NOTE: The following article contains adult language.
With major changes to the "Spawn" comic coming in October, the character's creator Todd McFarlane introduced the new creative team, explained his unique roll as executive producer on the comic, and discussed both the past and future of the series. WizardWorld Chicago's Steve Gerber room Saturday morning quickly moved from a discussion moderated by Wizard editor Brian Cunningham to a spirited question and answer session with the audience. McFarlane's mission was simple: "I hope we give you a big enough curiosity that you'll buy (issue) #185. But it'll be your final determination, and we have to deliver."
Todd McFarlane is the creator and the original writer and the artist of "Spawn," which launched from Image comics in 1992 and lodged itself on top of the sales chart for a number of years. When asked about his not being involved with the comic over the last several years, McFarlane said "I got busy over the years. Married. Three kids. Life got complicated," he later added, "while [other Image creators] were diversifying into other books I was diversifying into other businesses," citing his extremely popular toy company as well as his work on music video with bands like Pearl Jam and Korn. But, starting with "Spawn" #185, McFarlane will to return to the comic, not writing, not drawing, but providing a unified creative vision. He notes that many current comics feel like the sum of disassociated parts, with the writer, artist, inker and letterer all working separately, sometimes at cross purposes. This leads to a shoddy product...and missed deadlines. "Say the artist," says McFarlane, pointing to Wilce Portacio, "spends twenty minutes drawing an air conditioning unit in the background of a panel. Then the inker comes along and says, 'Oh, he spent all this time, I have to spend thirty minutes inking it.' Then the colorist says 'They spent all this time, I gotta put a cool lighting effect' and I come along and put a fucking word balloon on top of it." The audience roared with laughter.
McFarlane says he'll be a "direct influence" on every aspect of the book, down to the most often over-looked elements. "If the colors are a bit garish, if the balloons are in the wrong place, it breaks the magic." McFarlane's role will be to make the "Spawn" comic a cohesive whole, both as director or the creative team and prime motivator. "Brian Holguin and Whilce Portacio," he says, nodding at the writer and artist, "I'm challenging them to do something with their respective creative skills that's different than anything they did in the past."
The creative team was tight-lipped about specific upcoming plot-points. "There's nothing I can tell you guys," said Holguin, grinning and getting a big laugh from the crowd, but they did share their general approach to the book. When asked if the new direction would be more rooted in horror or superhero elements McFarlane observed that he had the scope to include both those kinds of stories but said it would be, more than either. "Think of it like a TV drama," he said. "Why are they going to come back for season two? What we need to do is engage you in a compelling story. That's more important than doing pretty pictures. Whilce and I have been doing that for years. We got that part down."
Artist Portacio explains his reasons for taking this assignment, noting that he's allowed to take a more experimental approach on "Spawn" than he was on past projects, such as DC Comics' "Superman/Batman." But his primary reason for accepting the assignment was the chance to work with McFarlane. "With Todd on board it was real easy to get me on board. He called me up and said 'Wanna have some fun?' Todd's willing to go the whole nine yards, experimenting with the style, with the coloring, everything. I'm gonna have that freedom."
McFarlane says that "Spawn" #185 will be a new direction, a good jumping on point, and offer major changes for the character and his world in the first couple pages. "We don't want to do a polished version of what's come before." And although the changes will be lasting and immediate, ("BIG wake-up call in the first eight pages!") he promises that past continuity will not be ignored, and elements from the whole of the series will carry through. He also hints at revelations about the nature of the Spawn entity, new links between the current Spawn and the Spawns from Medieval, Cowboy, and World War two eras would be revealed. When discussing classic "Spawn" supporting characters like Sam and Twitch, McFarlane remained cagey with specifics, saying only "Some have value, some cane be reinvented. Remember Bullseye before Frank Miller? Remember how goofy he was? We can keep the "A" guys, upgrade the "B" guys. The "C" guys," McFarlane looks at the audience "We'll wait till somebody writes us a letter and tells us how to make it brilliant."
With the success of Iron Man, McFarlane is optimistic about the possibility of a second Spawn film. He says he has been in negotiations with studios, that this would be an "R" rated reinvention of the character, and is adamant that he write the first draft of the screenplay, produce and direct the film himself, insisting on a "Dark, creepy, bad-ass movie for older audiences."
When asked what he's most proud of from his nearly twenty-five-year career, he says simply "longevity." "Every day we keep putting out comics." The whole creative team cited their eagerness to reach issue 200, and McFarlane was adamant that Spawn would not be re-launched from number one as a reminder of that longevity. "You, even someone in this audience, can still create new characters and have a long life with that. You can create new stuff and sustain it for a long time."
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