Friday, October 10, 2008

SAVAGE DRAGON - the best comic nobody reads

Hier also die versprochene englische Version des Textes ( don't worry, only the introduction is in german ) .

  • read the german original

  • Ihr werdet euch vielleicht fragen wieso die Einleitung auf deutsch ist, aber da bei der deutschen Version die Einleitung auf english ist wuerde ich sagen dass es nur fair ist. Ich hatte den Text seinerseits auf der Imageabteilung vom Comicforum geschrieben da die Serie gerade auf deutsch gestartet war und ich ein paar Leser mobilisieren wollte. Keine Ahnung wie erfolgreich ich damit war aber da die Beitraege auf Comicforum frueher oder spaeter verschwinden habe ich mir gedacht dass sie auf meine eigenen blog besser aufgehoben sind. Die Uebersetzung ist nicht eins zu eins.....was ja Uebersetzungen nie sein koennen. Ich hab es aber so geschrieben wie ich es auch auf englisch erzaehlen wuerde. Wobei einige Absaetze ganz schoen happig waren aufgrund der Tatsache dass ich auf deutsch eben doch einen umfangreicheren Wortschatz habe. Hier also die englische Version meines Textes vom 13ten Mai 2004 :

    SAVAGE DRAGON - the cult comic

    Since my first two columns ( of which the second can now be read on the Panini message board ) deal with things that either piss me off or where I know beforehand that I'm going to get a lot of flack for them I've decided that in this one I'm going to write about something that I really care about.

    In the past the way I express myself has been labeled as casual but that's how I talk. And that's what I want to transmit to my readers - my ideas and I'm trying to do that the same way I would in a conversation. It's not the goal to impress the reader with my vocabulary so he may gasp for air most constipated.....nor myself to train with rhymes and other lyrical ornamentations most profound ( a jest really the mention of a word like train is - for which need has the master of all wordsmiths for said thing ), while the artistry of the intertwined and impenetrable structure ( so much like a haunted magic forest with his winded and bizarre carnivoruos brushes whose hide shain't feel the sunlight evermore ) of my literary creations may confuse the dear readers mind who may likewise say goodbye with a heart most rejoyceful to such idle things like syntax - enjoying such a plethora of anglicisms, oxymorons and simili. There already exists a column like that it's not my goal to compete in this area.

    But I'm rambling which has always been one of my main problems - although it comes in pretty handy if essays require a certain page count. SAVAGE DRAGON is one of the best books at IMAGE right now. It started more then ten years ago and all 114 issues that have been published so far ( 117 if you count the first mini ) are written, drawn and inked by the same guy.

    Although you always hear that all comicfans in America buy only the comics that get hyped in WIZARD magazine ( and no other series has been pushed like SAVAGE DRAGON : numerous articles, two times book of the month and the section PICKS just doesn't get tired of telling readers that it's one of the best and most interesting series ) SAVAGE DRAGON is only read by a small, diehard community ( who call themselves finaddicts because of the fin that the book's main character has on his head ) and it has never been under the first hundred of the sales charts. Now Dragonmania has finally hit the german comicmarket and many may ask themselves about the book or better the phenomenon that it represents. Which inspired me to write this post especially because the article in comixxene was way too short.

    SAVAGE DRAGON - the publisher

    Well everybody knows how image was founded : six of Marvel's top artists quit to get the exclusive rights to their own creations. At that time the first priority was to put out their own books through image but things have changed a bit since then.

    Since issue 30 Todd McFarlane has left SPAWN in other artists hands while concentrating on toys, Jim Valentino has been fulfilling the role of publisher for a long time and has just started on a new book, Rob Liefeld is working on an X - FORCE book for Marvel ( again ! ), Jim Lee has sold his part of image to DC and is bringing SUPERMAN and BATMAN to new heights and Marc Silvestri's Top Cow studio is busy publishing a plethora of books while the man himself is working on the crowning piece of Morrison's final NEW X - MEN arc.

    I'm not dissing anyone. To each their own and if somebody wants to continue his personal or professional career on a different path I'm the first one to understand that. Especially since Jim Lee's Batman issues has rekindled interest in the franchise and I couldn't hope for a better artist than Marc Silvestri on Morrison's New X - Men.....he was the artist on UNCANNY when I started reading the original issues.

    But Erik Larsen is the only one who still keeps doing what he did when image was founded - a comic called SAVAGE DRAGON. And it's probably what he's going to be doing ten years from now. At least that was his answer when he was asked where he sees himself ten years down the line.

