Interview: Todd McFarlane on ‘Spawn’ #185
Spawn is now a teenager in the world of monthly super-hero comics, sixteen years old and counting since 1992 when creator Todd McFarlane moved out of Marvel’s House of Ideas to help form Image and launch his own flagship title.
In 2008, Spawn is trying to reinvent itself and attract more readers and interest in an era when attracting new readers for superhero monthlies is a big hurdle for anybody.
In issue 185, due out on Wednesday, Todd McFarlane will return to the book with Whilce Portacio taking on main art duty to kick off a new storyline called “Endgame”. Brian Holguin, a Spawn veteran, will be working with McFarlane on story and script.
With promises of new directions and changing how people look at the book, issue 185 is its own milestone with three confirmed covers by Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, and Greg Capullo, along with its own website that’s been teasing readers for the past few weeks.
As Spawn closes in on a major milestone of 200 issues, I had the opportunity to chat with McFarlane over the phone about his return to Spawn, where the book has been, and where it’s going.
ComicMix: Spawn 185 kicks off a new storyline called “Endgame”. What is “Endgame” about?
Todd McFarlane: It’s a jumping on point for readers to get in on the ground level and not have to have a lot of backstory. That’s it, just sort of saying “hey, we’re going to come in here and dust some stuff off and make it accessible and start pushing it and creating new stories and situations within the Spawn mythology that hopefully you haven’t seen in the first 184 issues.”
CMix: Where do you want this new story arc to take the Spawn comic book and how does it fit into the overall story and mythology of those past issues?
TM: In the big mythology, it becomes sort of the next step in trying to neutralize the two big forces that have always been in the book which are Heaven and Hell. And again, the idea behind it has always been this man put in between these colossal forces. And is there a way for man to come out on top and not be beholden to any force? If you read the book, I’ve not made it a “good versus evil” in the classic sense of it and so we’ve said in the book and when people have asked, that in this mythology, Heaven and Hell are essentially the same thing; it’s just one guy has a better PR firm. But they both want the same thing: the souls and domination and to annihilate the other guy.
Which is why Spawn has not necessarily been about breaking away from Hell to go work for Heaven; he just wants to break away from it all and be a free man, pushing towards that big concept.
CMix: What does Whilce Portacio’s artwork bring to the book overall and “Endgame” specifically?
TM: Whilce brings a couple of things. One is a 20-year career. That’s not a small thing. You don’t hang around in the industry that long without being very skilled at it. He’s a guy who comes with a lot of skill and expertise but he’s also very open to me inserting myself into any and all of it and goin’ ‘Yeah, Todd, you know Spawn better than I do so whatever you think, whatever you want, whatever suggestions’ which is why I’m verbally giving him, a lot of times, the page layouts, sort of like I used to do with Greg Capullo. I believe that the story needs to be a certain way and needs to be paced at a certain level. Comic book writers have a tendency to do this formulaic version and I think it’s one of the things that’s wrong with comic books right now, that the writers are telling the artists what to do, which I understand if it’s a beginner artist but if you have a writer who’s only one year into the business and he’s got a guy like Whilce who’s worked twenty years, he would actually be dictating a full script to Whilce which I find completely absurd.
I think that my job overall is to be and I think like I’ve always done, and to some degree I’m not able to do all the pieces like a guy like Frank Miller, but I believe that a guy like Frank, when he’s putting a story together, sort of closes his eyes and sees a complete page. And a complete page includes pencils, inks, letters, balloons, colors; I mean, it’s a finished page. And what I think’s been happening with my book is, while everybody’s been doing a very, very good job, they’ve just been thinking about it as their own little compartment and not necessarily what it looks like, how does it feel, how does it move as a whole. So I’ll be taking over the editorial duties too besides doing covers and inks and writing the book and pacing it, and the color is all in-house now so I get to hunch over his shoulders all day long too. I’ve got a look for this book, this imaginary thing in my head of what this book is supposed to feel like and what the finished product is. Nobody else has so I have to keep sort of nudging everybody towards a whole finished piece, not the individual parts.
CMix: That leads into my next question about why you decided to return to active creative duties on Spawn.
TM: If we’re going to say that we’re going in a new direction and we’re going to say that we’re doing something different, it’s tough for me to sort of sit there and hand it over to some creative people and they’re just going to rock and roll with it. I’ve tried that a couple of times and walked away from it and some of the results were better that I liked and some, I was a little disappointed. So if you want a book to look a certain way then you have to pay attention. I arguably wasn’t paying attention as much as I should have so I’m fully engaged in the book way more than years past. If you like the book, I’ll give a lot of credit to the other guys but I also have a lot of input and if you hate the book, I’ll take all the blame because I’m the one who’s driving this thing.
CMix: In issue 150, the Spawn universe was very literally reinvented. How will the "Endgame" storyline affect this new universe?
TM: I think you can do Heaven and Hell as big, cosmic ideas and never have to leave Earth. I don’t like seeing Heaven or Hell visually. I think Heaven and Hell works better when it comes to Earth. So as a kid who grew up on The Omen and The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, all of those are dealing with Heaven and Hell, it’s just that they’re putting it in an urban setting and those are way more creepier to me than having people standing by lava pits or pearly gates. So it’ll be more grounded but that doesn’t mean the elements of Heaven and Hell aren’t going to be there. In 186, we have a couple of pages where we’re back down in Hell to identify an idea, it’s more of a speech by one of the denizens, and then we’re out.
So it’s not like Spawn is going to go fight down there or Sam and Twitch or Wanda or anything like that.
CMix: What will be in store for classic characters like the ones you just mentioned that have been around since the beginning? What will readers see from newer characters in the Spawn mythos?
TM: We’re going to introduce a very big new character and that’ll be ongoing, although in its truest sense, he’s not really a new character, he’s been there since the beginning. So it’s sort of a bizarre one; people will say ‘oh, it’s a new guy’ but I’ll put in a little footnote and go, ‘no, that’s not quite true if you’ve been paying attention’. In 185, you’ll see a quick appearance of the Clown/Violator to show people some of the classic guys so we’re not completely abandoning our roots. And there’s one great image of the Clown that may be the coolest image I’ve seen of the Clown yet in 185 issues that Whilce did. It’s just awesome.
But with the new direction, it also means that there’ll be opportunities for me to reset the stage for some of the classic characters and that their prior agendas may not necessarily be the same so it’ll allow them to grow and be different so that in the future when you see, as an example, the Clown/Violator, that he won’t be acting the same way that you’ve sort of grown accustomed to and that may be a good or bad thing but it allows me then to start tweaking this tapestry that we’ve been working on for all these years.
It’s not ignoring everything that came before in 185, it’s just going ‘what were they trying to do for 185 [issues] and what’s the more pragmatic, sophisticated version of that’?
Tomorrow, Todd talks about the future of Spawn and the state of the industry.
Tyson Durst is a new contributor to ComicMix and a longtime comics enthusiast. He once defeated an entire army of helldemons and cyborg primates armed only with his wits and an oversized plasma cannon. Tyson currently resides in the same province of Alberta that Todd McFarlane originally hails from in the mysterious land of Canada.