Erik Larsen Talks Savage Dragon #200, Working With Herb Trimpe and Malcolm Dragon's Coming Of Age

savage-dragon-200-009-113470Today marked the two-hundredth issue of Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon.

It's been more than 22 years since the character was introduced to the world -- something Larsen created as a child and even published some formative stories about in indie magazines before he found himself a founding member of what would become the third-largest comic book publisher in the United States.

And during that time, the stories have unfolded in real time, and every issue was written and drawn by Larsen (except one, which he later redrew), crafting a series that's unprecedented in mainstream superhero comics.

Every month, Larsen joins us to talk about Savage Dragon, contextualizing the individual issues and talking about the overall direction of the series and more. This month is no different, except that we're talking about 100 pages of comics with a lineup of star-studded guests.

There are spoilers ahead, though. So if you haven't read Savage Dragon #200 yet, go buy it and read along with us.

Savage Dragon 200 - CoverBack in October, we talked about the previous issue needing a framing device or a PS for the collected edition. Did you decide to include that here, or will it only be in the trade?

It may be in an upcoming issue as a bonus thing but it'll depend on available space. It's necessary for pagination purposes in the trade so it'll be in there at least.

I can't help but feel like Dragon had a lot more sex early in his run, too. Are you mirroring elements of early Dragon to put a Malcolm spin on them, a bit?

I'm not trying to repeat myself here but that was the milestone I wanted to get to in this issue. That's an important part of growing up and going on to the next stage in life. The things I wanted to get in here, really, was seeing Malcolm, Angel and Dragon in an adventure together and having Malcolm take that next step toward being an adult. He turned 18 off panel and it's time for him to take on more of an adult role. Not every anniversary issue needs to be some big, sweeping, cataclysmic event--some can be smaller, more personal, but life changing ones.

What does the condom packaging say?

It's the Michael T. Gilbert's Mr. Monster logo. It struck me that Mr. Monster would be a great name for a condom brand and Michael was kind enough to let me roll with that.

Why is Malcolm so evasive about MJ with his classmates? Is it just a matter of not wanting word to get around that he's got a potential damsel in distress at home?

A few things. He doesn't want her being a target and she doesn't want her parents freaking out that she's living with her boyfriend. So it's both of them, really.

savage-dragon-200-009The relationship between Malcolm and MJ feels more "real" and fleshed-out than what I remember from most of Dragon's relationships early on. Is that a difference of the characters, of you as a writer, or of the story circumstances with them being in a relationship longer?

We've got to spend a lot more time with the two. I also think Maxine is far more fully realized as a character and infinitely more likable than Dragon's girlfriends have been. It's weird but I always struggled with trying to make Dragon's girlfriends flawed and relatable but Maxine just clicked, She's really quirky and energetic and fun to write. I never struggle to find things for her to say and she's helped make Malcolm open up too.

Dragon is a bit more quippy than we've seen him in a while, too, for obvious reasons. Is it fun to write him a bit more like he was before the whole Kurr debacle?

Dragon's always fun to write. He hasn't changed, really, it's just gotten to be more challenging. He used to rely too much on his powers and now he can't do that. But in terms of his personality--it's all still there.

That's a...unique...solution to the long-standing issue of whether or not Malcolm and Angel would ever do anything. How long have you had it in mind that MJ would be the one to offer up an answer?

Zero time. It was as impulsive for me as it was for her. I had a couple of options for page 10 and since it ended a scene and the rest of the action in the issue didn't flow from that I could have gone a number of ways with that. Usually I'll roughly plot an issue, draw it and script it at the end. With this issue I ended up scripting it as I drew it. I'd pencilled ahead a page or two after page 10 and I just decided to keep scripting just to see how that flowed. If nothing came of it I'd back out and do a different page 10. I was really on the fence about that page because it was a huge turning point--a real game changer. I liked the dialogue that sprang from that scene. It was just fun, bouncy stuff. So I decided to just go for it.

SD200 08"...if you ever want a crazy story..." Is Maxine's own desire for a crazy story something that we should all keep in the backs of our minds?

Maxine wants to lead an interesting life and part of having an interesting life involves making interesting life decisions. If you don't try new things you never find out if you like new things. It's easy to play it safe. MJ doesn't play it safe.

When you write something like the fight scene, narrated by talk about their three-way, do you think "What's the most interesting setting they could have this conversation in?" Or was it just a matter of having the fight scene and deciding that the dialogue there would change things up?

The fight scene was there regardless of that they would be talking about. That was in place. The story was that they needed to rescue Dragon. Whether they talked about this or something else was unimportant, really, they would still need to rescue Malcolm's dad no matter what had happened earlier. But having that be the topic of conversation at hand sure made it a lot livelier.

I think it's easy to dismiss Maxine as out of the norm, but Malcolm and Angel seem weirdly okay with how everything went. Is this just a comment on how sexually open these characters, or maybe today's kids in general, are?

I don't know that I want to go into an old man rant about "kids today" so much as to say that these particular kids deal with a lot of crazy shit and this is certainly some of that.

There's also something about that period of time when sex is brand new--when you finally do that and you're in that "this is awesome--I want to do this all the time" stage which is a pretty exciting time. I think at that time you're a bit more open to trying stuff out, you know? "I like this--I don't like that. Let's try it this way or that way" sort of thing. I'm trying to capture that in comic book form and I never did that with Dragon--with the old man it was simply assumed that he'd done this before. With Malcolm it's all brand new and exciting.

