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Todd McFarlane came to prominence in comics with his work on DC’s Infinity Inc. and Marvel’s incredible Hulk and fantastic Spider-Man, among other titles. He eventually left marvel and became one of the founders of image Comics. It was at image that he unleashed his creator-owned comics Spawn. Seventeen years later, Spawn has reached issue #200. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently talked to McFarlane to learn more about Spawn’s past and future, as well as other projects McFarlane’s working on.
Westfield: 200 issues of any comic is very impressive. Why do you think that Spawn has remained popular through the 17 years it’s been published?
Todd McFarlane: On a simple level, it’s because it’s been out in the marketplace. I think the lack of other books getting to as high a number as 200 is that, at some point, creative people and/or the book just goes away. Not to undersell the accomplishment of Spawn, but one of the simple things at work in our business is that you keep coming out with product over and over and over and over and over again. Over the course of that time, as we all know because we’ve been involved in comic books in either as a fan or as a pro, you’ll have high points and low points as time goes by. even in the case of books like wonderful four and Spider-Man, I can’t say that when I got to issue 200, 300, 500, that every issue was the best that I’d seen. You end up having these ebbs and flows where every now and then you get those magic moments where you get a run by a creative team where you go “Wow!” and it’s really inspiring.” They eventually end up leaving and you have to try and find the next one. You’ve just got to get it done. There’s no reason why Pitt couldn’t be up to issue 200 if Dale Keown had decided that he wanted to keep driving that bus down that direction.
Westfield: Looking back, are there any particular high points for you with Spawn?
McFarlane: We’re actually talking about one of them: every time we hit a “milestone” issue. issue 50 seemed eons away when the first issue came out. We just have a couple issues of Haunt out. It’s tough to see issue 50 some day, let alone 100, 150, or 200. You’re in the foxhole grinding out the books because deadlines are upon you every month. When you do hit those milestone marks, it reminds you that you’re starting to build a collective body of work and it’s not just about any single issue. Yes, intellectually some issues turn out better than others and some of the stories and some of the art is better than others. we all have our favorite issues of whatever title we’re on, but it was more impressive when I collected to say, “Wow! They have 300 issues of that character. That’s cool.”
Westfield: since this is a big anniversary issue, what do you have planned special for it?
McFarlane: From a creative point of view, I’ve got a lot of buddies coming on to help me. There’s going to be a lot of different covers and some help on the interior, although one of the big pieces for people who’ve been begging me is I’m going to be handling most of the art chores on the interior myself. We’ll expand the story size of it. I’ve got a big surprise for a character who hasn’t been around for a while. He rears his head again and, at the end of the story, sets the groundwork for the next big arc that the new Spawn is going to have to deal with. I always thought that issue 185 leading up to 200 was introducing the new Spawn and getting him somewhere comfortable and then going NOW! That was all pre-season. You’ve had your exhibition games and now it’s time to play the real game. The real game is now on you starting with #200, and you better be ready for it.
Westfield: who are some of the other people who are helping you out on the issue?
Spawn by David Finch
McFarlane: There’s Greg Capullo, who’s done more work artistically on the book than even I have. Danny Miki who’s done some terrific inking over the years, both over me and when I left. I may even get him to pencil a couple pages. He asked to see if he could stretch his artistic wings a little bit. Marc Silvestri is going to do a cover. Jim Lee. David Finch. Rob Liefeld. Robert Kirkman is going to write a little segment. I want to get him to do a cover. He actually does some nice little sketches. Not nearly as skilled as some of the stuff that Bendis did when he was doing things like Torso, but he’s skilled enough to know what he wants to do. I keep bugging him that he needs to do a cover for Haunt or Spawn and then I’ll just ink the hell out of it so that it’ll look professional. even if he just gives me a scribble, it’ll be Kirkman as artist. Ashley wood is going to do a piece, too. I wanted a range of styles so it’s not just all the same. My intent is to do a bunch of different covers, but do a cover gallery in the book too so that if people aren’tinclined to buy a handful of covers, they don’t feel liked they’ve been gypped out. All the covers I’ve seen so far are wonderful pieces and I’d rather not hide them away from the consumers.
Westfield: Is there anything you want to say about the story in issue 200?
McFarlane: like I said, it’ll be a big kickoff point. The original Spawn is sorta dead. The costume has been going on with a new Spawn. He’s trying to figure out what he wants to do. By 200, he’ll have become a public figure, at least out of costume. He’ll be almost this John Doe, messiah figure who has these abilities to cure people which is kind of counter intuitive to what he does at night when he’s got the costume on. From his perspective, he’s becoming a split personality. You have the whole concept of the costume’s alive. Where does the costume have ownership of your actions and what’s you? There’s always been this thing where if Spawn killed someone, if asked “Why’d you kill him?”, Spawn could go, “It wasn’t me. It was the costume.” Who’s in charge then? who controls your actions? It’s Biblical free will. You’re either saying you have free will or you don’t. Is it preordained or isn’t it? He’ll be struggling with that because he has the forces of heaven come in there too. They’re trying to figure out if this is an upgrade from the last guy who was around, or if this was a downgrade that they should be worried about.
Westfield: So aside from being a good book for longtime fans, this sounds like a good jumping on point for new readers as well.
