On Wednesday, Savage Dragon will reach its 250th issue. For a creator-owned comic, that's an incredibly rare milestone in itself, but the air gets even more rarefied when you consider that Larsen has written and drawn every issue (even going so far as to re-draw an issue that Jim Lee drew, which is a whole other story). The issue will take place during the pandemic, since Savage Dragon takes place roughly in real time and in a pretty close-to-real version of our world. The issue was being broken just as things got really obviously bad in North America, so it actually ended up changing a bit during the course of the writing.
Last month's Savage Dragon #249 was a book-length battle royale, but this month's issue is a bit different. Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic as well as catching fans up after a year in which Dragon was somewhat less than monthly, there's a lot of ground to cover.
Larsen joined ComicBook.com to talk about his plans for 250 and beyond -- all without spoilers (don't worry -- there's more coming on Wednesday that will spol the heck out of everything!). You can check it out below.
Savage Dragon #250 will be on sale Wednesday at your local comic shop or online.
Is it a little wild to you when you stop and look back at the mile markers and say, "Holy cow, it's been 60 issues since Malcolm took over the book?"
I really just take it a page at a time. That's kind of how I've had to do it in order to maintain my sanity, is to not think of, well, and then 10 years, you're going to do this, and in 20 years you're going to do that. I just come at it like just getting it through this page. If I get through this page, I'll be fine. Everything will be alright. And you just do that day after day after day, and eventually you look at it and go, "Oh, okay, well, those are starting to stack up a bit, that's cool." But it never really feels like it's been 28 years, because 28 years just seems staggering. And if I would starting out this thing going, "I got to plan out in 28 years," it would be like, "Are you out of your mind?" That's crazy. You're not going to have any idea what's going on.
At the same time, there are a bunch of things that I can point to and go, "Hey, look at that. There's Mark and Peter Johnson as superheroes in Graphic Fantasy #2, which I just reprinted in Savage Dragon #250, and we didn't see those two characters in costume until #248." So there's some planning for you. We're eventually going to get to those guys being superheroes. And here's where they first appeared that way.
Every now and again, we'll hit something where it's like, 20 years ago you said, "Oh yeah, and when Dragon dies, there's going to be a bunch of leggy supermodels."
Yeah. So there does end up being a little bit of that payoff. It can be infuriating in some points where -- like, I did that flash forward in #28 with Malcolm in a space suit or whatever. And that thing hung over me forever. It's like, alright, eventually you've got to work that into the story. By the time that even appeared, the way I was drawing Malcolm was really different from the way he had appeared in that one flashback a million years ago. All right, how do I reconcile these two things? It's not quite seamless, but you do what you can.
Let's jump in the Wayback Machine for a minute. In the introduction to the first hardcover, you talk about the various different versions of Dragon that have existed since you were 10 years old. Having him wake up in a fire and no memory of his past, was that a metaphor for the fact that all of those home-made Dragon comics burned up in your house fire?
It was kind of something that I had inserted at one point, and I don't remember when the hell it was. Again, if you look at Graphic Fantasy #1, and that story that was reprinted, he doesn't know where he came from, in that story. So he's sitting there going, "I don't know where I came..." There's a tiny little inset of him with a beard in a hospital bed. Like he's waking up for the first time in some hospital bed with no idea of how he got to be there. So that was in place in 1982.
When I'm starting Dragon again in '92, it was, well, this is still in the mix because that's what was there.
In my old comics, William Johnson and the dragon were one dude. They were one guy. And he could change into Dragon. And then eventually it was, "I'm going to have my wizard Fon-TI take these two and break them into two separate people." So it was essentially like that Hulk story where Bruce Banner and the Hulk were separated in two separate guys, but you can imagine the Hulk going, "Where the hell did I come from? I came from somewhere. Where was I? I didn't just exist out of nowhere." But he did kind of come from nowhere. It was just sort of this, somebody took Jekyll and Hyde and ripped them apart. And now there's two separate dudes. What the hell is going on here?prevnext
How the origin came to be
It didn't happen, and eventually Kurr became a huge part of the story, but I know that for a long time you had toyed with just not ever explaining it to the readers because it wasn't important to who Dragon was.
Yeah. That was the plan, but it came about that we did this 10th anniversary book and everybody was going to be coming back and doing their original characters. And it was like, "Well, I never left."
