Part of an introduction to an interview with someone is to make definitive statements about them and give you the boiled down version of who they are. Another part of it is to truly introduce them to those who don’t know.
In the case of Todd McFarlane, you would have to have been kidnapped about 1985, held in a cave for the past 16 years to not know the name. A virgin introduction for the devoted following of this Web site would really be like slapping your senile, incontinent grandmother; it’s quite insulting and unnecessary.
Let’s instead start with some statements that define what McFarlane is NOT.
Todd McFarlane is NOT the anti-christ. He was born in Canada, played baseball All-American style and was only stopped short of playing on the Seattle Mariners farm team for good because of a broken ankle. That steered him to get an art degree and started drawing for Marvel and DC shortly thereafter. No dog as a mother, no demonic deal with the devil to parlay his soul for a multi-million dollar production company (toys, video games, music, comic books, movies, television). He has a wife, three kids and lives in suburban Arizona. Just a guy who has made the most of his talent and situation.
Todd McFarlane is NOT what’s wrong with the comics industry today. How many titles does Todd produce in a given month? Yes, on one hand you can count them, two if there’s a mini-series or two thrown in there. The saturation of his titles is not enough to influence nor bring down the entire industry. Its troubles are far more complicated and varied to be put at the feet of Todd McFarlane. That’s like blaming Wizard alone for the ills of the industry.
Todd McFarlane is NOT as imcompetent nor as talented as the hype says. Spawn was Todd’s one-trick pony for a looooooonnng time. The writing was sub-par and redundant at times. He had taken the exposure and success he had on Marvel’s Spider-Man titles into his own creation. Despite some critical drubbing, the man sold 1.7 million copies of an independent comic with little or no major advertising from a fledgling company in 1992. Some props are certainly due him. When the critics kept pressing, McFarlane went out and got the likes of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Dave Sim and Neil Gaiman to shut them up. And even gave up the book for three issues to a pre-JLA Grant Morrison to further the point that the book had what it took to keep going.
Is the story of Spawn something never seen before? No, it’s been done in one form or another.
Was the drawing any different than what we had seen from McFarlane? Not really. The new wrinkle was better paper, the best letterer (Tom Orzechowski) in the biz and eye popping colors (from Steve Oliff’s Olyoptics).
But the package worked. Something within the package touched people to buy it month after month and keep it in the top 10 for sales for the last 9 years, in spite of creative changes on writers & artists. That has translated to the games, the movie and its soundtrack, the HBO cartoon for three seasons and the spin-off titles.
Even McFarlane has admitted that his drawing is inferior to some of those he’s hired. Even he realizes when to let go. But he knows that if one avenue for him is closed, that just means another is open to explore. And he’s done that and continues to do so.
Todd McFarlane is NOT going anywhere anytime soon. In spite of what some wish, McFarlane is a savvy businessman who knows how to thrive and survive in a business that continues to have the attending physician pronounce it dead 3 or 4 times a year. Although he can’t help but be affected by the same slump that everyone else is experiencing, it’s apparent that he sees it as a challenge and wants to overcome whatever speed bumps are in the road.
McFarlane’s way of doing business is NOT limited to him. Whether you like it, he has forced most creators to look at the way one goes about producing a comic and its ancillaries. J. Scott Campbell will tell you this. As will the creators of Stark Raven, who have a comic out, a line of toys in production, a cartoon in the works and I’m sure other licensing properties since I saw their “sell-out” camp at last year’s San Diego Convention. I’ve seen toys for books that I didn’t think did that well or that well-beloved (i.e., “Warlands” toys).
While some can say that they’ve had success in other venues with their comic book creations, DC and Marvel are really the only ones that can surpass the media saturation (and success thereof) that Todd McFarlane has had.
You would have a hard time saying that those of you who are reading this interview and planning the next great comic book series, aren’t also planning who would play the lead in the movie, which network would buy up the rights to the cartoon and how the character would look upon a lunch box, action figures and bed sheets. It’s really the reality of our entertainment industry and how comic books fit into it. McFarlane has made the most of that reality.
