At the end of June, Marvel Comics has a (sort of) surprise waiting for readers with the finale of Brian Michael Bendis’ “Age of Ultron” with the introduction of a certain angel to the Marvel U who put a lot of people through hell: Angela. The red-haired bounty hunter first appeared in Image Comics’ “Spawn” #9, a creation of Neil GaimanTodd McFarlane, as an adversary and counterpart to Medieval Spawn.
Although Angela’s fate in the “Spawn” universe was decided with her death in issue #100, her future in the world of comics was unclear. Did she belong to McFarlane or Gaiman? What about the characters who were considered derivatives of Spawn, such as Medieval Spawn? These questions sparked a ten-year legal battle between Gaiman and McFarlane, which was finally settled in January of 2013 with Gaiman being awarded claim to Angela while McFarlane was awarded rights to Medieval Spawn. Legalities now settled, McFarlane is releasing “Spawn: The Dark Ages Complete Collection” on July 30, collecting issues #1-#28 of the series in hardback for the first time.
Todd McFarlane sat down with CBR News to discuss his feelings about Angela’s future in the Marvel Universe, how the lawsuit affected his plans for “Spawn” and, in spite of all the drama, how he has managed to turn out nearly three hundred issues of his flagship series — with no plans to stop anytime soon.
CBR News: You’ve got “Spawn: The Dark Ages Complete Collection” coming out later this summer. What can readers expect from that? Are you able to include the material that was part of the lawsuit between you and Neil Gaiman?
Todd McFarlane: Part of the settlement between Neil Gaiman and I was swapping characters with each other.
We came up with a way for some of these characters that haven’t been around for a long time to actually come back, so people could see them. Whether it was me bringing them back, or Neil, or somebody else, it just got to the point where we realized when we were fighting that none of these characters were doing very much. We came up with a deal to allow all of these characters get back in the public and for us to have some fun with them.
One of the characters I ended up getting was the Dark Ages Spawn. I wanted to see if I could come up with a storyline to bring that character to the present and give him a name change. I don’t need two Spawns. He’ll act differently, and I’ll probably modify some of his powers.
Had you made plans for any of the prohibited characters to be included in your future work? Did losing them derail you at all?
Not really. I didn’t feel like it was cramping my style. Every character can be broken down into a generic mold, if you will. Flash is a guy who runs fast. Spider-Man is a guy who crawls walls.
Some of the characters that I had to walk away from could be redone. One guy was a mentor-type character. OK, there are plenty of mentors in the world. One of the other characters represented a portion of this thing we call “Heaven,” so I could just come up with other iterations of it. It’s not like there aren’t a bunch of religions that have different stories of what their characters look like. I wanted to move around and not get bogged down by any of that.
How do you feel about Gaiman taking Angela, who you lost in the deal, to Marvel?
We made a deal, the characters that he now has in his possession are his property. Ultimately, Neil is allowed to do with his property whatever he wants. He didn’t have to ask me nor get my approval, and vice versa. I’m doing what I’m doing with my characters and haven’t asked for his input. I’m moving them into the future.
It ended up being what it was, and I completely stand by whatever Neil may or may not want to do with the characters. It’s his prerogative at this point. I’m sure that he, or Marvel, or whoever, will do a good job with whatever they decide to do with the character.
What’s going on with your toy business?
It occupies my life a lot. We’ve got a couple of nice licenses we’ve picked up that I hope will turn out to be a big deal. Some of them are a little cuter than I think people are used to seeing from me, but I’m trying to have a little fun with a couple of properties that aren’t mature-themed.
There’s one coming out based on a TV show Nickelodeon will be having on their airwaves pretty soon. Nick will make a big push for this thing, and hopefully they’ll have some success. The format is pretty cool; it’s sort of old-school. It should be fun.
We also just got back from Atlanta doing some face mapping for some of “The Walking Dead” characters that were there.
Now for the big question: What’s new in the world of “Spawn?”
We’re heading toward issue #250. I’ll be writing #234 this week, and we’ve got the artwork done for up to for #241, so we’re way ahead of schedule! The artist [Szymon Kudranski] and myself have been doing this book since issue #201 and he’s given me forty-one issues of artwork. We’ll have at least forty-one consecutive issues with the same art team.
We’re going to re-introduce Haunt in the “Spawn” book. He’ll be a cameo for a little bit, and then he’ll step out of the shadows and become more prominent. Hopefully I’ll be able to put together a new art team and be able to bring him back in a bigger, better way. We’ll just keep going on, doing the goofy stuff we do.
How important is having a consistent art team?
When I was collecting, I always appreciated the books that had the same writer and art team. I always got a little irritated when some of my favorite books rotated artists every few issues; it jilted my senses. I guess I’m getting old, but I’m a traditionalist. I think people should jump on a book and stay on it for a long time, to let people enjoy it.
Do you have any artists in mind for a new “Haunt” title?
My inclination is to get people to give me a pitch. One of the components I thought was missing in Haunt’s first book was that I think the word “haunt” invokes a creepiness.
The first word I think of when I hear “haunt” isn’t “espionage” or “psychedelic.” I think of words that would creep you out and scare you. It’s a scary word! I kept trying to get somebody to scare me for just one scene. The guy’s name is Haunt, he’s got a skull face — someone scare the shit out of me!
I’d like to see if we could push it toward that. It’s more of a suspense thriller with flecks of horror in it than a standard superhero book.
Lately, you’ve been creating “Spawn” covers as homages to classic comics covers, like “Savage Dragon” and “Watchmen.” What’s the creative freedom you find in redrawing something that already exists?
