Image Spotlight week continues today with my interview with Erik Larsen. As you'll see, it's a pretty freewheeling interview, but Erik and his pal Al Gordon had some good stories to tell about the founding days of Image and the fun they had then.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: So I'm here at Image Comics Expo with Erik Larsen, who's celebrating the fact that he's almost an old man.
Al Gordon: Almost an old man?
Erik Larsen: I'm working towards it. It’s a long term goal.
CB: So he's got some distant memory of the early days of Image Comics back in the day.
Gordon: Wasn't that like a weekend ago or something?
Larsen: It just seems like yesterday. We were so young and innocent. We didn't know any better. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We had job security; I was drawing Spider-Man and Todd was also drawing Spider-Man… Actually he wasn't doing Spider-Man anymore. He left that gig for fatherhood.
He was not doing comics for months, right after Cyan was born. He stopped doing comics for a few months.
And then Image started, all of us were doing miniseries and Todd was like, "Oh, I guess somebody's gotta do a monthly book." So he bit the bullet and was the first guy who actually committed to doing an [ongoing].
Gordon: That was really weird,when Todd came by a couple of times today and started talking, and I was like, "You do like a great Erik Larsen impersonation, doing Todd McFarlane…"
Larsen: What's funny is when he was working on doing the logo for Spawn, Todd had Tom do one, and at that point we're looking at it the first time going, "No, no, I don't know if that's…” And so Chris Eliopoulos did a couple of them and just sent them over like, "What about this?" He did a different version of it and sent it to Todd. Todd called him and he had heard my impersonating so much that he thought it was me, just fucking with him.
CB: From the stories, it sounds like Todd did a lot of persuading to get you to join him at Image in the first place.
Larsen: No, I was here first. I was here before he was.
CB: Tell that part of the story.
Larsen: I don't remember that part of the story; fortunately that's one of those…
CB: But you can't tell me you don't remember what happened when you founded Image.
Larsen: Well, it's weird, because I'll talk about it and then somebody else will talk about it and I'm like, "Wait a minute, I don't remember that." And I always figure it must be me. There's a lot of stuff that kind of just goes away. And I've always had a kind of a crappy memory, as it turns out.
CB: Those were supposed to be the best days of your lives, too; you were rebels.
Larsen: I know, I know. But it's weird cause there were different meetings that I was part of, and then there were ones that I was not part of. Like, they were talking on the [Image Comics 20thAnniversary] panel about being in New York, going into the Marvel offices and then going over to the DC offices. I wasn't there; I wasn't part of that. So I missed out on that particular event.
CB: What made you decide to leave Marvel? Did you not want to draw Spider-Man anymore?
Larsen: Well, at that point, I didn't have a gig. I'd left Spider-Man because I was going to do Nova and then that didn't materialize, and so I was kind of between gigs.
The thing is, I left Amazing Spider-Man because I wanted to write. So I put in a pitch for doing Nova, and they just were taking their sweet ass time about it, and meanwhile Todd left the new Spider-Man book. They needed somebody on there, so they hired me to do that.
I wrote a Spider-Man story for that comic and was drawing it. I guess I could still be doing Nova if they had said, "Yeah, it's approved now." it was weird. A lot of it was reacting to the way we were being treated. Had the Image thing not worked out, there were a couple of [other options] that I had talked to people about. But I didn't have a regular gig at that point.
CB: So you weren't totally throwing everything up in the air and saying, "I'm getting up, I'm getting out."
Larsen: It wasn't really. I don't think anybody really was sitting there going, "We got to burn these bridges and burn them good." I think you kind of go, "Well, I hope to hell this works and if it doesn't work, it would be nice to be able to have some fallback."
CB: But it worked out. The early comics sold like crazy.
Larsen: Yeah, they sold really well, to the extent where I decided there was no point in me doing any of this other stuff that I talked about doing. You know what it was? They came back and said, "Well, Nova, not as an ongoing book, [but] we'll approve it as a miniseries." So I was like, "Miniseries? Well I can do that any time." And so I was like, "I'll do this Dragon thing first." And then that was like, "Ok, I'll keep doing it because it just worked out really well."
CB: So you feel like you were kind of hanging out with the cool kids in a way when the books launched — Jim and Todd?
Larsen: Really, once it became a bigger group, then it was like, "Okay, there's a good chance that this is going to work." Yes. But prior to that, it was like, "Are we kidding? Is this really gonna happen?" But when it was just a couple of us, you kind of were a little more trepidatious about the whole thing. Once it got to be seven guys, it was like, "Yeah! Let's all go." You know, you psych yourself up."Let's all jump off the cliff together holding each other's hand."
CB: It was fun, right?
Larsen: It was fun. I was a fun time.
CB: It is different now?
Larsen: Yeah, it's different somehow, but it was good doing that; it was a fun time doing comics.
Gordon: Way back in the day.
