By George Khoury
|"Image Comics: The Road to Independence," on sale June 20th|
In 1992, seven artists shook the foundation of the comic book industry when they left their top-selling Marvel Comic titles to jointly form a new company named Image Comics. With no certainty of success, they formed a home that would allow themselves and other artists the opportunity to tell their stories without any censorship or editorial restraints. Even more importantly, Image would finally give creators full ownership of their properties. In an industry that began with artists working in sweatshop-like conditions, Image remains a living beacon for any creator that dares to dream.
"Image Comics: The Road to Independence" is an unprecedented look at the last big bang to happen in the comics industry from every single angle imaginable. An incredibly dense 280 page tome that's packed from cover to cover – this isn't your granddad's book about comics history – it's an intense, refreshingly candid, and vivid experience about not only Image Comics, but in many ways the last twenty years of the comics industry!
Featured are new interviews and art from Image Founders Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. Also, the book spotlights many of Image Comics' most popular creators from the first fifteen years of the company: Jae Lee, Jeff Scott Campbell, Larry Stroman & Todd Johnson, Steve Oliff, Sam Kieth, Dale Keown, Brian Michael Bendis, Robert Kirkman, Frank Espinosa and Scott Williams. There are more articles, art, and a ton of photos to document this larger than life story.
For me, this book was not only the hardest single thing that I've ever worked on, but the most rewarding one in terms of its large scope and what it says about the future of this industry. Whether you're a fan or not of Image Comics, you have to respect them for bringing an infusion of tenacity and influence that changed the landscape of comics forever. This is the book for you, the comic reading audience; without you there isn't an Image Comics or comics industry.
George Khoury, author
Todd McFarlane Interview
2007 George Khoury and TwoMorrows Publishing
No matter where Todd McFarlane goes, he always seems to have to do things his own way. And it's exactly that attitude and tenacity that has given this artist the ability to remain fiercely independent and create an empire from his character Spawn. From his humble beginnings in lowly selling titles at Marvel and DC Comics to his great successes on Amazing Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk, he's always left his stamp and flair on anything he touches. Todd's elastic visualization of Spider-Man radically transformed that character's appearance and remains influential at Marvel today. Dissatisfied with Marvel's constant editorial interference and attitude towards creators, he quit and entered a self-imposed retirement from the Spider-Man title that he successfully premiered with sales in the millions. Soon he reemerged to help found Image Comics and made Spawn and himself into household names. The first issue of Spawn sold over 1,800,000 copies and remains the best-selling independent comic title ever. Today the immensely popular artist is president of Image Comics and owner of both McFarlane Toys and McFarlane Productions; he's also highly sought after for his artistic vision in mainstream film, television and other mediums.
KHOURY: When you were growing up, you were a rabid comic book fan, right? You used to write letters and all sorts of things.
McFARLANE: It depends on your definition of "growing up." I started collecting comic books probably when I was 16. I'm actually a late-bloomer. Once I started collecting, I became a freak. I think most people when they collect are a little more reasonable about their collecting. I've always been sort of an obsessive kind of guy. Like, when I get into something, I dive in completely. When I started collecting, I started buying Marvel first, started practically buying every single title, and then when I ran out of those titles, I started buying DCs. And when I ran out of those, then it was the independent comic books. And then there was, "I'm going to read them, and now I'm going to try and draw them, then write letters to them." I just fell in love with the industry as a whole.
McFARLANE: Yeah. That was in Spokane, Washington.
KHOURY: When did you start taking the art seriously?
McFARLANE: Probably, I would say, the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was always doodling, so what ends up happening, then, is I start collecting the comic books, right? Then the comics become a focus of my artwork. I go, "Hey, you know what? Instead of just doodling, I'll actually put it to a constructive use." And I go, "These comic books are pretty cool. Why don't I start training myself to draw comic books instead of just trying - because at that point I was doing 15 different styles, y'know, in my notebooks? There was no rhyme or reason to my artwork. So the comic books then became a focal point. I'd go, "I'm gonna teach myself to draw comic books." And then, I started doing that in high school, especially my senior year, so by the time I graduated from high school and then I end up going to college and playing baseball, I was very realistic about the chances of being a pro athlete. Although I had delusional friends, I knew that the odds were against me. So I knew I had to get an education, and at the same time "I'll continue teaching myself these comic books and sending off samples." And at some point I'm going to have to make a living. So if it was baseball, if it was comic books, if it was being a commercial artist or whatever, go into the printing business, I didn't care. If you give me my druthers, I would have put them in order, but I also knew that as a young kid, whoever was going to give me a job, I was going to take it coming out of college as soon as I got it. And even in college I was also sending off the samples. I ended up getting somebody to say "yes" in the comic book world about three weeks before I graduated, so I never really went for any real job thereafter.
KHOURY: And what did your dad do, in terms of work?
McFARLANE: He was in the printing business. It was more of, like, putting books together and running printing presses and stuff, but… and to me, I thought I'd either go into the printing business with him or I'd become a commercial artist. I had figured that would be the reality of life.
KHOURY: When you started, what book did you aspire the most to do? Were you just hopeful that you'd get a shot at X-Men one day, and sit at home drawing for Marvel or something?
