As one of the first titles coming out of Image Comics in 1992 and with a steady stream of titles since then, Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon has emerged over time as the defacto flagship for the California-based publisher. And for its epic eighteen-year run, the title has been guided by the blinding focus of its creator Erik Larsen. From time to time he’s enlisted his friends to help out, but unlikely many creators out there – Erik Larsen is the face of Savage Dragon and vice versa. And while Larsen continues on with the upcoming “Emperor Dragon” story-arc showing a evil side to the green-finned fellow, he’s enlisted an indie wrecking crew to do a series of twelve back-up strips for the book.
Beginning in May’s Savage Dragon #160, a select and talented group of artists are putting pen to paper In twelve short tales under the banner of Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies. While the Savage Dragon series is no stranger to seeing other creators come in for guest spots, backups and covers , Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies seems like a different animal. And series creator Erik Larsen is all for it.
“I’ve had various people to back-ups here and there over the years,” Larsen explained,” and it’s always been kind of cool to see what other people do with the characters both with the story and the art. It’s nice to see other people give it their twist, which in turn gets me thinking in different direction. I feed off that a lot.”
These back-ups, complete with their own flip-book cover on the rear of the title, will show different sides to Larsen’s “Dragonverse” and it’s all organized by cartoonist Michel Fiffe. The creators scheduled to take their turn on this unique back-up feature include Andrew Dimitt, Kiel West, Delsante and Freire, Ulises Farinas, Chris Sanderson, Conoro Hughes, Kat Roberts, Hyendo Park, Pedro Camargo, Jason Thibodeaux, and Image’s own Joe Keatinge. Setting things off in the May issue will be Fiffe himself doing a short tale about a classic Dragon villain.
“One of my favorite Dragon villains, Abner Cadaver, tries to derail Dragon's already awkward blind date,” Fiffe explained. “I tried cramming as much cool stuff within the 7 pages I had. I think it sets the tone for the rest of the series pretty well in that it's a fun, "done-in-one" story. It may not be Dragon canon, but these out-of-continuity yarns will appeal to the hardcore fan and the newbies; they're the perfect gateway to both the main title and the guest creators.”
Joining the series later on in the 12-issue run for his take on the character is experimental comics pioneer Andrew Dimitt, whose unique webcomic work Drockleberry gave him a name quick on the Act-I-Vate webcomics collective platform.
“Savage Dragon really has one of, if not, the best rogue's gallery in comics, and from a cartoonist's perspective, the beauty of these Funnies was in lingering over which one to run away with,” said Dimitt. “ After having caught myself up with reading nearly the full series run in just about three nights, I wasn't long in picking a character named Roughneck with the express purposes of exploiting the absurdity of a near seven foot, star-spangled Frankenstein’s monster with a dozen over-sized bolts jutting out of his head and shoulders. What might a typical day in Chicago's burbs be like for a fellow like Roughneck? Also, at around that same time, my friend Jim read me off a hilarious list of the near few dozen perils which Timmy had needed Lassie to rescue him from; everything from dynamite picked up by an escaped lab chimp, to quicksand, rabid dogs, fire, threatened by dam spill-over to hit and run drivers.
Thing is, Timmy never did need help from a well as it turns out, so I got it in my head to put little Timmy down that damn well,” laughs Andrew. “As it happens, the well is in Roughneck's backyard.”
From solo cartoonists to a more group effort, FCHS creators Vito Delsante and Ronnie Friere return in this series with an homage to Russ Meyer. Russ Meyer meets Erik Larsen?
“Our story, "Faster Baby Yeah Yeah," sounds like it...uh, sounds,” Delsante said matter-of-factly. “It's an homage, in part, to "Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill," the classic Russ Meyer film. So, what we have is Dragon and his crew going up against Overlord and his crew in the 1950's, with drag racing being a major part of the story. “
“Our story is pretty much a hot-rod comic,” said Friere, who illustrated the strip which will appear in Savage Dragon #163. “I'm super excited about this, I love those old comics about cars and racing. It's fun to read because of Vito's "lingo", and it was fun to illustrate.”
Many of these creators hail from the webcomics collective Act-I-Vate, for which Fiffe is a founding member. One of the more recent additions to the fold that’s appearing in this book is Hyeondo Park. Park has worked on series for Zuda and is currently doing the series Sam & Lilah at Act-I-Vate with writer Jim Dougan. For his story in Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies, he’s taking is signature linework to tell a more personal story than Dragon readers might expect.
“It’s about a love story between a character named Shuttup and his roommate Sharon, who is seeing Khristian,” said Hyeondo. “It’s somewhat of a typical boy loves a girl, girl doesn’t see the boy as boyfriend story. I guess compared to the other twisted stories mine is pretty normal except for our main character, Shuttup, being a mime.”