And also I knew those guys and I knew that deadlines could be a problem. If I'm introducing a new character in this thing. I don't know when this story is going to end up seeing print. Can I introduce a new character and then count on it being out at this time? Not really.
Like Dragon being alive and Malcolm being skinny in Image United?
Yeah. I mean, if we go back and finish Image United, it's like, Holy crap man, they look so different.
So, when you thought nobody would ever read it, how much of that did you have fleshed out in your head in terms of backstory?
Fairly basic. The origin was there, I didn't have every I dotted and every T crossed, but the spine of it was definitely in place and in mind. And it's one of those where I think if you're setting up a mystery story, you better know who done it so that all your clues make sense and stuff like that. I had that basic stuff in mind.
In terms of my old comics when I was a kid, I don't even know. Some of the stuff, it was so random and so weird. And so much of it was created when I was really, really little, fourth grade or fifth grade. And you would just want to draw cool s--t. You're not sitting there going, "I got to figure this stuff all out."
And plus you have just no understanding of the world at all at that age. The reader's like, "Oh yeah, this is cool."
Not a lot of worrying about continuity.
Not a lot. And I would keep going, "I don't like the way this guy looks, so I'm going to change it." Like the Flash Mercury Dragon was kind of the first Dragon. And then I kind of used him for maybe a year, but it wasn't a lot of stories. It was a couple of little things drawn with a ballpoint pen.
And then I eventually was like, "All right, I'm going to do this over again. Only this time it's going to be William Johnson." And then with the William Johnson version of Dragon, that was again maybe a year, a year and a half. And then I had him pulled into two guys and then Dragon was off and running. It became his own thing.prevnext
The Graphic Fantasy Era
28 years on, is there anything left from back then that you haven't retooled yet, that you think is even worth it?
There will be more. There will be more, because there were other characters that I had introduced when I was a little kid that, "I haven't gotten to this guy yet. I haven't gotten to that guy yet." So there's stuff.
It's not all awesome, there's stuff that I'm just, I'm never going to touch this because it's straight-up stupid. There's a lot of that. Because there are various periods where I just wanted to have as many toys as I could have. So I always like just going through encyclopedias and going, "Okay, this guy could be a character and that guy could be a character." Just picking words and animals and prehistoric this and whatever, and turning them into superhumans.
My old comics had almost no villains of note and it was just tons and tons of superheroes running around. Ralph Johnson was my Lex Luthor and all those, he kept coming back again and again, as was the Bronze Man who was sort of my, I don't know, Dr. Doom type, I guess.
In the old days, I think you described him as the proto-version of OverLord in some ways, but there's really not a lot of connective tissue there. It's just that they were both the big-bad at the time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were both the big-bad guys.prevnext
What's the book like now?
Since #200, I think that the narrative outside of the book around this book has changed because as somebody who's been reading the book for a long time, people who didn't read the book would say, "Oh, that's still around?" Now everybody knows it's around. The next question is, "When did that become a porn book?"
Yeah, I think if you actually read the book or if you came to the book and you were like, "Oh man, here's this porn book. Now this is going to be awesome," and you actually read it, you'd be like, "This is the worst porn book I've ever seen in my life." This isn't... It's not remotely sexy. The sex, when it does appear, it's super infrequent, it's often just kind of ugly and messy and it's over with in like half a page.
The book has always been semi-sexy for a long, long time, but it was always kind of, we're just going to tease it a little bit, not show anything. And now it's like, alright, we'll show a little bit. But even now, even with that, you're not seeing any penetration, you're not seeing just a whole bunch of stuff. It basically could be in an R-rated movie for the most part.
And there's just not that much of it. It's just, "okay, occasionally these characters do have sex." And we're aware that that happens. But there's an awful lot of stuff that's just suggested rather than shown.
In #249, we just had this big battle royale issue. Then you also have to deal with the pandemic. How did that change your approach to #250?
Well, initially the thought was to make #248 through #250 one thing, and just have it be, we're going to build to this big fight with the Vicious Circle, and then they're going to take over and whatever. And while I'm sitting there doing #249 -- writing #249 and scripting #249 -- it's really clear that this pandemic is a big goddamn deal. And if your comic is going to continue to be set in something familiar, you need to address it at some point.