McFARLANE: You know what? I get that question even with my own company, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I don't know; wherever the opportunity is. So I love comic books, and if comic books had maintained a steady business, I'd probably still be doing it. But, because I started collecting at such a late age, at 16, there weren't really one or two characters that I had grown up with that I just go, "Oh, my God, it'd be the end of my days if I could only draw this guy." I've run into guys like that. So, to me, I found, on some level, every character I drew was interesting at that moment, because I was going, "How can I make this interesting for myself to draw?" So when I was doing Spider-Man, I did the stuff I did on Spider-Man, more than anything else really to entertain myself while I was drawing. Because I'd go, "I hope to draw it for a hundred issues." When I was doing The [Incredible] Hulk, I came up with a way of making him look and move and feel in a way that was interesting to me so that I'd go, "Oh, maybe I'll draw him for a hundred issues." It never happens, but you have to go in with the mindset that you'll be drawing this guy for a long time so you actually get interested in it. Although I wasn't ever a big fan, per se, at any given time, of Iron Man, but if I had taken over the Iron Man book, Iron Man would have instantly become my favorite hero at that moment. Because I would have gone, "Ohh, Iron Man, now he's the coolest! How can I make him look cool? And how do I entertain myself drawing?" Because if you're drawing a book and you begrudge the character you're pushing the pencil on, it becomes labor. It's tough to get those pages done when you're going, "Aw, I'd rather be doing Superman." You can't have that mindset. You have to go, at least for me, every character I'm working on is the best character that's in the comic book field at that moment. Otherwise you drive yourself crazy.
KHOURY: When you were working at Marvel, you pushed yourself hard, because there were was a time when the books were even bi-weekly or something?
McFARLANE: Yeah. It was bi-weekly, because they had been doing the bi-weeklies, and I remember when I came I go, "Hey, I hate bi-weeklies because you've got to take the regular artist off it. So if we're going to go bi-weekly, then I'm going to stay on the book." Now, I found that it was a little bit a foolish endeavor because I was penciling and inking at that time, and then trying to pencil and ink two books at the same time; that was very difficult. Some of the bi-weeklies had some inkers that came on, and because of that the style shifts a little bit, because I was normally inking my own stuff. So I did to myself what I didn't like, which was shifting the style somewhat. But again, they never asked me whether we just wanted to do a monthly book. If it was up to me, I'd have kept the book monthly and have me pencil and ink every page. But they put those styles on me. But, yeah, you just get the deadlines done. Did I have a lot of all-nighters back then? Absolutely.
|Todd's cover artwork for the black-&-white reprinting of Spawn #1 in 1997. 2007 Todd McFarlane Productions.|
McFARLANE: Well, you know what? At some level I don't think there's any magic to the success that I was able to get. It goes something like this: Keep your deadlines. Come up with a little bit of a style that is a little bit different than everybody else. Be friendly to the consumer. And stay on a book for more than five f*ckin' issues. I mean, there's no magic. Here's the problem: During my entire career, I never had a hankering to want to do an X-Men book, and at some point I actually got to the point where I go, "I will never do an X-Men book," because I wanted to be one of those guys to prove to the young kid that you can have a huge career and never do The X-Men. And if you don't believe me, then you're not looking at me, because I'm the example. You don't have to do The X-Men. So would Jim Lee's career have been bigger or less if he hadn't? I don't know, but Jim Lee's a hell of an artist, and he didn't have to draw The X-Men. So did he shortcut his way to being popular via the fast route? Maybe, I don't know. At some point I felt that doing The X-Men as an artist was like becoming a Yankees baseball player. It's too easy. I've always been like an underdog guy. I just don't like the easy route. I never wanted to play on the winningest team when I played in sports. I always wanted to be the mediocre team that beat the winningest team because to me there was more satisfaction. So drawing The X-Men, drawing Wolverine, whatever, that's just too easy. What's more impressive to me was stuff like John Byrne taking over stuff like Iron Fist and making it interesting to me. And Frank Miller taking a character that had been around forever, Daredevil, that most people didn't care about, and reinventing it. And to me those were bigger moments than going, oh, to be doing the number one book that's been number one for 20 years. If it stays number one, it has nothing to do with you. I would rather be on a book that's #20 and bring the sales up to #8 than to be on the #1 book and not be the guy who took it to #2. Forget it. And if you stay at number one, they're like, "Yeah? So what? It's been number one for 20 years." There's nothing there for you that will build your career. Take Captain America. I always tell kids, take Captain America and take him to #1. Oh my gosh, you'll be a saint, y'know? Go get Batman, put him to be the biggest comic book ever. Take Wonder Woman, Flash, take Green Lantern, get another book, another mid-level character and drive them to the top like Frank did with Daredevil and they will basically name awards after you.
KHOURY: When they gave you your own title, the self-titled Spider-Man, was it because you wanted to tell your own stories? Were you starting to get frustrated already at Marvel?
