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Paul Jenkins Plots “Massive Change” as the New Writer of “Spawn”

by  in Comic News Comment
Paul Jenkins Plots “Massive Change” as the New Writer of “Spawn”

What makes Paul Jenkins the right writer to take over “Spawn”? According to the character’s creator Todd McFarlane, the fact that he’s not a Spawn expert is actually an advantage.

“Here’s a guy who showed me years ago that he was wiling to basically go, ‘I don’t give a crap what you think, Todd,'” McFarlane told CBR last month, referring to Jenkins’ run on Image Comics‘ “Spawn: The Undead” back in 1999. “Which is good! That’s the perfect attitude. ‘Oh, by the way — I haven’t read all 250 issues.’ A little bit of ignorance is bliss.”

McFarlane has made it clear for a while now that his goal is to focus on getting a new “Spawn” film finally made — which involves stepping away from writing the monthly comic book series. Last fall, writer Brian Wood and artist Jonboy Meyers were announced as the new creative team on the series, before Wood left the book over reported creative differences. This past January at Image Expo in San Francisco, McFarlane announced that Jenkins — a comics veteran and Eisner winner for his Marvel Knights series “Inhumans” — was the new writer on the series, running with the stated directive to not do anything that McFarlane would have written himself.

With Jenkins and Meyers’ first issue on the series, “Spawn Resurrection” #1, on sale today, CBR News spoke in-depth with Jenkins — who has a new day job working at The Jacoby Group’s film studios in Atlanta, said to be “largest film and television media complex outside of California” — about why now was the right time to return to the “Spawn” world, not being concerned with retconning minor details and focusing on Al Simmons rather than Spawn himself.

CBR News: Paul, what motivated you take on writing “Spawn” at this point? You’re busy with your day job at the studio, but you’ve also been moving away from work-for-hire comics, and doing more of your own creations, like “Fiction Squad” and “Fairy Quest.” What’s the appeal for you in taking on Spawn right now?

Paul Jenkins: I love the challenge of taking a character that’s been sort of in its place, and Todd comes to me and says, “Do what you want to do.” I’m friends with Jonboy, and Jon and I had talked for ages about working together. Todd and I chatted about doing “Spawn” a while ago. “Actually, it’d be kind of cool to revisit that ‘Spawn: The Undead’ stuff I was doing, it’s been almost 18 years since I did any work with you. It would be kind of fun. No would see that coming.”

I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any time to do it. But fast forward, come back around, I think they were struggling with an issue with the writer who was on it, and so Jon calls me up — “Hey, Paul, come on man.” I got talking to Todd: “I could do it now if you want me to.” It seemed like they weren’t gelling with the writer they had, Jon was a big advocate, and Todd’s like, “You’ve been one of the guys I would always point to and say, ‘When Jenkins came in and wrote some books, that’s different from what I’m doing. I want to do that again.'”

So I pitched a year’s worth of stories to Todd, said, “I want to do this,” then I pitched year two — I was clearer on year two then I was on year one, to be quite honest — then Todd, in that way of his, just started going off, telling me crazy stuff. We sat on the phone for an hour, and then, I’m writing the book.

Since you were coming onto this somewhat late in the game — as you noted, after another writer was first announced — was there a pretty clear path for you to do whatever you want with the series? Or were some parameters set that you had to adjust to and fit your plans into?

Basically the only parameters that were set was, they had announced they were going to do “resurrection of Spawn.” So I’m going to have to do a story that talks about his resurrection. [Laughs] “Oh shit, I better do something there.” I pitched something that’s pretty radical for the character, and you’ll see it when it comes out. It’s certainly going to shake things up a little bit.

We’re going to do something in “Resurrection,” and definitely something in #251, that will get you to understand there’s something going on with him that no one’s ever understood. There’s something even he didn’t know was happening. We’re going to shake it up, and we’re going to do something to him — what would you do to him that would really rock his universe? He’s been in purgatory for however many years. He sent himself there. What are you going to do to persuade him to get out?

Since this is your return to the Spawn world, did you ever have in the back of your mind, “If I ever get a chance to get a crack on the character again, this is what I might do…” or was it something you hadn’t really thought about in the interim 16 or so years?

I thought about it. I thought about it in the same way that I thought about doing “Wolverine: Origin 2.” I had my story, the one I think would have really worked for a “Origin 2,” and if they had asked me, I would have said, “Yeah, great! I want to do this.” I don’t think I have much in the way of pride, but I suppose I would pride myself on, you can give me a problem — “Deadman” was a good example, for DC. They came to me and said, “We’d just like you to do that “Origin”-y type stuff that you do, ‘Mythos’ and all that. Could you do anything for Deadman?” I’d read like, one issue of “Deadman,” which was his original origin and said, “Well, how about this?” and then wrote a five-issue series.

I could have done “Spawn” at any point, the question was, whether Todd would have liked it. Turns out, he would have liked it! So I’m doing it.