    Whereas even Erik Larsen ( who's editor in chief at image right now ) had other comic projects apart from SAVAGE DRAGON : writing NOVA and WOLVERINE, artist on various issues of SPIER - MAN, THOR or the shortlived DEFENDERS book with Kurt Busiek. But although this added workload had a negative impact it only managed to slow the publication of SAVAGE DRAGON down not stop it. For a time the book even was published every three weeks so that issue number 100 could be released on the tenth anniversary of the title.

    Erik Larsen is either crazy or a genius and the fact that a comic artist manages to do 100 issues of the same title - writing, drawing and inking them all - show that he's really pouring his soul into the book. In today's day and age of constantly rotating art teams this is not only a very uncommon thing it is a task that has to be compared with the ten labors of Herculese. Apart from that you have to compare it with the Lee and Kirby run on Fantastic Four or Dave Sim's 300 issues of CEREBUS. But the fact that this book is something special for it's creator is something you not only see in every issue's main story. It's something that shows in the numerous extras like the extensive letters pages that are between 2 and 10 pages each issue.

    SAVAGE DRAGON - the book

    The main character is big, green with a strange fin on his head and is found on a burning field with patial amnesia. Although he forgot all personal data like his name or birthday he can still remember who's president or who won the superbowl last year. His super powers are not really innovative ( he's very strong with a healing factor to rival Logan's ) the way in which he decides to make the best use of them sure is - as an officer of the law !

    That's equal parts simple and genius and you wonder why nobody else thought of this before. This situation of course leads to many problems for Dragon because he has to act within the law and that makes it even tougher when the villains walk free. On the other hand it gives the book a healthy dose of realism and can often lead to funny situations. In one instance a superhero follows the old comic book cliche of first trying to beat officer Dragon up and later team up with him - just to get arrested by Dragon. The reason : assaulting an officer of the law. It's this turnabout of superhero comics cliches that makes sure that Dragon's adventures never get boring.

    Erik Larsen loves to lull the reader's suspiscions with the usual comic book mechanisms only to pull out the rug from under his feet three issues later. Another thing is that the death of a character never gets a big announcement and hits readers like out of the blue. Because Erik created all the characters he can use them however he pleases. Nobody's save in this world no matter if it's a main character or somebody from the supporting cast. Without warning fan favorites kick the bucket or get maimed or disfigured. Erik Larsen is a merciless god.

    He never shys away from breaking bones, getting under someone's ( facial ) skin or ripping off tongues with the teeth - in the book that is. Even the main character can tell a few tales in that regard who gets charbroiled, maimed or gets squished on a regular basis and only survives because of his healing factor.

    Likewise sex is mentioned and even - not explicit - shown from time to time. Other important things in life like pregnancy, marriage and death are also part of the stories. Unlike in other series death is something final and eternal - who dies stays dead. Erik Larsen is not afraid of risky topics or going to the limit of what he can show in his comic ( issue 17 was printed in two versions - one harmless edition and one for adults ).

    Talking about risky things - Erik's weird sense of humor can also be seen in the names he gives his characters like Ben Dover, Anita Mann or Raging Woody all for the sake of one punch line. But there is a wealth of situations and characters to challenge the reader like Mighty Man who is Erik's version of the Captains Marvel.

    Contrary to the comic version ( the character has parts of both versions : like DC's Captain Marvel somebody transforms into a superhero and he uses metal wristbands like the Marvel character ) Mighty Man is a female nurse who can turn into Earth's mightiest mortal. Or take the dynamic duo Kill Cat and Kid Avenger who are Erik's version of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold and who are doing more harm than fight crime causing friend and foe alike to run for cover.

    Despite all this demontage and making fun of the usual cliches Erik Larsen's love of the superhero genre is apparent. The book doesn't make any excuses for what it is - a superhero comic. And a damn good one at that. With all the things that seem ridiculous at times and a healthy dose of humor because a good comic should be entertaining, exciting and funny. But the storytelling is not the only area in which unusual experiments are made. The graphic aspect of the book keeps changing constantly while the artist tries out new drawing styles integrating successful experiments into the book leading to a look that is always evolving - like the artist.

    SAVAGE DRAGON - a comic book in real time

    Another aspect that adds to Dragon's uniqueness is the idea to run the book in real time - ten years before the tv show 24 with Kiefer Sutherland. Larsen was always frustrated that comic characters don't age ( there was an exhaustive discussion about that in the letters pages ) so that before beginning his new book he posed the question : is it possible to make a comic in " real time " ? That doesn't mean that if you read five minutes of a SAVAGE DRAGON comic that you experience five minutes of Dragon's life. It means that when the next issue arrives one month later it's also one month later for the comic characters. This often brings it's own problems but it has the effect that the character age at the same rate the reader does. Not only the reader has become ten years older during the book. Dragon is likewise ten years older and has gone through the ringer. Changing partners, different jobs or a completely new geographical and social environment are things both experience and they change accordingly.