McFARLANE: Not really. Well, I was always frustrated, but I wanted to draw… remember I said earlier that I'd come up with a style that would entertain me? Again, this is maybe all part of my ego: that the easiest way to entertain you, is to actually draw the stuff you like. So what I was drawing was the characters and the bad guys in the situation that the writers liked. So I'm going, "Oh, darn it." They'd give me the bill and "How come you can't have this? Oh, I love this guy." And I'm going, "I don't like it; it's dumb!" I mean I draw, I'm going to do the best I could, but I wasn't necessarily a fan of Sandman; what did I care, y'know? So I go "Ah, if I were writing the book, here's what I'd put in." It was the same mindset as the writer except now I go, "Cool!" I think it's too easy for a writer to put stuff on paper that he doesn't have to draw. So, in other words, if I'm writing and I don't have to draw it… well, I wouldn't ever actually write this, because I know somebody would have to draw it. But if I were a writer and I never drew, then I would go, "Oh! Let's do a fleet of aliens coming down from 12 planets, about a thousand of them, and then heads are floating over the Capitol Building, make about 18,000 of them dropping down, and then we're going to have, like, The Avengers and The Defenders coming," and you're starting to get into Independence Day. Well, you know what? For me to describe that scene, I can type that in about two-and-half minutes. It takes four days to draw that damn picture. Three minutes to think it up, four days to draw the double-page spread. It's just painful. God bless - I mean, some guys are just better at it, George Prez, God bless him, but I didn't have it in me. I didn't have it in me. And so even after I'd left Infinity Inc. with Roy Thomas, I'd just go, "I will never ever do a team book again." It's probably why I didn't ever want to do X-Men. I had been burnt out on a team book which is a bunch of talking heads, and each guy maybe gets nine panels, and you don't ever get to fall in love with any of the characters.
KHOURY: So Marvel had boxed you editorial-wise? Like, they would censor panels and suggest things that you didn't want to hear?
McFARLANE: From time to time. You know, they'd get you to redraw stuff. My frustration was: if everybody knew their job, you wouldn't have to redraw what you were redrawing. The do's and don't's would have already been on paper, and the writer wouldn't have to put it on paper and I wouldn't have to draw it, and then spend four hours redrawing it. I wouldn't have to erase or redraw it. It was just such a frustrating, inefficient way to get to the end result. Didn't everybody know what the rules were? "Well, yeah." "Well, f*cking write them down!" Y'know? Why am I drawing? And you guys are getting me to fix it after the fact? It's not a fun way to spend my time when I'm already busting my hump getting it done. So it wasn't really any one event that led to me leaving Marvel. It was a culmination of all the events during my comic career. They just wore me out. And eventually one of the events became the straw that broke the camel's back.
KHOURY: Was it anything in particular or you were just tired of everything?
McFARLANE: No, no, no. There was a particular one. It was the panel in #16. It was the Spider-Man/X-Force crossover. There was a character named Juggernaut that was in there.
|While in high school,16-year-old Todd drew this cover of Spawn for his own fanzine effort. 2007 Todd McFarlane Productions.|
McFARLANE: Yeah. But I was writing the story, and again, to me Juggernaut was this immovable force. I had to come up with a clever way of beating him. Okay, well, I didn't want to use the same ten ways we've seen before. I went, "Ah, I know. There's actually a chink in his armor, which is he's got an opening in the eyes, right? So I go good, we'll take him out there. There's a weakness. That cracked the gates open a little bit. So when I put the sword in his eye from one of the X-Force guys, that was it. They just came in and I remember having the conversations, and it went something like, "You can't stab him in the eye." And I was like, "What are you talking about? I can't stab him in the eye?" They're like, "Well, it can't be…". I remember having these conversations with Tom DeFalco, and I'm like, "So explain this one to me?" "You can't inflict an orbital injury." I go, "Do you remember that cool scene of Elektra getting stabbed by Bullseye? Remember, he put the weapon right through her and it was coming out her back?" He was going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you can't do, also you can't do rear penetration." Right? So you can put the sword into somebody, but you can't puncture the cloth from behind. This is why if you look at the drawing, the famous drawing he did, her costume was stretching. I don't know if you remember it.
KHOURY: I remember it. It's in silhouette.
McFARLANE: It was stretching. And so I found it sort of amusing. So it's not that kids will be harmed by the effect of stabbing somebody, it's that they will be harmed by the fact of them getting stabbed and their clothes torn. Yeah, wow. So it's actually more about clothes tearing than stabbing. That doesn't make any f*ckin' sense. That doesn't make any sense. But anyway, it was, "No, no, no, that's okay, Todd. But you can't poke the eyes." I'm like, "Why?" "Because the eye is very sensitive." I'm like, "Wow. A sword through my colon is not sensitive? Wow, that's… ". And it was just that this was how it was going to be. "Are you telling me that there's a code in the Comics Code that you can't have eye orbital…?" And I never did get a straight answer on it. But they were just going, "No, no, no. You can't do it. You can't do it." And so I just wondered, this is like, now the twelfth time that they did it, and I go, "What's in the code?" And they go, "No, we write the code. We're actually the code writers. And it's not really in the Code." So now we're changing stuff that's not in the Code because it might be offensive and might not pass the Code? "Well, have we run it by the Code?" "Oh, no, we haven't run it past the Code. We don't think it's going to get past the Code." "Well, who is the code?" "Well, ultimately, Todd, we're the Code, because we're the ones that sponsor it." So I just got into this circular argument with him, and I eventually just went, "Here's how it's going to work. I will change it, I guess. You can change it, I guess. Whatever. What do I care? You guys, it's your company, your character, do what you gotta do, but I'm telling you right now this is the beginning of the end. This is it. This is the one. I just can't keep going like that. I can't be the guy that's your number one artist and keep getting these panels redrawn." To keep getting pulled in the office, telling me to slow down, don't do this, because now the book's selling so well, so many people are looking at it, we have to now get conservative, when four years earlier you looked at me and said, "Todd, Spider-Man's in the dumper. Is there any way you can help us?" And I took it to the top of the race, and now all of a sudden it became my curse. So I was just like, "Oh, you guys are wearing me out."
