Like many of Erik Larsen's characters, the Savage Dragon was created by Larsen while he was a child in elementary school. In his youth, Larsen drew the Dragon in homemade comic books. The original Dragon, inspired by elements from Captain Marvel, Batman, Speed Racer and later The Incredible Hulk, differs greatly from the modern incarnation. After launching Savage Dragon in a professionally published comic book, Larsen returned to the original and reworked his designs into the characters William Jonson, a police officer ally of the Dragon, and Flash Mercury, the "Spectacular Dragon".
Much later, a greatly redesigned Savage Dragon was featured in two issues of Graphic Fantasy, a self-published title with a small print run, published by Larsen and two friends. In this incarnation, the Dragon was a widower and a retired member of a government-sponsored superhero team. Subsequently, the Dragon made another appearance in the third issue of Gary Carlson's Megaton anthology in its Vanguard strip, which Larsen had been drawing. In these appearances, the character of the Dragon remained basically the same as it had been in Graphic Fantasy, with a few details modified (such as the inclusion of his wife, who was dead in his previous incarnation). Both the Graphic Fantasy and Megaton issues containing the Dragon have since been reprinted in high-quality editions.
In 1992, when Larsen left Marvel to co-found Image Comics, he reworked the character for the new publication venture. This time, the Dragon was a massively muscled green amnesiac, who joined the Chicago police department after being discovered in a burning field. Initially debuting in a three-issue mini-series, the Savage Dragon comic book met with enough success to justify a monthly series, launched in 1993. To this day, Larsen continues to write and illustrate the series entirely by himself, and has maintained a reasonably consistent monthly schedule (save for occasional lapses) in comparison with the other original Image Comics titles. Larsen has occasionally produced ancillary mini-series, and sometimes allowed other creators to produce stories featuring the Dragon or other characters from the series.
According to Larsen, the series is aimed at "older Marvel readers who are about ready to throw in the towel on comics altogether. It's the missing link between Marvel and Vertigo. More mature than Marvel; less pretentious than Vertigo. The kind of comics to read. book is really self-indulgent."
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