Erik Larsen Talks Controversial Covers, Social Media and Shoots Straight
****Contains NSFW Content****
I think it’s easy to have artistic integrity when we’re young. We have this image of making an impact and setting things in motion to affect change. We get older, life doles out responsibility and suddenly are more concerned with appearances and others thoughts on us. Our artistic integrity is pushed aside by the fear of risk, being judged and ultimately, failing.
Nothing could be further than the truth with Erik Larsen. He’s an industry legend, a founder of Image Comics and creator of Savage Dragon, an entirely creator owned and executed series spanning 225 issues (not counting external appearances). Through all of this, Erik has demonstrated the utmost in integrity and is unapologetically himself. Anyone that’s followed his work knows this.
Getting to interview him was mind blowing for me honestly. His impact continues to be so large on the industry. Because Larsen is who he is though, I don’t need to say anything more, he answers all of my questions without holding anything back in our interview and will speak his own thoughts below.
Is Image what you hoped it would become?
To a degree. There’s an aspect that really isn’t there much that used to be there—the whole shared playground that was in place when the company started that I miss but the rest is pretty ideal. For generations the complaint was a lack of diversity in comics and that’s no longer there. There are comics for every reader now and that’s fantastic.
In terms of direction, do you have any hopes moving forward for yourself or Image?
The hope is for good books to continually materialize and for the company to flourish. In regard to myself—I just want to be able to keep going until I reach a point where I’ve said my piece. If I’m stopping at any point I’d like it to be because I wanted to not because I had no other choice.
Do you think its creation helped inspire other Indie comics to branch out and take the plunge?
I think to some degree, yes. But creators with stories to tell seems to find a way to tell those stories. Certainly the fact that the market is more accepting of new and different things make creators consider other possibilities. There was a time creators were asking themselves “How can I tell my story with superheroes?” and now it’s simply, “How can I tell my story?”
If there was one superhero you could have be real, who would it be and why?
Might makes right works fine in a comic book but not in a real world. As much as I’d like to see a Superman from 1938 or a Wonder Woman from 1941 come to life and dish out some justice—that doesn’t really work.
How do you feel that a company you helped create has lived this long and grown to this level?
I feel pretty good about it. There were certainly a lot of naysayers going into this, from comic book critics predicting our doom to comic book creators who wouldn’t take a leap of faith and stayed at their “safe” jobs.
The variant covers for Image’s 25 Anniversary (Congratulations!) feel like a combination of celebration of artistic freedom and pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, was that the intent?
I can’t speak for that. I don’t know anybody’s motivation for doing anything. I can only speak for myself and most of these I have not participated in.
Did you see Savage Dragon ever going in the direction that it has?
It was set out to be, from the offset, a superhero book that bridged the divide between Marvel Comics and Vertigo, set in real time, and it’s stayed true to form. The thought from the start was to have characters grow, change, age, die, and evolve. So, really—it’s all going to plan. Nobody sits down and plots out 25 years’ worth of stories but the general broad strokes were there.
You’re approaching longest running creator-owned territory at this point, and all of the fans I know- many are in their mid 30s- have been following Savage Dragon since the beginning. That means most of their lives have had this creation of yours as a large part of it. How does it feel to know that something you birthed has impacted generations?
Good. I like having built up a kind of trust with my readership. I like that things in my book can have gravity. That characters can die and that readers don’t assume that they’ll be back. Actions have consequences and a real advantage I have, as a creator, is that there’s nobody above me dictating that I have to do things a certain way. Think of all of the major changes at Marvel and DC that have been undone over the years.
There’s no sense that anything will stick at Marvel or DC. There’s no sense of danger anymore. Fans used to use the term “Bucky dead” for characters that were really, truly, permanently dead but now Bucky is alive and well. That’s not the case in Savage Dragon. Readers know that changes are real and permanent and that there is no status quo that it’ll all revert to.
What do you get as a creator from it?
I couldn’t tell you. In a way that’s undefinable.
Is there anything you can tell Dragon fans about his future or direction that you’re willing to share?
I don’t know that anything I could say would be a surprise to readers. The goal is to create a generational book where characters grow old and die or simply pass the reins to the next generation. At this point, I would hope that I have created a book where any single character could be removed and the book could continue without their presence. I like that. I like having it play out as real lives play out. Where anything can happen and consequences are lasting. To that end—there will be huge, sweeping changes—always.
If you could Crosswinds (switch bodies) with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
Donald Trump so I could give a full confession as to how the election was stolen, implicate the others and resign in disgrace.
How does it feel to be the guy that can put a XXX cover together and have it be big news and right out front? Not many creators can say they’ve done that as even with growth in the comic book industry, that’s definitely not commonplace.
News is, by nature, what happens which is unusual or noteworthy in some way. Because this is somewhat uncharted territory it’s news. Will this blip translate to actual sales remains to be seen.
To speak frankly, the Savage Dragon cover pushes so many boundaries with its overt sexuality and with Divided States of Hysteria #2 just having been pressured to change for its controversial cover art do you have any concerns about media outcry regarding a cover orgy? (It’s super fun to get to ask a formal question and end it with “cover orgy” by the way)
It’s a book that comes bagged and boarded and it’s one of four variants. There are options here. Divided States of Hysteria #2 is controversial for something else entirely. But the bottom line in any of this should be: buy the books you want to buy—don’t buy the books you don’t want to buy. You have choices. We all have choices. Nobody is being forced to do anything against their will.
Was there any making of a point in that cover or was it solely for your own (and our) entertainment?
It made me laugh. The thought of somebody used to the humorous and lighthearted NSFW covers taking this out of the bag and their jaw hitting the floor amuses me.
Have you ever gotten any truly ridiculous complaints on creations through social media?
Not that I can remember.
Do you think Social Media has primarily helped or hurt the industry for creator-owned comics?
It’s a mixed bag. It’s certainly helped some who are canny enough to make it work for them and it’s hurt others. Getting to know creators is a double-edged sword. If you find out that somebody whose work is loved is not a good person—that can color their work. At the same time, there are people that follow creators because they like their online presence. It can go either way. Once you express any kind of an opinion there will be those that agree and those that disagree. In many ways, for a lot of creators, the bond was stronger before we knew everything about everybody.