Comic books have reached high issue numbers for decades, but it's rare for a run reaching issues in the hundreds to be created by the same writer and artist for the entire run. On July 15, Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon reaches such a milestone with issue #250.
And unlike other books which present 'the illusion of change,' Savage Dragon will be doing so while recognizing what's going on in the real world - so much so that as Larsen tells us, he ended up changing his original plans for #250 to recognize the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I don’t want to say too much but what I ended up doing wasn’t what I had initially thought I’d do," Larsen tells Newsarama. "The end result is better, certainly, but not your typical extravaganza."
For more, here's our full interview with Larsen ahead of July 15's milestone issue.
Newsarama: Erik, the shipping hiatus is over and comics are once again flowing - including the march to Savage Dragon #250. Take me back - when was the first time the specific idea of "Hey #250 is coming, I better figure out what I'm going to do?" came up? I know you planned on Savage Dragon being a long-running book, but #250 specifically?
Erik Larsen: Really as soon as #225 was out the door plans were in motion to some extent. That was the next milestone. But the heat was really on about a year off.
Books like this, with that many pages and that many things to coordinate take a LOT of time to get in place. It’s NOT a one-man show at that point. There are a ton of stories to write and creative people to contact. As for the actual lead story — while broad strokes were mapped out — there’s always some wiggle room in order to be able to respond to current events.
The COVID-19 shutdown ended up playing a much bigger part than I had anticipated. There was no way I could have known about that a year ago.
Nrama: As a fan and comic creator, what do you think have been the most successful big anniversary issues like this creatively-speaking - and what aspects of those were you hoping to evoke in your Savage Dragon #250?
Larsen: I don’t really set out to emulate anything, really. Certainly, there have been a lot of successful and popular anniversary issues. I grew up in an era where a lot of books hit certain milestone issues. Some really hit it out of the park — others less so. It’s not really like any of them, really. Most books don’t do 100-page anniversary issues, many just did ordinary-sized issues. So it’s more of my idea of what these anniversaries should be rather than what they have been, necessarily.
Nrama: Before we can get to #250, #249 comes out in just a few days - June 17. How does that set the stage for the big #250? I see Malcolm really outnumbered by all his greatest foes - and even some of his father's?
Larsen: Honestly, I had a change of heart due to COVID-19 pandemic and it changed a lot of what I had planned. I don’t want to say too much but what I ended up doing wasn’t what I had initially thought I’d do. The end result is better, certainly, but not your typical extravaganza.
Originally #249 was going to feed right into #250 but I backed away from that and I think, in the long run, that was a better decision because I can’t count on every reader who picks up #250 to have read #249. Given that, it was better to have #250 be more self-contained to some extent.
Nrama: So on July 15, Savage Dragon #250 comes out - in addition to your regular readers, you'll have some returning readers and new readers as well. What can they look forward to?
Larsen: Well, #250 in particular reintroduces readers to a LOT of characters who haven’t been at the forefront for quite a while and sets the stage for what’s the come. It gives a good overview of the world and really focuses on who these guys are and why their story is so goddamned compelling.
Nrama: This milestone seems like a real defining point for Malcolm Dragon as a second-generation hero. Not puberty, but something else - do you ever have a chance to sit back and take stock of how he's grown over the years to what he is now?
Larsen: My tendency is to try and treat EVERY issue as a pivotal one and to make every issue matter.
Nrama: The solicitation for #250 promises a "sweeping culmination that sets the stage for the next phase". Maybe I read too many comics, but that would normally mean a death, a surprise return, or some major status quo change - none of which you are afraid of doing as Savage Dragon readers will attest. What can you say to the promise of big things afoot here?
Larsen: I can’t really say without saying too much. With all of the changes of plans midstream, some remained intact and that’s the important part. It’s good to be flexible, sure, but it’s still an anniversary issue and I’ve gotta deliver the goods.
The whole package from front to back holds together really well, I thought. There are all kinds of cool stories back there and they’re all pretty special. I’ve included Graphic Fantasy #2, which I colored myself and drew when I was 19 years old. I ran the first issue in #225 and this one sits nicely in here. The color is transformative.
Nrama: We're here talking about Malcolm.. what about Maxine, Angel, and the others that are part of the book?
Larsen: They’re all there and their lives are in motion. That’s the thing about a book set in real-time — these lives keep progressing. Changes aren’t arbitrary or temporary — they matter. When a character turns 24 they’ll never be 23 again —that’s gone forever.
Nrama: So assuming the world doesn't end or #250 isn't a surprise finale a la The Walking Dead, what does the future look like for Savage Dragon after #250?
Larsen: It’s a changed landscape. At the same time, these characters are dealing with a lot of the same things the rest of us are dealing with. So they’ll be going through that.
Their kids start school in the spring. We’re at that point already. Whether school exists in the fall is something else altogether but we’re on our way there.
Malcolm is a few years shy of the age his father was when the series began. And, like always, anything can happen.
Nrama: So lastly, what are your big goals with Savage Dragon #250 as a storyteller?
Larsen: As a storyteller, Savage Dragon #250 presented a huge challenge because of the sheltering in place order. The challenge was to find ways of telling the story that were visually interesting and compelling. Needless to say, it’s not all boring head shots.