So I started in that issue, I put in some dialogue that addresses it, but at the time when I was drawing it, it hadn't really been obvious this is what's going on. So while the dialogue is sitting there going, "Hey, you guys aren't concerned about this COVID?" But nobody's got mask on, particularly.
And then by the time I was getting towards the end of it, I was like, I better just wrap this here than to have people sheltering in place. And a lot of it is just, I do think a lot on the fly and I'm sitting there going, a lot of people are going to start reading this book with #250, who haven't been reading it before, didn't have the previous issue handy. So to start it off in the middle of a battle and just have it be, "Hey, here's 22 pages of people kicking each other around, and then the cavalry comes in to save the day."
It's like, man, this is going to be a super weird unsatisfying read to deal with. Let me step back from that. Let's take #249, wrap it up, and then have #250 be a little more self-contained on that and then set things out for where things are going beyond this.prevnext
Do you feel like you have to top yourself with these 100-page anniversary issues? Because it seems pretty hard to top "hey, we literally killed Dragon" in #225.
Well, I don't know that I topped it, but it's fun to do. These are fun stories to try and do. I don't know. I try not to think about, is this bigger, better, faster, stronger than the previous one?
The last time I did an anniversary issue, my part of it was really long. I did a 40-page issue for #225. And mostly that was, I have this chunk of story that I want to tell, and I need to get to this point. So I'm just going to let this unfold as it unfolds and stop it however many pages it ends up being. And if that bumps a backup story into the next issue, so be it. And then it just ended up expanding, expanding until it was 40 pages. Holy crap.
And then you just have backup stories for the next 20 issues.
Yeah. And then I've got that stuff. And I usually do try to get more backup stories in motion that I've got room for. So there was a little of that craziness here, where I had a backup story that was going to be in 250, and then it ended up that I didn't have room for it, but it was a longer story. So then #249 was a little bit short. I ended up cutting my story a couple of pages to be able to make room for this backup story. Because it was like, there was no other way to do this. So I'm going to make this issue a couple of pages short, I'll make the next issue a couple of pages long so that it still fits into a trade and we're good to go.
That's the kind of thing I do feel like you have a lot more flexibility than most folks.
Yeah. I'm drawing issues now and there's all the Black Lives Matter stuff going on. And it's like, I can respond to that. I can have there be things where I'm addressing that, just as I'm mid-issue. Suddenly it's like, page six and seven, let's actually tackle that a little bit and touch on that.prevnext
Similar to the "porn" thing, once every 10 issues or so, there are people complaining about politics being a part of the book. But looking back at the first hardcover, he beats up and lectures a dirty cop in the very early days.
That was actually added to the hardcover. It was originally, we were going to do a benefit book, which fell completely apart, that was called "Operation Urban Storm," I believe. And that didn't end up coming together for a variety of reasons, mostly people not showing up for the dance. And so I had this four-page sequence and I put that in the first trade paperback. So that's where that first appeared.
And I mean, if you read as four pages, this is super heavy. There is no subtlety at all. You've got to get in and out of this thing, immediately.
But yeah, it's touched on politics in the very first issue. George Bush was mentioned as president. I've had all successive presidents have shown up in the book at some point. And it was just, this is part of the world. Let's tie this into specific periods of time as often as I can just so that you can have that mile marker and just go, "Oh, this takes place on this day." They're waiting in line to see Avengers: Endgame, or they're going to see this movie or there's that event that really makes it, "Oh, this is a real thing. This is actually happening."prevnext
There's never a status quo in Savage Dragon, but it does kind of feel like the book's going to feel a little bit more like it used to in the sense that we've got all these villains that are familiar faces who are now in Toronto. Is that fair?
It's fair to say that it'll be that for at least a little bit. I've got a bunch of characters that I can be dealing with and I've got other stuff that's other seeds that are being planted here and there. And I kind of would like to flesh out a couple of cities just to go, "Hey, here's another possible spot that if things go weird here..."0comments
I don't know. There's always possibilities. It really just comes down to the story I want to tell and how key any location is to anything, really. I mean, Dragon was set in Chicago for a long time, but I didn't really play that much with Chicago itself. There weren't a lot of landmarks showing up. There weren't a lot of like references to, "Oh, let's go to this specific restaurant and do this specific thing." There's quite a bit more of that in Toronto now that the book's set there.
I kind of like having it where I'm making it up on the fly, with some markers that I'm working towards. I like having that, being able to be flexible in that way. That's fun to me.prev