KHOURY: Well, when you went into exile, they said Todd had quit comics, he wasn't coming back. Was that true? That you were thinking about something like that?
McFARLANE: No, no, no. At that exact same time, I was also having…
KHOURY: You were having your first child.
McFARLANE: Yeah, and I was going to take time off anyways. I was planning on taking some time off regardless of whether I was working for Marvel or DC or anybody else. I'd never been a father. I didn't know what the expectations would be. So I was in a position where I had some money tucked away and I could actually take time off to help my wife, and I go, you know what? Most people aren't granted that luxury. Then I'll take advantage of it. So I take time off, it just became a crossroads. Maybe it was my mindset at that point; I knew I was going to take some time off. Anyway, so it was just like, "Guys, forget it. I'm done. I'm done. I'm outta here."
KHOURY: When you were working at Marvel, I'm sure you weren't making one percent of what the book was producing - were you bothered by things like that? Did it bother you that Marvel didn't pay foreign reprint rights? That your art was appearing on product that you weren't going to see a dime for? There was a lot of stuff that Marvel does and still continues to do to artists.
McFARLANE: You know what? There was some concern there on some of those levels. I didn't own Hulk or Batman. I knew that.
KHOURY: But you were due respect, at least. A pat on the back.
|Spawn by Todd McFarlane. 2007 Todd McFarlane Productions.|
KHOURY: That's why some guys didn't want to go to Image, because they didn't want to lose that steady paycheck. They were afraid of waiting for profits after the book was published.
McFARLANE: Well, they thought they'd get blacklisted. It was like, what are you talking about? You think that if I go and draw a comic book thing and the book fails and in two years I go back to Marvel, they're not going to take me back? Even if that were true, DC would take me in ten seconds. You just go to the other company then, whoever, y'know, the other guy's not mad at you then. But, y'know, what is, they're not going to hold that much of a grudge. "Oh, we won't take Jim Lee back, and Marc Silvestri, and Todd McFarlane, we won't take them back." "Are you out of your mind? DC will take us in five seconds." It didn't make any sense.
KHOURY: Rob was the first guy who started something, he wanted to do Youngblood with Malibu and then you went, "Wait a minute. This is where we can do something
special." And you decided to join in right there.
McFARLANE: And Erik was in early on those conversations.
KHOURY: But Rob never intended to leave X-Force.
McFARLANE: Right. When we started Image, all the guys had that mindset pretty much, except for me. Y'know? Jim Lee was going to do X-Men. Marc wanted to finish his run on Wolverine. And, again, because they were still waffling, they didn't know if it was going to succeed, and it was a fool's game. I knew it was a fool's game. And for two reasons: Number one, "None of you guys has ever been able to do a regular book on a consistent basis. How the hell are you doing two regular books? You're going to do a book for Marvel and a book for yourself? It ain't going to work because what's going to happen is that the book for yourself is gonna look like crap, and your book at Marvel's going to look like crap, because you're spending half the time on each book. It doesn't make any sense! And number two, and here is a big one… I don't care what your next character is. I don't care what you call him. You call him Broccoli Man, if it's the only place they're able to get your artwork, they will come." This was a concept that the writers miss, that the writers go and write an independent book, "I don't know why it didn't succeed" and whatever else. Well, the reason it didn't succeed was you're writing X-Men, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Captain America, and your independent book. And given that I've got a limited budget, would I rather have a big shot writer who is doing Batman and Spider-Man, or would I rather have the big shot writer do Broccoli Man? I don't give a sh*t about Broccoli Man. But, Mr. Writer, if you quit every one of those books and all you do is write Broccoli Man, they will come, because it's the only place they're going to get you. It was the piece that I kept trying to harp. "Don't let your fan base divide and conquer. They may not know who Spawn is, they may not like Spawn, but if they want to see my artwork, they're going to have to buy my book." It's that simple. And hopefully, if I do my job right, they will actually like the book, too.
|Gareb Shamus and Spawn at Golden Apple Comics in 1992. Gareb's Wizard magazine became a powerhouse in the comics industry via the early Image and the early '90s speculation wave.|
McFARLANE: Well, Batman to me is my favorite, and I say that was probably predicated upon four or five artists, but I liked Batman the best. What I'm saying is that as much as I love John Byrne doing The X-Men, with Terry Austin, if they had quit that book and moved somewhere else, I would have gone with them. I would have also bought The X-Men with Paul Smith on it afterwards, but I would have figured out how to hunt down and get my Byrne stuff. I just would have done it. And I knew that it was going to be applicable here to some degree. Not the huge success that we had. I didn't know it would be that big. But I knew that we would be able to bring enough people they'd go, "Ah, you know what? I still love Spider-Man. I'm still going to collect Spider-Man even though Todd's not doing it. But I also like Todd, so I'm going to follow Todd's career at the same time. So what I'm going to end up doing is either adding another book to my budget, or I'm going to drop another book on my 20 books that I buy and add the Todd book." That's what I would have done, as a collector. As a collector, I would have gone, "What, of the 25 books that I'm least enamored with, I'll drop that and I'll get the new John Byrne book that he's moving to a new company."
