The longest continuously-running creator-owned and -operated title on the stands, as far as I know, is Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon. It's also a title that has had a real shot in the arm over the last couple of years, generating content that's as good as the comic has ever been. Larsen has been joining myself and Savage Dragon superfan Gavin Higginbotham to provide insight and commentary into each new issue for a couple of years now on various comics news sites, starting with the death of the title character, and starting with this week's issue we bring the feature to ComicBook.com.
Note: Because we are discussing the process and philosophy of writing an already-published issue, this conversation may contain spoilers for those who have not yet read Savage Dragon #172.
Gavin Higginbotham: Were Warren Terror’s abilities based on the obscure Golden Age hero called Dynamite Thor? His unique powers certainly seem to make more sense for a villain.
Erik Larsen: He is not. I was thinking more of Blastaar type powers. When I do Golden Age characters (especially ones in the public domain) I tend to stick pretty close to what has been established.
GH: With a mullet haircut and a bigoted personality, was Warren a fun stereotype to play with?
EL: Yeah. Fun stuff. It's one of those things that could be played too broadly--and come off as a parody but I tried playing it straight and unlike Dragon, Malcolm really didn't put up a very complete or even a very compelling or coherent rebuttal. His position is essentially that Americans are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty but he doesn't really articulate that particularly well. The big difference between writing Dragon and Malcolm is that I've gone from writing somebody much smarter than I am to somebody far more na ve than I am.
Russ Burlingame: Taking the redneck, trash-talking stereotype character seems to blur even further the already tenuous line between superhero comics and professional wrestling. Maybe you can market him to the WWE; his schtick would appeal to their target demographic!
EL: Ha! They're welcome to him! Have their people call my people and we can talk.
GH: Warren’s battle-cry is basically the same as your Marvel character Solo. Was this a way of kind of bringing in that character and then eliminating him?
EL: Not so much. It just seemed to fit. I wasn't writing a Solo proxy but that kind of simpleminded bumper sticker slogan shouting seemed to fit here. The sad thing, guys like that feel they're heroes--that they are doing the right thing--fighting the good fight.
RB: Certainly the elephant in the room here is politics. With an awareness of the impending return of Osama bin Laden as a villain for Malcolm, what inspired you to get back into that arena in a big way after a couple of years of pretty much staying in the superhero wheelhouse?
EL: This isn't politics in the Liberal vs. Conservative variety though--it's really basic core American values at play--that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty--basic habeas corpus kind of stuff. We are, as John Adams put it in 1780, "a government of laws and not of men" after all, right?
RB: Having a (nominally) black lead character who sides with Muslims over crazed rednecks is a bit of a tightrope to walk in some circles. Are you worried about alienating a portion of the audience or do you figure those types are long gone anyway by now?
EL: The bad guy here is perpetrating hate crimes and I don't see any real Americans getting behind that sort of thing--and comic book readers are readers, after all--they're intelligent people. It shouldn't really be hitting any of them below the belt. Yeah, these kinds of people do exist but they aren't intelligent people--and they're certainly not well read people.
GH: You mentioned on the message board that panel layout of this issue was based on an old comic and was used as an experiment. What issue did you use? Did the experiment work for you?
EL: It worked fine. The next few are in the same mode. It's a way of jump starting my brain and getting things moving. With the panel configurations already taken care of, I could concentrate on the content instead of sweating that part of it. It doesn't necessarily make things easier, really, but as a creative kick in the pants--it seemed to do the trick.
RB: You aren't a guy who usually has deadline troubles, but the books have been a little slow coming out lately and you told Gavin that you used some experimentation as a creative kickstart. Are the two related?
EL: It's not always easy. This year has been brutal. We have a son getting ready for high school and getting him into a workable high school was not a simple process and we're having a house worked on and getting ready to move. We've had a lot going on in our lives and I've had a lot on my mind. It's all come into play.
GH: It seems that Rex Dexter has been busy whilst he has been trapped in Dimension-X with his family and has built a new army of robots.
EL: No, no--that was Robot Rex attempting to rescue Rex Dexter and family. Sorry if that wasn't clear. It was meant as a kind of "what the hell was that?" kind of image. We'll delve into it more later.
GH: So it appears that Wildstar got back to Earth in SD 168 simply by being released by Glum as a favor to Angel? The relationship between Glum and Angel is an intriguing one. Both are actively conquering planets but they both show a compassionate side. Angel still cares about her friends while Glum can be talked into doing good by Angel. Fascinating to watch.
EL: I love writing and drawing those two. They bring me a lot of joy.
GH: Mr. Apples finally comes to accept Malcolm… Will this be the last we see of him and Principal McGee? The other kids like the Jonson and Janey twins must be close to the right age to attend the school.
