DANIEL BEST: So where did you start? You started when you were in school?
ERIK LARSEN: That’s when I started drawing comics kind of for myself. Certainly wasn’t professional by any stretch of the imagination but that’s where I started drawing. Then it kind of went on from there. My dad had comics in the house because he bought comics when he was a kid, so they just were around. He sort of grew up during the latter part of the golden age. He didn’t have Action Comics number 1, or any of those real early key issues that are worth millions, but…
DB: That’s a shame. <laughter>
EL: Yeah…but he had some good stuff. He had the Superman comic where he met Batman for the first time. He had all sorts of gems and he stopped buying comics when EC comics stopped publishing. At that point, he’d switched over from reading super hero stuff to reading the EC stuff and when EC stopped he said “Well nobody’s publishing comics for me anymore.” So he stopped buying comics entirely. But he got hooked right up to the end of when they were publishing, and he had all the cool, key EC stuff which was really neat to have. Fortunately he gave it all to me...and my house burnt down. <laughter>
DB: I did hear about that, it wasn’t good.
EL: <laughter> Yeah, it did kind of suck. But, you know, whatever. Life goes on and you do what you can with it.
DB: It’s a great attitude to have <laughter> I think I’d still be crying a river.
EL: <laughter> No, there gets to be a point where you just go 'well there’s only so much you can do'. And it’s like, I’m glad that it was that stuff and not my life. I’m glad that I still have use of everything and that my family’s fine and stuff like that. Material things can be replaced and you always have your memories, and you can always add memories to that.
DB: You could always go out and buy EC reprints I guess.
EL: <laughter> Yeah, basically that’s what I did. I went and bought all those Russ Cochran books so that I did at least have the stuff around.
DB: You have a lot of great attitudes in life <laughter> You can see that from your work. <laughter>
DB: The EC stuff explains a very warped sense of humour though.
DB: So how did you break into Marvel?
EL: Well, it’s a really long, kind of backwards way of doing it. How most guys get in, in the United States, is they start doing stuff wherever anyone will let them do it. So my early work wasn’t at Marvel, it was with whoever would give me a job. The first job I ever got was for a small black and white comic book called ‘Megaton’. The guy that published that was Gary Carlson, and Gary was a guy who’d go out there and buy as many fanzines and stuff like that as he could find and he would contact the better artists that were working on those fanzines in order to help him put together what he was convinced would be a rousing, good superhero comic. So that’s where I came in and I started working for him on that.
I did a number of stories for him and then I got work over at another small company called AC Comics, who were at least doing comic books in colour, and then that led to me doing little bits and pieces. Eventually I ran into Jim Shooter and he gave me a break doing a Hulk versus Thor story. We met at a convention and we talked through what the story was going to be at the convention. Then I went home and drew it. Once I had those samples on hand, I was able top get all kinds of work. As you say, it’s Marvel characters, it’s a real story and it’s really going to be in a real Marvel comic and that led to me doing DNAgents for a short while and then that led to me doing an early fill in on Spider-man and then the Doom Patrol came next. Sort of job-by-job I’d keep leapfrogging from one gig to a better one hoping to make it big.
DB: Which you eventually did.
EL: Yeah, I eventually did ok. <laughter>
DB: The Thor story, now that ended up being scripted by Stan Lee and inked by Vinnie Colletta.
EL: Yeah, you know, it was. And it was kind of a cool thing because, and I didn’t appreciate it at the time at all, but Vinnie inked it, I was sitting there pencilling it and Stan Lee scripted it. So it was like the classic Thor creative team, with me playing the part of Jack Kirby. It was the last time that Stan would script anything, an issue of Thor period. And it was the last time that Vinnie Colletta inked an issue of Thor.
DB: Sounds ominous really.
EL: There we go.
DB: You don’t think they all decided not to do it again.
EL: <laughs> Well Vinnie died so…<laughter>
DB: Well that’s a good excuse. <laughter>
EL: Slowed down his work load tremendously, but he’s doing just as many backgrounds. <laughter>
DB: Oh, that’s cruel. <laughter – took a minute or two to regain composure> So when you were reading comics, what would you follow?
EL: I read whatever I could get my hands on. I was a big fan of The Hulk and Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane and whatever he was working on at the time. Discovering Jack Kirby was a major revelation and then, once again, I’d just get whatever was out there that I thought was good stuff. Really when it was getting close to the time when I was going to break in there was a sort of a boom period of comics where Simonson was doing Thor, Byrne was doing, I think it was, it might have been before he was doing Fantastic Four. It might have been before Walt was doing Thor even, because it just seemed like there was this good stuff out there. Frank Miller was doing Daredevil, and there was this atmosphere of ‘People are doing good stuff’.