What’s it like for you working with Todd on this? In talking to him, he’s stressed how hands-off he’s looking to be with this — he really wants you to take it on and do things he would never do. Has that been your experience, basically him letting you run wild with the book?

Basically, Todd just said, “I’m going to leave you alone. Write those clever, intelligent stories. Can’t wait to see them.” We did pitch something radical. Probably the only editorial that Todd’s given me is asking me, “Could you ramp up this type of language? I really don’t want it to be too staid, too quiet. I would like it if you could get a little more adult with the language.” So I had this kind of weird conversation: “What are you doing with swear words, then?” “Yeah, why not do swear words, I’ll just put the word in, and put little dingbats in.”

But that’s just like standard editorial stuff. Primarily, that’s because it’s my first crack at the character, and the voice. You probably always do need to do a couple of versions of the first one, just because you’ve got to get your stride, you know? As far as the content, and the way we’re doing it, and the artwork, and the design, all of that, it’s fine.

What qualities are you looking to bring to the book that the series might not have had in a while, maybe ever? What are you looking to do that’s different from what people have seen from “Spawn”?

If I started reading all of the issues, I’d immediately undermine the style that I work in. I had a couple of conversations with Jon, and a couple with Todd, about, “Where have you been?” And then I started asking questions. For example, “What have you done with his family? Not the kids and Wanda, but what about his mom and dad?” “Nothing, really.” I said, “You’ve done 250 issues, and you haven’t done anything? You’ve got stuff in mind?” Todd just laughed, and said, “No, you really should get to that.” How come you did 250 issues and he’s barely even spoken to his own parents? Where are they, and what are they doing? So the moment I got carte blanche to do things like that, I’m like, “This is awesome. I can write this, and that.” I pitched a couple of radical ideas, just some things I thought would be pushing the envelope.

People always worry, are you “retconning” something? I suppose that’s a concern, if you contradict things that have already been written. I might end up retconning something that happened on page 17 on issue #104, but who knows? That was 16 years ago, so maybe not. The thing I did to the best of my ability that worked, at my time at Marvel especially, was that they didn’t mind if it accidentally retconned something. The big concern is that thing where fans know so much about the background — [hypothetically] I wrote Daredevil eating a slice of carrot cake, and a fan comes up to me and says, “No, no, he can’t do that, because on issue #304, on page 16, he says, ‘I don’t like carrot cake.'” [Laughs] I can’t win. So I didn’t really get that deep into it.

I pitched that at the end of one year, he would get this massive change that would lead him into the second year. Todd loved it. I’m not sure if that answers your question, except to say, I just didn’t worry about it.

That makes sense, and when talking to Todd, he mentioned that you not being overly familiar with the history was one of your strengths — something of an ignorance is bliss situation.

As long as I don’t do something goofy. I think there’s a concern, especially with the British writers, that if we got a chance to write Wolverine, we’re going to make him a crossdresser. I’m not going to radically change everything about Spawn. I want to use what I know. I think if there’s something that’s difficult, Todd might go, “I don’t know, that’s a bit far away from where we’re going,” but the truth is, there’s nothing I’ve pitched or written yet that has been close to rejected or worried about.

I’m interested to hear more about your relationship with Jonboy Meyers — it’s established the two of you were friends already. Did you just know each other from over the years, and were hoping to work together, and this is what worked out?

Yeah, we wanted to work together for a while. I just think Jon is tremendous. He’s got elements of Todd, he’s got elements of Humberto, sometimes. But he’s got his own thing. He’s really dynamic. The primary thing is, every conversation I have with Jon is always, always about story. He never gets lost in artistic technique or continuity, or any of that stuff. We talk about story constantly. We’ve come to an agreement about what works — how do you collaborate in comics to make the best books.

The truth is, as a writer, I’m a writer and I’m a co-director. Jon is a director of photography and a co-director. We work together to make the best finished product. It’s a constant collaboration. Guess what, this is comics — the worst thing for an artist is when a writer says, “I’m going to dictate to you what you’re going to draw.” “Oh really, because I’m an art monkey? Screw you.” The other way around is when a writer writes something that they really believe and they’re working really hard, and they got the artwork back — my joke was always, “I wrote this panel, it’s Batman punching the Joker, and I’m slightly confused why you drew a kangaroo jumping over a tank.” I’ve seen that before! I’ve written scripts and seen the artwork come back; “I have no idea why this artist decided to do that.” Jon and I agree, and we work it out, and we develop it together, because the story comes from two people, and not just one.

So if you’ve got at least years two planned out already, it sounds like you’re aiming for the long haul on “Spawn”?

Absolutely, yeah. My hope is that people will come on board with us. When I wrote Spider-Man, what I really did was write Peter Parker. And every so often, he had his pajamas and his hat on, and he punched people really hard, but mostly it was about Peter Parker. It really did well, and people loved it. In this particular case, we have to get to Al Simmons. You can’t care about Spawn sitting in hell contemplating his navel, in his suit — there’s just no connection to him. So I’m writing about Al Simmons with a lot of Spawn in it.

“Spawn Resurrection” #1 is on sale now.

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