Where does this leave McFarlane in the history of comic books? Well, history is really the ultimate arbiter of what is remembered, cherished and hated. Whether he’s remembered as a brilliant creator who happened to make a large sum off of his creation or as an opportunist who milked a mediocre product for all it was worth (or something entirely different) is up to those who survive this generation of comic book readers.
What cannot be disputed is he is a figure of controversy whose mere utterance of his name polarizes a local comic book’s patrons for the next hour or more. He will not be quieted and will not go away from the spotlight anytime soon.
And that is why you’ve even gotten this far into the interview, even if you don’t like him.
In the first part of this two-part interview, we talk about what makes Spawn work for those who buy it, where Miracleman’s legal status now stands and why hurt feelings aren’t a crime.
Michael David Thomas: The other day, Larry Young was talking about how he started publishing and he said the one secret to publishing is that the rules don’t apply to you as a philosophy. Is that an accurate way of portraying the way you went about publishing Spawn? Was that the attitude you had with Spawn?
Todd McFarlane: At that point in my career, I was less concerned about duplicating what was “successful”… Although the first couple of years were less of a departure as opposed to, say, now. In my mind’s eye, very early in the game, I knew where I wanted to take Spawn. But I also knew that you had to do it in sort of little bits and pieces. If you get a little too crazy too fast, then you have the chance to alienate the people who have been very loyal. Spawn was never in it to be a standard super-hero. I wanted to convert him into this vampire, bogeyman sort of Spectre character if you will. But he had to have the costume to go with it. He had to have the super-heroic poses at the beginning. Say some of the things people are used to. And then slowly start to warp it once I built the confidence from them. They knew that this was an interesting character. I tried to break the rules, but in a [different] sort of fashion.
MDT: Of your compatriots in Image, you’re the only one to hit 100 so far with Erik Larsen trailing you. Do you attribute any kind of meaning to that 100th issue? Did it signify anything to you?
TM: It signified stability more than anything else. The arbiter of good taste is ultimately the consumer… We can… think of highly of ourselves or badly of our stuff as we want. But if the consumer’s buying it or not buying it, that’s sort of all that matters. That it’s been out for 100 issues and it’s been in the top 10 for most of those issues is not only something I’m proud of, but… accomplished something none of the other comic books other than Uncanny X-Men was doing. Does it mean that it’s a better comic book than the other ones? No, but it’s serving some sort of purpose and as an independent comic book not controlled by one of the big two. The number of creator-owned books that have surpassed the 100th issue, I believe you can count on one hand. And now one of them is Spawn. Whether you like it or… don’t, like me or not, it’s irrelevant, he’s made his mark. And consequently, me with him.
MDT: You penciled around the first two years of Spawn, keeping on time for the most part, unlike a lot of the people you started with. At what point did you decide that you didn’t want to pencil the book anymore?
TM: It was at the point where I was doing other activities that I wasn’t giving my best effort. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. Every day I’d like to do it. It’s just that I know that the other things that I have to accomplish during the day and given that some of those interests – while outside of comic books – I knew that I was starting to cheat artistically. I always had a style, but there’s a fine line between style and cheating. By the time I realized that, I said to myself, I need to get somebody else on here.
I know my time’s limited and I needed ways to put out as good a product as I [could]. I’d rather have someone that I can devote full time to it and give all their effort to it. Then I can concentrate on the story and do the inking over it. As it was, I taking as much time inking Greg Capullo as I was penciling and inking myself. It wasn’t like I was saving myself any time. At least then, Greg’s pencils were 100% effort and my inks were 100% effort.
I know the fans are very kind to me, but under no circumstances do I believe that the work that I did was even close to the work that Greg and I did. Especially as Greg became more comfortable with the characters. Just look at issue 12 or whatever and issue 80. It’s hard for me to fathom that someone would say that 80 isn’t superior…
Usually, when you lose a heavy creator on the book, the quality went down. But I did moves that made the book a better product. So that by issue 80, the book looked better than issue #1 or 2 did. And not a lot of books can say that…
MDT: What kind of artist is Greg Capullo to work with? I’ve heard a lot of “nice guy” stories. Are those pretty much true?
