McFarlane Explains Unique "Spawn" Collaboration with Larsen, Learning to Let Go

For Image Comics, "Spawn" has been a cornerstone of the publisher from day one. In a recent attempt to revitalize the flagship book, creator Todd McFarlane made a bold decision. He enlisted fellow Image founder and "Savage Dragon" creator Erik Larsen to co-create each new issue with him. As of now, Larsen is scheduled for at least five issues of "Spawn," as co-writer and penciller with McFarlane also handling inking duties.

Diving back into his days of two buddies making old-fashioned superhero comics, McFarlane plans to return himself and "Spawn" to their roots with the upcoming "Satan Saga Wars" storyline.

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Last month, McFarlane visited with Jonah Weiland in the world famous CBR Tiki Room at New York Comic Con to discuss teaming up with Erik Larsen on upcoming issues of "Spawn," the deadline-driven comic book industry, why churning out monthly comics is a serious grind and more. He also talks about the current generation of artists, commenting on longtime collaborator Greg Capullo's rise to superstardom as the artist on "Batman."

In the first part of the conversation, McFarlane elaborates on what brought him and Larsen together on "Spawn," then speaks openly about the grind of doing a monthly comic and the simple art of learning to let go. McFarlane also reveals anecdotes about the times he's playfully messed with Larsen on previous collaborations.

On coming back to "Spawn" and taking back the reins:

Todd McFarlane: One thing I've learned is that we live in a deadline-driven business. I mean, as fun as it is and as cool as it is, it's still a deadline-driven business. You don't put out the goods on a regular basis, you're either going to lose your audience or, at minimum, you're going to frustrate them, right? And so -- and it's why, you know, to stay on deadline, companies will then swap artists and stuff because if someone's behind they can't wait for them, right? So, again, I've always said before, you know, of course we would like a guy who's on time and draws like, you know, Michelangelo. But, if not, then between Michelangelo -- who can't hand in a book -- and a guy who's pretty good but can, you have to -- you have to tip to those guys. And not only that, but you can make a long career out of it. There are a lot of "unsexy artists" that have had 20 to 30-year careers because they're workhorses, right? And so, the toughest thing that I've found with, you know, dealing with some of the youth in the last 10, 12 -- is trying to prepare them for the mental grind of the book. ... You can't make everything you do precious. You have to just let the baby go. Because you want to go -- you want it Thursday? [Claps] They need it Thursday. And so, you have to learn to go, "As long as I feel that the overall book was solid, that's what I needed to deliver." And you can't worry that every panel wasn't up to your expectations.

On how his collaboration with Larsen came about and what it's like working together:

McFarlane: I go, "Look it, I need to come up with another artist" and I wanted -- I want somebody that's going to sort of get me jolted -- that's going to excite me. And somebody who I know I can trust. I can just -- so, if I get sick, they'll carry the workload or vice-versa. So, the big deal here is that Erik and I are going to do this hybrid book -- because Erik Larsen, when he's doing "Dragon," that's him, and he is anal about it. ... So I just go, "Erik, someday -- you're just going to have to let me ink you, because I think you and I together would be this cool look. It's your big, sort of Kirby-esque, sort of big foot, awesome comic book stuff, but with a little -- with some Todd sexy on it, right? They like the sexy and they like the big -- big foot stuff. What's that combo look together?" ... So anyways, we get to where we're at now, I need somebody to do a quick fill-in for me, so I'm looking for an artist. Erik's having a pretty good time and then he just goes, "I hear you're looking for a writer. I can help you write." I'm like, "Yeah." So we talk about some stories. I go, "Yeah, yeah." [Erik Larsen:] "Maybe I should just draw it too?" And I went, "Well --"

And I go, "What are you talking about? You're doing -- You're doing 'Dragon.' You can't --" And he's like, "Well, you know... what if--" And I go, "Well, I was thinking of coming back and just inking it, so at least the pages will get done." And he's going, "What if I just give you some roughs, and then you ink it, and then we just go back and forth, and we just make this blend." And I thought it was cool. And then he sent me the first couple pages of his issue, and they're awesome.

In the second part of their conversation, McFarlane divulges who, in his opinion is the better comic book storyteller between him and Erik Larsen. The "Spawn" creator then discusses how laborious his process is, the generation gap between himself and new artists who may not understand the daily grind of the work, the qualities of this next generation, and how former "Spawn" and current "Batman" artist Greg Capullo has always been a star.

On who's the better comic book storyteller, McFarlane or Larsen:

McFarlane: Erik's better. Yeah, and because, I think that -- in all honesty, I know -- that the drawing for Erik is more effortless than it is for me. I mean, as much as people like what I do and as much as I have the style that I've honed, it doesn't come nearly as quickly as it does for so many other artists, right? I -- I marvel at people who can just [fart noise], and it's just -- and it just pours out of them, right? I -- I'm not. I have to, sort of, build it a little bit, and then I rough it and I get there, and I have to -- when I do the inking -- I refine it. So, I'm carving a little bit more. And that's where, again, with Erik and I doing it, I think we'll have the fun, because we'll -- I'll be giving him pages where I think, "This is how the story and the page should be laid out." He'll be giving me stuff, and we'll just be sort of playing on each other's strengths, hopefully ... Here's the other piece -- even if people don't really like it per se, and I hope they do, it's -- the two guys that are doing the book know how to do monthly comic books. And the one thing that will not be in doubt is going to be the delivery of that book, right? We will get this book out. And so, he's done 200-plus issues of "Dragon." I've done 250-plus issues of "Spawn." We just know the grind. We -- and we've accepted it and our bodies are built for it. And we're going to do it.

On working with Greg Capullo on "Spawn" years before his current run on "Batman":

McFarlane: Well, I'm completely biased with Greg, as you know. I think he was a superstar long time ago. They just weren't paying attention -- right? And so, everything he's doing on "Batman" right now, if you look back at what he was doing on "Spawn"? He was doing -- he was doing it. It's just, again, it wasn't a popular, sort of pop culture character. But he's had -- he's had those chops for a long, long time.

The conversation wraps up with McFarlane discussing the other artists he would potentially like to collaborate with on "Spawn," in the same, unique way that he is with Larsen. McFarlane also talks about the difference in how long it takes a writer to finish a page versus an artist, and how many writers don't take that into account.

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On the differences between writing and drawing a comic:

McFarlane: The penciller is the heavy lifter of the comic book. I'm completely biased because I broke in as a penciller. And here, I'll give you the example right now because this one's easy. I'm the writer. "Space armada -- about two dozen spaceships in the middle of Times Square. It would be noon -- lots of tourists. Because of the invasion, we see the armed guards parachuting down below and the police are coming, putting up barricades." [Claps] That took me 35 seconds. It will now take me, as the artist, two days to draw that one spread, right? Thirty seconds for you, two days for me, right? I'm going, "Wow!" One of the reasons I began writing -- because I go, "I have never written that scene for myself," right? Because I know the labor that it takes. So what I write for myself are stories that I know I can hit a deadline with. ... You make me God for a day, I only have three wishes: number one, feed every person on this planet -- number two, give peace to this damn planet -- and number three, every comic book writer has to draw one issue, right? Because then they will then know what it takes to do an issue, and I think, if I can do that one, they might write slightly different. To go, "Maybe it's not an armada of aliens, maybe it's only a half-dozen."

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