5 Reasons to Read: Savage Dragon / by Alec Berry


This comic book series and I are about the same age. Both born in 1992. And while it's not very impressive for a human being to last 20 years (well, maybe it is), it most definitely is an impressive feat for any comic book series. Between sales figures, creative distractions, editorial, trends and plain old Time, thousands of comic books come and go and very few leave a trace or mark, let alone deliver anything worth a damn. That's the nature of this industry, especially today when a constant circulation of #1 issues represents a norm.  But in the great ether of four-color print and funny tales, Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon lives on and provides a certain experience unique to its pages. I doubt everyone is aware of that, though.

Many people bought and read Savage Dragon upon its release in '92, but not as many buy and read it today, in 2012. It sells practically nothing, and the crowd outside of it tends to belittle it as a left-over of an era dead and buried. People only think of Savage Dragon in context of its beginnings, and this leads toward a narrow perception of a much larger, versatile work. I personally enjoyed many of those early, loose-canon cop issues, but truthfully Savage Dragon operates with stronger craft and storytelling in its current run, and I think more people should give it a shot. Dragon's a fun, solid comic book. It's worth a monthly investment.

So, for the sake of persuasion, here are five reasons you should read Savage Dragon:

1.) - History / Roots

I've kind of already gone over this, but I'll go over it again. Savage Dragon has been in publication for 20 years, and throughout its countless pages lie countless plot details as well as countless examples of storytelling. There's a lot of information for a reader to study and ponder, but I think for the type of reader who enjoys an impressive, detailed fictional setting, Savage Dragon offers plenty of room to look around. For the continuity enthusiast, this is the book to read. There's tons of it, and Larsen shows respect toward the story's history, making sure to account for past occurrences in current issues.  There aren't any reboots or relaunches. It's all just one, long story, yet neither is it dry. It's constantly growing, making each new issue a vital puzzle piece. Savage Dragon is not just another series fresh off the printer. The book has roots - roots that go all the way back to Image Comics' start, and 20 years later it's still produced by one of the original Image founders. It's simply an established series. Dragon has been around the block and back.

2.) - Feel Good/Kinetic Plot with a Classic Tinge

The bold words really say it. For the type of reader tired of five issue arcs, talking heads, drawn out scenes and muddy colors, Savage Dragon offers an antidote so potent it's hard to ignore. Quirky and fast paced, Dragon offers the quintessential comic book tone with its melodramatic subplots and over-the-top fight scenes, yet while obviously silly the book invests itself entirely in what it is, supplying the plot with a life-blood unlike many others. I'd call the book a 1970s-Marvel revival comic yet with a few more adult jokes and a little more gore. I can't write it off as a pastiche, though. While Savage Dragon may represent a classic tone, the comic supplies a modern feel with its expressive line work and willingness to experiment. More striking though, the book acts like a comic book, doing things only appropriate in panels. Savage Dragon isn't a television show or film in print. It's a comic book and damn proud.

3.) - Willingness to Try Something Different 

When one artist writes and draws the same story for 20 years, he's eventually going to stray from the path and try a new thing or two. Whether its page layouts, sequences of events or simply killing characters and making new ones, Larsen never fears a new situation. In fact, he embraces it, making every new issue of Savage Dragon seem ripe with endless possibilities and creative taste-and-see. Some things work. Some things don't. But trying matters, and ultimately Dragon is much more exciting and unpredictable for that. In a world where super hero comics have grown stale and static, Savage Dragon's willingness to alter and morph speaks volumes of the book's energy. It does what more of the long running Marvel and DC titles should, especially in terms of plot progression. But if anything, buy it for Larsen's focus on storytelling within the page. He's a master of the one page scene, and he doesn't fear toying with that format. If you're lucky, you may just get an issue like #144. Every panel in that issue spotlights a different scene, creating this panel-by-panel progression of months worth of story. Ideas like that are what make Savage Dragon special.

4.) - Consistent Creative Vision

I guess if you're displeased by Erik Larsen's work this point may not do anything for you, but even so, you have to admire 178 issues produced by a core, authorial voice. Such a thing is an accomplishment simply for the amount of work put into it, and the creative focus required is a trait very few possess. But even beyond simple respect, Larsen's long term narrative exemplifies the possibilities of a comic book series in terms of how far it can go and what exactly it can capture. For Savage Dragon, it's Erik Larsen's progression as a cartoonist. The pages of this book reflect 20 years of the artist's career, in terms of interests and skill, and it will eventually attest as a document to that man and his vision of how a comic book should work. But for now, while he's cranking them out, these comics present what a man and his pencil can make unedited and under his own control. I find that worthy of anyone's attention.

5.) - Well Crafted Escapism

This would be the overall reason. Savage Dragon may not offer deep subtext or abstract thought, but it offers what it can. At the end of the day, Dragon exists to tell a super hero drama which at times makes you laugh. It's over the top. It's goofy. It's bright and violent. And I love it for that. Savage Dragon pretends to be nothing other than what it is, but even though the contents may be simple, the craft of the comic holds to a high standard. Every issue seeks a beginning, middle and end and tells a complete story while leaving room for the next installment, and as mentioned, the book's always open for a little experimentation and trial-and-error. It's simple yet complicated, as the skill level to achieve such a solid consistency does not come easy.  Savage Dragon represents an idea of comic book storytelling that seems to be a lost art, and it's produced by an artist who's line work resembles an odd cross between Frank Miller's dynamism and Kirby's expressionism. It's high art in a low-level package.

- - -

My best advice would be to just buy an issue. The most recent if you may. I know there's 178 before it, and as a new reader you've missed out on a lot, but don't work. Just jump in. Don't worry about trades or back issues. Just buy a new issue and let the inherent vibe of the comic warm you up. Worry about the plot if you choose to stick around. Within a few issues, you'll pick up on it anyway. For the very start though, worry about tone and go from there. It'll win you over, that is, if you enjoy the kind of comic I've described.

Plus, Savage Dragon makes for a much better monthly read than a trade read. That's the way it's produced.

But, hey, if my half-decent attempt to persuade you failed, maybe it's not for you. You could always try another article, though. Like Joe Keatinge's case for Savage Dragon. Or this somewhat terrible piece I wrote months ago.

Happy reading.