In part one of my interview with Todd McFarlane, Todd and I talked about his Guinness World Record and how he has no plans on ever relinquishing it, his not understanding Marvel and DC’s constant renumbering strategy, and his how he woos creators to jump ship to work on Spawn. Todd McFarlane had even more to say in part 2, including which Image founder he wishes there were more of.
Billy: One thing I want to ask you about is your fans. I’ve been to your signings at New York Comic Con three times, and every time I’ve done it, you seem genuinely excited to be around your fans. I get the same feeling whenever I’m looking at one of your Instagram posts. You just seem to absolutely love it. Is it ever a grind?
Todd: To be around the fans?
Todd. Never. Never. Here’s why. There’s not a single moment in my life where I cannot understand that without the fans, I’ve got no career. And with no career, I don’t have a house. I don’t get to feed my children. I don’t get to have the life I have. Every fan at some point has either bought 1 item from me or 101 items from me. It doesn’t matter. They’ve taken their hard earned money, that they could have spent on a million other items in the world, and they’ve chosen to give some of it to me. Here’s why it’s even more important. For the most part, there’s only one way for us to make money. We have to go to work. And when you go into work, you’re not hanging out with the people you like the most. You have to leave your family, you have to leave your friends and you have to go in 8, 10, 12 hours and go make money. Money to me is the amount of time you’re away from your family and the people you like. Money is valuable. That’s time away from people you care about. So if you decide to share some of that hard earned money you got being away from people you cared about in my direction? Dude, if I had the time to slow down the line, I’d hug every single person. 27 years! My 15 minutes of fame has lasted 27 years just on Spawn. Shoot, I don’t know. I’ve seen celebrities who get weird with fans, but I don’t know why your fans are a hardship when they are the complete and utter reason why any of us quote unquote celebrities have a life. It’s because of them. I used to do an interview years and years ago before geekdom was fashionable, and they’d ask, “Is it like going to a Trekkie convention?”
Billy: Is Instagram your favorite social media platform?
Todd: I don’t attached to one over the others. I try to stay flexible. Wherever people are, that’s where you go and get them. If tomorrow people start reading the side of giant blimps, then I’ll try to get some fun stuff on the side of giant blimps. They’re just platforms. If people start moving to another platform, you have to move with them. I thought one of the great sins of the world from years ago is the message, “Build it and they will come.” I think it’s a line. My version, “Build it. Find where the fans are. Find where the humanity is, and go search them out, and stand in front of them and make them run you over.” But sitting in a basement, creating, making people hunt you down? Shoot, that’s not how that works, right? Your job is you gotta hustle. Every day, no one wakes up and goes, “Man, I wonder what I can do to better Todd McFarlane’s life.” Right? No one. Just me. That’s why I gotta hustle, every day, every day.
Billy: Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon is approaching issue 250. Do you look over your shoulder, I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally, to make sure he’s not coming at you with a baseball bat? Not trying to push you in front of that bus you keep mentioning?
Todd: He’s not going to Tonya Harding me?
Billy: Yeah, exactly. I know you guys go back, but…?
Todd: “He busted my left hand!” No, I wish there were more Erik Larsens. I wish there were 50 people in that 250-300 group. Plus, Erik has gone a step further, where like Dave Sim, he’s done the writing, the penciling, the inking all himself. He’s done a Herculean task. I don’t even come close to Erik’s number of pages that he’s actually touched on his baby. I think that books like The Savage Dragon can have their rejuvenation period. You just saw what I did with Spawn. If you work it, you catch a couple of breaks and you hustle, and you put out some quality work, people will pay attention to the message. I think there’s a way to message books that have been around for a long time. I understand there are natural ebbs and flows. But this is just the byproduct of longevity. You take the good times when they’re there, and you hustle through the bad times.
Billy: For Scott Snyder’s part in Spawn 300, did you give him an outline of what you wanted?
Todd: We just talked on the phone. Scott was interested in the work, because he had never done any Spawn before. Greg had done so much that it was secondhand to him. But Scott, and I understand, he wanted to make sure he gets it perfect and that he did it right. I tried to encourage him and said, “Scott, you’re good! Just do what’s natural!” Go up to the plate. They’re going to throw the pitch. Don’t worry about what my batting stance is, or anybody else’s. Do what you gotta do. But I got other creative people who are just like that. Whether they say it externally or do it internally, the ghost of Todd McFarlane during those first 10 issues are in their brain, and my job is to eradicate that. I think it delivers less interesting material. I’m like, “No, no, no, dude.” Act like I gave you the copyright, and your first instinct should be, “Oh my God, I got your copyright? Well, Todd McFarlane, let me just tell you, I don’t understand why you never did this. I thought you were an idiot for never doing this.” Do that story! That’s the story. Add something to the mythos. Don’t regurgitate. Don’t give me Todd McFarlane lite. Add something. Think about what’s never been said in this comic book and say it. Say it, or draw.
Billy: Scott comes from an immensely talented family. It’s funny, because you keep going back to the baseball metaphors. His cousin is this insane baseball painter. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his work, his name’s Graig Kreindler. You would love it. He does these old timey baseball paintings, but they’re photo accurate. Picture Alex Ross doing baseball. He’s take stuff from when it was just black and white photography, and does an insane amount of research on it at the Hall, and researches what the color of the Gem Razors ad was in the outfield in Yankee stadium in 1939. Some of his painting look like a photograph. It’s funny how that level of talent runs in that family.
Todd: Yeah, we’ll take the talent. Sometimes there’s a gene pool that works.
Billy: It’s the same in your family. You’ve got a doctor for a daughter. She clearly inherited the Todd McFarlane work ethic.