TM: Personality wise, he’s one of the good guys in the business. Artistically, he’s one of the most underrated guys in the business. [There are] only a few people [that] I’ve seen their pencils [where they’re] actually able to capture any dynamic, any look, any feel, any mood. John Buscema was… [a] guy who could do that. Marc Silvestri continued in that tradition. And Greg’s in that category. Those only a handful of guys who come along that – you give them any subject matter – they can do that. They change their style to suit that need. They can go funny, they can go humor, they can go light, they can go dark. They can get creepy, they can get gross. Romantic, sexy. They can move the camera on any panel, on any particular way and pull off all the various perspectives. That’s what Greg Capullo is capable of. I’m sort of disappointed that he hasn’t his acknowledgement of that. It might be that he’s guilty by association by hanging around me. I do something good, I get the credit. I do something bad, he gets pinned with it, too.
MDT: Is Danny Miki still inking over pencils on Spawn?
TM: Yeah, he’s still inking.
MDT: I’ve heard he’s a personal favorite of yours to ink over Greg’s pencils as well your pencils. What is it about his inking that you like so much?
TM: He’s not trying to do a Todd riff. I did my 70 or 80 issues of inking the book. It can be intimidating to come in and take over. I didn’t want Danny to come in and be me. I paid him to do Danny… I thought he brought some of the things that make some of the inking style over Greg look good. But he also had a fine line – sort of Bernie Wrightson feel – to his work that I don’t have. He has a better control of the very thin line that I don’t have. He’s also very good at ink splatters and things like that I’m not very good at.
MDT: One of the things I’ve heard is that you’ve paid well above scale to keep Greg and Miki on the book. Is that something typical you do for certain creators?
TM: I don’t know that it’s necessarily true today as the economics of it are getting tougher and tougher. But in the early formative years of Spawn, for the first 50 to 70 issues, the answer’s yeah. Share the wealth, if you have it. It’s not necessary easy to do given the current state of sales across the board for comic books today. When I’ve got money, I share it. When I don’t, I don’t.
MDT: Do you feel – for freelancers and people on staff for the books – that you’ve compensated them pretty fairly across the board?
TM: You make your deals with each of the individuals. Sometimes those deals last a long time, like in the case of Greg, Brian Haberlin, Steve Oliff, and Tom Orzechowski (who’s been there since issue #1). You make other deals with other guys and it’s only for a mini-series.
You make deals with other guys and it doesn’t quite work out as well. I don’t expect every time that I deal with an individual that it’s going to be utter bliss. People sort of give a little more weight – for whatever reason – to some of the things that haven’t worked out with other artists or writers that I’ve dealt with than the huge number that have worked out. There’s way more people that are satisfied over the years working with me than aren’t. If you want to focus on the handful that aren’t, then OK. Then the perspective can become your reality.
MDT: Speaking of Tom Orzechowski. He’s a letterer who’s been around for at least 25 years, probably longer. What is it about him that you keep hiring him back for Spawn?
TM: He was my favorite letterer when he was doing X-Men. He had a unique style… I was very aware of lettering when I was fan. I had my favorites. I remember saying to myself, “When I have a comic book, I want Tom Orzechowski to letter it.” All of a sudden, I go into business, I start my own comic book, and Tom was kind enough to say, not only “yes” to issue #1 but another 110 times beyond that.
MDT: What’s next for the Spawn? What’s the next story arc for him?
|Page 4 of Spawn #108|
TM: Some of the pieces of the puzzle were laid in issue 100. We’re going to move away from what happened in issue 100 and push him off in another direction. Do these urban stories that I know some people will say their not as superheroic, but eventually it’ll turn. He won’t be able to let go of the action that he sort of incurred, which was slaying his master. You don’t do that and walk away. You don’t gun down the head of the Mafia and not have problems to deal with. Spawn right now is sort of blissful in his ignorance to that. He’s just sort of moving, but we’ll deal with the full ramifications of what he unleashed by vacating the throne of hell.
MDT: The meter on his power has shown to dwindle slowly, which begs the question: Do you have an idea in your head of how the series will end?
TM: Yeah. By issue 5 I had the answer. I knew exactly the last page of the book would be. I just hope I don’t have to write or draw it.