EL: They're at the right age to attend Malcolm's old school maybe but not high school. Since they aren't the focus, I don't expect to see a lot of them or the old middle school. Mostly, I didn't want to simply move on without addressing Mr. Apples. It was set up and I realized at the end that I was running out of school days and hadn't touched on it. I was glad to give that some closure. I'd actually considered having Mr. Apples become a villain over time and I reconsidered. That might happen with his dad but Malcolm is a lot more thoughtful and considerate than his dad. Dragon misses a lot. Malcolm's more perceptive, in a way. I think he saw that Mr. Apples was a ticking time bomb and that this was a better resolution than simply walking away.
RB: I think the thing about Mr. Apples' outburst here is that I can understand where he's coming from more than usual. Was that intentional, like part of resolving the conflict this issue?
EL: It was. We're leaving middle school behind and moving on and I wanted to give this some closure. In a perfect world it would have had more pages devoted to it prior to this but I think there was enough of a hint of it that readers are aware that it was percolating there somewhere. My options were to drop it entirely--which seemed cold and would leave it dangling--which I hate--or have him burn to a boil and become a villain--or have Malcolm play a diplomatic role and defuse the ticking time bomb. Plus--I just thought it had the potential to be an emotional moment and we haven't really had anything like it in a while.
GH: Was Warren Terror designed specifically as a throwaway character for Malcolm to kill so that he would feel guilt? Or was he originally going to become a part of the ongoing rogues gallery and you simply changed your mind?
EL: The latter. I had intended for him to be ongoing but when I got to that point it just felt right. He was too much of a one-note character to live.
GH: The final confrontation between Malcolm and Warren genuinely had me fearing the worst for Tierra. She has been desperate to experience Malcolm’s adventures for some time so her first experience with one seemed, at least to me, as if she was being set up for a tragic death. Kudos for not going with that particular stereotype of the neophyte hero losing their significant other.
EL: It's a tough one to dance around because, realistically, these characters are putting themselves at considerable risk. But after having his father lose multiple girlfriends I didn't want it to become predictable. Which is not to say she's bulletproof. I think it's unrealistic to expect for her to walk through all of this chaos unharmed. But I would think that this might have her thinking twice about accompanying him on adventures. It's seemed fun to her in the past but the reality is that pretty heavy s--t goes down and people can die if they're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
RB: I think I'd go a step farther than your earlier point about this battle curbing Tierra's desire to see combat; what will it do to her desire to see Malcolm?
EL: We'll see. I think it definitely took away the thrilling fantasy aspect of it and made it real. She really hit the ground and it caused real pain and there was serious repercussions here. This is war and war isn't pretty.
RB: So after this issue, will Angel get to wear that outfit and match with her doppelg nger from Dimension-X, like after Apollo died and Rocky got to wear the American flag trunks to fight the Russian?
EL: Angel wears a variation of her mother's outfit as does her evil twin but the two have somewhat different styles. The two won't be indistinguishable. The evil twin has the better costume as far as I'm concerned. In retrospect, I should have given that one to Angel.
RB: It seems likely things are going to get ugly between OverLord and the Vicious Circle. Will he be standing on his own with his new philosophy or are we potentially looking at a full-scale freak war with Malcolm and Angel caught in the middle?
EL: We'll have to see, eh? At this point I don't see Malcolm or Angel ready to buddy up to him or them so it's bound to get a little messy.
RB: I can't help but Angel's "I just bet it'll be big" (referring to her graduation next year) suggests some kind of plan on your part. Is that foreshadowing?
EL: It is somewhat. Angel feels like the unwanted child at this point. Malcolm is Dragon's son--she's not even related to him, really, and her mother just dated him for a while--they weren't even married--so while she wants to get some of the attention Malcolm is getting, the press just isn't having it. They're far more interested in the green kid with the fin on his head than some blonde girl whose mom dated Malcolm's dad before getting she was murdered.
RB: With the formal turning of the page here, in terms of both the Golden Age Daredevil and the Li'l Wise Guys having big changes in their lives, will we be seeing more of them or is this a natural time to step away from those characters for a while?
EL: They'll play a role for a while longer. I still have a few stories I want to tell with them.
GH: The Vanguard serial has begun. How long will we get to enjoy Gary and Frank’s work on this back-up? And is it a thrill to have a character that you created so long ago back on a (temporarily) regular basis? Vanguard has sadly had precious few adventures over the years so it’s always good to see him back in action.
EL: It's great to have it back. Gary and Frank are committed to doing the backup up through #180, I think, but I wouldn't mind seeing it go beyond that. I'm a big fan of them both.