This isn’t the first time Todd McFarlane has stepped away from writing duties on “Spawn” — the long-running Image Comics series has seen multiple high-profile guest writers over the years, along with extended stints by Brian Holguin and David Hine.
Yet from the way that McFarlane is talking about the latest new creative team on the series — writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jonboy Meyers — it’s clear he’s looking for a real departure from what’s come before. In the second half of a two-part interview with CBR, McFarlane shared, “I don’t want to read something that I could have written, because otherwise I’ll keep writing it.” (The first part of the interview focused on his new Image series, “Savior,” co-written with Holguin and illustrated by Clayton Crain).
The Image Comics co-founder spoke in-depth with CBR News about the qualities that make Jenkins — an Eisner-winner for “Inhumans” at Marvel, and a past contributor to the “Spawn” books — the right choice to take on the series, starring with March’s “Spawn Resurrection,” which follows the recently released “Spawn” #250 anniversary issue that saw Al Simmons return as the book’s title character. Additionally, McFarlane provides updates on both a new “Spawn” film — a major motivator in him scaling back his involvement on the “Spawn” comic, as he’s looking to get the screenplay finished — plus a new “Spawn” animation project, two ventures that he’s been working on in one form or another for years.
CBR News: Todd, you announced last month at Image Expo that Paul Jenkins will be taking over as the new writer of “Spawn.” You talked a little about it then, but I’m interested to hear more from you — what made him right the choice? It’s a noteworthy situation, since he’s the second writer coming into this role after Brian Wood left the book.
Todd McFarlane: That’s not quite true, but let’s just walk through it. Years ago, Paul actually wrote a book for me. “Spawn the Undead.” There were a couple other writers there at the time, and we had sort of our writers’ summit. One of the things I was pushing them to do was to write stuff that isn’t like the regular book. Give me a new vantage point. Give me a different look at it. They all sort of took their stab at it, and succeeded to some degree, but I thought Paul, of all the guys I’ve ever given that lecture to — and I’ve given the same lecture to almost anybody, and, arguably, even to my artists — “Make me look like a dumbshit.” If you can get people to say, “Why didn’t Todd do this 20 years ago? How come Todd hasn’t thought of this?” then you will have completely accomplished what you want me to do. Not because you’re reinventing, but you’re adding to the dynamics of something that’s been around so long — a la what somebody like Alan Moore did when he did a little bit of a run on “Superman,” but more so on “Swamp Thing.” He just sort of came in there, and a little bit of his ignorance was his bliss — he didn’t know he was messing with so much deep-rooted mythology.
One of the things that’s always sort of frustrated me — which is why I’ve written so much of my own stuff, not that I think there aren’t hundreds and hundreds of guys who can write circles around me — is that those guys that to me are spectacular writers, when I get them to try and do something with Spawn, there’s a tendency for them to freeze a little bit. “Eh, I don’t want to mess with it” — where I’m saying the whole time, “Mess with it!” Shake it up. Add to the mythology.
I’ll give them examples — Spawn’s cape is red. Why? I get it, it’s hell, whatever, it’s too easy. Eventually, nobody gave it to me, so I wrote it myself, saying it was patched to the apple in the Garden of Eden. It’s just stuff. I said to Paul, “Where does the Clown go at night? You know after 250 issues, I’ve never followed him anywhere. He pops up and he leaves. Where does he go?” I’m not saying it’s a story you have to write, or even that it’s an interesting story, or whether you even have any desire to write it. But it’s a question that nobody’s touched yet. I think there are dozens and dozens of these questions that people could tackle, instead of regurgitating a little bit of the same stuff that I’ve already written for the past two decades.
Paul did that. I remember, whether you liked it or didn’t like it, at least it was a different take. So now, fast forward, I’m looking for writers, and I made a phone call to a handful of writers before settling on, originally it was Brian. Two of the guys I did phone were Grant Morrison, he was busy, and one of them was Paul, he was busy. So, OK, I’m going to find talent that can do it. I ran across Brian, but fast forward through, Brian doesn’t work out, but in the time it doesn’t work out, two or three months go by, all of a sudden Paul’s schedule opens up. So it in a weird way worked out.
