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Erik Larsen Breaks Down Paul Dragon’s Origin Story in Savage Dragon #264

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Ever since Paul Dragon returned to the world of Savage Dragon in the series’ 250th issue, fans have wanted to see how similar or different his story is to the version of Paul who existed in creator Erik Larsen’s indie books in the years before Image Comics was founded. With last week’s Savage Dragon #264, they got that chance. The stand-alone issue centers entirely on Paul Dragon, and how he made his way from the pages of Graphic Fantasy to the world of Image Comics, where he serves as a grandfather to Malcolm and Maxine’s children following the death of the original Dragon.

The story features a new look at a lot of old characters, including some Larsen has never incorporated into Savage Dragon proper, and thus hasn’t drawn in years. Larsen joined us to talk about the issue, Paul’s past, and how it might play into the future of Savage Dragon.

This is a spoiler-filled interview, so you should get a copy of the book at your local comic shop, or pick it up digitally at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, before continuing on!

You have revisited the older stories a number of times, including in the recent hardcover. What was it like going back and drawing that opening sequence in a way that’s evocative of your older style?

This was actually me cheating in a big way. I reused the older elements and redrew characters which were changed. So, on the splash, for example, I just drew a figure of William Jonson. That way it not only looks like the original but feels like it-because it’s authentic. There were numerous touchpoint throughout where I wanted older readers to have that déjà vu feeling. It helps remind them of where events in the separate realities converge.

Outside of the opening sequence and the Demonoid spread, were there any other artistic flourishes you made as a callback, that people might have missed?

Oh, plenty. When William puts on the Dragon costume for the first time, it’s the same shot as when he did it in Savage Dragon #55. The shot of Susan with her hands on her hips is similar to one of Jennifer Murphy in costume with her hands on her hips from her old bio. When Fon~Ti tears William from Dragon it’s a similar shot to when they were separated in Savage Dragon #58. When Dragon wakes up in a hospital, it’s similar to when Dragon woke up in William’s body earlier in that same issue. The Demonoid spread is sillier to one from #194 but a lot of other shots of Angel or Sue were pulled from various issues. The shot of Dragon confronting Vanguard was a redrawn shot from Megaton #3. The shot of Bronze Man killing Susan was similar to the shot of OverLord killing Jennifer in #63 and there were a bunch of other shots. Those last few pages it’s one after another. The last page has a bunch of shots from #95, where Dragon went into Dimension-X. In every case there was a ton of redrawing to change fins and costumes and other details but they still feel familiar because of the elements which were retained. And that’s all very deliberately done so the readers can place events in a timeline they’re familiar with. And, of course, if they’re not familiar-they still work as panels. If you don’t recognize the funeral shot from Savage Dragon #62 it still works as a funeral.

Obviously the Fon~Ti we saw in the first few years of Savage Dragon is a bit different from his Paul Dragon counterpart. Is that something you plan on going into, or is it more a case of “The Merging of Mutiple Worlds did it?”

Initially, I wasn’t going to bring in Paul Dragon at all. It was very much a spur of the moment thing. I had colored the Graphic Fantasy stories and used them in Savage Dragon #225 and #250 and that got my brain tumbling over the possibilities. I wasn’t 100% sure how it’d work but once it took hold I rolled with it. Certain things don’t really make much sense as divergent timelines. There’s no reason Fon~Ti should be taller in one reality and shorter in another, just as there’s no reason that Chris Robinson/Star would be white in one reality and black in another. Some things don’t really work. Like, why is Rock RED in one reality and TIEL in another?

What was it like drawing some of the characters from the pre-Savage Dragon days, who you haven’t actually put to the page in decades?

In many cases it was quite challenging. I didn’t recall every detail of every character. There were characters like Mental Man where I had no visual record of what he looked like and I had to rely on my memory. Some others were pieced together from panels here and there. In the case of Android Man, I’d drawn his body in the background of Graphic Fantasy #2 and his head in a panel in Giant-Size Mini-Comics #4. With others it was a guess. I didn’t want to be designing new old characters but there were cases where I just didn’t have all of the pieces. Others, of course, had appeared which was easier. And I’m sure I forgot a ton of characters or got pieces wrong. I can only do so much. But it was fun trying to figure it all out. It was a challenge trying to make sense of it all.