DB: I still say to people, in those times you had George Perez doing Teen Titans, you had Simonson on Thor, Miller on Daredevil, Byrne on X-Men, Fantastic Four, Paul Smith on X-Men, Arthur Adams was just starting out…
EL: Yeah. It was this period where it was like, wow. There’s everything cool, or certainly a lot of it. Howard Chaykin was doing American Flagg, which was, at that point, just mind-blowing. Like WOW! Holy Crap! You can do this? <laughter>. Wow – let’s talk about blow-jobs in here.
DB: And then you saw Big Black Kiss. <laughter>
EL: Well, that was later, yeah.
DB: John Byrne. You say you started out enjoying his work, but you’re engaged in a very public feud with the man right now.
EL: Oh yeah, but what the hell. You know, you can still like somebody’s stuff and think they’re an idiot. I mean, that’s kind of what it comes down to isn’t it? The thing about John is that he’s just so fucking stubborn that he won’t back down on anything, even when he’s absolutely, 100% proven by every living, breathing person on the planet wrong. And it gets kind of funny to watch. <laughter> In terms of his actual artistic ability or whatever, he’s fine. I don’t think he’s doing better work than he’s ever done in his entire career, but that’s ok too.
DB: I think the last thing of his that I enjoyed was The Hidden Years – and I grew up on Byrne and loved his work.
EL: Yeah. What ends up happening sometimes is they…fall apart <laughter>. They hit a wall and it’s like, Ok, this is as good as it’s going to get and they start backing up from there.
DB: It’s a shame because…
EL: I think his biggest problem is that he just doesn’t listen to anyone anymore. He’s just so convinced that he’s right that he won’t take any kind of advice on anything on any level. I’m sitting there looking through copies of his stuff at a convention in the DC booth and I’m talking over with this well known DC editor, whose name I will not drag into this, and I was pointing out kind of amateurish types of mistakes that John was making in one of the books. And he was agreeing with me, going “Yeah, there’s no telling the guy.” And that’s really a shame, and that’s really bad because if he would actually listen to somebody his stuff would just be better, it would improve. And what would he lose by doing that?
EL: Pride. Maybe, but it’s like ok, so <deep voice> “Gee now my stuff is better and I’m more successful and I owe it all to them.” <laughter>
DB: Now, who is that mysterious man who pencils and inks your stuff?
EL: You know, <laughs> if I could find a background guy…I’ve never worked with anybody. The only thing that it seems like, it could be possible, if that somebody did a back up story in one of the earlier issues of Dragon was wanting to get into a convention and said “Well I did this backup story in Savage Dragon” and shows the people his stuff, and they go “Oh, ok, you did a four to six page story in the back of a professional comic so I guess you’re a pro” and let them in. And then John Byrne heard ‘background’, which kind of makes sense because in a couple of the earlier issues there were a few guys that did little backup stories, in addition to my main yarn. At this point John insisted so much, and dug his heels in that he would never come around and say “well wait a minute, that does make some sense”. But otherwise it’s impossible. How could anybody get photocopies of my stuff? I’m the only guy that sees it. I’m here. I scan in the pages myself. When I get them back from the letterer they’re the barest indications of scribble. Who’s gonna take copies of that anywhere? <laughter>
DB: Obviously the mysterious background inker.
EL: Yeah. I don’t know who that guy is, if you follow me.
DB: When I saw that post (on the Byrne message board) I had to laugh, but I laughed more at your response about which convention and the guy's appearance.
EL: Yeah, and all those questions are unanswered. It’s like, ok you don’t remember his name, you don’t remember the convention he was at. What the hell did the guy look like? <laughter> Did he have a head? That sort of thing – can we narrow it down to people with heads? Try and determine who it is. Can you tell me what nationality he was, can you tell me if he was Caucasian, or Asian, or black, or whatever. If someone’s out there posing as my background guy I’d like to find out who this guy is: who’s out there saying this stuff. I know it’s not true. Anybody who has even passing familiarity with my work would go “Boy, these backgrounds have been remarkably consistent. They’ve sucked for eleven years.” <laughter> “Yeah, he’s got a background guy with the worst taste ever!” I’m going out and finding them, “You. Can you not draw cars?” <laughter>
DB: Have you ever thought of approaching John Byrne and saying “Do a pin up” just for the one issue?
EL: It’s one of those things that it’s like, you know…First he wouldn’t do it. Second if he did do it, it would suck. And do you want that? I’ve asked John about stuff on various occasions. When I was doing the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine thing, a tribute to Stan and Jack, and I was like, you know, I’ve got to ask John. If, for no other reason, than not to have John being all over the place going “Well they never asked me!!” It’s like, ok, well let me be the guy who asks John, knowing full well he’s not going to do it. Because A: he’s never, ever going to intentionally work with me and he’s not going to work with Bobbie Chase the editor, because she was the reason he left She Hulk. So, I know he’s going to say no, but I just don’t want him out there saying “Well they didn’t want me to do it” and badmouthing the project in that way.
