With over twenty-five years spent working in comics, Erik Larsen has built quite a track record – and quite the expectation – with what his comics should be. From his star-making run on Amazing Spider-Man to his career-defining work on the long-running Savage Dragon series, he’s firmly entrenched himself as a unique cartoonist – and character – in the world of comics. But where does he go if he wants to experiment?
In the upcoming one-shot Herculian, he gets that chance to flex new muscles and do something outside of his monthly Savage Dragon book and try new styles of storytelling and cartooning. Set for release on March 2, Herculian includes a full color reprint of his 24-hour comic “Guy Talk” from years ago, as well as several rare stories as well as a new one. As a long-time comics creator and even longer-time fan, Larsen is collecting these stories in a unique format similar to other recent Image releases like King City and Viking but even larger, the cartoonist says. For more, we talked with the Image founder by phone from his office in California.
Newsarama: Erik, you’ve got to tell me about this new one-shot you’re putting out called Herculian. It seems pretty different from your Savage Dragon stuff. The title reminds me of that 24 hour comic you did years ago – is that a collection of that?
Erik Larsen: You’re right. After the Herculian story originally appeared in the Image Two For One, I decided that since it was a superhero thing that it should be in color. As I started coloring it, I thought I’d just pop it into an issue of Savage Dragon -- but once I completed it I realized it should be put out on its own. It’s a really cool experiment.
Nrama: This has a boat-load of stuff. Can you give us a rundown of what this includes?
Larsen: So the idea for this one-shot was for it to be a home for the 24-hour comic Herculian as well as a bunch of other stories I’ve done in the past few years that don’t relate to Savage Dragon. So in addition to the 24-page Herculian story, we had these short little things I had done in the Popgun anthologies, so it added up to 48 pages.
Nrama: Although in the original 24-hour comic Herculian got his heart ripped out, I noticed he popped up recently in Savage Dragon. Any chance we’ll be seeing more of him in other stories or in Savage Dragon?
Larsen: Chances are not. He’s kind of a one-shot guy – I don’t want to spoil it, but after he has his heart broken he’s just not the same afterwards. [laughs]
Nrama: Getting to those other stories, I remember those Popgun stories for the dramatically different styles you took on. And since it’s in this unusual size format, have you had a chance to hold the finished product in your hand – or at least a mock-up?
Larsen: No, I haven’t yet. It’ll be fun to see how it turns out. Up until you have the printed thing in your hands, you’re not completely sure how it’s going to look. I’m anxious.
Nrama: In addition to the Herculian story and those four Popgun shorts, don’t you have a new story in the mix?
Larsen: Yeah. When I laid out the book I realized that I was six pages short, so I worked up a new 6 page story with completely new characters.
And I did the whole book by myself from start to finish – writing, coloring, drawing and even lettering. Nobody’s touched those pages but me. There’s only one exception where some of the lettering on the cover originated from Chris Eliopoulous; I took what he had done with the originally Image Two In One book Herculian debuted in and monkeyed with it, adding perspective to it.
Nrama: Is it nice to have this avenue and outlet for things that don’t fit into the Dragon-verse?
Larsen: Definitely. I’m constantly coming up with all sorts of stories that aren’t tied in with the things I’ve done before. I’ve been doing it all the time – just coming up with an idea that’s not necessarily a superhero idea, or one that doesn’t necessarily fit in with what I’m doing. If I came up with a story about a duck, I can’t just put it into Savage Dragon -- it’d be kind of an odd thing. “Here’s a story about a duck; get used to it, kids!”.
This Herculian one-shot is a chance for me to stretch a little. Style-wise, I don’t feel obligated to conform to a certain style like I’ve done for my other projects. Take for instance the stories from Popgun; I did one in a style reminiscent of Art Spiegelman, and another that’s just pretty cartooning. It’s cool to be able to do that. It’s kind of like sketchbooks I see from artists; oftentimes you’ll see an artist do some dramatically different stuff in their sketchbook than what they’re known for. I say to them “Wow, look at this crazy side of your work! I never see you do that in comics!”
Nrama: When I first saw one of Dave Johnson’s “Devil Pig” sketchbooks I thought that.
Larsen: Exactly! Dave Johnson is precisely one of those guys. I looked at his sketchbook years and years ago when he was just starting out, and told him he would be the perfect guy to do a Super Patriot series. But when he started turning in pages, I had to call him and say “I don’t want this – I want what I saw in your sketchbook! The crazy – not the conventional! Bust it out!” Dave took that as a challenge and came back with some stuff that was really different from his initial pages. Those original five or six pages he did before I called him never saw print, and the book went in a totally new direction – and he’s a better artist for it. I think his work on Super Patriot was a huge step for him.
Like me pushing him, I think this Herculian one-shot is me pushing myself.