And even more surprisingly, I find out, after the fact [Jonboy Meyers and Jenkins] have been fast friends for over a decade. I would have pressed Paul a little bit harder, even when he said no! I’m looking for simpatico here, right? You guys are like brothers, and the one thing that’s nice about brothers is, as much as you get angry at each other, you still like each other at the end of the day. You fight like brothers, but you also like each other like brothers. That’s the perfect relationship! The give and take of writer and artist, that’s exactly what you need, which I think is why some of the independent books work so well, because they’re people who enjoy working with each other, and they understand that everything will eventually work itself out, and there is no scorekeeping.
Paul coming in, 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.” Which is good! That’s the perfect attitude. And, “Oh, by the way — I haven’t read all 250 issues.” Again, a little bit of ignorance is bliss. “Here’s a couple of ideas, and here’s where I want to go with it.” All right, cool. He’s pushing it a lot wider and faster than what Brian was originally going to do, so I go, “Oh, OK, I get an accelerated version of getting something different, too.” Which to me is a benefit.
Sounds like you’re encouraging a lot of freedom — so even though it’s your creation and something you’ve spent so many years with, you’re making sure to give Paul a lot of room to do what he wants?
Yeah. Look, I’m not saying you can completely ignore and revamp everything, because then the only thing that’s going to be consistent is the word at the top. “Spawn.” He’s smart enough to know that. Just make it walk and talk and feel “Spawn,” and then add whatever it is that interests you, and just add to the mythology. If building your mythology means that some of the other pieces, you want to ignore for a while, that’s OK. If you just want it to be Batman and Commissioner Gordon for three years, and you don’t want to say too much about Batgirl, OK. I’m with you. That doesn’t mean Batgirl doesn’t exist. It just means you’re going down a different angle for whatever reason, because you happen to be interested in that. That’s fine. Good. Knock yourself out. Let’s go.
I go, “Paul, the only time you and I are going to get into disagreement is when I feel like I’m reading something I could have written.” I don’t want to read something that I could have written, because otherwise I’ll keep writing it. That’s my frustration when I hand it off to people and they give me Todd stuff back. I live with Todd every day of my life, give me a break some place. Give me something new.
It sounds like you were ready to take a step back — you’re busy with a variety of different things — but was it all a hard decision? Or did it just feel like the right time to hand the reins over?
If I didn’t get somebody to come in and pitch me some ideas that I liked, I was just going to stay on it. I wasn’t going to stop writing for the sake of [stopping]. What I was hoping for, in a perfect world, is to somehow be able to get somebody that very quickly I have so much confidence in that I can turn a little bit of a blind eye. I’ll be editing the book and paying attention to it on that level, but I need to buy the time to go work on some other projects, to be able to not have to babysit it. What I’d rather do is the other extreme, where I barely touch anything, because I’m actually enjoying the ride, just like a reader should be.
Which would be an usual position for you on “Spawn.” And it looks like one of the reasons you’re scaling back your involvement in the comic book is your work on a new “Spawn” film, which has been discussed for the past few years — what’s the latest update on that project?
I actually started picking up on the script [last] week. Some of the new people that helped me, I showed them the box — it’s basically the movie on little recipe cards. I go, “There’s the movie!” I think people think that if I walk into a room and go, “I’ve got to finish the script,” I’m blank, and I’m just making it up as I go along. I’ve had the movie from beginning to end in my brain for so long, with so many notes, with all these cards, with every scene. If anything, I’m probably overthinking it. I just haven’t been disciplined enough in sitting down and barricading myself and doing it.
My wife, god bless her, she came up to me at the beginning of the year: “I bought you some office space. It’s away from your regular office, it’s away from the house office. Nobody can get in there. It’s a shithole, and it’s got no Internet access. It’s got nothing. All it is is a place you can sit in and plug in your laptop and finish that movie. That’s it. Oh, and by the way, it starts in February. So if you don’t want to use it, you’re wasting money.” Her attitude is, “Todd, I know they keep asking, I know there’s an interest in it. But someday, you keep pissing around, they’re going to stop asking.” She’s even more practical: “How much does that damn ‘Spawn’ comic book sell? If you had not written the last five issues of ‘Spawn,’ you would have had that script done.” And she absolutely right. I go, “No, no, no — ‘Spawn’ #250 was 60 pages. It could have almost come out of ‘Spawn’ #250.'” [Laughs] She’s like, “You knothead. You’re going to get it done, whether I have to stand over you and lock the door, you’re going to get it done.” That’s where we’re at. I have a big Jiminy Cricket standing over my shoulder that’s going to say, “Todd, you don’t get to mess around. You’re going to have just sit there.”
