Late Saturday afternoon at San Diego Comic Con International, renowned artist, publisher and entrepreneur Todd McFarlane held his annual update of activities at his company Todd McFarlane Productions. Also in attendance were fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and Brett Close, both partners with McFarlane and baseball player Curt Schilling in 38 Studios.
McFarlane opened up talk of his comic ventures with a brief statement of his personal publishing philosophy.
“Unlike some of the other presses, I don’t have 10 or 20 books I put it out,” he said. “It’s always been intentionally. I’d rather do a small handful of books I can manage and control and keep a tight grip on. Spawn, obviously, is at the forefront of my company.”
The publisher then quickly moved on to make an announcement about a new comic project by recapping its origins in last year’s Todd McFarlane Productions panel.
“When I opened it up to questions, some geeky little kid in the back stood up and asked his question and I found out to my chagrin that it was Robert Kirkman, whose book we publish at Image and I didn’t recognize him. I’d never met him or seen his picture.
“The challenge he gave to me at that point was ‘Why don’t you do more comic books?’ and I told him that I was busy with other things and I write collaboratively a bit more. It’s too hard to just lock my self away in a room for 12 hours like I once did. I have three kids and multiple businesses. So he volunteered to come on board and help collaborate with me.”
At that point, McFarlane brought Kirkman himself up on the dais as well as revealing a teaser image for the project.
“We came up with a concept,” McFarlane continued. “We put some visuals to it. We’re still tweaking. It’s a work in progress. We now have a name for it. ‘Haunt’ by Robert Kirkman, and I’ll be doing most of the covers on it. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to be doing the penciling and inking on the inside, but I’ll have a creative control all the way though it.”
As the primary focus of Todd McFarlane Productions is its action figure line, much of the panel was devoted to reviewing some upcoming releases. McFarlane revealed new figures based on “The Simpsons” which include voice chips with multiple saying on each.
McFarlane will also be expanding on the line of “Lost” figures with a series including Mister Eko, Sawyer, Sun and Jin.
In talking about a pair of detailed Jack Bauer figures, from the TV series “24,” McFarlane told attendees that the director of the episodes that the figures are based on stopped by the Todd McFarlane Productions booth earlier during the convention.
“He was very complimentary in saying that we had captured what it was he had put on film,” said McFarlane.
Continuing, McFarlane showed con-goers an Image from the Adventures of Spawn Series 2 line, which are directed at a younger audience.
“We’ve done a variety, some that are very articulated, some that are less so. We’ve done a couple now that are a little more mom-friendly. Not because we’re trying to sell to moms, but because we found that some of the Superman, the Batman and the Justice League stuff, although simplistic in its form, I thought looked kind of cool.
“And that stuff gets released around Christmas time,” McFarlane added, “Which is when we can get it up on the shelves in some of the big stores and have a better chance of selling that.
“Also at Christmas time, we picked up the license for Dr. Seuss,” McFarlane continued with an image of the Grinch. “This is one that extends to a wider range of people that could possibly buy our figures.”
McFarlane diverted for a moment to explain his philosophy behind doing such a line of figures.
“We get e-mails [from] the hardcore fans: ‘you’re selling out, you’re softening up.’ We do all of it. We do everything from monsters and blood and gore and crazy stuff all the way down now to [this].
“Depending on the temperature of some of the buyers that we deal with,” McFarlane said, “It’s sometimes easier to get some of this product out which helps us to generate revenue that allows us to make that other product.
“Since the inception of the toy company, I’ve had three children of my own. One of the things they bug me about is ‘hey, you never make anything for us.’ My two oldest are daughters and here, I’m bringing home all these cool monsters and they’re ‘big deal, what do I care?’ Now that they’ve got a little older, I’ll make a few things they can put in their room because they’ve got zero of my toys in the room right now.
McFarlane then revealed a new line of Christmas-themed figures called “Twisted X-Mas Tales.” And one in the same dark reimagined styles as his previous releases based around fairy tales. Characters include Santa Claws and Santa’s Little Helpers wielding axes.
“I did some artwork for each one of them with a standard happy smiling Santa Claus,” explained McFarlane as he showed slides of the card art. “The packaging will be completely the opposite of what’s in that packaging. Either people will be completely confused or, I’m hoping, you people here will say ‘that’s so completely messed up, I’ve got to take it home.'”
McFarlane then briefly showed a slide of figures from the upcoming “Beowulf” film by Robert Zemeckis and Neil Gaiman. He noted regarding a character played by Angelina Jolie, “We’re weren’t able to get the rights, so we can do the monster form of her only. That’ll be coming out later in the year, closer to Christmas.”
Next up was an image of the character Master-Chief, as he will be seen in the soon-to-be-released “Halo 3.”
“We’re going to have two or three releases of the figures next year,” said McFarlane. “Part of the delay came in the fact that there are new items in that game that they haven’t given to the public yet. They want you to find and unlock these things in the game that they haven’t told you about yet. Once everybody knows they exist — these interesting visuals — we’ll be able to follow all that up.”
“Warriors of the Zodiac” was next in the presentation, as McFarlane revealed a line that sees a reimagination of the classic characters of the Zodiac, such as Capricorn, Cancer and Pieces.
“We’re doing four at a time and each one of those four release will coincide with their months,” said McFarlane indicating that each group of characters would be released close to the time periods on the calendar that each character represents.
McFarlane also revealed further series of McFarlane Dragons and McFarlane’s Military, revealing that future series of the latter will move away from featuring modern soldiers to start looking at historical military figures.
Moving from the projects of Todd McFarlane Productions, McFarlane also spoke about a project with 38 Studios in the field of video gaming.
“38 studios was created by Curt Schilling,” McFarlane explained. “He used to pitch for the Arizona Diamondbacks, which is where I first met Curt. I live in Phoenix, so we would run into each other. We got along and Curt ended up getting traded to the Boston Red Sox and helped bring a much needed World Series to that sorrowful town.
“Curt had been a big gamer for over a decade, that’s how he spends his time when he’s not pitching. He starting to think about what’s he going to do post-athletic career and he decided to put his money where his mouth is. He came up with a seed of an idea and passed it on to [author R.A. Salvatore]. R.A. developed this magnificent gigantic bible, which at this time we’re not talking much about, but all the details are there so we could then begin the process of putting together a team that would be able to bring it all together.
“It will be a big massively multiplayer online game. My job is to be a part of that in terms of guiding some of the visuals.”
McFarlane revealed an image of a centaur, the only such image released from the still untitled project.
McFarlane closed his presentation by mentioning something he couldn’t really talk about.
“I just closed a deal for a big ‘tent pole’ movie with Warner Brothers,” he said. “It’s a big, giant movie and at one point had Michael Bay running around town. We were trying to sell it. As bizarre as it was, I’ve been in many pitches where they don’t buy stuff because they’re not interested, but this was such so much information and such a big idea for them that they couldn’t quite get their head wrapped around it.
“Although, because it took us until Thursday to close the deal with the lawyers, the Warner Brothers people would rather us not say what it is and give those details,” McFarlane explained.
“The ‘Torso’ project … the ball keeps moving,” McFarlane said, referring to the long-gestating film based on Brian Bendis’s Image mini-series about Eliot Ness. “David Fincher has said he wants to do it when he finishes ‘Benjamin Buttons’ with Brad Pitt. We’re talking about preproduction on that close to the end of this year.
“I’ve also had a lot of meeting with cable stations that want to being the Spawn animation back,” prompting some applause from those in attendance.
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