Interview

Spawning a Revolution: An Interview with Spawn Creator Todd McFarlane

A Presidential Address

By Alex Handziuk
Published August 25, 2019
Spawning a Revolution: An Interview with Spawn Creator Todd McFarlane
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Todd McFarlane changed the face of comics forever. In 1993, Together with Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio and Jim Valentino, he founded Image Comics, and in doing so, jettisoned the creator-owned comics scene into a viable juggernaut. The first issue of his series Spawn sold 1.7 million copies and nearly 27 years later, the series is about to become the longest-running independent comic series of all time. 

CGMagazine’s Alex Handziuk was able to talk to McFarlane, ahead of his appearance at Fan Expo 2019, about his record-breaking issues of Spawn, how he got into comics, and why he believes that now is the best time for creators to break into the comics industry. 

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CGMagazine: You’ve been working on Spawn for 27 years, how does it feel to be so close to the release of issues #300 and #301? 

Todd McFarlane: It’s one of those things where it has been 27 years, but I still have the enthusiasm for it. I never wanted to be the guy that had 50 ideas and just jumped from one to another. I always said that if you could invent your Minnie or Mickey Mouse, your Batman, that’s not bad, right? You don’t have to invent all the other characters, you can just have your one character and ride that horse for long as you can. I was talking to Robert Kirkman, the creator of the Walking Dead and he recently ended the series on issue #193. And he said for him to get to 300 that’d be another 10 years and he said that he just couldn’t go there. And so I thought about it and he was right. You’d have to go another 10 years, and then end up 10 years older and that would be 10 years that he wouldn’t be chasing other ideas. From my perspective, it’s similar to running a marathon in that you don’t know that you pass mile 12 mile or mile 20. You’re not counting the miles behind you, and instead, are just looking ahead to mile 26 and the end of the run. Right now, the marathon is issue #301, the record-setter. By the time I did 150 I thought that maybe it was doable. 

The more interesting part is that we have been able to get a bit of a resurgence and people are paying more attention to the character and the book.  Whenever you have a book that you’re doing for that long, you have to expect, realistically that you’re going to have highs and lows. There’s going to be times where you’re of at the top of the chart, and then other times where you’re drifting downwards, where you’re wondering what you got to do to get people even care? Are you even relevant anymore? And then you get some wins, just like in the marathon and you go,‘Can I get through 26 miles?’ Yes, and you find a way to get there. So can I see doing 300 more issues? Yep. Hopefully, if you read #300, you’re going to see that it’s essentially a new starting point. That may not seem quite as obvious, but it’s a starting point to be able to take the book in a direction that could go another 300 issues without repeating what I’ve done in the past.

CGMagazine: Speaking of longevity, how was the industry when you were breaking in during the late 1980s compared to now?

Todd McFarlane: Since I’m not trying to break in today I can’t say how it’s different in that sense. That being said, skill and talent is still a needed commodity. I hear it all the time from creative people and they use it as an excuse. They look at a guy like Robert Kirkman with the Walking Dead, and they’re like, yeah I know the Walking Dead but he just sort of got lucky too. They make this excuse with every creator that is succeeding right now

At some point, you just have to stop having a conversation with that person, because they’re looking for excuses not to do it. I’m going to be giving a speech Saturday, and for the most part, it’s not going to be about comic books, it’s going to be about how to persevere in the real world, against people who are going to tell you to stop and not go forward. But if you’re sitting here and the first person that gives you an excuse as to why you can’t do it is yourself then I don’t think you’re built for it. And that’s okay because we all have different personalities. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying that it takes a certain personality to defy the odds. Everybody doesn’t like to go on roller coasters, No big deal. To those that do though or some of you that may be reading this that have that gumption, hopefully, there’ll be a couple of you and maybe 10 years from now, you’ll be up on stage giving the speech that I’m giving. There were people that I saw that inspired me and there were moments were the bell just went off. 

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Founders Members of Image Comics: Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen

CGMagazine: When was the moment that you knew you wanted to make comics?

Todd McFarlane: For me, that moment of clarity came when I was 16 years old, and living in Calgary, Alberta. I was flipping through TV channels, and on the public access channel someone was holding up a comic book, but not just any comic book, it was Uncanny X-Men, my favourite series at the time. The guy who was holding the book was John Byrne, the artist on Uncanny X-Men and I was astounded. There was no internet back then, so I had no idea what he looked like but soon after the moment that changed everything for me came. He mentioned that he was from Calgary and I went, ‘Wow!’ You’re saying that you can live in Calgary, Alberta and not only work for a New York firm that does comic books, but you can also get to draw the best comic book on the stands? That blew my mind. The moment that the show went off the air I went downstairs and began drawing. I was already an obsessive doodler and trying to break into comics but was the moment that I decided that I wasn’t going to stop because it was doable. Everybody says it’s not doable, I just saw a guy on TV who lives here and is doing it. So bang! I’m in. Hopefully, people just need these moments and hopefully, if I give the speech right on Saturday then I get through to a couple of people. who ten years from now may go, ‘I wasn’t going to do it, but then this crazy Canadian guy stepped on stage and gave a speech and I decided to give it a go. 

CGMagazine: TV and movie adaptations of comic books, especially from Image comics are increasingly cropping up recently, why do you think there’s such a hunger for these stories?

Todd McFarlane: Today is the best day to create your own comic book and for anyone who thinks that it’s daunting, you’re a fool and here’s why. Disney owns Marvel and Warner Bros. owns DC Comics. Everybody else, every other billion-dollar studio, every other billion-dollar network, every other billion dollars streaming company, and every single producer in Hollywood, can’t get Marvel, they can’t get DC which means that you just went up significantly. Netflix, Amazon, ABC, NBC, go to a producer and say, ‘hey, I want to option a comic book.’ You have to take a sharpie and draw a black line over everything that is Marvel and DC. Last month, that would mean drawing a black line over 96 of the top 100 comic books. Then you look at the four non-Marvel or DC books and you find the Walking Dead, Spawn, Saga, and Transformers, all of which are spoken for.

For people looking to break-in, you don’t even have to be in the top 100. What other occupation could you say that you’re the 110th best but in reality the number one choice of people working for 20 different companies, each worth over a billion dollars? Every day, every week, they knock on our door at Image and ask us to put them in touch with one of our creators. We’ve got 23 books that have either been made into something in Hollywood or are in development. If you have any inkling of doing something creative day then today is the day to get off your ass and go do it. Because it is a complete seller’s market right now and if you don’t want to fill the vacuum, whoever’s sitting in that audience, whoever’s thinking about whoever’s reading this article, if you don’t want to fill the vacuum, somebody else is gonna fill it. Every single person should be asking themselves, ‘Why not me?’

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CGMagazine: Any last words about Spawn #300 and #301?

Todd McFarlane: The record I’ll be breaking was previously held by another Canadian. What I would like to say to the rest of the world is how can you let one Canadian show you up, and then have his record broken by yet another Canadian? What’s happening with the rest of the world? Come on guys it’s time to pick it up. We’re tired of holding all the water buckets. 

Check out the full interview in an upcoming issue of CGMagazine.

You can see Todd McFarlane and a cavalcade of other comic guests this weekend at Fan Expo Canada.