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Todd McFarlane Plays by a “Different Set of Rules” in New Series “Savior”

by  in Comic News Comment
Todd McFarlane Plays by a “Different Set of Rules” in New Series “Savior”

Since the series’ launch in 1992, writer and artist Todd McFarlane mainly focused his comic book energies on “Spawn.” Sure, he’s had some other business ventures — including launching a successful toy company and a few well-publicized baseball purchases — but in terms of comics, aside from a few departures like the Robert Kirkman co-created “Haunt,” he’s mostly stuck with “Spawn,” especially compared to the more varied endeavors (and ventures to Marvel and DC Comics) of his fellow Image Comics founders.

Last year, news broke that McFarlane was even scaling back his monthly “Spawn” involvement — the book will now be written byPaul Jenkins — in order to devote more of his time to getting a new film produced based on his famous creation. But this past January at the most recent installment of Image Expo revealed that McFarlane is far from done with comics — in fact, he has got a new eight-issue miniseries titled “Savior” debuting from Image in April, co-written by his longtime collaborator Brian Holguin and fully painted by Marvel and Valiant mainstay Clayton Crain.

IMAGE EXPO: A Conversation with Todd McFarlane

As opposed to “Spawn,” “Savior” takes place in the real world — well, a real world that seems the arrivals of a man with Jesus-like powers. The series aims to chronicle how such a messiah figure would actually be greeted, both positively and negatively — and McFarlane shares that the book is also his attempt to show that he can do something other than “Spawn” that feels very different, and fits in more with the current landscape of Image Comics.

CBR News spoke with McFarlane in-depth about “Savior,” how the series developed, working with Crain, combatting biases and its potential Hollywood future. Check back with Comic Book Resources later this week for much more with McFarlane, including why Paul Jenkins was the right choice to take the “Spawn” reins and updates on the character’s film and animation future.

CBR News: Todd, “Savior” was announced at Image Expo, and it sounds like a different type of story for you. It’s obviously a new series, but you’ve also stated it’s and idea you’ve had for a while — and it’s something that’s been in the works for a while, since it’s already fully illustrated. What can you share about the genesis of “Savior,” and how the story developed for you?

Todd McFarlane: Just doing comic books and being a writer, you have ideas always swirling. I didn’t know where the outlet was. I did some of it in “Spawn” — you could argue that in “Spawn” #201 to #250, there’s a little bit of somebody that has powers that are out of the ordinary. In the comic book realm, that’s not unique. All these superheroes have these godlike powers. I was trying to take some of that idea, and I found very quickly trying to apply some of those ideas in “Spawn,” that I kept tripping into, it’s still “Spawn” — a guy from the pit of hell. And there’s angels and stuff. It was a little bit of a mixed bag.

So I go, I think to do the idea justice in the long run, I need to start from scratch, and strip away everything, and give it a brand-new canvas that I can start painting on — not have any baggage with it, just go, “Here’s the idea, do you like it?” We’ve seen it in different areas — somebody getting, or appearing to have, these godlike powers. But there will be no spandex or anything like that. I’m getting rid of all of those trappings. I think the tagline is, “What if the most dangerous man on Earth is actually the one trying to do the most good?” He’s trying to do the most good, and he’s still the most dangerous. Now the question should be, dangerous to who? That, to me, is sort of the genesis of what the story’s about. Why is it that we as a society, that we as a human gene pool, are so paranoid? We can’t accept Utopia, even if it stares us in the face. I don’t know that Jesus could actually come back, because I don’t know if we would upset him. We’d have to go, “That’s not how you looked in the paintings we saw. That’s not how you talked. That’s not how you behaved.” Then all of a sudden he goes, “Remember that thing Moses did? I’ll replicate that. I’ll part the seas for you.”

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So you go, “Wow — maybe it is him. But you know what? He’s not following all the rules. We have this book that’s the instruction manual, we call it the Bible.” Not that this story is heavy in any religious context. It’s not. It’s just more of me going, “If this happened, why would be so cynical as people?”