    SAVAGE DRAGON - penny for your thoughts ? How about a Dollar ?

    Another technique Erik Larsen uses is that he never uses thought baloons in the first 75 issues....apart from the wedding issue that lived from the funny discrepancy of what the people were saying and thinking . Dragon's body language and what he says are the only indication the reader has to guess what he's thinking. In the hands of an artist who's not as capable as Erik Larsen this could be a hurdle but here it leads to a bonding with the main character that only proves that less can be more.

    SAVAGE DRAGON - the extras

    Long before DVDs were invented this series began offering its readers a lot of bonus material.Like the lenghty letters pages that not only printed letters like " Savage Dragon is the best comic of all times - but when is Powerhouse going to return ? " but also letters like " Erik you sick &*%%$$??& how could you kill YYYY ? You need medical help, man. " to " Thank god you finally killed YYYY. I just couldn't stand her. Besides.......when is Dragon going to XXX with OOOO ? Now that YYYY is out of the way it's time for a bit of XXX and XXXX and lots of XXXXXing . "

    There are harsh critiques, interesting plotanalyses and of course the ususal letters of adoration that make the letter pages fun to read. Not mentioning the heated discussions if characters in comics should age, if God should appear in the pages of a comic or the printed verbal exchange of blows between Erik Larsen and Peter David. Aside from that each issue offers tons of extra material like pin ups, fake ads like the 70s Twinkies ads, short comics or comic strips of which some ( like DESPERATE TIMES or SAVAGE DRAGONBERT AND HITLERS BRAINBERT ) have made the jump to their own series. But there are more running gags like Josh Eichhorn the eternal intern who gets funny titles in the indicia like " Older than thirty living with his Mom and proud of it " or " Karaoke Champion in over 5 states ".

    But the extras don't end there : each trade has some extra pages that Erik did exclusively for the trade to make the reading experience smoother. He adds pages that had to be cut from the single issues or to explain things better that were too rushed. In the first trade he even put the pages in chronological order ( the first minis used a lot of flashbacks that worked very well but it would not have worked as good in the trade ) and added whopping 17 pages.

    The biggest part is an introspective epilogue who brings the trade more into the proximity of graphic novel storytelling and away from a simple superhero comic book.

    SAVAGE DRAGON - This Savage World

    Despite being one of the best books on the market there was still a problem for Savage Dragon : getting new readers. It was a fact that disgruntled readers returned after a long hiatus and readers that came onto the book bought all the back issues but because of the many supporting characters and the constant changes in Dragon's life it was very difficult for new readers. Which lead Erik Larsen to the decision to shake up the status quo of the book go tabula rasa on the existing continuity and start with a clean plate. This created an ideal jumping on point because for the main character everything was as different as for the reader and it didn't matter anymore what happened before. Old allies were suddenly adversaries and former arch rivals were suddenly fighting the good fight. It's not surprising that the series starts in Germany with THIS SAVAGE WORLD which doesn't exclude the possibility to publish the first 78 issues if it's successful.

    SAVAGE DRAGON on the net

    If you want to know more about the background of the series, or if you are interested in covers and the newset updates you can go to SAVAGEDRAGON.COM to satisfy your curiosity. You can find everything there is to know about Erik Larsen in the scrolldown menu as well as the usual FAQs. If you want to communicate with other finaddicts just jump right to the messageboard.

    P. S. : I have kept the article very short because I don't want to spoil things that could ruin your reading experience. I hope I could persuade you to give the book a chance if you were still undecided.

    Blood and souls for Lord Arioch !

    post changed by SUBZERO 2000 (13.05.2004 at 23:11 hours).

    And that was my attempt to bring new readers to the book. As a small bonus here's a review of THE SAVAGE DRAGON ARCHIVES ( Erik's version of Marvel's ESSENTIAL line ) by a guy who totally gets what the book is all about.

    Savage Dragon review

    And that's all for today. Initially I wanted to post something entirely new but today my mother's marocan houseguests are playing with the electricity again blowing fuses every five minutes. I already had to restart the laptop two times and I'm afraid it's going to do him irreparable harm the next time. I have been working on this stuff since morning and now at 18.00 hours CET I'm going to turn off the laptop for today and go for a siesta.

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