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One You Want 005: Savage Dragon #172, Image Comics

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Each week a lot of comics hit the stores.

Some you’ve heard of. Some you haven’t.

Some have superheroes. Some don’t.

They might be comic books, they might be graphic novels.

This is the One You Want.

THIS WEEK: SAVAGE DRAGON #172, written and illustrated by Erik Larsen, Image Comics, 32 Pages, $2.99

There’s been a lot of talk about change in comics lately.

Change in creative teams. Change in continuity. Change in format. Change in technology.

People think the new wave of drastic change is for the better, others think it’s heralding some sort of apocalypse for the industry. I personally think everyone needs to calm down.

Yes, things are changing, but that’s what the industry - and medium, for that matter - does. It started out as a way to cheaply reprint newspaper comics, then roughly some years later new content got added, then superheroes, then page counts reduced, then prices hiked, then Wertham/McCarthyism almost destroyed everything, but then it got better again followed by decade after decade of radical change.

As an industry, comics are not stagnant. Sometimes we might get caught up in the latest trend of worry, but let’s face it,  an industry which survived government scrutiny, comics codes, speculator booms/busts, distributor wars can sure as hell survive iPads and relaunches.

As a medium, comics can be inert, especially when you focus on the genres they execute. A popular trend, led by a multitude of things (could be a popular movie, writer, artist, whatever), can grab hold of the medium for a long time and be hard to shake off. In some ways, a lot of superhero comics are still in an iron grip inspired by Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Some fans are content with this. Many aren’t. I’m part of the latter group. I like my medium and genres the way I like my industry, always evolving, always going towards tomorrow.

Some might say for me to stop reading superhero comics, I say just stop reading the wrong ones. It’s a genre in a medium where you can do anything. Where nothing is impossible. Seems to me making this boring is more of a problem of execution than an inherent quality.

The first and last time I got bored with superheroes was around 1990-1991. I had been reading comics for as long as I’ve had conscious thought and even at such a young age (just barely cracking a decade) I was already feeling like I was getting bored of the same story over and over. Then I started noticing new creators. Then they started doing new things with old characters. Then I got psyched. Then those creators formed Image Comics and introduced a bunch of new characters in a genre that was already starting to get played out to me.

I checked out every single book they released then and only stuck with a few. Of them all, the only one I’ve consistently purchased ever since has been Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon.

Before we continue I should probably offer up several disclosures: 1) my first professional work in comics was color flatting a ‘Freak Force’ back up in Savage Dragon #115, 2) Erik’s one of my oldest colleagues and friends 3) I worked at Image Comics from 2004-2010, when I was charged with marketing/selling this book, 4) during this time I had a character based off me named ‘Jughead of Shakes’ in issue #144 and finally, 5) Savage Dragon #171 featured a story written by me.

So, you could say I have a bias. However, from 1992-2004 I purchased, read and highly enjoyed every single issue without said biases. Like Gasoline Alley, Cerebus and Love & Rockets, Savage Dragon was and still is an ongoing drama where a guy who’s been reading since 1992 ends up reading a very different type of comic in 2011 even though the creator has remained the same. You don’t need biases to appreciate such reward.

It’s in appreciating such reward I get confused why the book doesn’t seem to make much of a blip these days in terms of attention or sales. We have a fandom where people either freak out because there’s no consistency in their books or get bent out of shape because there’s not enough change. There’s a book that has been providing both in one form or another for the last twenty years and the buying public at large barely takes notice. It gets more maddening when you have creative bigwigs like Robert Kirkman regularly citing the series as one of their favorites and biggest inspirations. Robert has even joked about stealing techniques from the book. Everything I’ve learned about utilizing the Left Hand Page Surprise Reveal I learned from Savage Dragon.

This week’s issue is a pretty good indicator as to why I love the book so damn much. On the one hand, it’s just another issue. There’s no special anniversary.  There’s no creative team change. It’s not the final issue of a massive storyline. None of the main character dies or resurrects. There’s no polybag. There’s no - who cares? It’s just #172 of a seemingly never-ending streak all written and drawn by the series’ creator.

On the other hand, the series began in 1992 starring a young, super-powered police officer with a bout of amnesia trying to figure out what his role was in a very mad, criminally overrun city (spoilers: that role was to punch bad dudes) to one where said young guy is no longer young and, it appears, is pretty dead. His now adolescent son (who we’ve seen grow up from birth) has taken the lead role. In this time we’ve seen very blatant and unapologetic superhero brawls, sci-fi adventures, romances, and even more old-school comic stylings owing more to Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr than Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Larsen’s attempted some sort of experiment in every single issue, whether it was trying his hand at an all splash-page issue, to the one where each panel was a separate day.

Savage Dragon uniquely blends consistency with evolution in a way no other book does. Tired of a lack of diversity? The lead character is mixed race - half-African-American, half-some-kinda-alien. His family situation isn’t cookie cutter either - he lives with his step-sister, the widow of his father’s best friend and her son. In addition to smacking around criminals he’s also faced with trying to emerge from his father’s now infamous shadow while graduating from eighth grade.  Ten years from now he’ll have grown ten years, have different issues than he has now and may even have started a family of his own. Whatever happens, it won’t be the same as it is now, even though it’ll all be told by the same creator.

If Savage Dragon can be defined as anything, it would be ‘consistently new.’

I get that starting so far into a series can be daunting. It’s one of the main reasons why DC’s resetting everything to #1, but the truth of the matter is nothing matters more than a good story. You probably didn’t start reading most comics with their first issue. You probably didn’t read the whole run of Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes when you first gave them a shot. If you want new ideas in your comics, if you want something consistent in your creative teams, if you want to support comics that aren’t going to be reset in a few months, then I urge you more than I have in any previous One You Want to go to your comic store and start with Savage Dragon this Wednesday.

The change you want is here. Now it’s time to buy it.

SAVAGE DRAGON #172, a 32-page full color comic book for $3.50, is available in-stores on August 3rd 2011. Look for your local comic shop by going to http://comicshoplocator.com/.

P.S.: So I get this column is called ONE YOU WANT and the idea is I only point out one comic per week, but I’d like to put out a special additional holler for IDW Publishing’s HERO COMICS. It’s one of a series of anthologies they’ve been putting out, similar in spirit to Image Comics’ LIBERTY COMICS.

Whereas LIBERTY COMICS takes all proceeds to support the CBLDF, HERO COMICS takes all proceeds to The Hero Initiative. The Hero Initiative is an organizing who helps creators who helped build our industry in their troubled times and buying a comic which goes to directly support them is an extremely worthy cause.

Considering this particular issue hosts a reunion from the original creators of SANDMAN (yep, Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg) in addition to a whole bunch of other comics by a bunch of other awesome people, it’s pretty much a no-brainer way to bring help to the people responsible for us having this medium in the first place. Buy it.

###

Joe Keatinge is the Eisner and Harvey award-winning co-editor of POPGUN and writer of the upcoming Image Comics series, BRUTAL, with illustrator Frank Cho. He lives in Portland, OR and works out of the comics studio, Tranquility Base. Follow him on Twitter @joekeatinge.

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