Erik Larsen Breaks Down Savage Dragon #259 and North Force's Future

This week's issue of Savage Dragon pulled double duty as Image's special jumping-on issue, North Force #0. North Force, of course, is the Canadian superhero team, which has been playing a bigger role in Savage Dragon in recent months, and who by the end of the issue have recruited a new member from the Savage Dragon cast, and headed into space. The interiors of the issue are slightly different, depending on which version of the story you read, but the overall plot remains intact -- a balance Larsen has had to strike before, since there have been a few instances of Savage Dragon issues that had to pull double duty as Free Comic Book Day titles, which serve similar functions.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the North Force one-shot as a Free Comic Book Day title.

It's a solid jumping-on point for Savage Dragon, and if you go to the comic shop, you can snag North Force #0 if you'd prefer that instead. On digital, both are available for $3.99.

Larsen joined ComicBook to discuss the issue -- issues? -- and what's next for both Savage Dragon and North Force.

Off the top, can you tell us what the difference is between the Savage Dragon issue and the North Force one-shot?

In terms of the lead story itself, North Force #0 has voiceover captions which aren't present in Savage Dragon #259. The two stories have different titles and Savage Dragon ends with a next issue blurb not present in North Force #0.

As far as the rest of the issue, Savage Dragon #259 has the usual letters page and a Red Hook backup story, whereas North Force #0 has character bios for the entire team.

The idea was for North Force #0 to be more focused on the team, whereas Savage Dragon #259 is still very much an issue of Savage Dragon.

Are you hoping to set up a North Force book? Obviously Todd is creating a whole library of titles around Spawn right now.

The more I work with the characters the more ideas are generated and the more possibilities occur to me. I've had a few people ask about writing or drawing a North Force book, so it's a strong possibility. My immediate focus is on Savage Dragon and Ant but I can always find a way. It's far easier to create when you've got a story percolating and itching to get out. So it's a strong possibility.

We talked about this a little bit with Savage Dragon Legacy, but how do you balance the needs of appealing to new readers with basically zero backstory while advancing the ongoing narrative of Dragon?

It's always a challenge but I think it's best to keep things simple and not overwhelm readers with unnecessary references which complicate matters. If you're a longtime reader--you're already aware of the back story, so there's no point in going over it again. If you're a new reader, that back story is just going to be clumsy exposition, so it's better to keep things boiled down to the bare essentials: who are the heroes? Who are the villains? What's at stake? You can hint that there's more out there but trying to catch readers up on 258 issues and counting worth of continuity every month is a fool's game.

Most new readers are easy--they take things at face value. The ones that are tougher to please are lapsed readers who had awareness of a status quo from a decade or two back. They're more easily confused because they're grasping for things that are familiar which are no longer there. I have to remind them at times that the book is set in real time and that 29 years have past for the characters, so there are bound to be a few changes.

Overall it seems to be working.

Going into the actual issue, it's almost weird to see "new" heroes with secret identities. Any particular reason you made that an important part of North Force, rather than having them be deputized or whatever?

I like secret identities. It's fun. And with these kinds of characters — there's the ability to play around in several different realities. They're all from different areas and their homes aren't all the same. There's a lot to play around with. And besides — I'm going that already in Savage Dragon. I don't want to have a bunch of cookie cutter characters that all look and feel the same.

It seemed clear just from that initial scene that there was no real way of making this relationship work. As they say, Malcolm doesn't really fit with secret identities, right?

He might not be ideal for him to hang out with them in one of their hidden bases but he could certainly be a guy who could join the team as it goes into battle. It's a different kind of relationship than they're used to but it could work. And going forward, I can see that being the case. Just as they kept bumping into each other as individuals — Malcolm is sure to run across them in his travels. The relationship isn't necessarily over.

When you added in that Malcolm has never played pool, is that just something you realized "oh, we've seen his whole life and we've never seen him do it?" Or did you have to check with Gavin about that?

I'd remember that. Pool tables are difficult enough to draw that I'd remember having drawn one. Of course — if I didn't remember, I trust Gavin would let me know about it.

Page 5's "floating head" layout feels really evocative of '60s and '70s layouts to me. What led to that?

Yeah — that was a Gil Kane-inspired layout. I was trying to come up with different ways to draw characters chatting and that seemed like a good one. It's not pulled from anything in particular — it's just a general impression. Gil had a few innovations which have been all but forgotten and every so often I'll pull one out and reintroduce it. I should do more of that sort of thing.

Every time super-aim comes up, I comment on it. The pool game is a pretty inspired use of that power, though, huh?

Yeah. It's harder to draw than I had anticipated. That sort of thing works a lot better in film where there's actual movement. In a static images it's difficult to convey what's going on exactly because there are so many small pieces of action which take place on a pool table. The limitations of the medium were showing, I'm afraid.

We're seeing the continuation here of the theme of Maxine being really worried about Malcom's safety and mortality. Is there any chance we will see her go back into therapy? It seems like every emotional shift she has is really extreme.

We'll see. I'm assuming that there's a lot we're not seeing. We only saw Maxine talking to her therapist once but there's no reason to assume that's the only time that happened. Unfortunately we can't see every waking moment of these characters, There are a lot of gaps readers just have to fill in for themselves.

Is the payoff here -- that he can't join a team becuase it would take him away from the kids -- the ultimate resolution of that plotline, or is it still going to be hanging over us for a while?

Certainly in the North Force book, the voiceover narration all but shuts the door. Without that it's more nebulous. But we'll just have to wait and see. If Malcolm keeps saving their collective asses, there's no reason to assume that door is shut.

There's something really dynamic about the crowd shots and character designs in here, even beyond the previous appearances of North Force. Did giving them a little more distinct personalities give you a chance to tweak their physical presence and body language a little?

It helps, I think. And once the reader is aware that Grizzly and the Knight are both women, you do tend to look at them a bit different and think, "Oh, yeah — I can see that now" whereas before that piece of the puzzle wasn't there.

Of course, on my end, I knew a lot of this stuff before the readers. The Canadian was the first of the team to be introduced and I knew what he looked like under that mask from day one. If you're setting up a mystery, it's always better to know the answer beforehand.

What's going to happen with the kids Captain Tootsie has been taking care of, if he's off with North Force?

There's a support group in place. Rollo's brother, Buddy Costanza, numerous reprogrammed Perfect Women™ and various people at Genetech Laboratories. There's a system in place.

Is this the first specific callback to a Captain Tootsie story other than his origin?

A few pieces were dropped when Captain Tootsie became a more permanent fixture in the book but there have been a few other things touched on here and there.

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Why did you decide to go with the Marvel Handbook-style bio pages for these characters?

It's the simplest, most straightforward layout and I'd done similar bio pages in the Savage Dragon book a couple decades back. We do something similar on the Savage Dragon Wiki, which helps me keep track of a lot of the minutia. When you're doing a series which stretches back decades it's a useful tool to have around.