Todd McFarlane attended Fan Expo Toronto this year, appearing at a signing event, a photo opp, and most importantly, leading two talks on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25. In the first panel, McFarlane spoke about his decision to become a comic book artist, the origin story of his publishing house, Image Comics, and the people that accompanied him on his three-decade trip. It was a snapshot of an era that no longer exists, when Marvel and DC were first and foremost comic book publishers, the artwork was drawn by hand and artists like McFarlane still had some freedom to change the design of iconic superheroes through sheer stubbornness and blatant disregard for the status quo.
The second talk was a completely different beast. In it, McFarlane spoke about the state of the comic book industry today, where most of the comic-book market share is controlled by the new owners of Marvel and DC: Disney and Warner Brothers, who he noted spent tens of billions of dollars acquiring the exclusive rights to every superhero character under the sun. According to McFarlane, this wasn’t always done it the smartest possible way.
According to McFarlane, who went over the ins-and-outs of the Sony/MCU split, it was the avoidance of another bidding war -- like the one Disney and Fox recently underwent -- that prompted the Sony/MCU separation over Spider-Man. "You saw what happened with Spider-Man?" he asked the crowd. "They were trying to extract Spiderman, right? And Sony went, 'No, no, it ain’t gonna happen.'"
According to McFarlane, this move might be the smartest thing that Sony could have done for Peter Parker. For the co-founder of Image Comics, this is the best time that ever existed to start a career as an independent comic book author, as counter-intuitive as that might seem in a world where most of the best selling comic books are either a Marvel or a DC.
He described how the race to acquire the next hot property has become so heated that producers are pre-emptively buying the rights to film comic books that have not even been written yet. The solicitation process for these books is based on a cover, three lines that summarize the plot and a price. According to him, 90% of the time, the producers doing the buying have not read the issue; once it hits the stands, other people in Hollywood will notice it, and it will be too late.
If you are Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, you’re looking at all these movies called “Avengers” that are making all this money, and you want comic book stuff. They have to take a sharpie and they have to black out those top 94 properties. Because if they’re not Disney or Warner Brothers, they’re just not getting it.
McFarlane finished his second talk with a few optimistic words about the future of the industry:
Comic books are never going away. It's just a medium of words and pictures. That combo will never go away. What may change is the delivery mechanism. The scale, the size, the format… but there will forever be people making drawings and putting words to those drawings.
Tapes, CDs, DVDs, stream. Still music. Music’s still gonna be there. Comics’s still gonna be there. However, the way we’ll end up bringing them into our houses, that may change. That’s just progress, that’s the change I’m talking about.
And he must know what he's talking about: on the 4th of September 2019, McFarlane's Issue #300 of Spawn hits the stands, tying it with David Sims Cerebus the Aardvark as the longest-running creator-owned comic book series in the world.