KHOURY: And most people, we do follow creators. We don't follow characters nowadays. Wherever you would go, I'd follow. If you did one issue of Cyberforce, so be it.
McFARLANE: Actually, you know what? I've seen a little bit of both and I've done both. For me, because sometimes you get some terrific people come on to follow up certain artists, right? So I've seen it work both ways. But, again, I was thankful that we got as many people as we did coming over. And that they actually liked the character, too. But, some people weren't buying it because they wanted to see Todd's art and they actually went "It's not a bad character, that's okay. I'm getting my money's worth because I don't mind the character and I like the artwork."
KHOURY: Before you officially started Image, though, you went back to Marvel, met with Terry Stewart and made him an offer, right? To take over the Epic line, to do your own thing?
McFARLANE: No. It's not true. Something got screwed up there, and I know they even came out and said some things. Here's how the conversation went, and there's seven people in that room. I'll name them all off so you can talk to any seven of them. There is Terry Stewart. There is Tom DeFalco. There is Jim Lee. There is myself. There was my wife. There is my four-month-old baby, Cyan, that my wife was holding. At the beginning he was there, Rob left halfway through. But Rob was there. And the conversation, the Reader's Digest version, went like this. "We are here as a collective group, and Erik Larsen and Marc Silvestri, who we'd just signed up the night before, we've got a group of us. We are leaving. We are not asking for anything. We're not here to negotiate anything. We don't want anything from you. We are just saying we're leaving. Here are our reasons why we are leaving." And we spelled them out. "If it was us, I would actually do something about the reasons why we're leaving, because you might find that next week another seven guys might walk into your office, and the next week another seven guys. So if it were me, I'd actually pay attention as to why we're leaving, what are the reasons that drove us out?" And that was it. And we walked out of there, immediately went over to DC comic books. They thought they were going to hook us because traditionally, you leave Marvel, you go to DC, right? Or vice versa. And we sat down with them. Jim Lee had never been to DC. He was the Golden Boy. You might imagine, they were like, "Oh my God, Jim Lee's here! Thanks, Todd, for bringing Jim Lee over for a meeting!" We essentially sat down; they had everybody sitting around a table. They thought, "Oh, let's talk about some big book." And we basically said, "We just left Marvel. Here's our reasons. We're here; we're not here to do work for you either. We're here to tell you that we just quit you and them at the same time. Although, we don't work for you, but here's the reasons why. If it was us, I would actually pay attention to the reasons we left, because you guys might get seven guys walking into your office next week." And that was it. And it was like, we never wanted anything. We didn't say give us total freedom on Spider-Man, give me ten percent ownership. We never did any of that. That was all bullsh*t that came out later that Terry Stewart, who was trying to defend his stock report, put out some crap that was just, are you out of your mind? We served no demands. We thought, silly us, that it would be the kind, courteous thing to do to tell your employer you were leaving and a couple of reasons why you're leaving, and when you were going to be going, so we didn't leave them in a complete lurch. So that was it, that's all that conversation was.
|Spawn splash from the second issue. 2007 Todd McFarlane Productions.|
McFARLANE: At that point, I think there was a thrill and anxiety at the same time. We knew we basically made a commitment to do something that a band of guys hadn't done before, and there was no history to say whether it would succeed at any level, but we were all anxious to really get it going. That meeting at Terry Stewart's office was at the end of December of '91, and I think we had our first what I would call official Image meeting at Marc Silvestri's house in January of '92. And that was when we all sat around and we all said to each other, "Well, what character are you going to do?" And we were all supposed to talk a little about the new books we were going to do, and if we had any problems, each guy could give the other guy a bit of a helping hand creatively. And it was our first big pow-wow. It was probably the coolest meeting we've had. The first one's always the best, right?
KHOURY: Most of them didn't know you too well before this.
McFARLANE: Rob I knew very well. Erik I knew okay. Jim Lee just a little bit, because Jim Lee at that time was arguably "The Golden Boy." I had come and had my time in the sun, and Rob, y'know, I was starting to get a little mouthy and Rob was a loose cannon. So Jim Lee, in my mind, Jim Lee I felt was really the lynchpin. And I don't want his ego to get too big, but it went something like this: I think they knew that Todd and Rob were getting discontent in their day-to-day activities, but they went, "Ah, troublemakers. Todd and Rob are leaving." I don't think it would have come as any surprise. I think that the guy that was going to give the most merit to them paying attention to watching out for the creative community was a guy like Jim, who I just think they thought they had wrapped around their finger and he was going to draw for them for the rest of his natural life. And all of a sudden their Golden Boy was saying he was quitting, too. And I think it was, like, "Wow. The crazy guys are quitting, we get that. But Jim Lee, that's… whoa, whoa, whoa, we might pay attention to what's going on here."
KHOURY: The seven of you guys had all the momentum. Even Valentino. He was just starting to get his stuff together with that Guardians book.