Some have been more interesting to draw than others. We said we were going to do a year’s worth, but we quickly found that there are not as many iconic covers as you’d imagine. If you’re an old man like me, there’s a lot. If you’re twenty, thirty years old, you might not recognize some of the classic covers from the 1960s or 70s. We all know “Spider-Man” #1, “Batman” #1 and “Superman” #1, but we did those quickly. But what’s the definitive “Hulk” cover, or “Iron Man” or “Flash?” They don’t jump out at you.
If I had to go another year, I think I’d be pushing my luck and have to go to second tier classic or lesser-known covers.
The thing that would’ve been really cool would’ve been showing the cover I was doing homage to, but I don’t have the rights to that artwork. I was able to do that with a couple of Image covers because some of the partners wanted me to, but unless you’re aware of every cover that I did, you wouldn’t necessarily know what I was doing.
So, you’re approaching issue #250 — do you think you’ll take it to #300? How long do you see it going?
I’ve got to at least get to #301 so I can break Dave Sim’s independent record! He’s got the record for the longest running independent comic book with “Cerebus the Aardvark.” I’ve gotta beat him by at least one. It’s just a little competition amongst fellow Canadians.
My thought has always been that “Spawn” could outlive me. Stan Lee will unfortunately pass away someday, but those characters he made will be left behind. Walt Disney created that Mickey Mouse guy, and he’s still hanging around. The theory is that I can come up with a couple of ideas that will outlast me; I call them my “creative children.” Your children should outlast you in your lifetime, so why shouldn’t my creative children have a longer life than me?
Do you worry that the longevity will impact the quality of the character?
When you have a character that’s around for decades — we’re now over twenty years old with “Spawn” — you’re going to have your typical highs and lows. I saw it with “Superman,” “Batman” and “Spider-Man.” When I took over “Spider-Man” it was in a little bit of a lull, I was there at a good time. I was able to take advantage of it. “Spawn” will be no different than those. â€¨â€¨We could go five hundred issues, and I’m sure everybody will point to issues that they thought were the coolest issues. That’s just the nature of longevity. For me, the pride comes in being able to survive all of the ups and downs of the marketplace, the consumer’s buying habits and our industry going up and down. Being able to say you have a book that eventually will get to issue #400 is cool, right?
There have been plenty of times where I could’ve restarted the book, but I guess I’m just an old guy with traditional values. As a comic book geek, it’s a little frustrating with all of these #1 issues and new iterations. I don’t even know where to start. If someone told me I had to collect all of the “Fantastic Four” from Stan Lee’s first issue in 1962 all the way to now, somebody smarter than me would have to tell me how to do it. I don’t even know what the chain is, anymore!
I’d like somebody who wants to be able to collect all of the “Spawn” someday to be able to do that. It’s just issue #1 through whenever it ended: Boom! You’re done. I don’t need to do a trick to get people to buy it. Maybe that’s silly, maybe more people would buy it, but I’m okay with just adding issues.
If Marvel and DC Comics keep renumbering all of their books, maybe someday I’ll actually have the highest numbered book in the industry! I’ll take that, God bless them.
It sounds like you ultimately want to keep it simple.
That’s it — keep it simple. They’ve complicated it, and it’s frustrating to me. The one thing complication does is, it aggravates the consumer. Once you make it easy for them to stop reading, then they can decide to move on to something else. â€¨
I used to collect books because I had the last fifty issues. No other reason. I can’t say that I was a fan of the book; it was just because I’d been doing it. The moment they did a new issue #1, I would stop.
I don’t really see, historically, that anybody has started, stopped and put in a new #1 and had it actually matter. I don’t think they are saying they are way better off for having done that. At the end of the day, are they selling any more than they were two years ago? If the answer is no, it was just a gimmick.
Do you think seeing a low number on an issue makes it more approachable for a new reader to jump into a series without the anxiety of what they’ve missed?
It’s a bizarre argument. Why are these same people able to put on a fucking TV show that’s been on for three years and not get overwhelmed by it? They don’t say, “I can’t start watching! That show’s been on for three years!” How can people just start watching “Grey’s Anatomy?” They don’t assume that it should be spun into a new mini-series so they can jump in. We always jump into the middle of stuff.
It’s okay to like stuff for the sake of liking it. It’s weird that we put this false barrier into comic books about how people are allowed to enjoy them linearly. I never thought that way. My criteria are quite simple: Give me good comic books, I’ll buy them.
“Spawn” is a book that’s been a survivor. You’ve been through tough times with it, and no matter what happens, the issues keep coming out. It might not be what people expected or thought, but the consistency is there. Do you feel like your initial ideas about “Spawn” and what you set out to do has been achieved?
You do anything as long as I’ve done “Spawn,” and you’re gonna have high points and low points. I can’t say I’ve loved everything I’ve done in the book personally, or some of the other issues I’ve put out. That would be fairly naÃ¯ve on my part. What it does do is reminds me that I can do better, and that’s what keeps me going to put out more.
Even after two decades, I still think there are stories I can tell that will surprise people. Ultimately, you have to think that way, otherwise, why keep putting out “Superman” or “Batman” if you think you’ve done it all? You have to think about the longevity of the characters putting them into the folklore of other characters.
The way you make your impact on the world is through attrition. You don’t have to be the biggest, the best or the fastest, but if you’re there, day in and day out, people will understand that you have a brand, and that there’s some value to that.
It’s like a life. You live forty years, do you have any regrets? Sure you do. Do you have high points? Sure you do. Overall, do you think it was a good life? Yeah, it was. Am I having a good time with “Spawn?” Yeah, I am. I hope he keeps going for another forty years.
Todd McFarlane is having a good time on Twitter @Todd_McFarlane. “Spawn” #232 is now available in stores.