It completely snuck up on me, but I think I have a new favorite comic. I’ve gone a while without one. I suppose by default my favorite lately has been Steve Gerber’s amazing Hard Time, but while that comic inspires me to think and re-examine it every issue, that’s not the sort of comic to make me smile every month when I see it at the comic shop.
Savage Dragon is that sort of comic.
There’s something absolutely wonderful about the way that Erik Larsen’s art and storytelling have evolved. This comic started as a typical Image comic – full of mindless action and adventure. Somewhere around its third year, the comic evolved into one of manic energy, full of cleverness but still falling short of greatness. I started reading the comic regularly around the beginning of the “Savage World” arc, when the Dragon’s comic briefly took on the feel of a mid-’70s Marvel comic gone mad. There were standard old-school page layouts and Kirbyesque action and thought balloons, and it was tremendous fun, but somewhere along the way, the comic lost a bit of its freshness for me, and I stopped buying it.
Recently, though, I’ve been picking up the series regularly, starting roughly with Larsen’s return to the comic about six months ago. And it seems like Savage Dragon is in yet another new phase. Larsen took a sabbatical from the comic for a few months while assuming the role of publisher at Image; since his return, this has been an absolutely wonderful series.
One thing that’s added charm to the comic is that Larsen’s art has gotten looser. Anyone familiar with his old style will be surprised that a style like Erik Larsen’s could get even looser, but Larsen’s art has become even sketchier and lighter than it was before. It might sound like a complaint on the surface that Larsen’s art has become sketchier, but exactly the opposite is true here. The looseness of Larsen’s art adds an odd feel to the stories. On one hand, it makes the stories in the comic seem less serious, which has the odd effect of making a threat like Mister Bug’s in this issue seem even less worrisome than it might have been. So when Mister Bug proves to be extremely dangerous, it’s shocking both to the Dragon and to readers.
It seems like time constraints have loosened Larsen’s writing as well. He’s always been a master at the unexpected, but in this issue, his story “The Fly”, basically 24 pages of an unchanging, static scene, is surprising and funny and interesting all the way through. The random craziness of Larsen’s world is carried beautifully through his loose writing.
I can’t tell you this is the greatest comic ever. There are rewards for catching up with the series, as I did recently, and it’s fun knowing the back stories of Mister Glum, Angel and Jennifer. The comic has a loose feeling, which has the potential for edging close to laziness. But thus far, the comic hasn’t gotten lazy. Quite the contrary: the busier Erik Larsen gets, the better this comic gets.
I have a new favorite comic. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s The Savage Dragon.