25 years ago, a stalwart and bombastic general by the name of Todd McFarlane lead a revolution in the comicbook industry. Joined by his four colour comrades, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino and more, they charged the gates as champions of creator owned books. This past weekend Todd came home to the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo and one thing was clear, he hasn’t slowed down a bit.
Backstage just moments before his panel to a packed out crowd, McFarlane was gracious enough to give us a few moments of his time to pick his brain not only about the future of one his most famous creations (Spawn) returning to the big screen, but the future of comicbooks and their spin-off movies as a whole.
In this golden-age of pop-culture, Todd made it clear that the geek truly rules the earth. The most popular TV shows and movies come from comics, and the books themselves are experiencing a rise in popularity. Will this last? For the floppy comicbooks themselves, Todd assures us that while the delivery methods might changes from floppy to digital and books selling millions of copies gives way to a hundreds of books selling hundreds of thousands, the industry is healthy and strong and still attracting the most talented artists and writers. As he put’s it “Image Comics, I don’t know about DC or Marvel but I assume the industry as a whole, Image Comics in the last 2 years have had our best in the last 15. We are on the uptake right now.”
As for his thoughts on a possible ‘comicbook movie fatigue’ looming on the horizon and how it might potentially affect his upcoming Spawn film, his new Spawn film will separate itself from other superhero films dominating the box office. It will be more in the vein of The Omen, The Exorcist, and Frankenstein in the fantasy horror genre. He hopes to create “a movie in which the central being of Spawn is the only thing fantastic in the entire movie.”
With Spawn turning 25 years old this year (a birthday he shares with that other thing he was heavily involved with starting: Image Comics), McFarlane gave us a little taste of those early days. When trying to break into the comicbook business, McFarlane clearly lays out the choice creators have to make: work on someone else’s ideas or create your own characters and stories from the ground up. McFarlane tells us that when he started working as a professional, he shelved Spawn to work on other people’s creations first. A long running theme that Todd repeated many many times last weekend comes from that experience. Create. And keep creating. If you want to break into comics, do it. Find a place to start and never stop. Does he know who the next big superstar comicbook phenom is? He said it could easily be someone in the room. When he got his meteoric rise as the Marvel’s premier Spider-Man artist, he replaced the wallcrawlers more traditional poses and replaced them with the dynamic contorted stances that seemingly leaped off the page. He took the straight line webs that had being the norm for decades and gave us the infamous ‘spaghetti webbing’ – even while working on someone else’s creation he found ways to make it his own, and his advice to the next big thing in comics? Do that, take something you love and make it better.
After a decade and a half, Image Comics has since risen to be the third largest comicbook publisher, and the most successful creator-owned comicbook publisher in the world. “Seventeen of our products have now been licensed by Hollywood,” boasted McFarlane numerous times, hinting at what may be coming down the line for small or big-screen Image Comics adaptations. Image Comics has produced some incredibly popular series over the years that have not yet been adapted such as Invincible, Saga, Rat Queens, Descender, and Sex Criminals. These, or any of their other creator-owned titles could be adapted to live-action or animation on the big or small screen in the future. He credits Images’ success to how they treat the creator. When you make a book for for Image, the company owns nothing. They are just there to take care of the publishing basics. The rest is yours. “Not only do we offer the best comicbook deal, I will argue with anyone that we offer the best entertainment deal. You bring me your book, we take a fixed flat fee, not a commission. A fixed flat fee to do all the accounting, the printing – all the boring stuff that an artist doesn’t want to be involved in. We [Image] take that little sliver off the top and everything else is yours.”
When asked about diversity within creators, and who the next big thing for comics may be, McFarlane replied, “I always think that the next one hasn’t been discovered yet. They’re sitting in this crowd maybe tonight.” Image Comics has opened the doors for a lot of creator diversity in the past 25 years, and hopes to improve on it moving forward. “The important skill as you get older, is recognizing that you are not the smartest person in the room. And what you want to do is hire people who are smarter than you.” McFarlane has certainly tried to surround himself with talented creators as he has hired some industry legends such as Robert Kirkman, Brian K. Vaughan, Rick Remender, and Matt Fraction.
The questions could not stay away from the Spawn movie for long, as McFarlane eventually made his way back to the upcoming film. He states that the script has been recently finished, and that they have started to receive offers from production companies in Hollywood. However, McFarlane made one thing very clear, “I write, I produce, I direct.” He is very open about the fact that he has never directed a feature-length film before, and with this being his biggest comicbook property, this is quite a bold position to take. He assures the crowd by explaining that directing a movie is “just another art form,” and that “if [he] can do one, and it works, then those offers will continue to come.”
McFarlane didn’t offer any other details on film such as actors, studios, or release dates, (well, one actor was announced, Stan Lee, and he even gave us a run through on what Stan’s cameo would be but telling you would be a spoiler and we’re not here to do that) Todd did make a promise to give Calgary a premiere and said that he hopes to have something special to announce at San Diego Comic-Con International this summer.
If there is one take away from Todd McFarlane’s appearance at the Calgary Expo: from his panel, to the media appearances to his photo ops and autograph’s; he loves comicbooks and he loves the fans. He was willing to take the time and talk to any and all who wanted to share that love. He wasn’t charging for autographs and each and everyone person that crossed his path was treated to his wit, wisdom, and more often than not a inspirational quip. While returning to Calgary was a homecoming of sorts, really at the end of it all it was him that made us feel at home.