Erik Larsen on the Trial of Savage Dragon

Savage Dragon #185, coverWhile Savage Dragon is nominally the territory of Malcolm and Angel Dragon, the former lead character's kids, these days, it's Dragon himself who took center stage this month, standing trial for the crimes committed with his body while he was under the control of his original mind, Emperor Kurr.

While he's been able to explain that kind of thing away in the past, this time around we see a legal system that's a bit baffled as to what happened, how it happened and how it's possible that a being as powerful as Dragon could seemingly be letting it happen again and again. It's a tense and sometimes frustrating process to read the testimony in this expansive story that covers a lot of ground in a short time and--yes--ends with a verdict.

Spoilers ahead, obviously, for today's issue of Savage Dragon. If you haven't read it yet, why not go buy one and read along with Savage Dragon editor Gavin Higginbotham, who asked Erik Larsen this month's questions while yours truly was hobbled with minor injuries and not particularly efficient at the keyboard.

You've gone with a distinct panel layout this issue, giving you 200 panels of story. Was this done as a personal challenge? Or was it just a case that this was the best way to cram in a whole lot of story?

I knew going in that I wanted to use some kind of a regimented grid throughout. A monotonous grid seemed in line for the story, which was largely a trial. I had initially thought a six-panel grid throughout was the way to go but once I was well into it I saw that it wouldn't work out. A six panel grid still requires a certain amount of visual variety and this one required a lot fairly static shots, which in a six panel grid format would look even less interesting than it actually was. Also, a larger panel calls out for a background and in a trial that's a whole lot of the same thing again and again. By going with a nine panel box and a larger open panel I could get a bigger anchor panel and omit the mind numbingly repetitious backgrounds. The only real drawback was that it meant drawing a LOT more faces, which is challenging, and that there was less room in each panel for dialogue, which would need to be more choppy and succinct. Ultimately, the trade off was deemed worthwhile. But a LOT of pages ended up on the cutting room floor. I must have laid out an additional 12-14 pages that I couldn't use.

Savage Dragon #185, page 1Judging by Malcolm and Dragon's conversation, it doesn't appear that Dragon has been allowed many visitors since his arrest. Are the authorities paranoid he'll escape?

I would think they might be but really--there's an awful lot we don't see. He's talked to his attorney a lot and there's been a lot going on with everybody. Comics requires a certain shorthand to be effective and what that often means is consolidating information. Malcolm may well have visited him fifty times over that time but there's simply no space to show that and much of their conversation is irrelevant. What we saw in that single page is the highlights reel from those visits, which catch up both his dad and the reader. In every movie and story this kind of thing is necessary--if we saw and heard everything would slow to a crawl. A visit may take up a half hour. All of the dialogue might fill a half hour or a couple issues and that's not efficient storytelling. The writer has to boil it all down to the barest essence and try to imply that there's more to it than what we hear. A real trial, with all of the back story and behind the scenes conversations could literally fill another 185 issues. Nobody wants that. Cut to the chase. What do we need to know? What's important? Okay, let's hear THAT.

Flash Mercury and PowerHouse are coming together in an alliance. Both these guys have walked the line between hero and villain at various points in the series. It seems almost natural that they'd forge a working relationship.

They're also two characters that I created when I was a kid. Both were created in the summer between fourth and fifth grade. It seemed natural that they would be friends.

Savage Dragon #185, page 2As Malcolm's personal life is improving with MJ, Angel's seems to be falling apart: Frank and Tierra married with a kid on the way, living alone, no job lined up since graduation... With SuperPatriot offering her a role on the SOS, is Angel finally realising her dream of becoming a professional superhero? She's talked about it since she was a little kid all those years ago!

She's already been doing that to some extent, making a living as a bounty hunter, but I would think an offer like this might be pretty tempting. It would give her the chance to receive some real training and work in a more official capacity and after all she's been through emotionally--I would think the opportunity to get away from it all would be pretty tempting.

As for Frank and Tierra--I'm assuming parents on both sides will help them out  this early on. They're likely living with his or her parents until they can get it all sorted out.

Frank Jr and Tierra are married... Was their "relationship" always something you planned on? If not, how did this development come about?

There are a lot of things I do work out months and years in advance but this wasn't one of them. I just set the wheels in motion and let things unfold. When Frank had a conversation with Angel a few issues earlier about what the papers were saying about her and Malcolm and a possible tryst during the alien invasion it occurred to me that maybe he was more than simply sympathetic--maybe he was trying to make things easier if Angel ever found out what he had done during the alien invasion.

Savage Dragon #185, page 3The return of Alex Wilde and Chris Robinson! Back in issue 146, it seemed as though these guys had been written out of the book for good. At least the narration seemed quite final that they were gone. Presumably this wasn't the case? Or did you change your mind?

It's funny. When I wrote that scene years ago, I had assumed it was temporary. That caption wasn't intended to predict the future. But re-reading it I can see why readers heard what they did. There was a sense of finality to it. Still... even if he never sees Alex again--it doesn't mean we can't see her.

Holy crap! Dragon's guilty?! Did you always intend for Dragon to answer for Kurr's crimes? He's gotten off of a similar charge before but you're certainly not repeating yourself here!

At a certain point it all just becomes too much. You add up all of the carnage and dead bodies and all of the times he's caused both and it becomes overwhelming.