Sunday, 6 September 2015

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: SAVAGE DRAGON

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

55. SAVAGE DRAGON

06/09/2015

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"If the goal is to make comic books - you can do that easily and nobody can stop you. If the goal is to make a living writing Spider-Man - no."

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Of all the comic books I buy each month, I feel an obligation towards "Savage Dragon," published by Image Comics since 1992, that I do not feel with the other DC and Marvel comics I have bought for the last decade and more. It is a superhero comic book writ large, with many fight scenes in primary colours, and a bewildering array of characters that is almost too hard to keep up with. What makes "Savage Dragon" different is how, for the comic's entire existence, it has been written and drawn by one man, Erik Larsen, based on a superhero he created when he was a child. 

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"I printed my own shitty comic book and sent it to everybody with a 'look what I can do' note attached. That led to paying gigs. Those first few paying gigs were for almost nothing. $15 a page. But it was a start and I was able to learn on the job and improve."

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As Larsen has spoken about on his Twitter feed in the last week, making him also the only comic book creator I follow on Twitter, comics are the one thing he always wanted to do, beginning his career in the 1980s on small-scale books that featured a prototype of his character, before becoming an artist on bigger books - notably DC Comics' "Doom Patrol," before Grant Morrison turned it into a postmodernist  graduating to writing an drawing his own Spider-Man book. However, the dominance of characters owned by big companies, and the relative lack of royalties to those employed to write and draw them, drove Larsen and other Marvel creators Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd MacFarlane and Jim Valentino - the latter of which was been working on the original "Guardians of the Galaxy" book - to form Image Comics, their own creator-owned company.

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"You'd think after 206 issues that people get that I actually want to work on Savage Dragon and that nothing else is 'my dream assignment.'"

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"Savage Dragon" tentatively started as a three-issue mini-series, introducing an amnesiac green man, with a fin on their head, that became an officer for the Chicago Police Department. Over time Dragon, with no other name given, became part of a US government-mandated task force, been dumped in an apocalyptic landscape, and found to be an emperor of an alien race, in addition to being both a single father and President of the United States. In addition to lal of this, and unlike almost every other comic book, the action has been taking place in real time, with Dragon's son now the tile character, his father having now entered both retirement and imprisonment... 

There is absolutely no way of summing up this book without asking people to look it up themselves, and then see how much time they lose as they sink into all the detail. More must has happened in "Savage Dragon" than in all of the Batman books, no matter how often Batman can be written facing the Joker. It feels like a book that has grown with its creator, turning from a big-circulation book that had its own Saturday morning TV cartoon series (not shown in the UK, as far as i know) into the sort of personal project that you wish Jack Kirby had been given the chance to create, with both long sagas and little moments. For these reasons, "Savage Dragon" is worth reading, even if you don't pick up the thread of the story, you will be rewarded by knowing you are feeding off the energy of someone that is doing exactly what they wanted to do.

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"I have no interest in ever tackling Batman. Just none. Don't care."


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