Larsen: Way back in the day.
CB: Yeah, way back when you were younger.
Gordon: So wait, what was the order of the guys that came in? Because you had asked me to come in early on, and it was you and Rob [Liefeld] wasn't it?
Larsen: Me and Rob and… [Jim] Valentino, I'm told.
Gordon: Oh, I don't remember Valentino being in early on.
Larsen: Apparently there was some dinner that Dave Olbrich, Rob and Valentino were at, and Rob off the top of his head was like, "Hey, if I were to do a book, would you publish it?" And Dave
Olbrich was like, "Yeah, of course I would; I'd publish any of you guys."
Gordon: And that was Rob and Jim?
Larsen: I don't remember it at all. I don't remember any of that.
Gordon: So what year was that? Like '90?
Larsen: '91. And then Rob, printed out an ad for a book called…
Larsen: Exterminators. And it was a full-page ad, and Marvel just hit the roof when that thing came out. And so it was like, "Wow, we're scaring the crap out of these guys, let's do it."
Gordon: I remember you had approached me, I think, before Jim. I didn't think it was before Todd. Did Todd come in right after that?
Larsen: Yeah, Todd was in at that point.
Gordon: I remember there was a period before [Jim] Lee came in, or whatever and you were saying, to me, "Are you gonna get on board here?" But I was dealing with my dad, he was sick and he lasted maybe another month, and then he passed away.
I just remembered that later on, after my dad had been dead for about six or eight months, you called me and said, "So are you okay now?"
Larsen: I'm such a dick. I have no social graces at all.
Gordon: You said, "Are you okay now?" I said, "Yeah, what do you mean?" "You just shouldn't pass this up. We're gonna be doing this." And then I came in and I got Jerry and we did WildStar. But it was before everybody had signed up.
Larsen: I don't know if in our initial announcement it was all seven guys. I think Jim Lee came a little later in the proceedings. I don't remember.
CB: Do you remember the order of the books?
Larsen: Maybe. I’m not sure. Ask Valentino. He's got actually better memory for that sort of stuff. For whatever reason, it's like there are certain things that really stick with me and then other things that my brain is like, "Oh, this isn't important; you've got to remember that Artie Simek lettered Incredible Hulk #186, this other stuff." Why do I remember that?
CB: You wanted to draw Dragon for a long time, right?
Larsen: Yeah, well, I drew him when I was a little kid, but my fear with Dragon was [that] I'd told myself as a young man that if I ever started drawing Savage Dragon, I'd do that for the rest of my career. I didn't really, necessarily, want to start the rest of my career just yet. I was kind of toying with starting with Super Patriot and doing a Super Patriot thing, and then I was like, "Yeah, I don't really want to draw him that much. I’ll just doDragon, whatever."
CB: And that began the rest of your life.
Larsen: That began the rest of my life.
CB: It’s all been downhill since then?
Larsen: Yeah, oh well.
CB: It's Sisyphus, pushing a rock up every day, “Got to do another issue.”
So, talked to Todd, talked to Silvestri, and they both said, "This is the best thing ever, I'm so glad I did this, it's changed my life, I'm so much happier now than I ever would have been." You know, Mark has this thing about, "being a great pop culture icon and I'm glad to be proud of that." How do you feel about how it all turned out?
Larsen: How it's all turned out? It hasn't turned out yet. It's not over till it's over.
CB: But twenty years later…
Larsen: But twenty years on, I'm glad that we're still standing. I'm glad that we're still able to make a go of it. Because there were people, starting off, who wouldn't have given us 20 minutes. Now it's like, "Here we are."
CB: When you look around this convention floor and you see all these different creators, how does it make you feel to have these people be part of the thing that's created?
Larsen: Oh, it's pretty good. Some of these guys wouldn't be here without us. You kind of wonder where Robert Kirkman would be had Image Comics not come along. Because he was doing Battle Pope and was self publishing. He had limited success with that, and you're kind of like, "What would have happened had this not happened? Would Marvel have ever gone, "Sure, we'll take you on." I don't know that they would have. Then we would never have gotten all this other stuff. You never know what would have happened. Hickman is one of their star guys now; he's writing all their FF stuff. He sent us his stuff as just a blind submission.
CB: You'll do Dragon forever?
Larsen: You know what, I think I'll do it for a little while longer, yeah. At least until I'm ready to stop doing this stuff entirely. And I think even if it gets to a point where the numbers are not spectacular, it'll still be like, "You know what, I'll still do a few issues a year." But we'll see how things go. Right now it's been going great, so no complaints there.
CB: I love how it's just totally your thing.
Larsen: It's really nice to be able to just do whatever the hell you want to and not have there be somebody saying, "Oh, don't do that"
Gordon: Or, "We know what the best thing is and you don't."
Larsen: Or, "I don't think the Dragon would do that."
Don't miss the rest of our series of interviews with the Image founders!