Interview: Todd McFarlaneAugust 20, 2019
Writer, Penciller, Inker, Publisher, Entrepreneur… Todd McFarlane has definitely had an interesting career. Recently, we had a chance to talk with Todd about life as an artist, his love of comics and his new Spawn movie.
Did you always know you had talent in terms of drawing or was there a pivotal moment that you realized yes, I can make a career out of this?
Todd: I’ve always said that I was aware that I was that proverbial ‘best artist in the class’ kid. You know the one, we all had them, whenever somebody had to draw something up on the chalkboard the teacher would call on you so yeah, I was that kid. But in school I was just an incessant doodler, there was no style, no form to it, just constantly doodling on the side of my pages. It wasn’t until I was about sixteen years old, I was in high school, and a buddy of mine was collecting comics, his dad worked as a magazine distributor so he’d bring comic books home all the time. It was then I sort of got smitten by them, started collecting them and then it was oh my god, I’m going to teach myself this style, called the superhero comic book, let’s do it, and that was it. From there I had an outlet to teach myself a specific style and luckily I was able to break in years later.
What is it about Spider-Man that makes him so interesting to read and for you, so interesting to draw?
Todd: Well, here’s the interesting thing…for someone who broke in with comic books, I was a late bloomer really, in coming to comic books, like I said, I really didn’t start collecting until I was sixteen. Obviously, I was aware of who Spider-Man was but my approach to everything is really simplistic…what would be cool to do today? Really, that’s it, otherwise, it’s going to be a long day and I need to entertain myself. So they gave me this character called Spider-Man, my mom had heard of him so that was cool, she thinks I have a steady job now. I know for me, within five or six months I would find the visual that would make sense for me, and then you get to the second part, where you cross your fingers and hope that the readers will go for the ride. I’ve always said that a lot of my style is literally a byproduct of being locked in a room by yourself for ten to twelve hours a day with a deadline, so it can be a pretty lonely occupation if you’re not coming up with something that is entertaining you along the way, it becomes work, right? You’re aware that you’re just grinding out blank pages day after day and I just sit there and go hey, when I did The Hulk, I thought, what makes The Hulk cool? He’s big, so I’m going to make him as big as an elephant…when I do Batman, what makes Batman cool? He’s dark, has a big cape, so I’m going to make his cape bigger than anyone has ever drawn it…and then Spider-Man, that was easy, the answer was in the first part of his name, spider. I thought ok, I’m going to make him just like a spider, that will be cool. I didn’t get caught up in whether anybody had done it before or whether it made any sense, it just made sense to me and luckily I was able to, with a couple of stern lectures from Marvel, I was able to break the status quo a little bit and introduce a few new things to it.
Where did the idea for Spawn come from?
Todd: You know, I created him when I was about sixteen, around that same time I was beginning to collect comic books. Again, as you start doing that you start creating your own characters…I was actually going to do my own Spawn comic book way back when, I even started it, I might even show some of the pages in issue #301 just to say hey, I’ve been sitting on this character for a long time. I was in Calgary, high school kid, going I want to break into comics and Star Wars had just come out, so the backdrop on my original story had a sci-fi slant to it, but the story itself…when I came out and did it professionally in 1992, it was this dude that just wants to live his life and doesn’t want to be told what to do and oh, by the way, he loves the heck out of his wife. There are a couple of truisms in the world, one of them is stick to what you know and here’s what I know, I know Todd, right? At that point my girlfriend, who became my wife, her name is Wanda, which is the name of the wife of Spawn. Also, I just have this DNA in my body that doesn’t allow me to just sort of fall in line with the status quo. Spawn is essentially a reflection of me, I don’t want to be pushed around by anything, whether it’s politics, corporations, religion, I just want to live my life every day, as much as humanly possible, and those are good days. The days that wear on you are the ones where someone is telling you how to do it, why it needs to be done like that, and you don’t have very much control. Spawn is like that, fighting against people who say he owes them and he won’t back down…that’s it, nothing unique really in the concept.
