EXCLUSIVE: McFarlane talks “Spawn” Shake-Up

Tue, April 22nd, 2008 at 7:10pm PDT | Updated: April 22nd, 2008 at 10:52pm

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

As people learned during the Image Comics Panel at New York Comic Con this past weekend, the world of Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn” is about to be majorly shaken up. This fall, with issue #185, the series will see two new creators take over the reigns of the title. Now, while the names of those creators haven't yet been revealed, we do know one thing -- the two individuals who’ll be guiding “Spawn” are founding members of Image Comics. Could it be Todd himself returning to the drawing board, or another one of the talented founders who’ll lend his artistic abilities to the title? The only clue fans were given was that one of the creators to join the title hasn’t done any work for Image Comics in ten years -- that makes Jim Lee (if you don't count his alternate cover for "Spawn" #150) or Whilce Portacio possible candidates, but that leaves the other seat wide open.

With so few details revealed during the panel, CBR News phoned “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane to see what more details we could wrangle out of him, what’s behind this decision and what readers can expect from this major change in the title’s direction.

Todd, as we all know by now, this fall the creative duties on “Spawn” will be handed over to two of Image’s founding members. What led to this major change for the book?

As much as I like “Spawn,” you have to acknowledge -- like you have to do with any of the long-term heroes out there -- that time is passing by. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, they’ve all done it and had major creative team shake-ups -- not that I’m saying Spawn is necessarily in their category -- but for one of the newer characters, 185 issues, you’ve got a pretty big tally behind him now. I’m very cognizant of not wanting to let things get stale and every now and then you have to shout, “Hey, we’re still here,” and show people we have a few surprises still left up our sleeves.

McFarlane stares down his creation. Photo by Anna Pena Photography
OK, and this isn’t a judgment, but why use members of the founding group of Image creators? There are certainly other talented names out there who could lend their talents to a title like “Spawn” and increase its profile. Why specifically use previous Image founders?

I think the obvious answer to that is today’s world is a lot more different than when I was doing comics. Marvel and DC have gotten fairly aggressive at tying people up under contract, so really, in my opinion, there’s aren’t that many top notch guys out there I can choose from. There are 100s of guys who call themselves artists, but if you talk about guys in the upper tier, that’s what’s getting harder and harder to find. As soon as a guy shows he has any skill, bam, they’re slapping him with the handcuffs of a contract that doesn’t allow us or anyone else to bring them on board. Those fun moments we used to have with creators hopping from company to company have gone away. Even silly stuff like doing a cover for me has gone away because of those contracts. Yeah, they’ve sucked that fun out of the equation, too.

How did this idea come to fruition?

Well, we’ve been talking off and on over the years about adding a little chutzpa to “Spawn” and we got to a point where we were coming to the end of a run. Brian Haberlin, who had been doing the artwork and editing the title, his family has grown and all of a sudden all that time you can devote to comic books isn’t necessarily there anymore. So, we used this opportunity to find a new team and started to think about what we could do to kick start this whole thing and not just bring on a new creative team, but also to come up with a fairly radical new direction for the book that says to our readers this won’t be more of the same with pretty pictures, but we’re literally going to turn this thing sideways, or at least on its head, and give you something you haven’t seen for 180 issues.

You mentioned Brian; will he still be editing the book?

No.

Will you take an active editorial role?

Yeah. The book is coming in-house, to my office.

That’s an interesting prospect. You’re obviously a busy guy managing multiple companies - how are you going to juggle those editing responsibilities with everything else you have to do?

I’ve got a good helping hand of people here and have a young lady here, Jan Cassidy, who’ll do all the hard work and I’ll do the easy stuff. We’ll get it done. Plus, again, with us taking the editorial onsite, it will allow us a bit more freedom and focus me on being more active with it. When Brian was doing it -- and he really did a tremendous job -- it wasn’t in the office, so it was harder to have just a casual conversation by the water cooler about the book. I’m hoping with these changes, with these people only a dozen feet away from me, the conversation of comic books and ideas will spring forward a lot quicker.

I understand that announcing who the two creators are is something that’s being held for a later time, but can you talk a bit about the story goals you’ve set out for the title?

The cover to "Spawn" #183, coming this July.
The first immediate goal is to send a message that we’re not kidding around. We’re truly going to head off in a different direction. The first issue will be very impactful to the history of the Spawn legend because, again, if it was just a new art team say in the middle of a story arc, that makes no sense to me. For the readers who’ve been there for a long time, once you get to page eight of this new book you’ll understand we’ve literally turned a big corner here.

So, we need to send that short term message across quickly, then after that we need to stay on course with that direction so that it doesn’t seem like -- as happens with so many comics -- you go in a direction and it’s just a temporary thing. I’m not looking for that either. I’m not looking to sit there and just say this is a gimmick for twelve issues and then everything goes back to normal. This isn’t some “What If?” story. This is going to change the dynamics of the title. We’re still in the same world, but all of a sudden there will be a different set of circumstances that affect Spawn and that world and now the reactions will be different and the stories will be different. This will not be the same story you’ve read once or twice before.

Is this a reboot or more shaking things up dramatically?