I also know you said on Facebook that the big splash of Fon~Ti and the heroes was done with some digital help. What is the balance of how much you do on paper versus digital when it comes to “special effects” like lighting or Malcom’s lightning powers these days?

This issue in particular had a lot of digital stuff simply because of the nature of it. If I’m reusing a panel but I have to redraw a fin and some costume details-copying and pasting the panel and then turning parts of it another color so I can redraw them helps make it more seamless. In most issues it’s almost all on paper but even still-I’ll add digital tones or effects that I can only do in Photoshop. It really comes down to what I’m trying to do. In a recent cover I had to draw San Francisco and I’d taken a photo of the city-but I ended up inking it in Photoshop because it was just easier to see what I was doing. I don’t imagine that I’ll ever go 100% digital because there are so many things which are faster and more fun to do on paper-but don’t mind using the tools at my disposal if it makes it a better looking book.

Any chance we’ll see them, or some version of them, possibly as a legacy character, return down the road to interact with Malcolm and the kids?

There’s always that chance. I do like the mixed up Fon~Ti who can’t use proper words-writing his dialogue is fun. And there are a few others-but in some cases we’ve never seen them in our world, so they don’t necessarily have to be traveling here from another dimension-we could just be introduced to Android Man or Mini-Man. It almost seems like a waste to say this character is from 30 years ago when I could just introduce Half-Man as a new character.

The issue stops right when the Merging is about to happen, becuase we kind of know the rest of Paul’s story from there, but did you also want to leave open a window to tell more of his story from in between this issue and #250?

There’s a ton that I didn’t have space to touch on. A lot of things I decided to skip for the sake of space or because they didn’t drive the story forward. Paul’s time with the S.O.S. was hardly touched on. The story from Graphic Fantasy #2 wasn’t referred to at all. I drew 70 or more comics as a kid and I couldn’t possibly summarize all of them. I don’t think there’s a lot we missed after the end of this story though. He was pretty old by the end of this story. Angel was a grown woman. I think he was in Dimension-X a few years at best and I’m not sure that showing it all would be all that enlightening. At a certain point it becomes more background noise. I kind of feel like-I have such a small amount of space as it is-I’d rather delve into the present than the past. But it all comes down to what my brain kicks out. If a story occurs to me-I’ll do that.

You’ve talked a lot about how you didn’t want the book to feel like it wasn’t really Malcolm’s, and that you knew every time Dragon was around, it felt like you hadn’t fully committed. Is that something you worry about with Paul at all?

Oh, sure. I absolutely don’t want this to become Paul’s book. I’ve given him the one issue, sure, but I don’t want to have him take over. I brought him in to give the grandkids a grandfather figure and because I wanted to play with a few ideas, but I’m not at all interested in having him become the lead character.

A little random, but was there just no corollary for Kurr on Paul’s world?

All of the stuff from our universe pre-vacant lot is the same. Nothing on that side is any different. So–all the TV-infused crap that formed our Dragon was in the mix–but since he was beamed into William instead of an empty lot–he was buried for a while (much as he was when William and Dragon were fused at the end of Savage Dragon #50, and it took a few issues for Dragon’s persona to come bubbling to the surface). 

The same Emperor Kurr backstory predated this burning field. The main difference here is that when Dragon was separated from William–nobody had seen Dragon and he hadn’t established himself–so when Fon~Ti pulled them apart–he didn’t know what his fin looked like and he didn’t know everything else, so there ended up being a bit of William in Dragon and some of Dragon in William and the healing power and strength was dispersed. So, we ended up with a less powerful, tempered version of Dragon. But Emperor Kurr was very much in Paul Dragon’s history. He never reverted to him because of how Paul and William were pulled apart but he was part of Paul’s backstory.

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