McFARLANE: Well, you know what? That was another one of those guys that thought they could do both books. I think they came upon it very quickly that they could only do one book, so then it was going to be, "Well, I'm just going to finish my run on my Marvel book and jump onto my Image book." And I was trying to stress to them, you know what? Take a little bit of time. Catch your collective breath. Get two or three books in the can. See if you can't get ahead of your deadlines a little bit. And there was a fear factor. It's always there, and if you're sort of famous and you take a day off, somehow you're not going to be famous. That might be true for Paris Hilton or Jessica Simpson, but, y'know, which is why they gotta try so hard every day, but for Jim, again, I was living proof. When I left from Amazing Spider-Man to the regular Spider-Man book, there was about a four, five-month, six-month gap. What ended up happening when I came back? I set sales records. So, again, you guys, having to do X-Men books and never take a break, I took two breaks in my life, and neither time did it hurt me. From Amazing to Spider-Man, and another one from Spider-Man to Spawn. So it's okay. I mean, three, four months, you'll - . Y'know, John Byrne left a book for four months when he was into his game when I loved him, and four months later, five months later he was just giving me creative comic book blue balls waiting for him. But I was like, "He's back! John Byrne's back!" I mean, what are you talking about? A little bit of anticipation is good for everybody. So, again, I think they come to the realization that they didn't have to keep pounding it the way they were to make this transition.
KHOURY: How did you and Rob become so close? Why did you help him out on those New Mutants covers?
McFARLANE: I think by that time we were pals, so one of the fun things of doing artwork sometimes is just swapping pages back and forth, so I was doing some inking at that point on my own stuff, so it was, "Hey, Rob, why don't you let me ink a cover or two." So there's, I think it was actually more than one. I think I did two or three of them.
|The Prince of Darkness! Ozzy Osbourne and Todd McFarlane at a press event for McFarlane Toys's Ozzy action figures.|
McFARLANE: Oh, really? I thought he'd sort of… he'd been around, but I knew he was going to start on the
book. I think we did three in a row or something like that, but I don't think a cover is going to make or break anybody's career. So, covers are nice to look at, but the body of work of an artist is really what carries them.
KHOURY: Well, you were a hot commodity back then. To have covers from you, even on a reprint title like Marvel Tales, helped sales and commanded attention.
McFARLANE: Oh, yeah, well, on that one, because that was a complete reprint book, so they were looking for a reason to get somebody to buy it. But if there's original artwork on the inside, then the original artwork has to carry the day, if you will. I've bought plenty of books where the covers were awesome and the insides weren't, and I was disappointed.
KHOURY: So Rob was talking to you about doing his book with Malibu, right? Is that when you started getting an idea of maybe getting together and doing Image?
McFARLANE: Yeah, Rob and I would talk back and forth to each other, and I know that he was going, "You know, we should do some independent stuff." He was talking about doing something, I was getting near the end of my rope, and then I think Erik was also sort of involved early. There was the three of us going, "We should just do it. Let's just go ahead and do it." The difference between what they wanted to do and what I wanted to do, is I wanted to just quit and do it, and that would be our only book. And so that was probably the biggest difference. Rob, I think, and Erik had the mindset that they could do a couple books, one inside the system and one outside the system, and I was never a believer in that. Even once we started Image, I think Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri, and I don't know where Rob was at that time, but they didn't want to let go of their Marvel books. And from my point of view, I just thought that the only way it's going to really work in a big way is that you have to cut off the supply someplace else and have the consumer come to your new stop. And it's too easy to pick and choose, then, at that point. And there's a litany of guys that tried that, from a writing perspective. Because, as pencilers and artists, we're slower than writers; most of us are only capable of doing one book. The answer is just take all of your work and move it from one place to another, boom. And they'll come.
KHOURY: Did you not like the deal with Malibu? Did you right away want all the Image books out of there?
McFARLANE: No, not really. In the beginning they served a purpose, and, again, I think what happened was that the deal that we struck with them, as time went by, wasn't conducive to what value we were getting back. So it was that simple.
KHOURY: How did you get your team together? Because that's the one thing, you were more organized than the other guys. You right away had Terry Fitzgerald, and you had Al Simmons. It sounded like you were more prepared, business-wise. How did you get that savvy? The rest of the guys weren't really ready for anything.
McFARLANE: Well, obviously I had a big advantage in that I'd already quit Marvel comic books. All the other guys hadn't made that sever yet, and part of it was, as a matter of fact, a big part of it, was the birth of my first child. So when my first child was born, Cyan, I think I was two pages away from my last Spider-Man book. So I was going to leave the book anyway, because I just had another problem with editorial over that issue, and I'm like, "Forget it, I'm out of here." And it was a good time because I had never been a father, and I thought it would be a good time to spend some time at home.
KHOURY: But how did you know what you wanted to do with your company? That you needed to run yourself like an engine, you needed to get people to work with? Because a lot of artists don't understand you have to work with other people.
McFARLANE: No, I don't actually think that's true. A couple of way that I consider myself a little bit different is, I wasn't afraid to stop my artwork and start it back up, and that was a concern for some of the other guys. Which is why they go, "Well, let me just finish my Wolverine and my X-Men and then maybe I'll sort of phase into the Image stuff." And they were afraid somehow that if they were off the marketplace for a couple of months, that the fans would forget them. And most of them were on the Wizard top ten and stuff like that. I'd already left, and I was off the stands for a while. And then I come back and I do Spider-Man #1, and the sales go bigger than what they were on Amazing Spider-Man. So I'm going, "Guys, it doesn't necessarily hurt. If anything, it creates a bit of a hunger. People go, 'Oh my God! Where are they? Where are they? Where are they?' And then when they come back, whoosh, they'll come back and get you twice as hard." And at the time Image was going, Jim Lee was flying as high as he could. If he had taken three, four, five months off, there would have been a tremendous hunger, and everybody would have just gone crazy. I mean, they did go crazy for his book. A lot more crazy than they originally did. But that anxiety was, "They'll forget about us because we're going to a new company and new characters." And to me, I was like, "I don't think so."
