Erik Larsen Interview

Savage Dragon. Spider-Man. Nova. Thor. These are just a few of the characters either written or drawn (or both) by Erik Larsen during his career in comics. This month, he is the driving force behind Marvel’s Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, a 12-issue series that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the FF. Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, a 12-issue series that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the FF. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Larsen about the book.

Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Larsen about the book.

Westfield: What can you tell us about Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine?

Erik Larsen: Here’s how the idea came about. My house had burned down several years ago and I hadn’t rebought the Fantastic Four comics I lost mostly because it was really tough to get any kind of a decent run. But I went into a store in Washington and I ran across somebody who had pretty much issues #44-102. That’s all the good stuff. All the stuff that Joe Sinnott inked and Frank Giacoia inked. What prompted me was that it seemed to me that the book kinda petered out in the last year. It was going great guns, then in the last year or so they were doing one part stories. And there were uninteresting villains like the Monocle and a Creature From the Black Lagoon riff. It just didn’t seem like ”wow!” anymore. My idea was, what if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby anticipated that their relationship was ending and they decided “let’s just end this thing with a bang. Let’s go all out. Bring in all the characters that the two of us have created over the course of Marvel Comics, and do a big, monstrous send off to the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.”

I got talking to Eric Stephenson about it and the two of us put together the pitch that ultimately became the book. Storywise, it fits right in-between issues #100 and 101. With the way the stories were written, it seems as though any amount of time could have passed between issues #100 and 101, so we set it there as a framework as to where the rest of the Marvel Universe is; where all these characters are, what they’re doing, and what the characters look like, because over the course of any given year, at least Goliath and the Wasp could go through a couple different costumes. There will be some characters that Jack never drew that’ll be in here, like Captain Marvel. He’s going to be the Gil Kane version. Kirby never drew him in any form, so I’ll have to find a way. [laughs] There’s just cool stuff. The FF have never gone to Asgard. How cool would that be?

The basic overall thrust of the story is, Doctor Doom goes after all the cool stuff in the Marvel Universe such as the Cosmic Cube and the Ultimate Machine. His ultimate goal is to get the power of Galactus. He’s done the Silver Surfer thing, and that worked out ok, but he’d really like to have the ultimate power. It’s going to crossover with a lot of different characters, all the major Fantastic Four villains, and most of the major Marvel villains period. And when it's all said and done, it’ll be 12 issues of pretty cool stuff.

Westfield: You mentioned that Captain Marvel’s in the book. Are you going to have a bunch of others heroes as well?

Larsen: Yeah. All the major Marvel heroes; the Avengers, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and the X-Men. It’ll fit in terms of 1970. It probably won’t be seamless as far as all of the retroactive continuity that’s gone on since 1970. There’s going to be certain things where it won’t jibe exactly with, say, X-Men: The Hidden Years. Some have suggested, “you oughta put Wolverine in there. He was around.” But Wolverine hadn’t been invented yet. He didn’t exist in 1970. He’s been ret conned into 1970, and so has Storm and a lot of other characters, but that’s not what we’re trying to do in this book. The idea is to really treat this as what could have been created in 1970. It’s tempting to put in Nova [laughter]. That’s my biggest temptation.

Westfield: So this will be written and drawn in the style of the time?

Larsen: Yeah, that’s the idea. We’ll see if we can pull it off. I think some will be able to pull it off better than others. Every issue will have essentially four different art teams in it, with each team handling 5-6 pages. I don’t know about most people, but I don’t think I could sustain doing Jack for 22 pages, month in, month out. It’s a tough thing to pull off. And this way, a lot of people get to play along, too. There’ll be some pretty neat people involved.

Westfield: You are working with a lot of different people on this project. How did that idea come about?

Larsen: Just wanting to share. I knew that I couldn’t pull it off artistically, doing 12 issues completely on my own trying to ape Jack. It would be a lot of work. It would have taken me about 10 times as long as it would’ve taken Jack. Seeing that’s it’s a 40th anniversary of the FF book, I thought it would be kinda neat to get a lot of people who were fans of Stan and Jack’s run on the book to sign the birthday card. There’ll be some people who’ll likely be back for more. Both Bruce Timm and Keith Giffen, who both do really good Jack Kirby riffs, seem inclined to stick around. They may be in every issue. There are going to be other guys who you may not even think of doing Jack Kirby riffs who are just going to come on and do their five pages, and that’ll be their statement. Eric Shanower does a really good Jack Kirby. I don’t think that there are going to be a lot of people who’ll see that one coming, but from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty seamless.

Westfield: Who are some of the other people you’re working with?

