Appearing at the Comic-Con International in San Diego for the first time in five years, Todd McFarlane headlined a panel on Sunday entitled “Todd McFarlane: Take Your Best Shot” where fellow creator- and one-time friend- Peter David played moderator. The event was billed as a no holes barred discussion with McFarlane and from what CBR News saw in the packed room, it did not disappoint.
David opened the show with some stories about McFarlane, their past and explained that he agreed to be moderator simply because he asked. “San Diego has me here as a special guest- like Special Olympics special.” After a few more words, McFarlane was introduced and explained that he wanted to have this panel in order to set the record straight on some facts. He said that he wasn’t there to change people’s opinions; rather, McFarlane said he was there to offer correct information and answer people’s tough questions.
In traditional Peter David style, the moderator began things with this loaded question, “I’m kinda curious. They say be nice on the people you meet on the way up because you’re going to run into them on the way down. So, last time we saw each other we saw each other was about 10 years, so my question to you is, which way are you going?” McFarlane’s response initially focused on his company’s policy but then he explained his company policy. “There is the theory of don’t burn [the] bridge, you don’t know who you[‘re] gonna meet. Unfortunately Peter, I disagree with that- I am of the belief that there are more than one bridge to any place that you’re going to and so unless you feel you’re gonna be crossing that same bridge at some times, not only can you burn it, but you actually can throw gas on it and torch the damn bridge cause there’s a way off that island.” After McFarlane expanded on his thoughts, a dumfounded David responded, “So everyone’s disposable is what you’re saying?” “No, I didn’t say that,” responded McFarlane. “Let me explain myself more clearly. I am an asshole to assholes. It’s that clear. So I don’t really care if I offend assholes who’ve been assholes. The definition of an ‘a-hole’ unfortunately in my life falls on my shoulders, just like the definition of fair trade and good play and neighborly falls on your shoulder. I’m only in control of one person in this planet- me.” McFarlane continued to explain his philosophical stance on life, explaining how it pertained to his family and how he feels he has matured in years, citing his growth since the founding of Image. But when he brought up the idea of his family vacation keeping him from attending conventions regularly for the last five years, David seemed to feel compelled to comment.
“Nine,” said David. “Just up here I started counting and you mentioned the word family nine times in the past, like y’know, ninety seconds, which is good, is good, with all respect, I have a family too, I have a wife, three children and another on the way and the thing is, lots of people here at the convention have families. Most people don’t seem to get sued though with the regularity that you do?” David proceeded to poll the audience, seeing how many had families and then how many were currently being sued, comparing the numbers to those of McFarlane. “It’s a staggering minority,” stated the humorous scribe. In response, McFarlane defined “family” for the audience, his intent to stay with his wife for the rest of his life and explained that he keeps promises to those whose keep their promises to him. His conversation then changed it’s focuses to being sued and “ambulance chasers,” those individuals who follow the injured to hospitals in order to gain permission to represent them at the their most vulnerable state.
However, the comparison of the plaintiffs in McFarlane’s legal cases to “ambulance” chasers is one that did not sit well with David. “Todd, Todd, I’m sorry, but with all respect, Neil Gaiman is not some guy who is pretending that he got whiplash from a car that rear ended. He’s one of the most respected people in the industry who tried for a number of years to settle things up with you including at ‘Pro-Con’ when I was there and saw you show up to try and settle things up with Neil. Year upon year went by and you didn’t keep your promise. I think it’s great that you’re gonna spend the rest of your life with your wife- it’s nice to know you sometimes keep promises.”
The two men then argued over the now infamous Tony Twist case, unable to agree over whether McFarlane had been sued for 24 million dollars or if he had been sued for the defamation of the hockey player’s character. McFarlane explained his perspective, which he backed up with his set of facts, and explained that it all boiled down to a battle of First Amendment rights. David did elicit some riotous laughter from the audience when he said, “I looked at the jury decision, I looked at the judge’s decision and the thing is, I happen to speak fluent subtext and near as I can tell the jury’s decision wasn’t based on their belief that you had cost Tony Twist money, that you had cost him some sort of defamation of character, you said it yourself: I think that the jury’s decision was based on the fact that they thought you were an asshole. Now the problem comes if the judges look at the decision and say ‘wait a minute, you can’t give someone 24 million dollars- you can’t find someone guilty of being an asshole’ because in our society at least it’s not against the law to be an asshole because if it were, we’d all be in jail with the possible exception of Tom Hanks.”