KHOURY: What I wanted to tell you, some of them were a little jealous that you were so organized. They went to your house in Oregon, they saw that you had a company running, and you had your cars, and you were really focused on Spawn. Even more so than they were, because they were already starting to buy all the toys and luxuries that they never had. You were focused on the business.
KHOURY: But you were able to get the other deals going. I think that's what they kind of wanted. They wanted to get the toy deal with Matchbox, or Hot Wheels, and they wanted to get the movie deal going faster.
McFARLANE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
KHOURY: You got all that rolling faster than they did. And even the toys, I'm sure they saw what you did and it was like, "I wish I thought of that."
McFARLANE: But part of that may have just been a matter of time, though. Because I was only doing, really, the one book, I probably had more time then to devote to some of the business end of getting a comic book out, but then also had a little bit more time to go and chase down some stuff in Hollywood and think about other things. If I was doing five, six, seven books like they were doing, I may have been more distracted and might not have been able to pursue those. So that might have been a byproduct of their putting out a lot of comic books and running a studio, that they just, although they would have liked to have done some of the things that I had done, they had to watch the kettle that they were trying to boil at the other end, too. But we also know that we all tried to chase all those things, and it sort of bit us in the rear in terms of deadlines and shipping problems, and that was where, again, at some point you have to be practical about what you can and can't do in 24 hours every day. So you can't have a studio, and 12 books, and Hollywood, and movies, and toys, and novels, and video games. I mean, something's got to give. Something's got to eventually give. And what ends up giving is usually a little bit of all the above, you're actually doing a slight disservice to all of them.
KHOURY: Who had the idea of making these bylaws? Like, when you guys got together, who organized you guys? Were you the leader?
McFARLANE: Not really. Early on I thought we were fairly equal. We knew at that point, when we started, that Jim and Rob and I were getting more notoriety than
anybody else, but I don't think we ever unduly used that weight against some of the other guys, especially as you go down the pecking order, where, let's say, Jim Valentino was sort of sixth in line, if you will. The bylaws, the only time it came in was we had six of us after Whilce left, and we said that everybody gets an equal vote. Nobody got more value of a vote. So Jim Valentino's vote was just as good as Jim Lee's vote or my vote. We all thought that was a practical way to do it. The only time it came into play was if there was a tie at three to three, then it went to, I believe, what we called, like, a super-vote, and then that was Rob and Jim and I, but that was just a practical matter of making it an odd number so that you wouldn't come up with a tie the second time around. I don't know if we ever went to super-vote ever, or if we did, it was once or twice. I can't even recall. So we were pretty good about that actually, before we got into any voting, we would canvas each other and try and see if we could actually make sure that before we went to a vote, we had four votes.
KHOURY: But that took a lot of foresight. If there weren't any bylaws, there could have been trouble whenever someone would have left Image.
McFARLANE: Yeah. Well, again, maybe some of the bylaws were flawed or whatever else, but we just wanted to set some ground rules a little bit. My guess is that we set some basic ones early, and then as time went by, each meeting, when somebody did something that we didn't like, or did something that was good, and then we would come and say, "You know what? We need to actually nail this one down so that doesn't happen again." And then we'd come up with a set, and we'd sit there and vote. And, again, it's funny, with you looking on the outside; it probably seems more organized than it actually was.
KHOURY: Yeah, but it was nice that you guys were all on the same page that day, that you had the foresight to at least wonder, one of these days you might have a falling out.
McFARLANE: In all honesty, I gotta tell you, it was less about a falling out of any of us. We weren't really writing bylaws to protect us from us, because we all actually liked each other, and we actually enjoyed each other's company, and some of the best days we ever had were those Image meetings. The bylaws were more a byproduct of trying to have some organizational skeleton, because we knew now we were in competition with two big behemoths called Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
KHOURY: But once you guys sold more than Marvel and DC books for a while, you guys went into competition with each other. I know Rob and Jim were always competing against each other. I'm sure they were always gunning to beat Spawn's numbers, too.
McFARLANE: Yeah. And that was true. But, again, most of the bylaws at the beginning were built on us just keeping the momentum so that we could stay close to Marvel and DC, and even then, we had a couple of months there of keeping that momentum and not squandering it, where we were actually bigger than DC. Because, again, Image is, for all intents and purposes, a commune, and arguably then all the individuals still had control to do whatever the hell they wanted. But once it came into the commune of Image the publisher, then we needed to have some consistencies. There were simple things at the beginning like, what's the price of the books going to be? That should be somewhat consistent. What kind of paper are we going to use? That should be somewhat consistent. Where are we putting the logo? That should be somewhat consistent. Just so that we gave a uniform look, somewhat, although it was six different studios turning out these books, there should be a flavor that they're coming from one entity, which was the publisher, Image comic books. So we had to wear two hats. And these were arguably the biggest conversations we ever had behind closed doors, which were where do you have an allegiance to your own company, which is whatever it was, whether it was Top Cow or Extreme Studios or whatever, and where do you acknowledge that you are 1/6 founder of Image comic books? And those to me were the more important conversations that I would like to voice from time to time. "I understand why you're doing that," whoever it was, "and I understand why it's good for you, but now, let me just play devil's advocate. It's not necessarily good for Image, and here's why it's not good for Image. And where do you care about what happens to Image, given that to correct the problem for Image, it might not be beneficial for you, personally, and your studio?" Those were always the tough ones. Those were probably the most complicated conversations that we had. You can't ignore the fact that you are part owner, part founder, of Image comic books, and if you just want to act autonomously, then you should not be part of Image comic books. You have to acknowledge that you're part of Image, too. You have a responsibility to Image comic books, and that was the balance and the struggle for all of us, actually, to find what was good for us and make sure that it wasn't at the detriment of Image comic books and vice versa.