There was a Spawn movie in 1997 and you’re making a new one now. What is the status of the new movie and why did you decide to make another one?
Todd: You know, like anything else, over time you come up with an idea and you think it’s cool, so right now I’m doing another re-write on it. I had two significant calls last week from people in Hollywood about it, getting the funding in place. As I keep telling people, my other companies, when I started them, whether it was out of inspiration or anger, I spent my own money. When you spend your own money you don’t have to ask permission about a lot of things, you can literally drive off a cliff with your own finances. But when you are asking other people to put in their money, which I am for the Spawn movie, then they obviously are going to have a certain amount of say in how they think it should go. I’m just trying to get them over the hump, just trying to say hey, I think there’s another way to present a comic book superhero movie, not the same popcorn fair. I mean, that way is doing tremendous, but I’m not asking for a two hundred million dollar budget, which is what a lot of those movies are made for, and I’d be a fool to try and compete with a two hundred million dollar movie with a twenty million dollar budget. What I can compete with are the creepy horror movies and supernatural thrillers that have come down the pipeline since cinema has existed, that’s what I want to do with it. A low budget creepy movie that scares the crap out of the audience and Spawn has been around long enough that the audience will be able to go to an R rated movie.
What do you say to people, and you must hear this often, when they ask you advice about getting started in this business?
Todd: Never give up…really, just never give up. Let me just tell you what history does teach us…that there has never been a time, at least I’ve never heard of it, where a leader of an industry, or a country or a power, or somebody that has some sort of reputation and say ok, you’ve got an idea that’s better than mine, let me just step to the side and you go ahead, to the front of the line. That will never happen. The people that are succeeding at that particular moment will defend the turf they’re on, of course, they will, so of course they’re going to tell you that you can’t do it, put up obstacles, the journey you’re about to embark on is a suicide mission, because they don’t want competition. I’ve lived my whole life going against the giants and here’s what I know about the giants…in spite of all their power, money and marketing, a thousandfold over what I have, they can’t kill me. My job is never to kill them, I never good, they’re too big but the bigger question, the more curious question, is why can’t you kill Todd? They can spit out a bunch of BS but I know the answer, and that’s they move too slow. Also, sometimes they get so successful that they become blind to wanting to expand and experiment, which is cool because then you have people come along and take advantage of openings because they are not servicing certain needs. Change will always come from the outside, they’re going to tell you that you can’t do it and someone is going to do it anyways, succeed and then someone else is going to do it. My goal, when I give that talk in Toronto, is to inspire one, three, five people in that audience so that five or ten years from now they are up on stage giving the talk.
You are coming to Fan Expo Canada in Toronto this weekend. What do you enjoy the most about attending these conventions?
Todd: I don’t get to as many as I used to but obviously it’s nice to go and meet the fans. Nothing really beats the personal moments, looking somebody in the eye and saying thank you, hearing their stories, having a little chit chat with them, having some fun. It is Toronto, I’m Canadian, I’ve got a soft spot for the place, no doubt about it. Also, another reason for coming is to promote issue #300 of Spawn and then to me, more specifically, issue #301. I’ve also got a panel, where I’ll give a little inspirational talk to people, not so much on how to break into comic books but how to take your ideas, put them forward into the world and 27 years later still be in charge of it. My story is no different than a lot of other people that have started their businesses selling other products, people saying no, you can’t do it, you can’t compete with the big boys, all the things you hear when you have a new idea, but you can still succeed in spite of those odds and 27 years later still be doing it.
I want to thank Todd for taking the time to talk with us
Todd McFarlane is appearing Saturday, August 24th and Sunday, August 25th at Toronto’s Fan Expo, located at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Check the website for more details: https://www.fanexpocanada.com/en/guests/comic-creators/todd-mcfarlane.html