DB: So if you ran into him at a convention is it time to get the gloves on?
EL: Nobody does, not really. Not in real life. People get into fist fights in comic books for no real reason <laughter>, just because we gotta get people into fistfights. But for crying out loud I’m not going to go slugging him.
DB: Nah, I was..
EL: I don’t know how old he is. He’s an old man <laughter>
DB: Oh that’ll go down good.
EL: <laughs> He’s considerably older than I am and has done considerably fewer sit ups. <laughter>
DB: I’ll give you that.
EL: <laughter> That’s why I love my life goddammit.. <laughter> Oh, Erik’s an abrasive asshole. <laughter> Yes he is.
DB: <laughter> Well I’d not say that you're abrasive, more that you’re funny.
EL: There’s just something that I really enjoy, just being a dick. <laughter> Just saying something and going ‘Yeah’. There’s this big long post on one of his (Byrnes) message boards and I went in and I actually did a reasonable critique of some things that I thought John was screwing up on. And it was like ‘bubba bubba bubba’ and all reasonable up until the end where it just says “And John should stop inking with his dick.” <laughter> And if that wasn’t there it would have been this boring post. It’s like, who cares? There’s nothing provocative or fascinating about that, it’s like, it’s something really mean <laughter>. Cool.
DB: You’re fairly active on the internet.
EL: You know it takes up far too much time. It’s just stupid and I really shouldn't be doing it because it wastes a lot of time. There do get to be these certain instances where it kind of burns me out, where I sit there going, 'what kinds of things are going on in their lives to flat out lie about me and my work and then not back down'. Then it’s like, whatever faults I may have and Lord knows <laughs> they’re there and you don’t have to look hard. <laughter> If somebody comes up to me and says “Hey, you said you referenced every single gun you ever drew. This one looks like somebody’s foot.” I would go “You got me”. And you know, it’s like, oh, ok, that’s it? That’s the end of it? Yes, that’s it, that’s the end of it, you were right and I was wrong. Oh shit. <laughter> And it kind of takes the fun out of it for the other person. You know, you were right, I was wrong, there you go.
DB: I shouldn’t be surprised, I had a little flame war on the Kirby mailing list a while back all because someone put a Hulk page on eBay which says ‘Script by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby’. I tend to believe that, but the consensus from a few is that Kirby did it all and Lee did nothing – I can’t work it out why people get so narky when you disagree with them.
EL: The thing is nobody here knows what he was working from at that point for that issue, so nobody can make a really strong argument that you can hang your hat on. From what I’m told, and the plot Marvel artists worked from was a verbal plot, it wasn’t even written down. Stan Lee would have somebody come into his office and they would plot through the story. He would tell them what would happen, give them the gist of the story and that would be it.
DB: Now where I sit, and this is long winded but it will go somewhere, you can’t work on an ongoing story without having some idea of the plot in advance – that is you can’t just sit down and see what happens. Now, when you work on the Dragon, or Spider-man or anything, do you work it out first, do you sit there and think “I want this character to be at this point in five issues time”.
EL: Sometimes. Other times I’m winging it. And that’s fun too. It’s a gas to just go in and go 'you know what? I don’t have any idea where this is heading but I’m gonna throw something out there and make something out of it'. And it can be a real challenge to be doing that. You could be going ‘I have a hundred piece puzzle. I’m going to put this piece here, this piece here, this piece here and this piece there and hope to God I can get all the others to connect around it’. It can be hair raising. When I’m doing Spider-man, I’ve got an editor so they want more than the scribbled notes that I’ll have when I’m starting an issue of Savage Dragon. Sometimes with the Dragon, I won’t have any kind of notes at all, I’ll just start drawing. Well I know that I need to get to this point by here and that point by there and usually what will happen is that I’ll sit and draw six, seven or eight pages and then I’ll go, 'crap, I better work out the rest of it so I know where it ends'. <laughter> I don’t want to be sitting here drawing additional 18 pages and then going “Hell that adds up to 26 and I only have room for 22.” Sometimes I end up editing it. I’ll draw sequences and get to the end and go well, I need more pages at the beginning of the story or I need more pages at the end. So I need to take something out of the beginning, I need to clip something out. I’ve done that quite often, and quite recently. <laughter>
DB: Do you then re-use those pages, throw them out?
