Erik Larsen Talks The Dense, Ambitious Savage Dragon #245

Toronto is haunted by a dead man, and Malcolm Dragon is the only one who can stop him -- if he even wants to, once he finds out what The Chained Man is fighting for. That's not a bad setup for a one-and-done issue of a superhero comic, but it's worth noting that this week's Savage Dragon #245 may be one-and-done, but it reads more like an oversized special. That's because creator Erik Larsen used the issue as one of his semi-regular "experimental" pieces, and drew almost every page as a 12-panel grid. The result was a ton of drawings, which mean a ton of stuff happening.

In addition to The Chained Man, the issue introduced the character of the Bay Guardian, a San Francisco-based superhero whose identity is tied to the city, complete with a Golden Gate Bridge logo on his chest and a gay pride flag for a cape. That's a character we may be seeing more of later -- although Larsen says it will likely be a while, since the book is taking place in Canada for the foreseeable future.

Larsen joined ComicBook.com to discuss the issue, which is out today. There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven't read it yet, mosey on down to your local comics shop or pick up a digital copy on ComiXology and follow along with us.

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(Photo: Image Comics/Erik Larsen)

How do you decide when you’re going to do an experimental issue like this one?

There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes an idea occurs and I can’t shake it loose and sometimes not. In almost every case it’s a lot more work to experiment than not. It never seems to save me any time.

Is part of what is going on with both the Angel and Maxine storylines here a desire to explore how complicated sexuality can be, especially when not every decision you’ve made in the past was well-considered?

It’s complicated and it’s strange to never have there be an end to anything (other than death). I was thinking about that just the other day, with any kind of finite story, the end is the end. It’s all over. But in Savage Dragon it never ends. There’s always another issue. Every time something feels like an ending the next issue rolls around and I have to keep going with whatever I’ve set in motion. There is a lot to consider and a lot to play with but there’s no ultimate destination—no end in sight.

There was a real sense of finality with #240 for example, and it just felt like Malcolm and Maxine were going to be distant from that moment forth but it’s not that simple. Their lives go on and wounds heal. But that puts a lie to things I think are over and done with. Things can go in any number of directions and none of those are necessarily where things end up because there is no end in sight. In many ways it’s just like the real world. The only real ending is death. There’s a lot more to be said in regard to them both.

The NBA Finals feels like it’s pulling double duty here: it’s giving the reader a sense of time relative to other issues and also touching down on an important thing that happened in Toronto. But I feel like we’re missing an important component, which is that once Malcolm took over for his old man, the Cubs AND the Raptors won while he was in town. Is this a new power?

What an awesome power that would be! In both cases it seemed like events I should acknowledge. Both were huge for their respective cities and it was nice to celebrate them both in a small way.

It’s also been fun to use actual locations at times. The bar Malcolm and Maxine are in is an actual Toronto bar where the game was watched by the patrons as the celebration spilled into the streets. A couple guys on Twitter even took location shots for me. It was awesome to have that kind of help. I didn’t end up using a tenth of what I was sent but what I did use was extremely helpful in terms of getting it right. It’s a happy circumstance that these two events occurred in these respective cities.

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(Photo: Image Comics/Erik Larsen)

In terms of products and signage, when do you go for lifting the actual thing versus drawing it or making up a stand-in? The Rice-A-Roni caught my eye, but the sign for the bar looked “real” too.

If I can reasonably reproduce something by hand—I’ll do that. Malcolm’s Raptors jersey, for example, I could draw convincingly. Maxine’s shirt—would have looked pretty funky had I attempted to draw it. Same with the Rice-A-Roni boxes and the Loose Moose sign. Had I attempted to draw those they would look kind of crappy and the joke would be lost.

I’ll draw the other components—the buildings and whatnot—but signage seems like a good idea. I’ll occasionally use a photograph of a building as well. I’ll usually draw on top of it to transform it a bit and make it feel like it belongs in the same world but it’s nice to have something seem authentic and I’ve done that a lot more for Toronto locations than I ever did for Chicago ones. For the most part, my Chicago was made up. But for Toronto I felt I should get it right. I did the same for San Francisco here as well. That shot with the Bay Guardian is a shot down California street and it’s largely based on a photograph. I wanted it to feel like the city to a degree.