Given that I’ve gotten back into it the last week, I’m already finding that all of a sudden the juices keep coming real fast. I want to stay up all night. I told her, “OK, you put me in that cage, I might not come home for two days.” She goes, “Whatever.” With the comic books and the company I’ve got, my life’s pretty structured — it’s a 9 to 5 sort of gig. But when you’re doing freelance stuff, then you can become a vampire real quickly. She’s like, “Go. It’s not like you didn’t do that for 20 years when you were younger.”
So is that the focus at this point, finishing the screenplay? Over the past few years, there’s been rumors, talk of who may be interested, but is it too early for any of that?
Yeah. There’s a handful of people that are genuinely interested, and some talent, too. I’ve given them my pitch, and they’re like, “Cool, sounds great, Todd.” I think to be fair to everybody, to the entire process, instead of trying to keep them excited, I needed, the next time I talk to any of them, to be able to just walk in and go, “There it is. Give me your notes on the first draft.” Once the first draft gets done, all of this gets accelerated, like, tenfold. Then either I’m going to get the notes and I got to do a rewrite, then at some point if I can’t quite figure out the rewrite, then I’m going to have to find someone real quickly that I can trust to do a little bit of fixing up on it. I think it’d go quick, once we get to the point where everybody says, “You know what, that story’s now in the ballpark, and now we just need to finesse it to the goal line. But we all have confidence: It’s getting to the goal line.” So we can do all the other pieces of the puzzle, and we’ll start moving, simultaneously, to a “final shooting script.”
So this is the month you’re hoping to really focus on it.
Yeah — to some extent, until I get it done. Life throws curveballs. My wife being willing to be a co-conspirator of making sure I get it done — I need that piece, somebody just riding me, going, “You’re going to get it done, dude.” OK, let’s get it done. Then she goes, “That way, if nobody likes it, nobody wants to do it, at least it’s done and we can stop the bullshit in between. Stop talking about it, writing it.”
There’s also been reports in the past few years of a — any update on that front?
Years ago, we got pretty deep in it. I bought back all the assets and wherever else. I’m finding the actual animation studio. I’m not talking developing a lot of stuff — I’m talking literally doing the animation. All the characters over the years, all the backdrops, the stories, voice records — all the stuff that leads up to one of the last pieces of the puzzle, which is the actual drawing the animation. That’s about step 18. It’s a big step, but it’s not “the” step. All that stuff over the last five years, it either exists and I bought it, or I’ve been building it up. It’s there. To some extent, I could walk into an office tomorrow and say, “Hey, you want an hour and a half animated movie pilot? It’s here. And oh by the way, it won’t take me two years to get it off the ground. I just need to find the studio that I”m comfortable with.”
The “Spawn” archives recently debuted in digital format — that’s something you were resistant to at first, correct?
To some extent I still am, only to the fact that I thought I would hold out until I could do something that was different. I was thinking of building the site myself, or with a couple of other partners. “What can we do that nobody else is doing?” How do we make the experience of a digital book different than a paper book? What is that? But if I’m going to take a step back, hopefully get locked in that room that my wife commandeers, and we’ve got #250 coming out with the new team, and hopefully have some positive moves on the entertainment end of it later this year. “OK, one of the ways to get people excited about the brand again it just let them get their hands on the brand.” I’m always looking for, “What can we do that nobody else can do?” but that’s putting too much onus on anybody, whether it’s comiXology or anybody else, because it’s not fair — they’ve got a lot of people to keep happy.
I’ll figure it out. I’m always the curious kid. In between all of that, I’ll still continue to do the toy thing, as we head off into the direction of doing these building sets that we just came out with at Christmas that went gangbusters for us. So we’re going to continue to push that boulder up the hill, too.
Right now feels like it must be an exciting time in your career — there’s a lot of new stuff happening.
My expectation isn’t that any and all of it catches fire at the same time. But even if only one or two of them takes hold, then I’ll know what will be driving most of my working hours for the next year or two. That’s always good, so you’re not sort of scratching your head, “What am I going to do next year?” I’m too fidgety to have idle hands.
“Spawn Resurrection” #1, featuring the new creative team of writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jonboy Meyers, is scheduled for release on March 4.
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