You’ve seen it in movies like “The World According to Garp” or “The Life or Brian” — even when it’s true, it’s not true. These twists on ideas when you just go, “No.” If someone came along but they didn’t follow [expectations], who are they dangerous to? They’re dangerous to the system, because the system — especially the religious system — is built on us going, “Oh, you guys have all the answers, and since you have all the answers, we’ll come every Sunday, and since we come every Sunday, we’ll give you some of our donation.” It’s a business model.

Full disclosure — I have not a religious ounce in my body. I am completely devoid of all of it. And it should come as no surprise to anybody — a guy like me has to write these stories, because anybody else, it would be blasphemy. To me, I just go, if somebody came down and didn’t follow the playbook exactly, I don’t care how many times he parts the sea, I think people would go, “He’s not the true one.” He’s just another celebrity we get to destroy — we build them up, and we knock them down, and the whole time, the guy’s going, “I’m just here. I don’t even know how all of this happened. Just back off, folks.”

I think that you’d have true enemies, because people then go, “Wow, you’re more powerful than us. We’ve got to stop them.” And then there would be people that go, “Hold a sec. If we get too many people believing in his gig, then there’s going to be less people believing in our gig, and that’s not good for business. Our institution has been around for a long time, and we kind of like it.” Do we, as an oil company — now I’m jumping tracks here — want to have electric cars? Of course not. There is a greed factor here. We are flawed. There are all these things that we’re all subject to.

To me, it’s just playing all that. Even if somebody were to come down and say, “Yes, I am that person,” I just think that the world as a whole would be somewhat cynical. That would be people that would go, “I don’t care;” and some people would go, “Yes, OK, teach me;” and other people who would just go, “He’s a danger. He’s a danger to status quo, and we can’t have that.” Even though he’s a nice guy, and he’s doing lots of good stuff, and he could do lots and lots of good stuff, our greed, our wanting to maintain our power base, we’re not willing to sit still for all of that.

With all that, does any of that play into the backstory, per se, of this? Not really. There’s elements of it, but it’s more of finding out the mystery of this man that seems to have things that he can do that nobody else on the planet can do, and what does it all mean? Is it good, bad or indifferent?

Sounds like a lot of big ideas, and something like that obviously takes the right artist. Clayton Crain illustrated this series, and fans have seen his work at Marvel, Valiant and Top Cow, and he started his career working with you on “Curse of the Spawn” and “KISS: Psycho Circus.” This sounds like a different type of story for him — what’s your take on his work on “Savior”?

I knew Clayton way back when. I think a lot of people know Clayton now from doing cool stuff with Venom; cool painted covers. I was talking to him, I was trying to be as honest as I could: “There’s going to be a lot of talking heads. There’s going to be a lot of people in shirts and jeans. It’s not going to be a lot of big, flowing capes and ray beams and all the other stuff. But I think the concept might be interesting — what do you think?” He looked at it, and thought it was. Looking at his painted stuff — when he needs to pull out the big shot, he does. He still gives you some of those dramatic, comic book pages when you need them.

But I think just the mere factor that this idea isn’t going to be pencils and inks and then computer colors, it’s going to be fully painted by Clayton, that I’m hoping also that the look of it is far enough away from what Todd’s “Spawn” has been all about, and that people then will not necessarily come in with the same bias, one way or the other. They’ll just let the book stand on its own for what it is. And we’ve had some pretty good luck with some of the books we’ve been putting out at Image that sort of look, sort of feel, a little more quasi-independent; where “Spawn” still, for all intents and purposes, is a superhero book.

That’s an interesting point, because compared to “Spawn” this book feels like it may fit in a little more with some of the recent Image offerings — and is also a little more grounded in its starting place?

