Why I Believe in Ongoing Comics, by Erik Larsen
October 19, 2018
As much as I like a rousing story with a satisfying conclusion, a much bigger part of me enjoys an ongoing serial where each chapter builds on the events that came before. Not that readers need to be up on every bit of minutiae to understand the latest installment, but there's something about really knowing a character and feeling as though you're a part of their lives. For years, fans have lamented the fact that superheroes don't grow up with them. Eventually, every reader reaches a point when they realize that they're older than Spider-Man or the eternally-29-year-old Superman, and they say out loud, “Wouldn't it be cool if these characters grew up with me?”
Largely, these readers aren't considering that if those heroes had been aging from the start that they'd be in their 70s or, in some cases, closing in on 100. Most think only of how that experience would be for them personally, not about the next generations of readers who would miss out on adventures of their heroes in their youth. The gatekeepers of such companies have no such intentions of ever letting these heroes age and die. They have an incentive to prevent that. Those characters are their cash cows, and they can't count on successive creators creating new characters that would be as popular as the aging icons that they would replace.
But I can.
And that's been a big part of the joy of creating Savage Dragon. I can count on myself to create those characters, and I can set things up that pay off years down the road and have a world with actual consequences—where death isn't just a temporary inconvenience. When the book started, its lead was a 29-year-old hero—an amnesiac, found naked in a burning lot with no memory of who he was or where he came from. Twenty-six years later, Dragon is long dead, and his son, Malcolm, is the lead character. Malcolm was born in issue 33 and grew up before the readers' eyes over the course of the book's run. Malcolm is married and has his own children, who may one day take his place.
Villains come and go. Jobs change, locations change, and stories progress. No illusion of change—only actual change. Only actual progression. And like any real person's real life, you can become part of it at any time. All you need to know is there to enjoy any adventure. As you need to know something, the pertinent information is given succinctly. It's been a challenge to remain accessible, to be sure, but it's also been a real joy to be able to tell a bigger story. A real story. A full story. Superheroes for grown ups.
To be able to do anything I want, to have literally anything happen on the next page is so refreshing. It's like nothing else. I couldn't do what I'm doing anywhere else. And I'm having one hell of a time doing it.
Erik Larsen was an acclaimed artist on Spider-Man at Marvel Comics before joining six other game-changing talents to form Image Comics in the early '90s. His comic, Savage Dragon, is one of the few creator-owned properties to span more than 200 issues. Savage Dragon #239 is in comic stores now.