How Spawn Transitioned From Comics to (Very R-Rated) TV

What's amazing is the character of Tony Twist even making it to TV. McFarlane named the mobster after a hockey player, active in the early 1990s. The real-life Twist had no clue McFarlane had done such a thing, until this HBO series aired. An insulted Twist sued -- it didn't end too favorably for McFarlane. It's crazy that HBO's lawyers didn't catch this before it went to air. McFarlane even had a "real" name for the character, "Antonio Twistelli," in the comics they could've used.

Placing Spawn in the path of the mob is another idea from the early issues. And another that McElroy improves upon. Originally, Violator goes on a killing spree of mobsters, hoping Spawn will take the blame. Why? Some vague idea that went nowhere, truthfully. The HBO series actually ties the mob in with a larger story involving Washington corruption and Spawn's past as a government agent. It's smart writing, taking inspiration from the comics but also weaving the ideas together.

Todd McFarlane's Spawn will continue to borrow ideas from the comics this season, threading them into an impressive story. Years before Netflix and prestige TV brought us the season-long movie, Spawn was actually there first.



It's not nearly as stylized, but much of the look of Todd McFarlane's Spawn is owed to Eric Radomski. Coming from Batman: The Animated Series, Radomski was already skilled at creating the shadowy look McFarlane desired. The character designs in Season One often don't quite work for animation, attempting to scale down the more detailed look of the Spawn comic, but not going far enough. Spawn himself looks great in this opening episode.

The character model is from Greg Capullo, and several shots this episode look as if they came directly from the comic. McFarlane will later declare you should never see Spawn's face fully in the light, but I think his design looks quite nice in these early episodes.

Spawn is voiced by Keith David, one of the most prolific voice actors of the past twenty-five years. He's appeared in numerous live action films, as well. Among them, Platoon, Crash, There's Something About Mary, and Barbershop.


I don't think fifteen seconds of this show could air on network TV. Amazingly, McFarlane somehow assembled a PG-13 cut to sell on VHS during the show's run.


The audio commentary for another '90s Image show, The Maxx, reveals McFarlane was close to signing with the same production company and following a similar approach. That would mean taking actual artwork from the comics and directly translating their story to TV. While it would've been nice to see McFarlane and Capullo art as faithfully translated as Sam Kieth's...it's likely for the best McFarlane went in a different direction.

Fans embraced the HBO series because it featured several moments they remember from the comics--while also telling a new, more coherent story. Years later, childhood McFarlane fanatic Robert Kirkman will see The Walking Dead adapted in a similar fashion. Many of the familiar moments are there, but with a more sophisticated execution. Alan McElroy deserves real credit for what he accomplished with his work on Spawn. Shockingly, he's also the credited writer for the underwhelming 1997 film. Perhaps this is the difference between working with HBO and the more traditional studio system.  I have a feeling forty thousand studio notes, all hoping to avoid controversy, killed the film. HBO embraced the controversy, and it paid off for them.

That’s all for now. If you have any suggestions for the future, just leave a comment or contact me on Twitter.

World Breaker Hulk: Could the Strongest Hulk Smash Thanos for Good?

More in CBR Exclusives