"Erik Larsen Interview"

JAN 2001 Product


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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 Marvelís Fantastic Four: The Worldís 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.

Westfield: What can you tell us about Fantastic Four: The Worldís Greatest Comic Magazine?

Erik Larsen: Hereís how the idea came about. My house had burned down several years ago and I hadnít 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. Thatís 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 didnít seem like Ēwow!Ē anymore. My idea was, what if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby anticipated that their relationship was ending and they decided ďletís just end this thing with a bang. Letís 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 Worldís Greatest Comic Magazine.Ē

            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 theyíre 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 thatíll be in here, like Captain Marvel. Heís going to be the Gil Kane version. Kirby never drew him in any form, so Iíll have to find a way. [laughs] Thereís 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. Heís done the Silver Surfer thing, and that worked out ok, but heíd really like to have the ultimate power. Itís 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, itíll be 12 issues of pretty cool stuff.

Westfield: You mentioned that Captain Marvelís 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. Itíll fit in terms of 1970. It probably wonít be seamless as far as all of the retroactive continuity thatís gone on since 1970. Thereís going to be certain things where it wonít jibe exactly with, say, X-Men: The Hidden Years. Some have suggested, ďyou oughta put Wolverine in there. He was around.Ē But Wolverine hadnít been invented yet. He didnít exist in 1970. Heís been ret conned into 1970, and so has Storm and a lot of other characters, but thatís not what weíre trying to do in this book. The idea is to really treat this as what could have been created in 1970. Itís tempting to put in Nova [laughter]. Thatís my biggest temptation.

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

Larsen: Yeah, thatís the idea. Weíll 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 donít know about most people, but I donít think I could sustain doing Jack for 22 pages, month in, month out. Itís a tough thing to pull off. And this way, a lot of people get to play along, too. Thereíll 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 couldnít 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 wouldíve taken Jack. Seeing thatís itís 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 Jackís run on the book to sign the birthday card. Thereíll be some people whoíll 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 thatíll be their statement. Eric Shanower does a really good Jack Kirby. I donít think that there are going to be a lot of people whoíll see that one coming, but from what Iíve seen, itís pretty seamless.

Westfield: Who are some of the other people youíre working with?

Larsen: Thereís an awful lot. My hesitation in naming too many names is I expect that, as other peopleís schedules shift around and some peopleís turn into deadline nightmares, that there may end up being some people dropping out. Iím pretty sure weíre 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 Joltiní Joe Sinnott wants to do some. There are 3 or 4 other inkers who are inclined to show up, and I think weíre set inking-wise. Pencil-wise, it gets to be a little dicey because of the deadline. Itís like, we need somebody this month. Who are we gonna get, now? And not everybody is immediately available. But itís going to be cool. Even if we completely fall on our butt, itíll 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 itíll be a cool little homage and itíll be entertaining. Ultimately, what weíre trying to do is produce a cool comic. We want to do a good Fantastic Four story thatís entertaining in its own right and itís set in that classic time period when the heroes were heroes.

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

Larsen: Whatís going on is Iím co-plotting it with Eric Stephenson. Weíve banged together the basic outline. Eric writes a fairly loose plot. I then turn that into layouts. Itís basic storytelling of thisíll be a 6-panel page, this is where the figures are, and stuff like that, so that thereís not huge stylistic leaps. Hopefully that can keep it so weíre 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 youíre 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: Itíll be cool [laughter]. Weíre 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 wasnít working. Through conversation with Kurt Busiek, we tried to figure out what wasnít working about it and what could be done to make it work. Iím 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 wasnít coming up with that. I think there were some nice things that Eric and I came up with together, and thereís the some decent stuff that I came up with on my own. So Ericís out of the loop, Iím sorry to say, but heís 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 weíre 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 itís got just great characters in it. Itís 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. Itís much different from what itís been in the past. Itís 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. Itís the original three, Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Sub-Mariner, and then itís got the extended family that grew up around the first 50 issues or so. So weíve got the Silver Surfer, Nighthawk, Valkyrie and Hellcat. Itís 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] Itís an ongoing concern, yíknow? Weíre working on issue 80 here. Thatís a pretty decent haul these days. Iím enjoying it and still having a good time doing it after 8 Ĺ years. And I donít see that situation changing any time soon.

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

Larsen: I can tell you that thereís going to be an appearance by the Atomics in January. The Dragonís going to be appearing in the Atomics at the same time the Atomics are appearing in Dragon. The stories wonít connect so you wonít have to read both books. If youíre 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 Dragonís all about. Thatís how we wanted it to be, and thatís how itís going to be.

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

Larsen: No, weíre basically telling each other, ďthis is what Iím going to do. I hope you like it.Ē [laughter] But weíre both in the same boat in that regard, so weíll both suffer in silence. [laughter] But Iíll show him stuff as itís going along and email him dialogue and stuff like that to make sure Iím getting it right. Hopefully heíll do the same.

            As we trek along towards issue 100 of the Dragon, Iím trying to orchestrate things so that I have something really cool to do in issue 100. At this point, Iím reintroducing, month by month, the old cast. In Dragon, the whole world kinda got screwed up because of something the Dragon did. Thereís a guy whoís a time-traveling bad guy and heíd 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 hadnít yet done those terrible things, so Dragon killed him. He thought, ďthis oughta fix everything.Ē What it ended up doing instead was just wrecking the whole world. So Dragonís wandering around going, ďwhat did I do? What the hell happened?Ē And trying to piece together the domino effect that lead to the world being the way it is. Itís a different storytelling approach than I had been doing. Iím 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 whoíve been reading it forever, weíre reintroducing old characters in a different light. For them, itís 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. Iím certainly putting in my effort, and I hope others will do the same.

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