Even with the crowd clearly on David’s side, McFarlane’s staunch belief in his position was evident as he explained the absurdity of Twist’s complaints. “We actually got Tony Twist to sit there [in court] and go, ‘Todd never used your autograph, right?’ and he said, ‘No, that was Wizard.’ He got confused very quickly. ‘Well Todd never used your likeness or anything?’ ‘No’ ‘That’s not really your persona is it?’ Now, look you gotta stand here with a straight face Mr. Twist and go are you a 52-year old, fat Mafia guy who deals with characters in a pit of hell and hires robots. It’s not funny- it’s true! We’re trying to find the truth and he said, ‘No, that isn’t me.'”
McFarlane explained that one of the worst parts of the trial was the fact that he was found guilty by the jury in, literally, a minute and that he feels the lawyers for Twist had less than honorable motivations. While it had been the successful artist’s voice that had dominated the floor for the last ten minutes, Peter David was not afraid to make his return to the forefront of the discussion with what he termed as a “simple yes or no question.” “Do you think you brought the Tony Twist problem on yourself?” asked the scribe. The response from McFarlane was “no” but when he tried to elaborate, he was met with a barrage of “no’s” from David that escalated into an impression of Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers.”
At that point, David turned the panel over to the fans and as most expected, the first question focused on the “Miracleman” debate between Gaiman and McFarlane, specifically on why fans would have any reason to believe McFarlane will keep his word. “The quickie answer is, I don’t need your believing. I’m concerned about what you want to believe is truth and not truth. The fact is, Neil has his perceptions and I have my perceptions… Let me just tell everyone- this is not another Tony Twist case. This judge is at the federal level- the first one started as a civil case because I’m Canadian and Tony Twist is Canadian and there’s a law that says Canadians can’t start at the federal level that’s why it started it at the civil level.” Unable to resist the urge, David added, “So many jokes.”
The next question was regarding how many times McFarlane and Gaiman had talked, to which the prolific artist explained they had talked a handful of times and then David asked if he thought that Gaiman had an interest in the other characters (Angela, Medieval Spawn, etc) who are part of the lawsuit “Yes and No,” but admitted that perhaps if he and Gaiman had tried to deal with each character separately perhaps events would not be in such dire straits.
One audience member chose to shift the focus away from the critical and focus on Todd’s work, asking which is his favorite McFarlane action figure. “My kids buy Todd McFarlane toys and apologize to me,” lamented David. McFarlane laughed and responded, “I always knew I’d get my money out of you.” McFarlane opted to discuss his company’s success, citing his action figure preference as being a bit extraneous to the focus of the panel, but this didn’t sit well with David. “Todd, what’s your favorite toy? For Christ’s sake, which one do you wanna pick up and play with? That’s all he wants to know and I’m kinda curious myself- some of those toys look kinda bitchin.” After the audience laughter died down, Todd was able to respond and named his favorite figures as Trevor Hoffman (San Diego Padres) and Mandarin Spawn.
The next question that really seemed to capture the attention of the audience was one regarding the now infamous Mark McGwire baseball. “When you bought McGwire’s ball, what did it feel like to look in the mirror and say ‘aw crap’ I don’t know the value of a dollar anymore?” asked the audience member, drawing riotous laughter from everyone in the audience. “For any of you guys here, when you get that money, make sure you don’t buy that pickup truck, drive it off of the lot, into your driveway and then tell your wife,” said McFarlane, offering some advice on the best way to spend large sums of money. “There’s this thing called buyers remorse that usually happens soon after-” McFarlane’s speech was cut short by David rising out of his seat, placing his hand against the wall and hitting his head repeatedly against the wall, much to the amusement of fans.
“It’s amazing how everyone thinks I don’t have electricity in my house,” said McFarlane of people who asked him continually last year if he knew about Barry Bonds impressive home run stats. “They would say ‘God, did you see it the TV last night?’- are you kidding me? ‘It would be fine to stop at 69’ would have been my sign…If you can’t be famous, be infamous. I will always be the guy who spent too much…” He also explained that this whole spectacle also resulted in a lot of other free press, including the acquiring of high-profile sports licenses that would have been otherwise harder to purchase for someone primarily involved in the comic book market.
“We’re not looking at any aggressive expansion,” said Todd of his comic book ventures and when asked if he might do some more penciling.
The panel concluded on a very positive note, with both men signing a baseball that was auctioned off for $310.00 U.S, with proceeds going to the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). As an added bonus, Todd signed the dixie cup from which he drank his water and gave it to the winner of the baseball.
Arthur Lender contributed to this story.