His power is based upon him using his green goo power. If you took a look at it, he used a lot of it, but then he figured out. That you’re burning up your gas. The costume wasn’t using his power. It was there to augment the ones he had without burning the green fuel. It’s only when he uses the green fuel. If you look at the last 40 issues, very rarely has he gotten to the point where he’s shot a lightning bolt out of his hands.
MDT: Steve Niles is a new name to TMP. I was wondering how you found him.
TM: I think Steve was doing an interview of me when I was doing some of the HBO stuff. …[S]omebody hired him for one of the columns in the comic book. …From there it grew to chatting with each other and he sent me a script. I took a look at that. Sent it around Hollywood. It didn’t quite get where we wanted it to. He started writing some books for me. We gave him some more tasks. He did more and more. He helped with some pilot scripts for television. He’s a very skilled hungry man.
MDT: The Tony Twist lawsuit. Did that feel like that was mostly about money and not about stealing someone else’s identity?
TM: Yeah. I’ll write a book on it. That’s exactly what it is. We have a system in America where lawyers represent certain people free of charge and they basically get a bigger commission of what they end up getting. You find that if Donald Trump gets in a fender bender, you find that magically, that guy’s neck hurts 10 times worse than if he gets hit by anybody else. You’ll find many lawyers that will say to their client, “Now, I want you t o be very clear. Did you say Ronald Trump or Donald Trump? I need to know because potentially, we got a better case if it’s Donald?”
Most companies carry insurance so most nuisance lawsuits are based upon shaking down insurance money. When you get down to it, the vast majority of stuff that’s clogging the courts – the paperwork, the depositions – is trying to shake people down. It’s not even the people, they’re trying to shake down the insurance companies for the companies that are there. Because the insurance can settle without the consent of the people who are paying the premiums… A sort of sad state we live in.
MDT: I saw a VH1 Behind the Music on the Black Crowes recently. A former roadie sued them. Chris Robinson said that these types of lawsuits are just the price of fame? Is that an accurate statement?
TM: What’s your target? You go, this one of them. I wish I could be impervious to it. The case we have going is up at the appellate court right now… Hurt feelings [are] not a crime. They were not able to bring one iota of evidence — other than that someone had hurt feelings — that a crime had occurred.
The question I get is, why did you get a $24 million suit against you? We were at the lowest level of the courts. You’d be surprised at how emotions play into it when you’ve got a jury that you pick off the streets that aren’t lawyers. I don’t even blame them. They’re laymen, they’re not lawyers. They’re not listening for the key words, where the judges and the lawyers are listening for the key words. When they say these key words, [the lawyers] say, “Uh-oh, that’s a good one” or “Uh-oh, that’s a bad one.” Whereas these laymen say, “They made his momma cry” or “They made him kick his dog.” And then this guys says, “Well, if I don’t even own my own name, what do I own?” Well, you do own your name… It’s just that you’re not the only one with the same. There may be a 1,000 people with the same name as you. In the case of coming up with character names, it’s sort of an ongoing thing in literature, various names sometimes cross paths with real people’s names. But it’s not that person.
It’s taken a lot of time and money to get to this point, but we’re in the driver’s seat now. The jury felt sympathetic, but the judge threw everything out. Said it was a farce. Now it’s up at the federal appellate courts and argue it all over again potentially.
MDT: The rights to Miracleman seem to be a source of controversy that pops up now and again. It’s coming back to the forefront. What kind of rights do you have to the Miracleman character?
TM: Ultimately? I’ve got all of them. We’ll find that one out.
MDT: You own the rights to the character, lock, stock and barrel?
TM: Until someone proves otherwise.
MDT: The only reason I ask is that Neil Gaiman has cited as a partial owner. But as far as you’re concerned, you’ve got all of that?
TM: Someone may very well prove that wrong, but I’m willing to prove the point. If somebody else thinks that they have control of this, then do something about it. Because I’ll be right there on you, right now. Then we will solve this problem.
MDT: Is it something where it’s been so murky, you want to get into a courtroom and get it over with, if someone really wants to litigate it?