Park’s story, which is expected to appear in the new year with Savage Dragon #168, is inspired both by the character found in Larsen’s epic series and the Hyeondo Park’s own early years.
“I guess what attracted me to Shuttup was that he didn’t talk,” said Park. “In middle school or high school, I didn’t really talk much or often, only when a teacher called on me and not even that much to my best friends. I kind of was known as the guy that didn’t talk around the school. So that’s somewhat of a weird connection to the Shuttup.”
The freshest face in the artistic line-up for this special event gracing the pages of Savage Dragon is Kiel West.
“My story, ‘Grand Exit’, puts Mr. Larsen’s character Powerhouse in a nightmare scenario of my design, in which he confronts a spiteful ghost from his past,” said West. Although je jumped at the opportunity to appear in the back of Savage Dragon, the creator does admit that deciding on a story and a character was a challenge. “I probably courted 15 characters before settling on Powerhouse. I read a bunch of issues out of sequence and I'm amazed at the breadth of personalities in the Savage Dragon universe. I remember being 13 and thinking Savage Dragon looked so cool, but it had this edgy, "adult" quality and it probably would've made my mom nervous.”
When asked about the origin of the unique concept of Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies, Fiffe as the event’s editor was excited to explain.
“I've always been a huge Savage Dragon fan and I've always liked it when Erik Larsen ran cool little stories as back up features,” Fiffe said. “They were all pretty random for the most part, but they were all fun. I thought it'd be great to have some sort of "indy" running thread with the Dragon characters. I approached Erik with the idea and he was quick to run with it. It was then up to me to rally all of the contributors and bring life to the idea. Erik's given us carte blanche and has been nothing but supportive in our experiment. We came to the conclusion that the monthly format was the best place to run these self contained, offbeat stories.”
While “offbeat” stories might seem out of place with other characters in comic canon, over the years Larsen himself has taken the character in many different directions – exploring unique stories as well as art styles, showing how much you can do with one character.
“Savage Dragon is about me and the others having a good time with comics,” said Larsen. “It’s been an awesome experience, especially with these back-up stories; like when I started doing comics. When you have others come along and do their take it’s very fun. It’s not quite “fan fiction”, but it’s not completely in the Savage Dragon cannon. That allows guys to do whatever the heck they want. We’ll print it up and see what happens. It’s kind of in the vein of DC’s Bizarro or the recent Strange Tales series by Marvel.”
In recent years, mainstream superhero publishers like Marvel and DC have turned their eyes outside the traditional comics shelves for talent and interesting new takes. But as Michel Fife explains, it goes back further than that.
“For me it all started when Evan Dorkin recruited Jaime Hernandez, Jim Woodwing, and David Mazzucchelli for World's Funnest,” explained the cartoonist. “After that, a Hulk story by James Kochalka and Peter Bagge's Spider-Man came out. I remember an X-men cover by Seth for an indy-Marvel tribute book and it's snowballed ever since. I mean, it was really exciting to see these vibrant and cool versions of those iconic characters drawn by artists you would never associate them with. Two Bizarro books and a Strange Tales series later, the entire "alt" approach seems more promising than ever.”
In enlisting talent for this “alt” approach to Savage Dragon, Fiffe had a challenge in finding the right fit to do the book justice.
“A lot of factors went into recruiting for this project,” Fiffe said. “First and foremost, I approached people whom I knew would be absolutely perfect for the job. Secondly, I wanted a solid line-up of folks who would actually get the job done. It just so happens that a few Act-i-vators fit the bill. I was also following a few other cartoonists that had nothing to do with webcomics, and I was super excited to have them on board as well. It wasn't intentional to have any obvious A-I-V ties to the series though.”
Although wrapped in the superhero genre that some independent cartoonists might avoid, there is ample respect for the character and cartoonist who created him by these “alt” artists.
“The Dragon saga, in its entirety, is as sincere a body of work as any one of us can dream of pulling off as Larsen has,” said Andrew Dimitt. “Page after page, panel after panel, it's the sincere and nimble work of someone who has adored comic books for as long as they can remember.”
That statement was echoed by writer Vito Delsante, who is also a comics retailer in New York.
“I've always felt that if Kirby was still around, he'd be very flattered by what Erik does,” said the writer. “It's very over the top, almost always non-stop action. There's not a lot of soap opera in it, and I think that's a reflection of Erik and his comic book aesthetic. It's a throwback book, in the best possible sense. You can just lose yourself in the fun of it. “
At this time, the Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies are scheduled to run as back-ups for twelve consecutive issues through #172, but that isn’t to say more couldn’t come should the event prove popular with fans.
“Time will tell,” said Fiffe,” but of course I would love for the series to expand and continue somehow. There are a great number of awesome cartoonists whom I would love to have contribute. Not to mention that there are so many other great Dragon characters that we didn't even touch this time around. In a weird way, we're all sorta meant for one another.”