Fans of The Savage Dragon are in for something of a shock this month, when the flip over the latest issue of Erik Larsen’s long-running Image book. May marks the beginning of “Twisted Dragon Funnies,” a year-long projected helmed by Michel Fiffe, which finds the Act-I-Vate artist and 11 fellow indie comics artist taking over the back half of the monthly seriously.
Each month features a self-contained seven page b-story, beginning with “The Date,” Fiffe’s own contribution to issue 160 (which also marks the beginning of a new a-story arc by Larsen). Also on-tap are contributions from Andrew Dimitt, Kiel West, Delsante and Freire, Ulises Farinas, Chris Sanderson, Conoro Hughes, Kat Roberts, Hyendo Park, Pedro Camargo, Jason Thibodeaux, and Joe Keatinge.
We sat down with Fiffe to discuss the genesis–and future–of his ambitious Image project.
How much time a week are you investing in this project, at this point?
It’s probably the project I’m most involved in, at the moment. I’m still doing my comics and my own projects, but I’m editing 12 stories, as well as doing my own story, so it’s taking a big chunk. But it’s fun, it’s great. I’ve never really edited anything before, so there’s a bit of a learning curve, but I’m pretty much just working with the artists. I’m pretty hands-on with these guys.
Is 12 stories the whole run? A story per month?
Yeah. It’s a self-contained story, every month. Every month you’ve got your regular issue of Savage Dragon, and it’s a flip book. You flip it and it’s got it’s own cover. The respective creators have their own covers and their own stories, and they draw ad write it themselves. It has nothing to do with Savage Dragon’s history. It’s not continuity. It’s like—I guess, Elseworlds. It’s its own thing, to not mix any stories up. That might confuse regular readers.
And at the same time, it’s pretty user-friendly. Anyone who’s never read Dragon before can read these stories and enjoy them, because they’re just cool little yarns.
Is everyone involved in the project pretty familiar with the character?
I’d say most of them. And the ones who weren’t used to read it back in the 90s, and they just haven’t read it in years. But Erik Larsen has tons of characters—hundreds of characters to pick from. So, when I proposed this idea to the creators involved, they all picked—without my prompting—their own characters. And there was no overlap. Those characters worked perfectly within their own styles.
It’s weird. It’s like those characters were made from them. I think that’s a testament to Larsen’s wide range, just creating all sorts of fun characters, from old school Kirby monsters to goofy characters to human characters in the supporting cast. It’s awesome, it’s been fun.
But the Dragon is the center of all of the stories?
Sometimes. For my story, for example, I use him as a main characters. But other people don’t even use or reference him. They focus on his son or something. Or a villain that was used in a mini a long time ago. Sometimes it’s the Dragon, sometimes it’s obscure.
Are they all pretty much in the can, at this point?
I’d say we’re, maybe, 90 percent done, which is a feat in itself, considering that rallying cartoonists is a difficult task, and getting the work done is difficult.
It’s still taking up most of your time, though?
I’m still trying to do promotion for it. I’m still trying to get, hopefully, a second round of books done. It’s still at the forefront of my mind, especially now that my issue just came out a couple of weeks ago. I’m still trying to stay behind it and stick with it. Some of it is calling stores and letting them know about it—hands-on promotional stuff and working with the Image guys.
Has Erik been at all protective of the character? Does he get a pass at all of the stories?
I shot him the idea of the whole project, thinking that he would edit it, and that maybe, just maybe, I would get a story in myself. “Could I do it, pretty please?” He just kind of said, “go with it.” So I became the editor by default. So I rallied other cartoonists and they all agreed. They made a little pitch, and he agreed to all of them—100 percent down the line. He dug all of the concepts.
But he was perfectly clear on some rules. No nudity, no cursing. Stuff like that. you can push the boundaries of that stuff, and he certainly has, but nothing completely tasteless and unacceptable.
He agreed to all of the stories, and from then on, the guys just go forth and submit pencils and inks. And they all got done. I’m just happy that it got to this point.
What does editing entail?
Every cartoonist presented an idea to me—the characters they wanted to use and the basic story premise. It’s not too complicated, because we only have seven pages to work with. Some people did a four page story, and others used all seven. What I do is go through the script—if they do have a script, I understand that everyone has a different method. If I see a plot hole or some stiff dialog or a place where better layouts could be utilized—things like that.
Every artist and writer has their own respective strengths and weaknesses. But I haven’t had to do too much editing. I’m just kind of like a traffic cop, at this point. But when I was working hands-on with them, it was just making sure that everything was running smoothly. Some of these guys had never been published before. They had done Webcomics or just gotten out of school—but they’re crazy-talented.
Was your primary goal in the project giving national exposure to lesser-known artists?
A lot of my favorite cartoonist don’t have comics out there—they do Webcomics. I want to see their stuff on the shelves. Their stuff is just as good. I think it’s great to have these people in front of a different audience.
Were you considered taking this approach with any other books besides Dragon, before you got the go-ahead from Larsen?
Initially I wanted to do an Image version of Bizarro Comics, which would span every title, even it it’s not currently running. Dig up some old Image characters and utilize them. But [Image editor] Joe Keatinge said that just the legal issues alone would be a nightmare.
It’s not as uniform in terms of rights as a Marvel or DC, where those companies own the rights to all of the characters in their respective universes.
Exactly. But it was too cool to pass up, but the only Image book I’ve ever really followed is The Savage Dragon. So I contacted Erik Larsen, and like I said, he was cool with it. He let us run with it. Savage Dragon is the only Image title that really lends itself to this sort of thing.