TM: Nobody wants to litigate anything. It’s a matter of people moving on with life, making a call as to what’s a priority. If somebody feels as strong about Miracleman as I do, then I invite them to take as hard a stance as I will. If somebody steps that way, then we’ll let somebody else decide which of us is right. Maybe neither of us will be. Maybe we’ll both partially will be. Who knows? Until any of that happens, then I take the position that I own Miracleman. He was sitting there in the auction. He was a part of the auction we bought and I picked it up…
MDT: Have you heard from Neil Gaiman or his representatives?
MDT: And have they said anything in particular about threatening litigation?
TM: Let’s just say that we don’t see eye-to-eye?
MDT: Is Miracleman going to be showing up in Hellspawn?
MDT: Well, there it is.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
MDT: How did you begin your relationship with Brian Michael Bendis?
TM: I think he was doing… Jinx, the trade paperback, and publishing Torso over at Image. I saw those books and read them. I was floored by them… I ended up getting in touch with him, being a fan of those books.
This guy went out there and did it from the ground level up. I worked at the big two and broke off into independents. Whereas a guy like Brian, sort of slaving on his own for the love of the medium, doing his book because he loves it. The black and white comic books? Those guys should be applauded for doing that work.
MDT: Did he meet or beat your expectations when he began writing your characters?
TM: I think it depends on which one. The Sam & Twitch book is awesome. It’s everything that I hoped for and more. It played into some of the things he did with Jinx and Torso. When he does that sort of urban crime stuff, that’s when he’s at his best. Nobody can touch him.
Hellspawn, he wanted to take a crack at that. Spawn’s a character I’ve had a lot of writers take a poke at… I can’t necessarily say either one of us would agree that it was one of his finest moments. It was good, but again, I think we both expected better of it.
MDT: What happened to sour the relationship? One month, peachy keen, everything’s fine. And then the next — gone. And he didn’t want to talk about it.
TM: Maybe I’m naïve. I don’t see that it’s soured. We’re still working on the Torso movie and Image Comics – which I own – still publishes his book Powers, which is an awesome book. And he’s off doing his Marvel work. Again, there’s another meeting of the minds there at a crossroads and a decision was made there. I think we’ve both gone beyond it. It doesn’t define us. I know that from doing other stuff. I know that from Hollywood and from Image. He may not be writing a book for me directly and I may not be drawing a title of his, but I still think he’s one of the top talents out there. I wish him all the luck and I’m glad that we publish Powers.
MDT: Would it be more accurate to say that your split was an agreement to disagree?
TM: That’s about as simple as you could put it.
MDT: I think then it might have been blown up a bit by the press…
TM: I think so. Todd McFarlane is a name in the business and Brian’s star was rising and has since turned into a full-blown comet…. You take two high profile names and something doesn’t work, you want to [make it] a little more kooky than the two participants themselves. At the beginning of it, I think we were a little more emotional about it, but now that we’ve had a little more time and hindsight on our side, I think we would agree that we both have other things to offer the world. We’ll live past that moment and go on to do things in the future.
MDT: Do you talk on a regular basis?
TM: I talked to him not long ago about the movie.
MDT: What is the status of the movie?
TM: That’s a complicated one. We’re trying to fit it in at one studio. The rights lapsed and we have someone else who wants to buy it, but the other studio doesn’t want to give up the ball they’re holding. So we’re in negotiations right now.
MDT: Is there a finished script to it?
TM: Yeah, Marc Andreyko and Brian wrote the first pass on the script.
MDT: Once it’s approved, you’re waiting for production to start?
TM: We’re waiting for someone to approve a script and someone who wants to make it a priority to them…
MDT: In past articles, you haven’t always been the kindest towards the Marvel you worked at. What started your anger and vitriol towards them?
TM: I think it’s the same sort of anger I have towards big bloated companies. They have systems in place that don’t necessarily take into account the whole system. They can’t make decisions very quick and the decision-making is resistant. [I]f you can figure out another way to skin a cat, then the way they’ve been doing it is wrong. I’ve found that tendency…
If you give me a direction from my house to your house, there are 50 ways to get from my house to your house. I can take surface roads, I can take a helicopter, I can walk. I can take a bike. As long as I get to the house by 7 p.m. for the party, who cares?