KHOURY: It also became important for you to get other artists, outside of the founders. You wanted as much talent as you could get and recruited guys like Dale Keown.
KHOURY: And all the big names you could get to come together.
McFARLANE: Yeah, well, we had - .
KHOURY: But you guys didn't ever think about expanding the membership as founders, like, it was locked at seven and that's it.
KHOURY: If somebody wanted into Image early-on, if Joe Quesada wanted to come in, he'd have to be sponsored by somebody to come in.
McFARLANE: There was talk, yeah, and that was it, so for people who thought that it was a closed boys club to some extent, the answer's really no, that we actually had some by-laws that somebody could actually come in and try and sponsor somebody. But our conditions were that they would come in, keep their nose clean, and do a body of work, and show us that they [weren't just] in it for a short term big fat check and then go out. And so now we're, whatever, 12, 13 years into it, and at least four of the six of us are still standing here. So we put in our 13, 14, years. And Rob arguably might still be here if somehow he didn't get out, and Jim on his own decided to go someplace, but he might be - I mean, we could argue that. So, with a little bit of circumstance one way or the other, it could be still six for six. And the argument could be made that while nobody stayed around because they weren't founders, yeah, but nobody stayed around for, like, ten, 12 issues. I'm not asking for a decade. Nobody was staying around for ten or 12 issues.
KHOURY: That was a big factor with you. The minute some of these guys started getting late and later, the guys who weren't founders, as soon as they started affecting the perception that people had of Image, with all these late books in the beginning - that bothered you, right?
McFARLANE: Sure. Spawn wasn't perfect by any stretch, but if I put out two or three books, it would just compound the problems I was having with one book. And so, again, that's why I kept Spawn and any new ongoing regular title close to the vest, because I just go, "Geez, I gotta get this thing on a rhythm before I start worrying about Book #2."
KHOURY: Was the immediate success of Spawn surprising to you, that people really took it in so quickly right from the get-go?
McFARLANE: The surprise is more in the volume. We knew we were going to get a decent crowd coming over. We went from getting two percent at Marvel to arguably getting 100 percent. Actually, we had to give some to Malibu, but we got the lion's share. So you could sell a fraction, I'm talking about if I was selling four hundred, five hundred thousand of Spider-Man, we could have actually gone down to 60,000 copies and arguably made just as much, if not more, money. So when we were able to actually keep the numbers fairly consistent, wow, those were big days. But they become, as you've seen and history shows us, they become very heady days. This is where temptation comes, and it takes a lot to sit there and go, "Wow, I've got a ton of cash in front of me. Still stay focused. Stay focused. Stay focused. Don't go buy a yacht. Don't go on a trip for two years. I mean, stay focused, y'know?" But if you're only making $20,000 and all of a sudden you're making $300,000, whew, it's easy to get distracted, and amongst other things that were already out there distracting us. So that was really the biggest thing. And you saw it. You saw what happened when we gave a couple big checks to Dale, he was gone, and a couple big checks to Stroman and his writing partner and a couple other guys, they just disappeared. Or they just were having so much time spending their money; it was like the book was not important to them anymore. Like, too bad. And none of them arguably ever recovered from that. So they got their money, they spent it, it went away, and then their careers have been put on hold for such a long time, and none of them ever regained it back. I'm not saying their skill wasn't there. I'm just saying the momentum they had and their career went away.
For the rest of the Todd McFarlane interview, plus more on the history of Image Comics, be sure to pick up IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE when it ships June 20! And mark your calendars for the IMAGE FOUNDERS PANEL at COMICON INTERNATIONAL: SAN DIEGO on FRIDAY, JULY 27, from 10:30-11:30am in ROOM 5AB, hosted by author GEORGE KHOURY.
In 1992, seven artists shook the comic book industry when they left their top-selling Marvel Comic titles to jointly form a new company named Image Comics. With no certainty of success, they formed a home that would allow themselves and other artists the opportunity to tell stories without any censorship or editorial restraints. Even more importantly, Image would finally give creators full ownership of their properties. Out of the gate, millions of readers flocked to the energetic adventures by these creators, as together they ushered in the Image Age, where comics would sell in the millions, and a comic book artist could become a mass media celebrity. Image Comics: The Road to Independence is an unprecedented look at the history of this important comic book company, featuring interviews and art from popular Image founders Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. Also featured are many of finest creators who over the last fifteen years have been a part of the Image family, offering behind-the-scenes details of the company's successes and failures. There's plenty of rare and unseen art, helping make this the most honest exploration ever taken of the controversial company whose success, influence and high production values changed the landscape of comics forever.
280-page softcover with color section, $34.95 cover price
Diamond Order Code: MAR073745
Order at your local comics shop, or online at the TwoMorrows web site.
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