too. Some people will say: "Y'know, I don't like John Byrne's comics." Well, what don't you like about them? "I just-- well, he's such a jerk." And that has nothing to do with his work at all. That has to do with the guy. What is it about his work that you don't like? A lot of the time, somebody doesn't necessarily have something bad to say about the work, it's just that the creator himself has rubbed somebody along the way, the wrong way.

And I've had people say that about me. A lot. "I don't want to read your stuff-- for whatever reason. You printed a letter from Peter David in one of your issues, and ripped him a new a-hole. So therefore you're a jerk, because I like Peter David's stuff. " What's that gotta do with how I wrote Nova? How does that translate into me doing a good-- or poor job on Nova. Nothing. Nothing at all.

Austin English: So you believe in separating the artist from the art.

Erik Larsen: Really, I mean, in the olden days, we didn't get to see these guys' personalities. I mean it turns out that Jack Kirby's a real sweetheart. But as kids, reading this stuff, we didn't know that. We didn't have a glimpse into Steve Ditko's personal life, or what he was all about, to say-- "Jeez, this guy-- I don't know. He's kind of got a questionable belief system here. I don't know if I should be reading his comic." Where do you get that?

But now there's this situation where there's too much information I think. People are exposed a little too much, and your basing your opinions not on their work, but on things that they may have said, or may not have said. And that gets a little weird too.

Austin English: I think now, a lot of alternative people depend on their personality to sell their books.

Erik Larsen: There's some stuff, where you can look at the work and go, "Clearly this guy has sold himself." Bill Tucci has sold himself. Because his work is wretched. There's no two ways around it: the guy can barely hold a pencil. He doesn't know anatomy for shit, his storytelling is rotten, the stuff is empty, there's no background, nothing going on. It's terrible work. By anybody's definition, this is wretched artwork. But he's managed to sell himself, he's managed to sell his personality. He's managed to sell people on a lot of stuff.

I mean, it's amazing. There are people I look at in the industry, where I go: "This isn't even good. This is terrible stuff." But, again, my opinion is not shared by everybody. My definition of what's terrible, is not necessarily what anybody else's definition is. I look at Carlos Puchenko's stuff, and I go, this guy can draw circles around George Perez. I mean he's ten times the artist George Perez is. But how is that reflected in the sales of Avengers and Avengers Forever? Avengers sells better. And it's like "Well, how come? They're written by the same guy, but the only difference is, they're drawn by two different artists. One of them-- George puts in a lot of crap in his stuff, it's not necessarily well drawn crap it's just a lot of stuff. And the same thing with Todd (McFarlene). Todd put's a lot of stuff into his work. It's not well drawn. But there's a lot of it there. There's detail.

And our audience is relatively unsophisticated, looking at this stuff going, "Wow, look at all the detail that George Perez put in here." I'm like, y'know, your not seeing that elbow doesn't belong there, or that George hasn't figured out that veins go over muscles and not under them, and that teeth really shouldn't have rendering on them, because they look horrible. Your just buying into "Oh man-- I can't believe it. He's the greatest artist ever, because he puts a bunch of crap into every page."

Austin English: Right. Your average third grade Spawn fan will not say, "Well, I like Todd's work, but he's not as good a draftsman as Chris Ware is."

Erik Larsen: And there are other parts of stuff too, where you look at it and say, "Well certainly, in terms of being a pure draftsman, Jack Kirby is nowhere near the draftsman that John Buscema is. But, Jack is bringing a passion to the work that John never had. John never had that kind of stuff that was going on that was so cool, and so explosive. So then it becomes, "Well, Jack Kirby draws knee's that look like basketballs. How come he's a great artist, and Bill Tucci sucks? How do you quantify that? How do you qualify that? How do you make those things make sense in your own mind, Mr. Larsen?" Uhh--cause I don't think that Bill's bringing us anything on any level, I guess is what I would say.

But there's more things to it then that. I'm certainly not the artist that Marc Silvestri is. Marc can draw circles around me. But, I'm bringing something else to the work that is cool. The storytelling aspects of it, the power that's in the work itself, in terms of composition and layout. All the other parts that go into a comic book.

These kinds of conversations can go around in circles, as to what's good and what's not good, and it's very subjective too.

Austin English: Well, I think we've already done quite a few circles. Moving on-- whom do you think your readers are?

Erik Larsen: Generally what I think-- from what I can tell, (in terms of TSD), are those who have graduated from Marvel Comics, but still are really into superheroes. Generally, they are, they've moved beyond what Marvel is, and they want something that's got a little more sophistication to it, got a little more mature elements, but is still fun to read. Because I still really love superhero comics. And I think that's the niche that dragon fills.

It's sort of the stepping stone between Marvel Comics and Vertigo. It still has enough trappings of Marvel Comics, that you can, as a young reader or whatever get into it.

I think there are people who read both Marvel Comics and Savage Dragon. And that's fine too.

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