For a 30-year veteran of the comics industry, Todd McFarlane certainly isn't lacking in enthusiasm. The former "Amazing Spider-Man" artist, Image Comics co-founder and "Spawn" creator stood in front of a packed room Saturday afternoon at the New York Comic Con, holding a microphone and hosting his own panel, frenetically moving about and leading the conversation. Joined by "Spawn" co-writer Jon Goff, "Spawn" artist Szymon Kudranksi and the new "Haunt" creative team of Joe Casey and Nathan Fox. The group talked about everything under the Todd McFarlane Productions banner from the new directions of both "Spawn" and "Haunt" to the future of McFarlane's toy company, McFarlane Toys.
After introducing the panelists, McFarlane launched right into a slideshow boasting the fact that "Spawn" will have 15 issues out by the end of 2011, all by the same creative team of McFarlane, Goff, Kudranski and co-writer Will Carlton. It's a feat he's quite proud of. McFarlane also noted that Fox shared some concerns about getting 12 issues out in a year for "Haunt" so they've enlisted some thematically similar artists to come in and work on fill-ins. McFarlane said several times throughout the talk that he prefers this older way of doing things with consistent teams and numbering that goes uninterrupted.
The slideshow also revealed that TMP will be shifting methods when it comes to getting action figures and statues to the fans. A soon-to-be-launched website will give people the opportunity to directly purchase new statues of characters like Spawn, Haunt and those found in the video game "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," which McFarlane has been developing with former baseball star Curt Schilling for EA, instead of having to go through stores. They plan on releasing new designs for figures and statues as well as some reissues when possible. There will be a few problem areas when it comes to bringing back some of the old figures, though, because the company has used so many different factories over the years and have simply lost some of the molds. He even teased that 343 Industries, the new developers behind "Halo 4," have breathed some real new life into the property and that will be reflected in their line of ultra-successful toys.
On the "Spawn" side of things, the team continues to develop the adventures of new Spawn Jim Downing who has the power to resurrect people. The series will be taking a much more real-world approach as the demons and angels take more human forms. "What if Rush Limbaugh was a demon?" McFarlane asked, which got a pretty big laugh from the audience. The idea is that people like Rush don't actually believe anything they say and are just trying to cause strife in the world whether they themselves are evil or are being manipulated by a higher power.
Goff and McFarlane went on to explain that the book will be moving out of the alleys of New York City to become a much more global, real world, character-based series than it has been before. They're also looking forward to exploring what it will mean to religious and other groups once proof of this man who can heal people starts spreading thanks to technological advancements like YouTube and Twitter. "If standard super hero books are your standard cup of tea, these books might not be for you," McFarlane said, but followed that up by adding that readers looking for maybe something a little different or darker will enjoy "Spawn."
The discussion then shifted to "Haunt," the book featuring brothers Daniel and Kurt Kilgore combining to form the titular ectoplasmic creature. Casey, who sported sunglasses throughout the entire panel said that while the series was originally a combination of super hero stuff, espionage and horror under previous writer Robert Kirkman and artist Greg Capullo, things during his run with Nathan Fox will be getting mixed up and the proportions tinkered with to up the horror ante and downplay the espionage angle for a bit. Don't worry, though, fans of that aspect of "Haunt" should know that Casey has longterm plans to get back to those characters and reintroduce them in interesting ways. They're also going to slow things down from the break-neck pace of the first 18 issues and really get into the psychology of the brothers Kilgore and explore what it means to be dead and share a body with your brother.
New "Haunt" artist Nathan Fox explained he wanted to go with a "back in black" mentality to the book to really bring out the horror elements, while McFarlane held up actual pages from upcoming issues for the audience to see. The blacks popped off the pages, differing greatly from Capullo or even McFarlane's clean looks, but that's exactly what the boss was looking for in the artist -- something new and different for the title.
As the floor opened to questions, the first person up asked about potential animation projects. McFarlane responded they have stories written and voices recorded -- including Mark Hamill -- but just need to get some good animation tests that take advantage of current technology. Once they've got that, he can show it to the networks who McFarlane said are often inquiring about it. A low-budget "Spawn" movie is also being planned, one that will take its story cues from the current, more grounded in reality tone of the book. There have also been talks about doing a "Haunt" TV show, which is a good fit aside from the fact that Daniel Kilgore essentially vomits his costume onto himself. Apparently, networks don't think that will play in the middle of the country.
Towards the end of the Q&A session, McFarlane opined on finding a job in a creative field. He said that making comic book art is one of the more difficult professional artist fields because it involves drawing so many different elements from the human and the monstrous to cars and buildings. But, he noted, even if you're not good at everything, that should not preclude you from getting really good at one particular field. "Now there are entire departments of specialists," he said, explaining that he has people working for Todd McFarlane Productions who can make killer weapons, but can't do anatomy.
McFarlane closed things out by recounting his days in art school when the teachers wanted him to become an artist, not an illustrator. "An illustrator is a whore," they told him, but that didn't bother McFarlane who just wanted to make a living, pay his mortgage and maybe buy a house with a picket fence. If McFarlane's the example, it seems like there's quite a bit of potential in "whoring yourself out."