I took some of my job [at Marvel] and made it too simplistic. My job was to sell as many comic books as possible. I thought that was the 7 o’clock party. “We’re hiring you -we’re in the comic book business — to sell comic books.” …I’d do it and they’d say, “Why are you doing it that way?” I’d say, “I think it sells comic books.”
I was never overly concerned whether they liked me or they liked my style. That was irrelevant. It’s more, I’m doing my job to sell comic books, why are you looking over my shoulder? They’d call me in and say, “Todd, stop doing this and that.”
Why? There were 500 comic books behind me that weren’t doing what I was doing. Why are worried about me? Why don’t you go talk about one of those other 500 comic books and not worry about what’s happening on mine? It became even more ludicrous when we were talking late in the game about Spider-Man, which was the #1 book. “What’s this, Todd? What are you doing that for?” Cause it’s the #1 selling book, cause it fucking sells!
We would have these odd discussions. “So you want me to stop doing certain things?” It became an odd environment after a while. It was an accumulation of little mini events that led to a culmination of the straw breaking the camel’s back.
MDT: Do you see a difference between the Marvel you worked for and the Marvel today?
TM: Not really.
MDT: Not much of a difference at all?
TM: There was a little more flexibility early on. It wasn’t until the year we went into the office and broke away that Marvel actually went public. …I remember the day they went public. I said, it’s over. They’re now going to fall under a different set of rules… the rules of a public company. Rule #1 is to make shareholders happy and the way you do that is to maximize profits. So you create as many revenue streams as possible and milk them. They now have a different agenda.
Fast forward a decade later, Marvel has been in and out of bankruptcy. Having credit problems currently. [After] all these other things, you can’t say that a [Marvel’s that’s] having credit problems and that close to bankruptcy is a better Marvel than the one I worked at.
|Page 22 of Spawn: The Dark Ages #26|
MDT: I read a 3-year old interview in which you were talking how Marvel – and by extension DC – were a necessary evil in comic book publishing. What does that mean?
TM: Right now, in the direct market place, the whole system is predicated upon the vast majority of comic books being sold from those two companies. For whatever reason, if any one of those guys was to completely bungle their business, it would actually cause some fairly huge repercussions in the business. DC Comics is 40% [of the market]. If DC Comics decides to close its doors, can you, Mr. Corner Drugstore Man, or Mom & Pop Comic Book Shop, take the hit of 40% of your product not being there? Maybe the answer might be, in a perfect world, people would buy more of the other company’s product, because now they have a budget. Maybe that’s true. “I buy 20 comic books, 10 of them went away, I’ll just buy another 10.” I would hate to see what that answer is, based upon sort of you know, bad business dealings.
Marvel Comics has been skirting disaster for a while. They’re not out of danger. They put on a good creative face, right now. I think Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada are two of the best people they’ve had during the course of the last decade and trying to do something creative and inspiring.
But they’re still a public company…. They can talk all they want about how good a book is, but if it’s A). it ain’t selling or B). they get the good talent and they’re overpaying for that talent, and they’re not making money on it, then all that’s going to come out in the wash… It might be a short-term solution, but not long-term. I applaud them for making some efforts, but I don’t see that it’s making any drastic difference.
MDT: With all the money that you’ve made off of Spawn and related products, have you ever thought about putting together the kind of capital that it would take to buy Marvel?
TM: No. If it was going to cost $300-400 million [and] I was going to make that kind of effort, I would put it toward buying the L.A. Dodgers. I’d rather hang around the ballplayers than rather worry about what I was going to do with Fing Fang Foom.
MDT: Your comments about DC have never been good or bad. Mostly neutral. What kind of difference was there in the way you were handled at DC as opposed to Marvel?
TM: The difference is, it doesn’t matter what DC Comics does or doesn’t do. …Marvel’s good or bad decision making has a more immediate impact than DC …DC [is] owned by [what] is now AOL TimeWarner. So whether anyone at DC Comics wants to admit it or not, this is my opinion, DC Comics — to the big boys at AOL TimeWarner — is a licensing division that happens to publish comic books. They hold copyrights to a lot of characters that they license out. They make Popsicles and toothpaste and pajamas and puzzles and posters and knickknacks. Every once in a while, they turn it into a movie or a cartoon.