EL: Mostly I just erase them and use the paper for something else. I can’t re-use them because they don’t work for anything else, unless it’s a fight scene, which doesn’t matter what issue it’s for because there’s always two guys punching each other. Most of the time it’ll be something very specific. The Dragon in the Oval Office talking to George Bush with Super Patriot and Battle Tank and co. – that one won’t work anywhere else. <laughter> If you can’t make this one work in this issue you pretty much can’t make it ever work anywhere. Those are the kinds of things that I could, I suppose, add in when I do the collection later on. Generally what ends up happening when I have to cut pages is that I’ll go, 'ok well I’m going to use, of these three pages have to be condensed down to one, I’m going to use something like this panel, something like that panel and something like this one over here' and I’ll end up cobbling together a page that has a lot of the elements from the three other pages. So those three other pages could really be slipped into a trade paperback without screwing anything up. Well, whatever <laughter> I don’t concern myself with it too much. Most of my pencils are very rough indications of where things are and for figure placement so when I get the stuff lettered and back from the letterer that I can adjust things accordingly if I need to and then sharpen up my pencils a little bit so I can go in and do the right drawing.
DB: You’re the only person I know who seems to be inspired by a letterer. <laughter>
EL: It’s there, like, shit, that part’s permanent so what are you gonna do? <laughter>
DB: I throw a couple of titles at you, and if you can remember anything at all <laughter> The Doom Patrol.
EL: It was ok. It suffered from there having been too many inkers in too quick succession. I think that the story wasn’t as focused as it needed to be. Paul Kupperberg loved the Doom Patrol. He wanted to make something cool out of the Doom Patrol and I think he stumbled a bit by having the story meander as much as it did and focusing on characters that were too new. And if you’re going to want to try and pull in some of the older fans and stuff, you focus on the character that was introduced in that issue. You go "Well we’re going to do an issue that focuses on a character that we’ve just introduced." It may not have been starting off on the right foot. Which is why, a million years later (when) I did the Nova I just said 'ok, who are his biggest fan foes? I’m gonna run through all of them – now!' <laughter> And by issue seven I was like ‘Whew – thank God!” <laughter> It was like I ran through all his good bad guys and that point was “Well, now what am I gonna do?”. At least I got through all the characters that I really wanted to do, and I don’t think Paul quite got to do that. He did the book for 18 issues and then got dismissed and I think there’s probably some regrets in there. There’s things that he wanted to do and didn’t get to do.
I also think I was a very peculiar choice to follow Steve Lightle. As far as styles go, we couldn’t be farther apart and for anybody that was buying the book for his specific artwork style I was such an abrupt change that I would think that people were leaving in droves <laughter>. I mean it was just like having Keith Giffen follow Neal Adams, you know, what the hell is that? It’s a really abrupt change. I don’t think I was doing particularly poor work at that point in time, but it was just something else entirely and pretty much out of left-field.
DB: And your all time favourite (and I say that with the appropriate sarcasm), The Punisher.
EL: I was simply the wrong guy for that book. I really wanted to get into Marvel comics at that point. I really wanted to make a splash, do a big a title, and I knew that Punisher was a popular title and I thought I could pull it off. And it actually did reasonably well, it sold real well, it was up there in the top ten and people paid attention to it and people liked it. But it was really difficult to do, because I like drawing guys punching each other through walls and Punisher can’t do that. I like making them weird Kirby guns and Punisher doesn’t carry one of those. All the things that I do, I don’t think it really lent itself to my strengths. But, I did learn a lot and I think I grew a lot doing that, having to rise to that occasion and having to work with a couple of just incredible inkers.
DB: Well Punisher can’t punch a guy through a wall but he can smack out a squirrel and stick it up his shirt for an hour and a half.
EL: <laughter> That was one of the most retarded things ever. <laughter> I’m sorry Mike Baron but…<laughter> Yeah, he caught a racoon with a couple of shoelaces, and a rock I think, and then stuck it in his jacket and dropped it on somebody.
DB: When you were drawing that, what were you thinking? I know you didn’t write it, but...
EL: "God, I hope this racoon doesn’t look so crappy that I’m gonna have to..." <laughter> I thought it was silly. I thought it didn't work that well. I thought “Well, he would just get the living shit clawed out of him.”
DB: Well he would – try sticking the average house cat up your shirt for five minutes and see what happens. <laughter> And they're supposedly domestic.
EL: Yeah, I didn’t think it worked all that well, but, whatever. To me I was just trying to make it work the best I could under the circumstances. Mike Baron has done some terrific stuff over the years… and that wasn’t some of it. <laughter> But I do think very highly of him as a writer so I don’t wanna make too many disparaging remarks about it, but man… shit. <laughter>
DB: But then, of course, Spider-man. You followed Todd McFarlane on that one.
EL: Yeah. And I decided, at that point, after having had the Steve Lightle experience where I was just this abrupt change that I thought, “You know what, I’m following somebody on here who is 100 times more popular than Steve Lightle had ever been. I better not come in there and just do something so abrupt that people will roast me on a spit over it.” And also the first issue I was doing was a fill-in during a six part story line. Todd did the other parts though, so I kinda wanted that to fit in there and not look too awkward. And I also recalled John Romita Jr following Paul Smith on the X-Men and going, 'you know what – just for the sake of continuity, I’m going to ease the transition a bit'. And doing a pretty fair job of it. So I thought ok, I’m going to come in here and do the best I can.
