CBR’s Jonah Weiland welcomed industry legend and Image Comics founder Todd McFarlane out to the world famous CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk all things “Spawn,” Image Comics and his history with the convention dating back to 1983. McFarlane explains why “Spawn” has never tried to reboot with a new #1, why his Image series featured for a minority lead from the very beginning and what’s next for Al Simmons when he makes his return to the title. The writer/artist also discussed how stories must live up to the marketing hype surrounding them, whether the comic book movie bubble will ever burst and what in today’s market stokes his creative fires.
On why “Spawn” has maintained its original numbering: If you look at some of the things I’ve done in my, I guess 30 years now, I try to evolve and go with where the flow’s at. The numbering piece of it is really a very interesting conversation that you and I and probably ten other people at a panel could probably have a two-hour conversation about. I get input from a lot of people that I trust in the industry and they all say, almost to a person, “Just do it,” [regarding rebooting with a new #1]. But I think part of it is it’s easy to do it, and really, Jonah, there’s no historical data that says — actually, quite the contrary — if you do it that you actually then will get better sales and you’ll keep going. What usually has been out there — as a matter of fact, I could show you hundreds that say the opposite — that you get your bounce and then you actually come down to a little bit — eventually, in 5, 8, 10 issues — below where you were before you started renumbering it, and it seems like a shame that you threw all those numbers away.
Number two, just from a quasi-ego comic book, sort of old school [perspective], if Marvel and DC want to renumber all their books, and God bless them for doing it, that means I get to now walk into places and say, even if it’s just at a cocktail party, “My book is the biggest-numbered comic book in the country.” That’s not an insignificant thing to say. And then to add another piece to it — maybe I’m being too much of a dad now — Image comic books have been around for 20+ years, we’ve got this entire group of the youth coming up. If I renumber my book, I just sort of fall into that same category as them. Image will continue to have a bunch of low-numbered books forever because it’s just the nature of the business — people want to do miniseries and whatever. I think that we have a couple of books like “Walking Dead’s” gonna get there, and “Invincible” and “Witchblade” and “Savage Dragon” — and “Spawn” — they can go, “Look, there’s some of the anchors. Those are the guys who helped build this.” Even if it’s just for that foundation of how the corporation got going, and that you, if you wanted to, could get there some day, I think that’s okay. I think there’s a value, at least for me, there’s a mental value to say, “No no no, I’m gonna keep grinding it.”
On the importance of diversity in his comics: It’s important to me, personally. I don’t think I’ve done a heavy hand in pushing onto the the readers. I let the readers sort of decide their own politics and how they want to treat people in the world. But it was a very conscious choice at [“Spawn”] #1 in 1992 that I made him a minority character. So that was me.
After 185 issues, the book was sort of languishing, I go, “Okay, I’m gonna pass the mantle for a while.” I didn’t go white [with Jim Downing] for any sort of social or economic reason or anything, it was just I was looking for a continuity reason. Issue #3, when [Al] first tried to morph himself into another person, he became that surfer white guy with the blonde hair, and so I went, “Oh, let’s just use that same character and then I can say, continuity-wise, that character’s always been in the mythos for 185 issues.
On what he has planned the return of Al Simmons: From the day Al Simmons’ character left [fans] have been screaming to bring him back. I wanted there to be enough breadth of it and it’s been five years. So it wasn’t like eight issues like some people do and bring him back. The single biggest change that’s gonna happen is for 185 issues the Al Simmons character said, “Just leave me alone. Let me do my thing.” And now he’s sort of matured and he’s gonna be wiser, like we all are. Al’s gonna come back and he’s gonna be the aggressor, and they’re gonna actually say, “Al, why don’t you start leaving us alone. So he’s gonna turn the wheels on them and go, “This is what it felt like for 180 issues, you guys just relentlessly coming after me. I’m coming after you now. Oh, by the way, I’ve got you off your A-game because you guys have been distracted by this other guy and you’re not even paying attention to what’s going on, and it’s advantage me.” That’s the starting point.
On whether there can be too many comic book movies or TV shows: I think what could happen, if I was to make a prediction, is if you have 8 [TV] shows, it’s not gonna be any different than having 8 comic books. People are going to start picking their favorites and then eventually there should be a consensus of, ‘No, those are the two, those other two will probably get canceled.’ Like anything else, we’re going to coalesce on it. The big fear, for guys like you and I, is that the rest of the world then starts throwing everybody into the same cooker. So if three of them aren’t very good, but three of them are excellent and awesome and there’s a couple in the middle, and then those three get sort of pushed away and then people go, “Super hero shows don’t work anymore.” “Oh, I’m tired of super [heroes]” and they’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Super hero storytelling is just another genre. It’s like Westerns, it’s like romantic comedies. There are good versions of it and there are bad versions of it, and it’s gonna happen on TV and film and comic books forever.
On what excites him about the comics industry today: I’ll be biased, and so it’s a personal excitement, Image Comics is rocking. We are solidly the #3 company, and we get all the numbers, I’m actually surprised at how little Marvel and DC are actually ahead of us. One’s got Disney backing them up, and the other’s got Time Warner, those are Big Daddy Warbucks. We’ve got this generation of kids that are now coming that are putting their time in at the Big Two, coming over to Image Comics — and part of what we’re gonna do here as we go forward, we’re gonna start spelling out how those contracts work. There’s a lot of misinformation and untruths about how our business model works, which is the best in entertainment. The next step of it, as I told people earlier in the show, one of my big sort of moments is knowing that tomorrow I could disappear, “Spawn” could disappear, and Image Comics would be vibrant. Where as you know, you’ve been around long enough, in the beginning Image sort of was contingent on the ups and downs of what the founding fathers were doing. That’s no longer true, which I think is brilliant because you always want to make it so that the next generation don’t have to worry about what mom and dad were doing; you just live your life on your own. So Image Comics, we’re kicking ass right now.
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