Erik Larsen is a study in contrasts- he bailed on Marvel with the rest of the Image creators, yet retained working at Marvel for the longest out of all of them. He seems like the member with the least grievances with other creators and writers, yet has by far the most public grievance of anyone, with his feud with Peter David. And despite all of that, he’s the Image creator with the longest contribution to his own work- he remains the writer and artist behind Savage Dragon for more than two decades at this point- a remarkable run given how most Image books didn’t last more than a couple of years.
He got his start in the pros at DC, but became most well-known for his Marvel work, twice filling in after Todd McFarlane left a Spidey book- his work on Amazing Spider-Man was actually my first Spidey book, and I was fascinated by Larsen’s big, wild characters- he drew the Avengers teaming up with Sandman & Spider-Man to fight some generic terrorists. An issue featuring Doctor Doom was my intro to THAT character, and Larsen made him look incredibly powerful and proud- an epic villain. Later, he did Revenge of the Sinister Six when Todd left Spider-Man , the first time I actually collected an ongoing story-arc- I was hooked on comics likely from his own work, looking back. Erik’s style was close enough to Todd’s (big muscles, big breasts, exaggerated anatomy, wild action) that it was an easy transition, though Erik’s work was more cartoony than Todd’s shadowy stuff.
Larsen ultimately quit Marvel to work for Image, but annoyed some of his coworkers by repeatedly going back for more Marvel work whenever he felt like it. He also had an ongoing feud with Peter David, usually exacerbated by both guys being smartasses- it started in the most childish manner imaginable, as David was butthurt over Erik having Doctor Octopus beat up the Hulk, later writing his OWN Hulk issue which specifically “fixed” the past fight, using quotes Image guys had used (Todd said “we were holding back” at Marvel, which David found disrespectful, and made sure to include that the Hulk was “holding back” during the previous fight; the Punisher accuses him of “trying to save your IMAGE”). This kind of goofy stuff is a nightmare for Editor-In-Chief sorts. David also grew to be the biggest dissenting voice against Image Comics’ work- making sure everyone knew he thought the creators were producing crap and not backing up their own work. They at least seem to have buried the hatchet.
The Savage Dragon- Image’s Success Story:
“(The series is aimed at) older Marvel readers who are about ready to throw in the towel on comics altogether. It’s the missing link between Marvel and Vertigo. More mature than Marvel; less pretentious than Vertigo. The kind of comics I want to read. My book is really self-indulgent.”
-Erik Larsen, on his book.
Unexpectedly, the other longest-lasting of all the Image Comics other than Spawn has been Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon . It’s hard to define why, and I was never a regular reader of it (I own like, a single issue, and have read only a couple others), but it seems that Larsen’s quirky, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, expanded into an entire WORLD like that, proved fairly popular in a low-key way, allowing him to continue on while most of his colleagues either exposed their own incompetence (Liefeld) or lack of originality (Silvestri), while others burned out or turned into “idea factories”, churning out character designs and then rakin’ in the dough (Lee, MacFarlane). Larsen, however, had a mentality and stuck to it, and his fans have stuck by him for nearly thirty years- a true feat in the rapidly-changing world of comics. Erik, like many Image creators, had this character in his head for years before Image was a thing- variations on the concept appear in fanzines and low-grade indie books in the 1980s.
The Savage Dragon’s life is based around an amnesiac monster-man appearing in Chicago and deciding to become a super-powered police officer in a city full of super-powered freaks- goofy character designs (a Flying Brick with a chicken head), odd concepts (Mighty Man is a “Captain Marvel/Shazam”-esque guy no matter who his human form is- including a female nurse), and more. The bad guys are disposable, and characters routinely die (the first big clue something was going on? The Dragon’s first girlfriend, Debbie Harris, is murdered in their apartment by an ex-boyfriend), giving the comic a very mobile, ever-changing nature that I think rewards longtime readers. What I’ve seen makes it pretty clear it’s a “Tits and Ass” book, too, as the women are preposterously-proportioned, even for an Image book- Larsen makes all of his women extremely tall amazons with spherical balloon breasts, sky-high legs, and waists so tiny that Barbie would be jealous, in addition to “bimbo” expressions and duck lips being common. But it never came off QUITE as sleazy as all that- it was more something like Russ Meyer- a childish appreciation of the noble bosom.
The Dragon’s History:
The Dragon’s first arch-nemesis was the generic Overlord, who was eventually killed. His Vicious Circle was then commandeered by Cyberface. The Dragon was sent to hell, where he watched God finally defeat the Devil (“Don’t fuck with God”, went the Almighty, in an infamous panel). He was suspended from the police due to missing so much time away in Hell or whatever, and joined a “Strikeforce” to replace Youngblood, as Rob Liefeld was booted from Image. He marries a superheroine named Smasher, but she is promptly killed and he loses custody of their daughter. Things change frequently- time-travel shenanigans leave the Dragon in a “Dystopian Alternate Universe” for a huge chunk of time, he discovers that his thought-dead infant son (via Rapture) had survived and was aged to a teenager, and more. Hell, he is killed by a Life-Force Vampire, but his own life-force is so strong it “over-writes” the villain, essentially becoming a new Dragon! This version eventually goes nuts, but the Dragon is resurrected by a blood transfusion from his long-lost son Malcolm… and is left with no memories of is past life!
Larsen would eventually make the Dragon’s SON, Malcolm, the new main character of the comic, frequently teasing killing off the hero entirely. We’d even learn the long-sought-after origin story of our hero, as he finds out that he was an intergalactic conqueror known as Kurr the Emperor! He had been brain-wiped by two of his henchmen, who hated him and didn’t want to see him end all life on Earth (which was his plan- he was trying to find a new world for his people). The world is cleansed of human life for a time, but time-travel again fixes stuff at a cost, and the resurrected Dragon goes off with his birth-species, promising to find them a new world.
Pretty much every time I pick up the book THESE days, it’s almost more porn that book. Like Malcolm straight up firing his girlfriend across the room on a rocket of cum. Like, it’s THAT GRAPHIC now. I have no idea what the hell struck Larsen, but jesus christ.