More the second than the first. I’m not a fan of ignoring the past or saying it didn’t exist. If I’m going to do Ultimate Spawn, I’ll do that, although I guess I should probably stay away from the word Ultimate! [laughs] That’s just another story in a different direction. What we’re doing is saying, hey, here’s what we’ve been doing for this many years, what if we put this different catalyst in the middle of this storyline and it now changes how everybody reacts to each other? What’s that look like? You should then get different situations, stories, tonality and mindsets and you’ll see the mood of the stories have shifted dramatically from what they once were, which is sort of a little slow and plodding -- especially, and arguably, when I was writing it -- and moody and downtrodden, but now we’ll be giving some of that a face lift in a dramatic fashion.

Most publishers would mark an event like this with a brand new number one as it tends to, at least temporarily, bump orders up. Why not restart the numbering on “Spawn?”

If you take a look at my history on the book you’ll see I’m just not a fan of all those types of tricks. It’s too easy to do. If we come out with a new #1, then it will be our “ultimate” Spawn or it’ll be a mini-series or something else. I guess I’m just too old fashioned because, to me, a book like “Action Comcis” started in ‘38 and hasn’t stopped its numbering. Now, in reality, I know there have been stops and starts and changes in the publication schedule, but in my mind it’s just 700 consecutive issues. I’ve also seen where renumbering is just a short fix and when people come back to the book, sometimes orders come in with a new number one lower than the previous number one. Once you give people a chance to get off the collecting ride, that kind of stuff can happen. Mostly, I still remember looking at price guides as a fan and having it be fairly simplistic when looking at the listing for a title and I’ve always vowed to be that guy with my own comic. Yeah, sure, we’ve done a couple of multi-covers at issue #100 or something like that. We’ve had our odd moments, but otherwise it’s been consecutive issues and you don’t have to have a masters degree to be able to stitch all this stuff together.

How long is this new creative team signed on for?

Unlike Mavel or DC, I don’t force anyone to work for me. Just like when Greg Capullo was with me with Brian doing the coloring and letterer Tom Orzechowski doing his thing, who’s been with me since issue #1, if they’re enjoying themselves and I’m treating them fairly, then they hang around. If they’re not happy, I don’t want them working with me begrudgingly. I don’t want a contract to be the reason why they’re sticking around.

The cover to "Spawn" #1, published May, 1992, sold 1.7 million copies.
Well, at a minimum, how long do you expect this creative team to be around? Six-issues? A year?

Hopefully a year, but again if everyone’s having a good time, why can’t it be longer? I took a certain sense of pride that by the time you get to “Spawn” #100, for the most part artistically, with the exception of the odd fill-in, it was mostly just Greg and I. Then Angel Medina came on -- and he caught a bit of flack during his run which I think was misplaced -- he ended up doing a decent run on the title. So, by the time we got to issue #150, you could still count regular “Spawn” artists on one hand using only a couple of fingers. I take a certain amount of pride in that. I guess by the time Brain leaves the title he’d be considered the slacker of the group and he still put a very decent run in on “Spawn.” Hopefully the next guys coming on will hang around for a while.

There’s a couple of other items I’d like to get to before we call it a day. Two years ago at New York Comic-Con a “Batman/Spawn” cross-over was announced. Can you update our readers on where that title is.

Well, it’s not out yet!

Yeah, but do you think it will ever materialize?

It’s possible.

What’s the hold up at this point?

Well, I’ve got a complicated life and a lot of things nipping at my heals and the way the dominoes have fallen have created circumstances that most people aren’t aware of. Really, it’s a complicated answer.

Alright. How about Spawn in other media. What’s the “Spawn” animated update?

Right now we’re trying to get some resolution on the animation part of it. There’s a bit of a legal dispute there that should be resolving itself in the next month, one way or the other.

How about on the live-action end? I know you’ve been saying for some time now that the next “Spawn” live-action film would be directed and funded by you.

Right, the live action is one I always vowed I’d fund by myself, but we have three people who are knocking at the door, wanting me to come into Hollywood. I’ve been talking with them off and on as a side thing nd they’ve been saying, “Todd, let’s have it.” We’re itching closer to at least putting together our pitch. Our pitch essentially is that nobody is buying this, here’s the idea, here’s how it works, here’s the budget and the deal breaker is I direct it. If you say yes, it’s a green light to production. There’s no development -- if you say yes, it’s being greenlit. I’m not selling it to develop it.

Now, given that we can keep the budget under control, that the IP’s been around for close to 20 years, that should be enough to get them to seriously think about doing this. Or they can do some other movie that nobody’s heard about with no big names involved for under ten million. Go ahead, do that, but someone will get it.

Why the change in approach? Why allow outside funding versus doing it on your own?

Well, I have been resistant to answer those calls and they’re always coming, but seeing as how busy I am with some other stuff, by the time I get around to funding it myself, it might be a couple of years or more before I get to it, so I started thinking it might just be a better idea to bring in a partner and get this thing off the ground.

Alright, final question, Todd. Everyone know you’re a major National Hockey League fan and with the race to the Stanley Cup on right now I have to ask for a prediction -- who’s going to win the Stanley Cup this year?

Now that’s a difficult questions because there have already been a few quasi-upsets and the good guys aren’t always winning. It would be nice to get one of the high profile teams in there. I’d like to see my Montreal Canadiens get in, but I think a good one would be the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Detroit Red Wings because you could arguably sell that series to America. Hockey could use the boost and that series could bring more attention to Hockey given that, at times, the league seems to get pushed into the shadows -- sometimes that’s its own fault, but you know.

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TAGS:  spawn, todd mcfarlane, image comics, image founders

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