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Erik Larsen Interview, Comic Book Maker by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Erik J. Larsen is an American comic book artist, writer, and publisher. He currently acts as the chief financial officer of Image Comics. He gained attention in the early 1990s with his art on Spider-Man series for Marvel Comics.

Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview Erik Larsen in a biographical career spanning interview. Erik Larsen, Savage Dragon creator, and co-founder of Image Comics.

🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.

Erik Larsen Biographical Interview 2020 by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Erik Larson
00:00:30 Family background
00:03:05 Early reading: 1940s comics
00:06:00 Drawing comics, Speed Racer
00:07:27 Dad’s weird collection
00:10:18 The Barker (Quality)
00:12:24 Reading Superhero things
00:12:50 Drawing my own comics
00:15:15 When want to be comic book artist?
00:16:39 My early Jack Kirby stuff was…
00:18:43 Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane are big influencers
00:20:28 Creating Savage Dragon age 8
00:21:59 Graphic Fantasy: Childhood ideas
00:24:20 Ajax Comics: Fanzine
00:25:52 Catherine Yronwode
00:26:28 Charlton Bullseye Comics
00:27:44 Gary S. Carlson, Megaton Vol 1, 1983
00:28:56 Introducing Dragon issue 2
00:29:39 AC Comics Sentinels of Justice | Independent Comics
00:33:54 Eclipse for DNAgents | Jim Shooter
00:35:14 Marvel fanfare
00:38:28 Mark Evanier, Bill Willingham
00:39:42 Giant-Size Mini Comics no.4, 1986 | Paul Curtis
00:41:49 Renegade Press for Murder | Robin Snyder
00:43:51 Spider-Man 287 ~1987
00:45:50 Mike Gold | Teen Titans
00:47:28 Teen Titans, Nighthawk, Secret Origins
00:50:25 Secret Origins: Batman
00:50:53 Doom Patrol
00:53:58 Good Cover artist?
00:55:25 Hulk over Todd McFarlane’s layouts
00:56:18 The Punisher, 1989 | Mike Baron
00:57:44 Legion Of Superheroes, Black
00:59:29 Punisher, Excalibur, Spider-man | Terry Kavanagh
01:01:50 Thor vs Hulk inked by Vince Colletta, ~1987
01:03:45 Spider-man, Solo, Todd McFarlane
01:07:57 Amazing Spider-Man 329 | David Michelinie
01:11:09 Spider-Man, Ditko or Kirby’s influence?
01:12:27 Different Spider-Man villains
01:18:10 Captain Universe Spider-Man
01:20:04 Alan Moore, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane…
01:23:29 Self-taught from childhood
01:25:36 Amazing Spider-Man to Spider-Man ~1992
01:27:32 Was waiting to do Nova ~1992
01:30:10 Why so interested in Nova?
01:31:04 Image Comics | Jim Valentino, Rob Liefeld, Dave Albrecht
01:35:15 Famous Marvel Exec discussion
01:36:30 Starting Image Comics – Highbrow Entertainment
01:40:40 Separating from Malibu Comics
01:41:16 Your character in other comics
01:44:22 Savage Dragon comic book series
01:49:05 Marvel references
01:51:43 Larry Marder
01:54:55 Super Patriot, Mighty Man | Keith Giffen, Dave Johnson
02:00:04 Savage Dragon cartoon USA network ~1995
02:10:36 Steve Gerber on Howard the Duck ~1996
02:14:18 Destroyer Duck
02:16:00 Larry Marder left & Jim Valentino was Publisher ~1999
02:20:43 Rob Liefeld & Jim Lee leave Marvel
02:26:22 DC, Aquaman 1998 | Chris Eliopoulos
02:28:51 Work for Marvel versus DC?
02:33:20 Finally Nova at Marvel
02:34:59 Wolverine
02:36:00 Fantastic Four: Worlds Greatest
02:40:04 Spider-Woman, John Byrne jealous of Image Comics success
02:45:03 The Defenders Vol.2 No.9, Kurt Busiek
02:49:39 Becoming Publisher, Jim Valentino ~2004
02:52:50 Robert Kirkman | Corey Walker, Invincible
02:54:05 Duties as the Publisher
02:58:17 Spawn with Todd McFarlane ~2015
03:02:23 Inkwell Awards, Fruits of your labor over decades ~2016, 17
03:04:43 Savage Dragon 250, Longest running comic book character ~2020
03:05:20 Are you Savage Dragon?
03:06:43 Secret of double-page spread
03:10:12 Captain America The End
03:14:03 How Savage Dragon is going to end?
03:16:54 Wrapping Up

