Todd McFarlane talks about SPAWN

todd-mcfarlaneTodd McFarlane at the height of his popularity at Marvel left both Marvel and Spider-Man behind. He created his own character Spawn, whose inaugural issue was one of the top selling comics of the last 50 years. Spawn has just reached it’s 150th issue, on this occasion Todd took some time out to answer some questions about Spawn.

First Comics News: Just over 12 years ago you and some friends started Image Comics. How is the daily life of Todd McFarlane businessman different than the life of Todd McFarlane artist, 12 years ago?

Todd McFarlane: There is a big difference from the early days. At the beginning, it was easier for the business guy and the artist guy to be the same person. I could indulge my ideas.

Now, Todd the artist is involved at the beginning, but Todd the CEO comes in at the end. I have to separate the artist from the businessman. I can’t be as self-indulgent as I once was – I have retail clients and employees to think about. Now, an idea has to make sense both creatively and as a business decision.

1st: Do you find it creatively rewarding to work on the business aspects of Spawn?

TM: I became a businessman in order to drive my own art – not to run an empire. If you’re going to drive your own art you have to become fluent in business, so that you can talk to people like bankers in their own language. Very few artists understand this.

If you look at Image Comic’s original artists, there is a direct correlation between how much art they’ve done and how successful they’ve been individually. You can’t do art for art’s sake and expect to succeed. You have to have a delivery mechanism to get your art to the people.

1st: Do you see a time where you might draw an issue of Spawn again?

TM: Possibly. My instincts are that if I draw a comic book in the near future, it will be because I want to do it and have it be fun. When I have the itch to draw again, I won’t care if it’s just my mom and me who buy it. And if I do draw again, it won’t be what people will be expecting of me.

1st: Is there any chance of a Spawn/Spider-Man crossover some time in the future? 

TM: I don’t see it.

1st: You left Marvel to create a character you would own and control rather then giving it away to a corporation. You have created something much like Batman and Spider-Man, in that the character can sustain itself with different creators in different mediums. Did you see Spawn having this kind of success from the beginning?

TM: Did I always think that Spawn would succeed? Yes. It’s part ego and part confidence. I never go into a venture that I think will fail. I hope that Spawnwill be around for the next 50 years. The goal is to have your character outlive you. I think it would be cool to see Issue #597 of Spawn.

There is a misconception that because you create a character, you have to create every single piece of artwork connected to that character. Just because I created it, doesn’t mean I’m the smartest guy for it. You need to keep the character going – that is the task. Look at how long Batman has been around. Do I think that Bob Kane drew him best? No, I don’t. I hope guys come along 20 years from now who make me look like an idiot.

1st: Spawn has become a work-for-hire comic, also like Batman and Spider-Man. How is it different for creators to work for TMP as opposed to DC or Marvel?

TM: I haven’t worked for DC or Marvel for a long time, so it’s hard to answer. We give as much creative freedom as possible, and we have a lot less dos and don’ts given that we are not a publicly traded company.

1st: Does Image Comics still offer creators the ability to produce new characters that can have the same success as Spawn?

MF: Every day. The success or failure of any character rests on the marketplace and the creative force behind it.

1st: If so, why hasn’t anything else come along in the last 12 years?

MF: For the same reason you could argue that DC and Marvel can’t grow franchises out of thin air.  If it was that easy, they’d be doing it too. Who is the biggest character to come out of DC – or any company, for that matter – since 1975? I can’t think of any. But Spawn is right up there – we’ve done 150 issues. You’ve got a comic book that all of a sudden the world is paying attention to – it’s not that easy.

1st: Spawn just reached 150, not many comics have done that, how has Spawn been able to maintain its fan base?

TM: Through the combination of solid books with good talent working on them over the years. Spawn has been able to reach out into other mediums – television, feature film, action figures and games. Spawn has done some of the things the other really big characters have done. He’s put out a good book that keeps delivering.

1st: What type of things do you do to keep Spawn fresh and exciting year after year?

TM: We’ve got a new art and writing team in place. I think it all comes down to that. You shake things up and go in a different direction. You just keep kicking the can until you find a groove.

1st: How do you participate in the production of the monthly Spawn Comic?

TM: It varies; there is no consistency to my involvement. Sometimes plotting, inking, lots of notes in terms of where the story should go. I coach new artists. I talk to (editor) Brian Haberlin about direction. If things are going good; if the book is firing on all pistons, that’s cool.

1st: You just changed the creative team with issue 150; were David Hine and Philip Tan the first people you asked to take over Spawn?

TM: Yes.

1st: How did you select them?

TM: Artistically, I was looking for a young kid who had more hunger than talent. Philip has talent with the p8otential to grow. I was interested in David Hine for his work that was as far from the superhero world as I could find. I’ve never thought of Spawn as a classic superhero book. I wanted a writer who could do something else.

If readers will give me their patience, they will notice a difference with this new creative team. They’re just getting started, but they’re going to find their groove.

1st: What type of changes can we expect with the introduction of a new creative team?

TM: The biggest thing will be moving the storylines forward in a controlled manner with a purpose. David’s task is to take all of the nuggets that have been scattered throughout the first 150 issues. We know where we want to be by Issue #200 – we have the roadmap for where we want to go. We have many stories that will begin and end by Issue #200 – if you pay attention, you’ll see that everything eventually adds up to what happens at #200.

1st: Are there any plans to expand the comic book line, with either new character or spin-off titles? 

Todd: The answers are yes and yes. We’re working on a couple of things right now. When we find the right creative team for the right project we’ll do it. I want to put out books that I would buy, not just put out books to fill shelf space.

1st: There has been talk about another Spawn movie. Where do things stand today?

Todd: We’re just beginning work on the final script, making sure it’s in good order. The next step will be to find funding. Todd McFarlane Entertainment owns the rights to make the movie, so if we need to, we’ll fund it ourselves.

1st: Is this a sequel to the original film or more of a retelling of the origin?

Todd: It’s a reinvention of the origin.

1st: There has also been news of a new Spawn animated project. Is this theatrical, for television or direct to video?

Todd: Worst-case scenario it will go direct to video. We’re hoping that once we get the first tests in from overseas, we’ll go to Hollywood and see if someone wants to put it on TV.

Everything else has been done other than the actual animation process, but it’s coming. The finished product will be coming in 2006, no matter what.

1st: Do you feel Spawn translates well into film and animation?

Todd: If it’s done right, I think every idea translates. I’ve got ideas that hopefully are consistent with what fans want to see.

1st: It has been reported that the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art is doing a McFarlane retrospective, what is included in the retrospective?

Todd: The exhibit will include all kinds of things from my career: original artwork and artifacts from the McFarlane Companies archives including original comic art pages, animation cels, character designs and layouts, as well as toy designs and prototypes. Many items that have been loaned out or given away over the years – we’re getting back what we can.

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