Larsen: There’s an awful lot. My hesitation in naming too many names is I expect that, as other people’s schedules shift around and some people’s turn into deadline nightmares, that there may end up being some people dropping out. I’m pretty sure we’re going to end up getting Ron Frenz and Jose Ladronn. Both of those guys do really good Jack riffs. Inking wise, I know Al Gordon is going to do some inks and Joltin’ Joe Sinnott wants to do some. There are 3 or 4 other inkers who are inclined to show up, and I think we’re set inking-wise. Pencil-wise, it gets to be a little dicey because of the deadline. It’s like, we need somebody this month. Who are we gonna get, now? And not everybody is immediately available. But it’s going to be cool. Even if we completely fall on our butt, it’ll be entertaining to watch. Is it going to end up reading and looking exactly like an issue of FF from 1970? I doubt it. But it’ll be a cool little homage and it’ll be entertaining. Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is produce a cool comic. We want to do a good Fantastic Four story that’s entertaining in its own right and it’s set in that classic time period when the heroes were heroes.

Westfield: You’re also working with a bunch of different writers. Are you plotting the whole series?

Larsen: What’s going on is I’m co-plotting it with Eric Stephenson. We’ve banged together the basic outline. Eric writes a fairly loose plot. I then turn that into layouts. It’s basic storytelling of this’ll be a 6-panel page, this is where the figures are, and stuff like that, so that there’s not huge stylistic leaps. Hopefully that can keep it so we’re all on the same page. I do want to keep it on that familiar grid that Jack used throughout his run on the Fantastic Four, and his career really. So you’re not going to go from somebody doing 6-panel pages to the next guy doing 12-panel pages. Jack never did 12-panels.

Westfield: Another Marvel project you have coming up is the Defenders. What can you say about that at this point?

Larsen: It’ll be cool [laughter]. We’re trying to get all the pieces to work, and I think we will. Again, this is a project that I had pitched with Eric Stephenson, but it wasn’t working. Through conversation with Kurt Busiek, we tried to figure out what wasn’t working about it and what could be done to make it work. I’m a fairly anal fanboy, but Kurt puts me to shame [laugher]. I can handle the Hulk end of the continuity, but he knows this other stuff inside and out. He came up with the hook that would make the team and the series work. Eric wasn’t coming up with that. I think there were some nice things that Eric and I came up with together, and there’s the some decent stuff that I came up with on my own. So Eric’s out of the loop, I’m sorry to say, but he’s doing the FF book. We took the stories that Eric had come up with on his own out of the proposal and retooled it and we’re running it up the flagpole and seeing if anybody salutes. I think it should work out real well. It hits a lot of levels and it’s got just great characters in it. It’s such a cool team and the approach is so explosive and volatile that I think people are really going to get a charge out of it. It’s much different from what it’s been in the past. It’s not going to be the non-team that was around in the 70s where people just get together coincidentally month after month and hang out.

Westfield: Is this going to have the classic Defenders team?

Larsen: It has, to my mind, the definitive Defenders team. It’s the original three, Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Sub-Mariner, and then it’s got the extended family that grew up around the first 50 issues or so. So we’ve got the Silver Surfer, Nighthawk, Valkyrie and Hellcat. It’s got all the ones I think of immediately when I think of the Defenders.

Westfield: And of course I have to ask you about Savage Dragon.

Larsen: [laughs] It’s an ongoing concern, y’know? We’re working on issue 80 here. That’s a pretty decent haul these days. I’m enjoying it and still having a good time doing it after 8 ½ years. And I don’t see that situation changing any time soon.

Westfield: Is there anything you can tell us about what’s coming up in the book?

Larsen: I can tell you that there’s going to be an appearance by the Atomics in January. The Dragon’s going to be appearing in the Atomics at the same time the Atomics are appearing in Dragon. The stories won’t connect so you won’t have to read both books. If you’re a Dragon reader, you can just read the Dragon and get a look at the Atomics. If you just read the Atomics, you get a taste of what the Dragon’s all about. That’s how we wanted it to be, and that’s how it’s going to be.

Westfield: Are you co-plotting the stories with Mike Allred?

Larsen: No, we’re basically telling each other, “this is what I’m going to do. I hope you like it.” [laughter] But we’re both in the same boat in that regard, so we’ll both suffer in silence. [laughter] But I’ll show him stuff as it’s going along and email him dialogue and stuff like that to make sure I’m getting it right. Hopefully he’ll do the same.

As we trek along towards issue 100 of the Dragon, I’m trying to orchestrate things so that I have something really cool to do in issue 100. At this point, I’m reintroducing, month by month, the old cast. In Dragon, the whole world kinda got screwed up because of something the Dragon did. There’s a guy who’s a time-traveling bad guy and he’d killed several characters that Dragon was quite fond of. Dragon ran into this same guy when he was a younger version of the guy, so he hadn’t yet done those terrible things, so Dragon killed him. He thought, “this oughta fix everything.” What it ended up doing instead was just wrecking the whole world. So Dragon’s wandering around going, “what did I do? What the hell happened?” And trying to piece together the domino effect that lead to the world being the way it is. It’s a different storytelling approach than I had been doing. I’m trying to make the book a lot more self-contained and a lot more coherent to somebody who picked it up for the first time. At the same time, for people who’ve been reading it forever, we’re reintroducing old characters in a different light. For them, it’s kinda cool because they get to contrast how things were before to how things are now.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Larsen: Great comics are coming folks. What we all need is more people who are trying to produce what they feel are good comics. I’m certainly putting in my effort, and I hope others will do the same.