#ErikLarsen #SavageDragon #ImageComics #ComicHistorian #ComicBookHistorians
#CBHInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH

Transcript (editing in progress):

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yes.

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

Erik Larsen:
Oh, okay.

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

Erik Larsen:
Awesome.

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

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

Jim Thompson:
So he was a professor?

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
What field?

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

Erik Larsen:
… kind of all over the place.

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

Jim Thompson:
Now, were you an early reader?

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

Alex Grand:
Which comics were those?

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, wow.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Oh, sure.

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

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

Alex Grand:
I see.

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

Jim Thompson:
Oh, great.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
That’s really interesting.

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

Alex Grand:
Right.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Wow.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Wow.

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Oh, yeah, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
… the actual Beck stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Thompson:
Oh, that’s interesting.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
Which I think impacts your career.

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, wow.

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

Alex Grand:
I don’t know Barker.

Jim Thompson:
No.

Erik Larsen:
That was another Quality Comics, so-

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
That’s pretty cool.

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Right.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, Man-Thing.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Nope.

Alex Grand:
Okay.

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

Alex Grand:
I got you. Distribution.

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

Alex Grand:
That’s right.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
That’s awesome.

Jim Thompson:
And they were real characters-

Erik Larsen:
Oh, yeah.

Jim Thompson:
… from other comics?

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

Alex Grand:
Crossovers already.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Like the John Buscema Stan Lee Book

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

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

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

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

Jim Thompson:
Did you read The Losers?

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, that’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Those are the two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
A Dragon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh.

Erik Larsen:
… in my living room.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Wow.

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah

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

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

Alex Grand:
Sure.

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

Alex Grand:
Yes.

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. And you better start somewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
So you press forward and then-

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. He had a cameo on that

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Okay. I gotcha.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
I see.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Yes.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
That was the goal, yeah.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, okay.

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

Alex Grand:
a late fee.

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

Alex Grand:
Yes.

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

Alex Grand:
Yes. Right. I get it.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Yes.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Right.

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

Alex Grand:
Wow.

 

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

Alex Grand:
Sure.

Erik Larsen:
… at the time-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
That’s it.

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

Alex Grand:
Okay. There you go.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh.

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

Alex Grand:
I see.

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

Alex Grand:
And he’s close to me, so.

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yup.

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

Jim Thompson:
And the villain is Kingpin.

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

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

Jim Thompson:
That’s right.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
I know it’s terrible.

Jim Thompson:
You barely see Spider-Man.

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
Yes.

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

Erik Larsen:
He eventually got me Doom Patrol.

Alex Grand:
There you go.

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

Erik Larsen:
Like me.

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

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

Jim Thompson:
I’ve wondered about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Grand:
This is where it is, yes.

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Yeah, for sure.

Erik Larsen:
I sure needed it at that point.

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, it was? Okay.

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
I believe he had some deadline issues.

Alex Grand:
Okay.

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
… The Vertigo run

Alex Grand:
Yeah, Vertigo there you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Thompson:
Yeah, you could see it.

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah. Also, yeah.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah, I know it’s-

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

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

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

Erik Larsen:
Yeah.

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

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

Alex Grand:
Oh, Okay.

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

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

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

***********************************************

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.

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.”

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.

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.

*******************************************

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?

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.

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.

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.

 

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Interview © 2021 Comic Book Historians

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