I would think so. It’s a little bit of me trying to say out loud, the reason that “Spawn” looks and feels the way that it does, which is slightly different than some of the better-selling books right now at Image, is because it was started in 1992, and those trappings were put in there intentionally at that time. I can’t undo the blueprint. It’s a superhero book, and it’s always been a superhero book. That’s what it is. It’s not that I can’t do non-superhero books, or I couldn’t do a comedy book, or a true romance book, I just have chosen during that time not to. It’s not for lack of ideas or skill, I’ve just chosen not to. If people like it, some people may say, “Oh, it’s a change of pace for Todd. I didn’t know you could do all of this stuff.” To me, it’s not really different than saying, “Draw a circle or draw a square.” They’re both different shapes. I can do both of them, I just have been drawing a circle for so long. But it didn’t mean I couldn’t draw a square any day of the last 20 years. I could have. That’s not what Marvel and DC did, and when we left, that wasn’t what we did. We did our thing, and people then could say, “Well, you could have done it in the last 20 years,” and the answer is not really, because that really wasn’t the footprint and the identity of what Image was at that point.

I’m not one of the founders that started a studio to put out five, six, seven books — I guess I could have, but I’ve been focused on my one little book. When I’ve had some extra time, I’ve done some stuff with toys, and some other things. I’ve been keeping myself busy with other things.

This is just me saying, “This is what people like. This is sort of a new wave of what books look like. This is the new wave of, even, readers, and what some of their expectations are. Let me see if I can play in that pool, which is slightly different than superheroes, and see if I can get enough people to accept that I can do more than one thing, just like playing multiple sports.” I get it. It’s a different set of rules.

It’s no different than actors — the kid who played Harry Potter will forever by Harry Potter. You sort of get too successful with an idea, and everybody relates to that exact idea all the time. It may not work or it may seem odd. I remember even asking [Image Comics Publisher] Eric Stephenson, with the book being written by Brian Holguin and myself — “Should I write under a pseudonym again?” Just so that people don’t bring that bias to it. For whatever reason we chose no.

I’m hoping that people will give me a fair chance with the book. I can do other stuff. If you don’t like “Spawn,” I’d appreciate maybe giving me an issue or two on this, and then if you don’t like it and I can’t hook you, that’s on me. But don’t let the reason that you don’t look at it be, “Oh, it’s Todd, I already know what it is.” Don’t let that be your reason for not at least giving one issue a chance.

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That sounds like an exciting opportunity, creatively, and also an instance of reaching out to a bit of a different audience?

The idea was in the back of my mind. I go, “I could pitch this idea as a TV show, and it would work way easier than ‘Spawn’ would.” Superheroes have too much baggage. I could walk in there with a straight face, saying, “Hey, here’s an idea, you can shoot it on a real reasonable budget, and it may even be an interesting concept.” With that said, I’ve had a couple of inquiries already, and some pretty big hitters in Hollywood going, “Hey, we saw something on ‘Savior,'” and they sent the e-mails to Image, going, “Who owns the rights to it?” They’re not even going, “Hey, it’s Todd, the guy who did ‘Spawn.'” They didn’t even know. They’re just going, “We saw that tagline, and we thought it was interesting, does whoever owns the rights want to tell us more about it?”

There’s a hunger for content out there, anyways, especially with Marvel and DC being owned by Disney and Warner Bros., all those other studios are looking for content — as well as the Netflix and the Amazons of the world.

So it sounds like there’s definitely a chance for “Savior” to have a life outside of comics — enough to say that something that may already be in the works?

There’s a chance to have a deep, meaningful conversation; maybe even an above-decent chance for it to get optioned. Whether any of that ends up being turned into anything, that’s the big unknown. I think currently we have about 14 books at Image that have been optioned. The odds say maybe a couple of those will get made, and of those, maybe only one becomes a big success. The odds are still stacked. It shouldn’t be the reason for doing the book. The book should stand on its own, in and of itself.

But there is a big hunger for content for a lot of people in that city, given that 7,000 characters are not available to them, between Marvel and DC. So they’re looking for characters, and they’re looking for ideas. So I keep saying to people, “You got an idea, I’d get it on paper.” It’s a good time to get ideas on paper right now.

Check back with CBR for more from Todd McFarlane, including updates on the future of the “Spawn” comic book series and in-development film!

“Savior” #1, co-written by Todd McFarlane and Brian Holguin and illustrated by Clayton Crain, is scheduled for release from Image Comics on April 1.

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