Every comic book company has their icons: DC has Superman and Batman, Marvel has Spider-Man and Wolverine, and Image has Spawn and the Savage Dragon. Very few of these characters though are still written by their original creators. So what happens when a creator “steps down? ” Someone has to take their place, but it can be daunting. Can you imagine trying to follow Stan Lee on “Fantastic Four? ” Would you dare?
With Todd McFarlane’s announcement that he is stepping back from the “Spawn” book he created after issue #150, he is throwing down the gauntlet for a new team to step in. The new lineup was announced in a release last week, and consists of editor-in-chief Brian Haberlin (Haberlin Studios), writer David Hine (“Strange Embrace,” “District X”), and artist Philip Tan (“Uncanny X-Men,” “Iron Man”). CBR News contacted these “new kids on the block” to find out the details of this announcement, starting with how they were selected.
To begin with, those who currently follow Spawn know that Haberlin isn’t technically “new” to the book. He has been coloring “Spawn” for the past 10 years. So how does someone jump from colorist to editor-in-chief? Haberlin explains, “Well, Todd has been on again/off again looking for someone for a while and I’ve done this sort of thing before with Top Cow and Avalon.”
Hine and Tan fell into place after this thanks to Haberlin’s recommendations. Hine said, “The initial approach came from Brian who is familiar with my work on ‘District X’ as well as my graphic novel ‘Strange Embrace’ published by Active Images. He felt that my approach was suited to the mix of superhero mythology and horror that is the essence of Spawn. Having expressed my interest, I was then contacted by Todd McFarlane and we immediately clicked. Our vision of where Spawn should be headed was remarkably similar. After that, it was a very fast decision to come on board (about 5 seconds). ‘Spawn’ is a high-profile book with a lot of history and huge potential. I was flattered to be offered the responsibility of taking over the reins. I’m going to do my best to live up to expectations and give the book a new direction with Todd, Brian and Phil, and drive ‘Spawn’ back up to the peaks it once occupied.”
Tan humbly stated, “I guess Brian was talking to Todd about some projects when this thing came up and there was an opportunity for taking the penciling duties. Brian took some of my latest work samples and showed it to Todd. I guess it was okay enough that it landed me the art job.”
Each member of the new team had their own reasons for wanting to work on an iconic character such as Spawn. Admittedly, they also had to look at the challenges of an assignment like this as well. In regards to both of these considerations, Haberlin said, “He’s the hero from our nightmares. The hero that is more monstrous than his own villains, but still, like all of us, must deal with his own personal demons. My biggest challenge is 140+ previous issues. It leaves people with a lot of preconceptions about what the title is, both positive and negative. I want to keep all the fans we have, get them excited again and add many more. It’s going to be a growing process I’m sure. We’ll have to show them, and I know we will.”
Hine’s concerns centered around the character’s abilities and motives. “There is the sheer range and extent of his power,” he explained. “He could do just about anything but the paradox is that Al Simmons has lost his sense of purpose. He is a genuine lost soul. I love the sense of this endlessly tormented person in a ravaged body, trapped in an apparently dead-end existence, dumped in an alley with the dregs of humanity around him. If you read the back issues, you will see that the poor guy has been literally ripped apart over and over–his heart torn out of his body, his limbs pulled off. No character has ever suffered so much abuse. But there is a purpose to all that suffering and the challenge is going to be to deliver on the promise and make the climax to this story arc a real stunner. We want to show the readers what Todd has been leading up to all these years. In a sense, I think he has been delaying a climax because you are inevitably faced with the challenge: ‘Okay, now top that!’ But we’ll think of something.”
“For me, the coolest thing about the project is drawing Spawn himself,” Tan added. “The character doesn’t have a very strict ‘image/design’ to follow and it allows me to go crazy on the approach I will take in each situation. The organic and ‘unstable’ feel of Spawn’s design really allows me to not worry about strict rules on how he should look.”
As far as any difficulties he might face art-wise, Tan said, “One of the challenges will be how to consistently keep up the needed inconsistencies of designing the character in every given situation. But the biggest challenge so far is finding the middle ground of not over-rendering texture too much and/or putting too much detail that makes it impossible to be inked in a reasonable time. I’m still improving it and learning.”
In the press release announcing the new team, McFarlane stated that part of the reason behind this creative change was to “shake the dust off Spawn.” Many publishers would look at this opportunity to restart their character’s series with a brand new #1. When asked if this was considered, Haberlin responded, “Of course, but I think that to some degree that betrays the fans who have been there since issue one. I think if we were going to do that in the future, it would be a separate book and we would still keep the main title going.
