At Comic-Con International in San Diego, “Spawn” creator and Image Comics co-founder Todd McFarlane spoke with CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland in a far-ranging video interview discussing McFarlane’s new projects and the state of the industry in general.
Their first topic of conversation: DC Comics’ September relaunch, which will see that publisher revamping its entire line of comics and restart every series from issue #1, including flagship titles “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics.” McFarlane’s response was candid, to say the least. Below is a transcript of McFarlane discussing his thoughts on the relaunch, including how he would have handled the initiative. Check back with CBR in the coming days for the full video interview.
Jonah Weiland: I want to talk about the business of comics a little bit. The business of comics is struggling. Comics sales have not been great — you may have seen it with your own titles as well. So, DC is trying something different and has this massive relaunch coming in September. I’m curious what your thoughts are on DC’s relaunch at this point.
Todd McFarlane: I’ll bet against it. And here’s why: I think it’s a fool’s game, I’m not on board, I think it’s a fool’s game what they’re doing. They’ve got 52 titles that they’re launching #1, I’m down with that idea. Right? I get it, right. To do it all in one month is the fallacy there. As a businessman, one of the things I try to do before I get headstrong on something is to look at historical data that will basically back up my position. I’m trying to figure out what record company, what car company, what TV show, what theatre, what ice cream parlor, put out 52 new products in the same month and expected the consumer to upgrade all 52 of them. If the answer is — and I’d be curious to talk to DC — if they said, ‘No, no, no, we don’t expect all of them to necessarily bump up,” then it seems like a missed opportunity. So I understand the Top 8, 9, 10 book — Greg Capullo, who did “Spawn,” is doing “Batman,” one of the more anticipated ones. But if I’m somebody who is writing, pencilling, inking the 47th book? My question would be, how are you getting the word out that my book is also gonna be a #1? How are you promoting the 47th one? It doesn’t seem like there’s room to get it there. And then the problem is, if you don’t get a spike in the sales, it seems like a missed opportunity.
Here’s what I would have done at DC (and they’re not asking me): I would have taken the 52 and put out six or seven new #1s each month and spread it for seven, eight, nine months, and then you would have had people talking about those new books for half a year to a year. You could stretch it out for a year! And then, after a year, then let Marvel have the megaphone. But you could have done this, and instead you blew your whole entire wad. So now, here are your two problems: one, [say] I’m a retailer. I don’t even know if they talked to any retailers.
They certainly did.
How I do order upgrade of 52 books when I’ve got a limited budget? How am I doing that? And then, even if I do upgrade it, how do I know that I’m going to get customers to come? I’m going to have to sell them up. It’s an awkward thing for me. And then, as a consumer, you come in and go, ah, there’s all those #1s but there’s no way I have enough money in my pocket to buy all 52 of them. And go, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” And here’s the other one: this is not direct business, but it has an implication; if every book starts at #1, at the exact same time, fast forward a year from now and we’re going to know very quickly which books were not on time.
I think one of the thoughts they had was that, if you don’t go all in, you’re not going to get that mainstream media coverage that they feel they need at this point. Do you think they could have still had that impact if they did 52 books over the entire year?
Yes, yes. That’s how I would have done it. I’d have rolled out my two big guys in the first six. So I would have got the media kick, I’d have got the geek kick. But what do you think? The newspapers are coming and going to write about it, not because of “Doctor Fate” #1. They’re writing about it because there’s going to be a new “Superman” and a new “Batman,” maybe a little bit of “Wonder Woman,” “Flash,” “Green Lantern,” “Justice League,” and then everything starts dropping down from there. So if you had then said, in our first wave it’s going to be “Action Comics” #1 and “Batman” — because you still save “Superman” and “Detective” for later — you would still get your bang for the buck because you could have sold that story. I do sports figures, toys. One of the things I have to do is not put all the All-Stars in the first line. Because if I do all the All-Stars in the first line, the next line is less than All-Stars. What I do is, I take my players, and I consider them to be A, B or C level. And I put six out in each line, I put two A, two B, two C, so that I balance it throughout the year so that I don’t get these spikes in sales, and retailers see this steady stream of sales at a steady volume.
At the same time, DC is adding new #1s throughout the year. They’ve got a couple new #1s in October, I know of a couple series coming in November and December. So they are going to augment that. But is that the way to keep this momentum going, or do they lose their momentum in a month or two after the relaunch?
I think they blow their wad, is what I’m saying. It goes like this, they get a spike, and then, good — now you’ve got all the media hype, but you’re not going to get the follow-up story for issue #2 and 3 and 4. So you have to get it all in a condensed, tight period of time. You’re right, it’ll be in every single newspaper in the country, and then it’ll be gone. And by the time you get to issue 3, you’re leaving an opening for Marvel, which is your competitor. And when you’re in competition with people, you have to figure out how to dick-block them. Which is why you’re always laying out products in a product roll-out line. Ask Apple. How do we get them to look at our product, not theirs? Apple doesn’t say we’re going to release the new iPod, iPad, Macbook and I’ll talk to you about the cloud, all in the same day. We’re going to scatter it and spread it out through the year to keep you coming back for more and more and more. Like I said, it will work right out of the gate. Yes, it’s like a movie coming up on opening weekend. The successful movies don’t make their nut in the opening week, they make it over time. This is one of those ones where you’re going to have a big opening, and you’re just going to go back to normal in three months.
Check back with CBR for the full video!