[T]hey’re just a holder of trademarks. If you lose $8 million in publishing comic books, but they make $12 million in licensing those characters out, they made $4 million bucks. One of the reasons they’re getting those licenses is that their putting out the books and creating a brand name. Making the brand name accessible every day in the world in places where we’re used to seeing it. I don’t think DC has the same worries at hand that Marvel does….
MDT: Your company has grown quite steadily since you published Spawn. While you don’t publish as many titles as DC or Marvel, you’re a pretty big company. What’s the difference between you and the big two?
TM: I probably give less structure and more freedom throughout the rank and file. We’re not necessarily profit-driven by any of it. I tried to pick out the good things of corporate America. You come in at 9, you leave at 5. You get two weeks vacation. Here’s your boss. You report in on Tuesday. [There are] certain things you have to have. But beyond that, you don’t have to have 97 people to make a decision and 87 memos to be able to do it. Just do it. Make a call. Move. If it doesn’t work, we’ll have a discussion after the fact. No big deal.
MDT: Do you feel like your company is a lot more nimble?
TM: We’re more flexible and can move more quickly on an idea. Less people who have worked for me have walked away with bleeding ulcers than have worked in the corporate world.
MDT: What’s different about the comic industry now than when you started out?
TM: They don’t sell as many comic books. That’s the big one. I think that the lack of options. When I first broke in, even in Superhero comics, there [were] Pacific Comics, Eclipse Comics, First comics, DC and Marvel. You had four or five distribution houses and a handful of key guys. There was a pretty broad base. There were a handful of shows you could go to and a handful of ways you could get across your concerns about what was working and what wasn’t working.
There used to be a sense of community. It was one of the best things at the height of comic books. Everyone used to get together and poke each other in the ribs, a little bit jealous about the next guy who did something a little bit better than you did. [T]here was a genuine love for the medium that you wanted to hang out with each other and talk about it. Even if it was throwing barbs at each other. I think that sense of community has been lost. I think it’s sort of sad.
Everybody’s in almost a survival mode. All the little stores are just trying to sell enough books to keep the lights on. They don’t have time to worry about the little things around them. We used to be a little more of a tight knit family. We’ve fragmented and more self-centered in terms of our personal goals.
MDT: Do you think you would have done things differently had you started out today?
TM: Yeah. I think so. I think the marketplace of any business you’re in will dictate the decisions you’re making. Maybe we were capable of doing some of the things we did. Able to be free-spirited about it when we created Image Comics when things were going good. When things are going good, you have a party.
Now that times are tight, you got the survivors here. The people that alive and well to tell about it. The ones that couldn’t make it through the cold hard winters aren’t in business anymore. We went from 7-8,000 stores down to 2,000 or 1,500 for all I know. I hope that those 1,500 are sound and fairly solid. I’m sure if I was starting Spawn now, I’m sure my expectations would be much less, even if I was the #1 book, which it was. And [if] it sold 100,000 it wouldn’t make enough money to scratch the itch in the couple of other categories I was able to later on…. I’d be tied a little bit more to the business as a whole. That can be a good thing as long as it doesn’t go away, but if you’re tied to something that starts to spring a leak, it becomes a little more problematic.
MDT: You went from being an employee to being your own boss pretty quickly. Was there ever a moment at which you thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t do this alone? Maybe I should go back to safe and steady?”
TM: Every day of my life. [laughs] There was a time when it was just me and my buddy Terry. Now there’s a 120 of us and I’ve got to worry about something that’s non-creative that distracts my time. Two employees aren’t getting along or a contract’s not getting out or someone’s suing you. Somebody’s not approving something… There’s always something silly you have to spend your time on.
You say to yourself, “I’m could be doing a comic book right now.” But ultimately I don’t want to lament upon it too much. I have nobody to blame but myself. If I wasn’t a target, and hadn’t made myself a target, I wouldn’t get sued. If I quit everything right now and worked selling shoes in a shoe store, I wouldn’t get sued in 10 years. If I continue doing what I’m doing, I’m guaranteed to get sued multiple times just by being in business and being successful.