You had shared the Bay Guardian designs on social media before the issue hit. Is that a character we might see more of down the line?

Quite possibly. It’s going to be a while until Malcolm and family can set foot in the United States but once he can it’s likely that I’ll have him explore some cities he’s never been to and San Francisco would be a slam dunk since I live there. He’s a character I took great care in designing. His costume has components from the San Francisco city flag as well as a gay pride flag cape and a simplified Golden Gate Bridge chest emblem. I do like the design quite a bit so it’s not unlikely that he’ll appear again down the road a bit.

I like Maxine’s Sex Bob Omb shirt. Does that imply they actually exist as a Toronto band in this universe, or she’s just a fan of Scott Pilgrim?

I’m going with they exist as comics and a movie, just as they do in our world—not that they really exist as people in their world. Malcolm and Maxine have made an effort to embrace all things Canada and that means local teams and local places and local characters. In an earlier issue Malcolm wore a Corner Gas shirt, which is a beloved Canadian TV show. In this case Maxine’s wearing a Scott Pilgrim shirt (which exists in the real world — it doesn’t exist in the movie or comic book). Which is not to say that they can’t exist as characters too — Malcolm’s own comic book exists in the pages of his comic book, after all — but for now, the idea is that it’s based on the comics and the movie.

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(Photo: Image Comics/Erik Larsen)

That said, everybody being worried for Malcolm’s safety in this issue feels ominous. Or is that just because Chained Man was a new threat and they didn’t know what to expect?

I think there’s good reason to fear for Malcolm’s safety. Malcolm’s dad died and there’s no reason to think that he’s immune. Maxine is legitimately concerned that Malcolm could be killed, and given that Madeline is capable of electrocuting her, she would be in a tough position if Malcolm was killed or incapacitated. Plus, I wouldn’t put it past me. But the Chained Man was killing people along the way, so he was doing legitimate harm, and that heightened her concern.

You cover a lot of ground in this issue, but also skip some of the stuff that isn’t strictly necessary, like the process of finding out who the third suspect in the murder was. Was that just a pacing question?

To a degree. The Chained Man tracked the second killer down in San Francisco. I kind of went with the idea that he was a Raptors’ fan who had followed the team down to the Bay Area to watch the Finals. We see killers two and three on the second and third spreads. It’s not a murder mystery—it’s more like police procedure. At the point where they know who the two dead men are they would have a good idea who the third killer might be, especially in a case where the three are close to each other.

I’d initially had a bit where police were giving Malcolm the lowdown on Cassius Brown but it seemed to drag and the same information would need to be repeated when Malcolm confronted Cassius at Booby Moore’s funeral, so I decided it was redundant and unnecessary. At the same time, the 12-panel a page format did lend itself to showing a lot of small pieces of action. I could cover a lot of ground. Beyond the splash and the three spreads, the issue was pretty dense.

I feel like it’s been a while since Malcolm’s super-aim has been a power he’s had to use.

It has been a while. He hasn’t used a gun since he was on the police force, some years back. I like to remind folks about things like that every so often.

Obviously at this point, you’ve created hundreds of characters for the world of Savage Dragon. How do you decide which ones you want to keep around and which ones can go after one outing?

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Often it’s how much I enjoy writing or drawing them. The Chained Man isn’t necessarily gone forever. He was created as something of a Deadman riff. Deadman was in search of his killer as well—and Deadman eventually found his killer but that hasn’t kept successive creators from digging up Deadman and telling stories about Deadman. If a story arose where the Chained Man would be of use, I could bring him back with little effort.

Often, certain characters will grab me and I can’t let them go, and just as often I just forget about some character and they won’t appear for years. I had a character show up during Malcolm’s honeymoon who was introduced back in Savage Dragon #2, so it had been more than 200 issues between appearances. These sorts of things just happen. It’s hard to keep track of every little thing. That’s what I have [editor] Gavin Higginbotham for!