DB: You couldn’t win. I can remember when it came out at the time and people were accusing you of being a McFarlane clone.
EL: Yeah, well, whatever. What can I do? The weird thing there is once I did ease into my style there wasn’t a damn difference <laughter>. It’s like, “Oh crap, that’s right, we’re both doing these cartoony guys, I forgot.” And I was a perfectly reasonable guy to have follow Todd McFarlane on that book. It really was a smooth transition, from one guy to the next. Miracles of miracles, sales actually went up after I took over. It’s like, try that one out.
DB: With your Spider-man, it seems that you were having just too much fun.
EL: It was. It was a ball and I was trying to find different ways of doing stuff. I learnt an awful lot just looking around and trying to analyse things that other people did. One of the things real early on, since I’d done a fill in on Spider-man about a year before Todd got it as a regular gig, and it wasn’t a very good story. There wasn’t, I didn’t think, a whole lot I could do to break out in it because there was just so much there, so many pieces of action, that every page ended up having being a lot of panels. The artist who was drawing the issue before me and the issue after me was Alan Kupperberg. I thought “Damn, I’m gonna look great because Alan Kupperberg sucks” <laughter>. And I was trying to think, what in the world, what is there to like about Alan Kupperberg’s work. I found it so repelling, and what I got out of just trying to analyse what he was doing was, I got that his secondary characters are really interesting. They’ve got interesting faces. He chosen to make them something other than standard, where as all my secondary characters are Steve Rogers. And it was like, yeah, you can do that. Not everybody in the comic book has to all look like the same damn guy. Especially when you’ve got secondary characters, or characters that are referenced in, maybe you ought to make them look a little distinctive, so that next time you see that guy that’s selling his hot dogs on the corner you go 'Oh, I recognise him. He’s that hot dog guy that was used over in that other book or that other place'. So there’s something to be learnt there. There’s something to be learnt from most anybody in some regard. You can learn from lousy artists, you can learn from great ones.
DB: You’d rather learn from the good ones though <laughter>.
EL: You’d hope so. <laughter> You don’t necessarily want to be getting critiques from people whose work you don’t respect but I still think there’s things you can learn and if somebody’s coming up to you and saying “God I really hate your stuff”. Well, tell me more <laughter> what is it that’s going on here 'cause there maybe something I can learn out of this whole thing.
DB: And from there you went onto write Spider-man, and followed Todd McFarlane again.
DB: Did you always have that burning urge to write as well as draw?
EL: I started off writing. I started off when I was doing fanzine stuff. I would always write my own stuff. When I came over and did stuff on Megaton, it was very early on and I was writing my own stuff. One of the earliest critiques I got was from Cat Yronwode, who didn’t like my artwork at all <laughter> but thought “You know, if you used your artwork to present your stories, that would be ok because your stories are pretty good.” To me, it was like writing was this inevitable thing that I’m going to be eventually doing. It seems that for no other reason. I didn’t care that much for the scripts that I was getting and it just seemed like something to do. Danny Fingeroth was familiar with some of my writing stuff because I’d written a proposal to do Nova, so he knew I kinda knew how to do it, and also he’d worked with Terry Kavanaugh and I’d written some stuff for him. I’d written a three part Spider-man/Wolverine story that was…you know. People liked it <laughter>. They thought it didn’t suck, <laughter> they thought it was ok. So from that it was just this thing of "Ok, you can draw, we’ve seen you draw. You can, we’re somewhat familiar with your writing so what the hell, why don’t you and we find it out?" But the one thing I hadn’t really done at that point was, I hadn’t inked a whole lot. But I sent in the crudest scribbles and it really wasn’t like they’d imagined <laughter>. Danny called me up and said “Uh, can you ink?” I went “Well I guess you’re gonna find out” <laughter>.
EL: Yeah. It was like, “Holy crap! Can he actually do it?” Because I’d done it earlier, but I’d always used markers and stuff and I actually got myself inking somebody else’s work. That was on a Sub Mariner annual and Terry Kavanaugh had this big long annual and I called him and said “Terry I really want to learn to ink, but I don’t wanna ruin my own stuff.” <laughter> I probably didn’t say that, but I don’t know how I put it. I wanted to try it out and not kind of tripping over my drawings at the same time. So he sent me this big annual and there was very little time to do it and it was just getting later and later and later, so I think I inked thirty pages in a week.
DB: Hello Vinnie Colletta!