McFarlane: For reintroducing the big populaces of evil that are out to make Spawn’s life miserable or that of earth itself, then yeah. You could jump on. There are going to characters in there that people know from the previous 200, but there’s also going to be the introduction of a brand new big villain that I’m hoping I can turn into my doctor Doom, Magneto, or Red Skull – guys of that magnitude. You have to start them someplace. We’re going to introduce him here and that villain’s going to have a big part to play as we go forward. hopefully we’ll continue to grow the rogue’s gallery. I think that’s important for any book with a long history. You want to have some continuity with the characters but you also like to see the introduction of new characters. Spider-Man had Hobgoblin and Venom coming later in the game.
Westfield: You’re also working on Haunt and image United. Is there anything you’d like to say about either of those?
Image United #3
McFarlane: image United, as you might imagine, is an interesting experiment. We’ll call it that. It’s also a crossover. We’ve all seen dozens of those. saying it’s a crossover doesn’t set it aside as different as the trick of going “How do you get eight people to draw a book and it not look like a mess?” does That’s actually, to me, the most interesting part of it. sometimes I get the pages last and I put in the bricks and the smoke and the debris and all that stuff. suddenly you go “Wow! There are five characters drawn by five guys on this particular page,” and it looks consistent which I think is a big deal. What you don’t want to do, and I never liked as a reader, is look at a book that felt like it had eight different styles on the same page. I never even liked it when they did the anniversary books and they did five chapters by five artists. Invariably, I’d hate two, I’d love two, and one of them was OK. I’d rather just have one guy do the book and do less pages of it. If having more pages means I have to put up with styles and artwork of people that I don’t like, that doesn’t make much sense. For me, that was a bit of my anxiety. When I started working on the pages, I thought “Wow, this is going to turn out smoother than I thought.” part of the reason is Whilce has a very fine line inking style. Marc Silvestri and some of the inking people that are helping him at top Cow, they have that slick style. My style’s pretty fine line. Rob Liefeld’s style is pretty fine line. Valentino’s isn’t quite there, but we’re inking over him most of the time so we’re bringing his stuff into that style. So the only guy that’s a bit of a push from that is Erik and he’s trying to make a bit of a concerted effort to put in a little more linework, crosshatching, noodling, whatever you want to call it. Surprisingly, there are enough pages there that have a bunch of guys on them in black and white where it doesn’t look like five guys arbitrarily drawing on the page. It looks like all these people can coexist together.
On Haunt, that one’s pretty new. We just have our second issue out. Not that long ago we took on Robert Kirkman as a partner at image and he has his following, so far we’re out of the gate pretty good. It’s a book where the collective whole is better than the parts. Robert’s doing a good job. Greg Capullo’s doing a wonderful job on the layouts. Ryan Ottley is bringing his A game to the pencils. I’m doing some inking. even Fco who colors and Richard Starkings are adding something to it. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a book where, top to finish, five different guys were each bringing something to the table so that when you look at it you just go “Yeah. The recipe has to include all those ingredients.” It’s not exclusive to one guy or another. There were times when I was doing books when you could say, “I like that McFarlane Spider-Man book.” You could do that. I’ve always felt that the books that I like the most are the ones where all the talent was bringing something to the table and you just went, “Wow. That’s kinda cool.” We’re two issues into it so it’s tough to make that big of a guesstimate on it. The first issue got nice sales and sold out. The second issue sold out in 24 hours. I just saw the early numbers 3 which are bigger than 2. That’s a good indication that we can start to flatline, if you will, and not continue to erode numbers which is the natural tendency of comic books. It’s like movies. They come out and get their big openings and then they get disintegrating sales. and then another movie comes out and does the exact same thing.
Westfield: are there any closing comments you’d like to make?
McFarlane: It’s nice to be back doing steady comic book work. I sorta took a side step away from that when I was running my other businesses. Coming back to do some writing and drawing and inking on a regular basis is very therapeutic. After running big corporations, if you will, you just lock yourself in a room, all by yourself, and not have to have any meetings, or deal with bankers and government regulations, and some of the other stuff that I had to deal with my other company. It’s been good for me, at least mentally. people have said to me, “You ought to come back and draw books on a regular basis.” The answer might be yes, but if I ever do that it will be because I just want to draw again. It’s good for me mentally. It would be way, way, way less about whether the book is a top seller or if we win awards or if I get any vital acclaim. I’ve run that gamut already in my life. At least for me, now that I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame, those aren’t the motivating factors as I go forward with stuff. I want to do things that make life enjoyable. maybe I’ll come back and I’ll do a book about frogs for all I know. I’d want to do something that keeps my interest. I don’t care if everybody’s buying it because I made a good living and saved money in the bank. I just like drawing, which is different than going, “I need to put this character in there and that character in there.” There’s a bit on an unintentional manipulation when you’re running a business trying to maximize sales all the time. sometimes you paint yourself into corners where creatively you might not otherwise go. It’s been good and luckily, I’ve hung around.
Spawn #200 (Cover A – McFarlane)
Spawn #200 (Cover B – Finch)
Spawn #200 (Cover C – Jim Lee)
Spawn #200 (Cover D – Liefeld)
Spawn #200 (Cover E – Silvestri)
Spawn #200 (Cover F – Wood)
Spawn #200 (11-Copy Variant Cover Set)