Todd: Maybe. Maybe she got my work ethic but her mom’s brains. And our middle daughter is going to law school right now so she’s pretty tenacious too. We’re doing okay. They’re becoming a cliché, doctors and lawyers, so there’s that.
Billy: It has to feel like you’re living the Matrix. You have one daughter studying to be a lawyer. The other is a doctor. You have a record breaking comic. Todd McFarlane is scoring 10 on every scale.
Todd: My wife is a professor, and my son is at college. Hopefully Hollywood gets off their rear and makes a Spawn movie. There’s still lots to look to here. At least in my corner. And all because I put some silly lines and words on paper and the fans flocked to it. And because of that, I get to do it every month. Again, this is going back to “Why do I like the fans?” Because of all that. All of that is a byproduct of their support. If not for them, my wife and I may not have been able to send our kids to the kinds of schools that they needed to go to to follow the passions they wanted. There are a lot of parents not able to do that. People all ask at the convention, “How’s the convention going?” “Fucking awesome!” I don’t understand how someone in my position has a bad convention. You sit there, people come up to you, they’ve been waiting an hour or more to get in front of you to say something nice to you. Gracious people saying gracious things to you all day long. How is any of that a hardship, right? If anything, it’s a false positive. At the moment you walk out of the convention, the bubble bursts and you are back to normality, right? “Todd, how’s your convention going?” “It’s great and it’s been great for decades! What are you talking about?” They’re all good. They’re all good, because I meet good people every single time.
Billy: I don’t think there was more electricity at New York Comic Con this year than surrounding your appearances. NYCC 2019 seemed like Todd McFarlane Con for anyone walking past the Image booth when signing tickets were being handed out.
Todd: No, we had our moment in the sun, but that convention is just energy across the board. You walk up and down the lot of the booths and they’ve got guests coming, people talking, doing giveaways. SyFyWire’s got people up on stage. You can see celebrities. That whole vibe. You go downstairs and there’s a whole room full of artists doing spectacular artwork. All fandom is awesome. Every now and again, some of us have a stronger story to tell for that moment and next week somebody else gets to have the limelight. It happened to work that New York Comic Con happened to coincide with 300 and 301.
Billy: When I was 15 and it was announced that Todd McFarlane was going to leave Spider-Man, I think my heart was broken. But once Spawn was announced and Spawn came out, my friends and I were all in. There’s that line in that Adam Sandler movie Airheads, “Who would win in a fight, Lemy or God?” And it was, “Trick question, Lemy is God.” For us, Todd McFarlane were God back then.
Todd: Here’s the funny thing. Billy, I understand how you feel, because when John Byrne left the X-Men, it broke my heart. For years and years and year and decades. I thought he was coming back. I never gave up hope. He’ll be back. And then it was like, nope, it was like 10 artists later, gosh, maybe John Byrne isn’t coming back, right? You have the childhood memory of it and you just want to see it again, and see if it’s as cool as your remember the first time. Maybe someday, if I ever want to cross the aisle, and for 27 years I haven’t so it’s possible that I won’t. Probably, it’d be something like a Spawn/Spidey crossover by Todd McFarlane that I write, pencil and ink.
Billy: I would buy that today.
Todd: I still draw a pretty mean Spidey. Every now and then I’ll do it and I’ll go, “Ah, it comes back pretty effortlessly.”
Billy: Yeah, I’ve seen the occasional convention sketch you’ve done of Spider-Man. It looks so effortless and looks pitch perfect. It’s like walking back into 1991.
Todd: Yeah, you don’t have to get him perfect, like the Hulk, with all the anatomy or something like that. He’s such a funky character that when I go, “Let’s put him in some cool pose,” I get it right almost every time. Even if it takes a while for me to get back into the groove of drawing him, I can hide behind he’s so funky, so they don’t see it.
Billy: At your NYCC panel, you were talking about how the praise the fans have for you is in their own heads. People will say to you, “You draw the best buildings” and you’ll say, “Show me,” and they’re flipping through the book, saying “It’s around here somewhere.” All the visual tricks you were explaining sounded fascinating.
Todd: I could do a whole seminar. It became the McFarlane style, and part of the McFarlane style was getting through deadlines. When I was doing it, the question was “How do you find some shortcut?” Because time can be an enemy. How do you adjust to that to find shortcuts on time that isn’t disruptive to the quality of the work? It was a balance act that I had to come up with. I thought, “I have to come up with a trick, and if it has to be a trick, it has to a trick that hopefully, fingers crossed, is also an interesting visual, so that hopefully they give me way more credit for the art than the corner cutting.” Even though I was aware that it was both.
Billy: This was spectacular. No Spider-Man pun intended. And just one final thing, I love the kismet that one of your most famous covers is Spider-Man 300 and hear you are hitting Spawn 300 and 301. If there are two covers I associate with you, it’s Spider-Man 300 and 301.
Todd: That wasn’t lost upon me, as you can see from the marketing. I went, “Hey, people liked it when I did that. That was a 300; this is a 300.” We can have a little bit of fun, do a little parody stuff. And say, hey, it’s years later and we’re still hanging around. People still have fond memories of something that is 30 years old. That’s interesting to me.
Billy: Thanks again. I really appreciate you taking the time to call me. And a big congratulations on this record.
Todd: Thanks, I appreciate it.
Billy: And a big congratulations next month when you break your own record. I feel like that’s the next news story, “McFarlane does it again.”
Todd: Again, another record. I’m going to have a number one on each issue and another record.
Spawn #303, the latest record breaking issue of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, hit stands this Wednesday, 12/11.