EL: Yeah, but it turned out OK. I learnt a lot and I had them send me whatever tools were around the office so I could try out a bunch of new things. I found out which things I liked the best and what things worked for me and at that point it was kind of 'ok, well at least I got a little of this figured out'. I found that there were a number of things I would pencil that I couldn’t ink. For the life me, I couldn’t figure out how to make that work in ink. And then there’d be a bunch of other things that I could do in ink that I could never begin to communicate in pencil form. You can’t go 'here’s a toothbrush splatter'. In pencil, you can’t do a lot of dry bush or a lot of things like dragging a razor blade through black or zipatone or various other methods and textures, in pencil, but you can do it in ink. So I think once I started inking my own stuff then things really started changing.
DB: I couldn’t help but notice that during the run of Spider-man the page count kept getting smaller and smaller. At the time I wondered what the heck was going on, but then all was revealed – your house was burning down. How did you keep focus?
EL: Well, first I had them send me some more paper <laughter>. It was sort of like, calling up the editor and saying “Danny, listen. My house burnt down, can you send me a few things. I need you to send me some paper. I need you to send me some pens, I need you to send me the plot that I’ve written, I need you to send me a little bit of reference and can you send me a room that I can sit and draw in?” <laughter> It was just one of those moments where you just go “Well what am I gonna do?” I guess you make the most of it and just keep charging through. Just because of where I was at and what was going on there were some deadlines that I couldn’t immediately meet which necessitated there having to be another inventory story that they had that was sitting around there and they said "Well we’ll just clip this in half and run half of this one issue and half of it the other and hope that Erik can get his act together."
DB: You did quite well. I think that by, and this is going to come out wrong <laughter>. I think that by reducing the page count of each issue it just made it a lot better.
EL: I kinda got in a little over my head on that but it worked out ok <laughter>. I thought the ending was a little weak, but whatever. <laughter>
DB: You gotta wrap it up somewhere.
EL I know. It was like “Holy crap!” I always do this, I kick myself every time but I just like to write stories that have got, like, a million guys in it and it never works out because there’s no way you can have a million guys all doing something at the same time without it just becoming like a stamp collection, or you just think 'wow, there’s 450 panels on this page, what one did I do?' It’s just kinda like holy crap, what am I gonna do?' And I’d done that where I’d had Spider-man in there and Ghost Rider and the Hulk and Sleepwalker. And Nova came by. Then I had the Sinister Six and it just got unwieldy and really out of control really quick, but I did the best I could <laughter> under the circumstances.
DB: Nova – why Nova?
EL: You know, because at the time when I was reading comics and nothing was new. Hulk had been going on a long time before I started reading it. Spider-man had gone on for years, years and years. All the regular books had been going on for decades, almost. At least a decade, at least ten years. So, Nova was this character that was introduced and supposed to be kind of “Hey – here’s the Spider-man of the next generation” and I fell for it! <laughter> Cool! I want a Spider-man, one of those. And it was just like, hey here’s this character, he’s got these relationship problems with his family and then he’s got these cool bad guys and everything like that. And I was just like, I am so there. And then he went away. And it was like, “Oh man, I wanted to do something cool with Nova”. <laughter> It was something that, as a kid, I just wanted to go there and do something with him.
It’s a long way of answering that question but it was something that was new for me and that so many other things had been done before. And here was something, that finally a book that I can start reading from the ground up. And then it’s just neat, and there’s so few times, even today, where there’s much of that, really. Just kind of start at the start and feel like well I got in here and this is page one and how cool it will be to follow along his adventures, knowing all of this stuff, knowing nothing had gone on before.
DB: You left Marvel just when they’d green lighted a Nova mini-series.
EL: Yeah. The thing was had they given it to me as an on going series I might have been, 'well let me stick around, I gotta do this'. They said "We’ll do this as a mini-series" and over at DC they’d said "Hey we’ll give you a Lobo mini-series". So I thought, oh, well I’m a freelancer, I don’t have a regular gig at this point. Why not go do something at this new comic book company, a new mini-series of something over there before I go off and do Nova, before I go off and do Lobo, and just try this out. And it worked out ok. The thing is, as a kid, I always thought as soon as I start doing Dragon, never gonna want to stop <laughter>. It’s my life career and so I was kinda reluctant to even start because I thought, shit, I don’t know if I want to start my life career now, at age 29. I haven’t go to, you know, sleep with all the girls yet <laughter>. I haven’t got to do all the different books that I always wanted to do, but I’m going to be starting my life’s work today? Geez. But, the only other… I didn’t want to do Super Patriot, <laughter> so it’s like, oh shit, I guess I’ll do this and jump into it and it worked out ok.