Following that up with the "am I stronger than you?" almost feels like this issue is just getting a bunch of fan questions out there.

Oh, why not?

savage-dragon-200-009Is this the first time in his life that a beer could potentially give Dragon a buzz? I hadn't really thought of it until now.

It could before but it was pretty short lived. He's lose it pretty quick. This could stick around longer and if he'd have had a few more he might even get to experience his first hangover.

Y'know, Dragon's not stupid. Do they think they're fooling anyone with all the innuendo while he's sitting at the bar?

I expect he caught on pretty quick but didn't want to let on that he had a clue. He doesn't want to embarrass the two--especially Angel.

Any chance of getting the double-page splash from 18/19 as a t-shirt on your Skreened store?

Ha. I hadn't thought of that. It's kind of an odd shape to fit on a shirt.

Prior to their last meet up, Dart was really more preoccupied with her business than just supervillaining Malcolm. Obviously, though, it got kind of personal during the last go-round. Will her breakout affect the book right away or is that more of a long game?

She's back immediately and fighting Malcolm in the very next issue.

Okay, so that's the standard commentary track out of the way. Now onto the backups...

Obviously this isn't your first go-'round with the massive anniversary books, but this one feels even bigger and grander than 150 to me. Does putting these monsters together ever get any easier?

Not really, no. Some of it is pretty hands off for me. The Vanguard stuff--Gavin's story but the rest is a lot of coordinating and work. It's fun when it all comes together.

jack-kirby-variant-savage-dragonDid you decide to do the WW2 backup first, or did you decide to go that route after you had Trimpe on board for it?

It all came about because of the Kirby variant and that came about because The Jack Kirby Museum had me do a Savage Dragon print for them based on a Jack Kirby drawing. So, I started with that as a jumping off point. I had this cover featuring Dragon and Malcolm fighting Nazis in WWII--who drew good WWII stuff? Herb Trimpe was my first choice. And it didn't hurt that he was a big Kirby fan.

You know, I really like the Dragon/Malcolm dynamic from around this time. Any chance of seeing some more of these backups or flashbacks down the line?

I'm sure there will be. I started off Malcolm's first official issue with one. The only thing is that they're "Superboy stories" and that takes the edge off. We know Superboy grows up to be Superman so Superboy is never really at risk at any point. Same thing here. While it may be fun to see the two interact with each other--we know that Malcolm and Dragon both survive, which takes the edge off.

Was there something particular that inspired the design of the not-so-secret lab? That's a cool-looking building.

That's all Herb. When we had talked he lamented that few writers like to work in the old Marvel method where the writer would give him a basic outline and let him run wild with it so I gave him a very brief plot and told him that it needed to fit in eight pages. He did the rest and I just inked it.

For that matter, did you do a lot of reference work for the tank, the uniforms, etc.?

I just inked what Herb drew. I figured that he knew what he was doing.

In both the lead feature and the WW2 backup, you reference Angel and Glum. Will they be playing a bigger role in the near future, or was that just for context for their backup here?

They'll be back. I do love those guys. It was a bit of both, really. Part of the process is setting things up and paying them off. Like having Angel and Malcolm remind us that Malcolm lost his lightning powers in the first story gives a new reader an understanding of why they exist in the second one. Having the other Angel and Glum mentioned sets the stage for their appearance. It's all part of having it be accessible.

savage-dragon-200-009It seems like you had a lot of fun with Angel in this issue in general. I feel in some ways like this is my favorite Angel issue in the 51 that we've talked about to date. Was that a focus for you, or do you think it's just absence making the heart grow fonder?

She is in the book quite a bit. I do like her and miss her. It was nice to be able to touch on her in a few stories.

On the story you wrote with Sengaus, is this a fairly unique thing to a character like Malcolm, do you think? they've dealt with Clark Kent playing football...but his identity isn't out there in the open.

Yeah. I liked that one. Travis does a great job with that stuff. It is pretty different, I suppose. The X-Men were always their own closed thing and their whole school was isolated. In Spider-Man and other books set in high school there were identity issues.

Having an actual, recognizable superhero in a normal school is almost uncharted territory. Firebreather did a bit of that but there was far too little Firebreather to really sink your teeth into. Even here, it's fleeting. Malcolm graduates in the spring.

Any in-jokes in the jersey names or numbers that we should pay attention to? I know Booster Gold's jersey number is 52, but I doubt that's an intentional parallel.

Nope. Not that I'm aware of. Malcolm's school is based on a real school with a real team and mascots and such. They're the Dolphins and they use the slogan "Fear the 'Phins" which is pretty appropriate with Malcolm on the team. But if Travis worked in any in-jokes I'm not aware of them.

How did you decide on who would take what backups?

I asked people what characters they wanted to draw. I don't often let other people play with my characters and I figured it made some sense to have people do what they were most enthusiastic about. In some cases I had to bend things a bit. Nikos wanted to do an SOS story and so I did one that had a focus on Daredevil and Angel but still featured the others.

Are there any characters you'd have liked to sneak into #200 and just couldn't make the space?

Always. Some villains--and I haven't used Thunder-Head in a while. I should touch on him soon.

You had mentioned to me, when the tape recorder was off, that it's weird drawing for somebody else to ink now. Other than that, how did you like working with Trimpe?

It was fun to see. It's really interesting how we both imposed our styles on the other guy and yet the two stories look nothing alike. It's pretty fascinating.