“The title has been more or less on autopilot for the last couple of years, and while it’s still been a very good book, there have been no spotlights on it. That’s my job– get people excited about Spawn again.”
Hine elaborated, “The book is going off in a new direction, but we’re not stomping all over what has gone before. There is a real continuity to the story and I think readers will think, ‘Yes, this is where the character has been heading all this time.’ So a fresh start, but no cheating. Also, it’s quite an achievement to have a book reach 150 issues, especially with only four artists on the monthly book: Todd, Greg, Angel and now Phil. There has also been a stable team on writing, colors, inks and lettering. Discounting virtual one-man operations like ‘Bone’ and ‘Cerebus,’ that’s pretty unique. I can see the book continuing to 200, 300, and beyond.”
In recent interviews, McFarlane said he is stepping back from the book to work on bringing the character to other media, such as a new animated series and new live-action film (though not a sequel to the 1997 movie that starred Michael Jai White). Considering he still remains active with the character, this begs the question of how involved McFarlane will remain with the book. Haberlin told CBR News, “Spawn is still Todd’s. We have frequent creative ‘summits’ either in person, on phone, or via email. He is directing every step of the way.”
Hine concurred, “We’ve had a lot of discussion and everything goes through Todd’s hands. But– having talked about Todd’s global plans for the character, which he has always had in place– I’ll be free to put my own spin on the character and put my individual stamp on the book.”
Spawn has always been an interesting character, because he seems to mix several genres: horror, noir, and conventional “superheroics” (if this could be labeled as a genre unto itself). So, which direction will the new team take? Hine answered “D”–“All the above. I’m incapable of writing anything without at least a strong element of psychological horror. I love noir and, of course, there has always been an element of superhero to the character. He has powers and a costume, right? So a mix of genres, which is pretty much how I instinctively write anyway.”
Those fans who have been away from Spawn may be curious about what they need to know about the character and story if they want to jump in when the new creative team starts. Haberlin indicated that readers shouldn’t worry. “I think if they pick up the start of the new run at issue #150, that will be mostly all they need as an intro. Of course, then they’ll be hooked and have to pick of all those previous issues!”
Hine said, “There’s a big line-up of past characters in issue #150. This issue is a celebration of the past thirteen years of Spawn, so all the old favorites will be sounding off. Lots of new characters on the way, but they’ll be coming from unexpected places.”
As for what we can expect after this kick-off issue, Hine added, “The storyline for this arc is big. Cosmic. Mythological. Kind of large, know what I’m saying? We want to take the character on a journey that is fitting to a truly iconic character, but at the same time anchor the book to the real world by telling small-scale personal stories on the way. Everyday tragedies like the kind we all experience can be as moving as grand opera. That’s the mix I’m after.”
“All I can say is readers will get a payoff, story-wise, with each issue,” Haberlin promised. “Think of the new structure like a one hour television drama– with an A story and a B story. Each issue a story is told, but there is also a through-line to service the grander story arc.”
Since Haberlin will now be busy as EiC of the book, he will unlikely have time to still color it. With regards to his replacement, Haberlin said, “I’m not sure yet. I want to find the absolute right colorist to complement Philip. I have several people working on pieces right now. I guess the answer is ‘we’ll see.'”
One element that distinguishes “Spawn” from other books has always been its art. While each artist that followed McFarlane has put their own spin on the character, the art always seemed to retain a “McFarlane-esque” style to it. When asked if his art would utilize this style, Tan responded, “I would really want to avoid being ‘categorized’ in using a certain art style, but like many artists, I’m sure I have my own style that I hope will give the readers a fresh and exciting way to enjoy the book’s art. And like the artist that I am following on ‘Spawn,’ it will be unavoidable that I shall also learn from all the past things each artist (especially Todd) contributed making Spawn cool. As Todd puts it, I have to give the readers a feeling that they wish I’ve been on the book way back, and that kind of pressure and challenge sure is pretty heavy.”
As for his favorite part of drawing the character, Tan responded with an aspect that many artists seem to enjoy– the cape. “That’s actually my favorite part. I like drawing organic elements.”
Spawn #150 will be a special double-length story with added editorial content, pinup art, and much more. The book will arrive in stores in September and will feature four variant covers from Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo, Philip Tan and Jim Lee.