DB: Now when you were part of the formation of Image, were you surprised by the amount of attention that you received? At one stage, to some people you were the saviour of the industry and to others you were everything that was wrong with comics. <laughter>
EL: It was cool though, and it was fun. It was neat to have that kind of focus, but was I surprised? Not really. I felt, wouldn’t it be cool if the top guys from the top books all left and formed this new comic book company? Sort of an idea that had been around for a while, but what if that happened? What would the results of that be? What would that be like? And when we went and did it, it turned out really well. <laughter> I guess it would be kinda cool, what’d ya know?
DB: You ruffled a few feathers on the way, though.
EL: <laughter> We ruffled a few feathers on the way, but you know, whatever. You can’t make an omelette... <laughter>
DB: You break a lot of eggs. <laughter> It’s a big omelette that you’ve got. <laughter>
EL: It was, I don’t know… I thought it was fine, whatever.
DB: Now you were one of the first of Image to return to Marvel?
EL: No, I thought Jim and Rob went and did that Heroes Reborn run?
DB: Yeah, you know you’re right. <laughter> You would have followed fairly quickly behind, though. How did you feel when Jim Lee sold? (Lee sold his imprint, Wildstorm, to DC, and thus left Image)
EL: The thing of it which was annoying about it was, he didn’t really say to anybody during the process “Oh, by the way guys, I’m thinking about selling my characters and company to DC comics.” Because, had he said that, I’m sure Todd would have made him a much better offer. And he could have stuck around and it would have been just fine. As it was he was just kind of went. It would have been nice to have known that this was coming so that we could be prepared for it. Because, suddenly, there’s this huge amount of books that are leaving the company, and attached to that, each of the books tosses in a couple of bucks to the Image kitty which helps support the Image office, which has a number of employees. So, there’s this situation where, suddenly, there were ten comics, or twelve comics worth of that kind of income, which is being sucked out of the company. It was like, we’re really going to have to scramble just to make ends meet here and it would have been nice to have that information so, I felt a little burned.
DB: At the time it must have been reasonably intense because Marc Silvestri left, Rob Leifeld was booted out, or left, and then Jim Lee left.
EL: You have to understand, there was never a time when Marc and Rob were gone. It was Marc left because of Rob, and then as soon as Rob was out of the picture he came back.
DB: Business moves all over the place.
EL: Yeah. It was fun. In order for Rob to get kicked out, it did have to be something to be voted on by all of the partners, and Marc was still a partner and had to be there. So it was “Hey – we know you! You’re our pal! C’mon!” But no, it really was a matter of simply choosing.
DB: Is there any animosity? Do you still see Rob, or speak to him? Do you follow his stuff?
EL: He does stuff?
DB: I think so. Someone said the other week that he did something. <laughter>
EL: You know, Rob and I don’t really hang out terribly much these days. Rob just got kind of bent out… I mean you know me, at this point we’ve talked enough to know, I don’t really pull any punches. I just kind of say “Oh, gee that’s shit” if I think it’s shit. And apparently, there were a couple of times when I said things that hurt Rob’s feelings so it’s his own view at this point.
DB: You cruel man, you.
EL: Oh yeah, it sucks. <laughter> How do you think my kids feel, for crying out loud? <laughter>
DB: "Daddy, what do you think of this?" "It sucks." <laughter>
EL: Yeah, I know, it’s like “Oh jeez, you know the perspective is a little off on this.” “Dad! Dad! I’m eight!” <laughter>
DB: "If you’re this bad when you’re eight, what are you gonna be like when you’re twenty?" <laughter> Then, of course, Dragon. You’ve had Dragon for how long?
EL: Yeah, as a kid, a good ten years before it ever saw print so at this point twenty one years or so.
DB: And in the ultimate Good vs. Evil fight, you had God turn up and drop the magic word. <laughter>
EL: Yeah. I pretty much got to do what I want to on this book. Which is kinda neat to be able to go, you know what? I feel like doing this. And nobody’s dared to say, Oh jeez, that’s probably the wrong thing to be doing, you shouldn’t be doing that.
DB: Were you burnt in effigy?
EL: I think by that point, I had scared off enough people that it really didn’t end up pissing off a whole lot of people, or if it did, they didn’t bother to tell me about it. I think there were people who probably just left at that point and said 'well screw him if he’s going to be like that' and didn’t let me know they were leaving. It’s seems to have gone over relatively well and that people weren’t really getting too pissed off or bent out of shape at it and that’s my outlook: if I can do this I can do anything.
DB: It made me laugh at the time because a friend of mine picked it up and kept complaining about the blasphemy, yet he collects a book called Son Of Satan. I think that’s more blasphemous than having God in a book.
EL: Yeah. Also, God did win. <laughter>
DB: It does make me laugh though. People complain about God in a book, but don’t blink an eye about the many appearances of Satan.
EL: Yeah. Satan does, he’s showing up all of the time.
DB: And that’s alright.
EL: That’s ok. Yeah. <laughter>
DB: I don’t know why it is, but it is.
EL: I agree. More God. <laughter>
DB: Out of everything you’ve done what’s the one story that you’ve done that can sit there and say "That’s it – that’s the one."? Or are you the complete opposite and say you like them all?
EL: I’m kind of the complete opposite. I kind of go 'man, I hope nobody catches this. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing'. <laughter> I find something to dislike in everything I do. And there’s always going to be something in there that makes me go “Man, why did I do that?” I thought that the God versus the Devil thing worked out pretty well. It pretty much accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. It pretty much told the story that I wanted to tell and I think it did it in very grand fashion. Although, I can look at the artwork now and think 'gee I really would rather have fixed that, that and that'. I think that stands up relatively well.
DB: You returned to Marvel for a few projects, one of which was The Defenders. Was the Defenders a dream job for you?
EL: No. I wanted to do the Hulk and the Defenders was a book where I’d go, I like the Defenders but I like the Defenders with the Hulk with it. So, was it a dream job in that respect? Well, kinda, because I got to do a book that had the Hulk in it. But it wasn’t the book I wanted to do because it wasn’t the Hulk.
DB: And all the way through all of this, and everything that’s gone on in your career and life, you’ve not missed a single issue of Dragon.
EL: I can’t miss an issue of Dragon because nobody’s going to do fill-ins on Dragon. Because I won’t let anyone do fill-ins on Dragon. I’m the czar. <laughter> Dragon has been relatively monthly but not 100% monthly. It’s missed a couple of dates, and at one point I got sick and I wasn’t able to do it, so there was a two month gap between issues because I was lying in bed. I still managed to lay out sixty six pages. <laughter> I was sitting here, planning out issue 100 while I’m bed. I was sick, completely out of it and I’m sitting there going “You know, this will be a good time to read all the back issues of Dragon.” Because I don’t do that on any kind of a regular basis and I really ought to every now and then just to be able to make a note to follow up on and stuff.
DB: Is there anything left that you want to do, anything that’s out there?
EL: You know if I could, I’d have everything. The thing is, I’m sitting here doing Dragon thinking, "God, I’ll never have my 100 issue run on the Fantastic Four." Or, there’s a good chance that I’m never gonna do all these different things that I’ve wanted to do. I would love to do a run on one of those books, just come on and go “You know what? You guys have done a million things before, I’m gonna come on and do what I think of as what Jack does on a book.” And then just come in and do something else entirely. To my mind if Jack Kirby had come out and come back to do the Fantastic Four he wouldn’t be telling another Annihilus story. He’d be inventing some more new shit and that’s what you’d get out of the book, which is something that that book was. It’s just this really inventive book and it wasn’t all just dwelling on using the same stuff over and over and over again. But there’s no-one going “You know what? I’m knocking down the doors and opening this one up and tossing everything into it.” And that’s the kind of stuff that I like doing and would like to do more of. Just come onto a book and go. Which is what I do all the goddamn time when I take over anything.
When I took over Aquaman, it was, ok, my goal is never to use the Ocean Master, ever. <laughter> To my mind, looking at Aquaman. I think 'you know, this would be what Batman would be like if all he had was Kite-Man, Signalman and Calendar Man and that was his rogues gallery and everybody used them again and again'. Because he’s got the weakest rogues gallery ever. The only thing cool about Aquaman’s rogue gallery was that Black Manta had a really cool looking mask. <laughter> But Peter (David) had changed that. <laughter> It was like, 'fuck man, the only thing cool about this guy is gone' and all the other villains in this thing are just the biggest bunch of dorks ever. So it’s like 'well let's come on here and if nothing else I’m not gonna dwell on his rogues gallery and I’m going to create some new stuff'. Like it or not, I’m gonna walk off this book going “Look what I left behind”, a bunch of new shit. If you like it, great. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, or the next guy’s perfectly entitled to ignore whatever the hell I did.
DB: So we can expect you to work on Detective Chimp one day <laughter>.
EL: You know, I can look around and to me it’s all possible. There’s nothing that I look at and go “Well that has to suck, that absolutely has to suck.” I look at it all and go “There’s something that can be done here and it could be really cool. And it could be really fun.” Jack Kirby took on Jimmy Olsen, for crying out loud, and that was just what everybody thought of as the weakest comic, the weakest excuse for a comic book there’d been. With Giant Turtle Olsen and everything else you know, the Red Headed Beetle Of 100,000,000BC. It’s just, my God, this is the worst comic ever and he took it on and just said “You know what? I’m gonna make something out of this”, and he did. And to me there’s something really appealing about that. About taking on almost anything and giving it a go, and having fun doing it.
I miss working with inkers. That was one real treat about coming back and doing stuff at Marvel: to be able to say John Beatty inked my stuff, and Klaus Janson and Al Gordon and Sal Buscema. It doesn’t get any better than that.