Nerd Culture

Todd McFarlane: Eight Reasons Why He's Comics' Greatest Antihero

Todd McFarlane: Eight Reasons Why He's Comics' Greatest Antihero
Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr
In comic worlds populated by flying gods and psychic-powered school kids, it's hard to stand out. Unless, of course, you're legendary artist and comic book creator Todd McFarlane.

In a career spanning some 40-ish years, McFarlane's drawn legendary runs on The Amazing Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk; founded his own multinational, industry-defining collectibles company, McFarlane Toys; co-founded and helped run Image Comics; and reinvigorated and renovated the antihero with his defining creation, Spawn. Along the way, McFarlane has courted just as much controversy as praise and adoration. He's a figurehead with a loud, slightly nasally voice and opinions galore, and he stands as tall as any of his creations. (There's a great Syfy documentary that explores the ins and outs of McFarlane's life and career.)

So, is McFarlane a misunderstood genius, or a pompous windbag who's gotten lucky? Well, as it turns out, the truth is a bit harder to discern. Luckily, he helped illuminate all things McFarlane when he appeared for a panel in honor of Spawn's 30th anniversary on May 27 at Phoenix Fan Fusion 2022. Decked in what's likely one of a couple of dozen Spawn shirts he owns, McFarlane spent an hour pontificating and answering questions — and almost every statement out of his mouth portrayed him as both savvy and still earnest; totally cunning and sort of foolish; and nuanced and utterly blunt.

What follows are eight solid reasons as to why he’s basically the real-life Spawn — only with fewer chains and a greater emphasis on his morally dubious tendencies.

He's Not Afraid to #Humblebrag

As he tells it, McFarlane saw the possible impact of COVID from a mile away.

"Early on, I wouldn't want to have been in the hotel business," he said. "But on the geek side of the world, we crushed it."

He went on to explain that Image Comics, of which he is president, had "our biggest sales in 17 years in 2020. And it was bigger in 2021, and it's on track to be bigger for 2022." He credits a lot of that with targeting the "lapsed geeks," or those with a fleeting interest in pop culture who returned to the fold during COVID-centric shutdowns.

McFarlane said he even expected the issues with the supply chain that we're experiencing increasingly "post-COVID." But, in perhaps the least and most charming way possible, he managed to touch on both 2020's toilet paper shortage and those supply chain breakdowns by telling the crowd, "I don’t worry about the bottom hole until I worry about the top hole." Which is to say, you've got to eat before you ... never mind.

He's Got Even More Records on the Wall

In 2021, McFarlane and Image expanded the Spawn lineup with several new titles, including Gunslinger Spawn, King Spawn, and The Scorched. The lead-in book, Spawn Universe, "became the best-selling book in [almost 30] years," according to McFarlane. But just as quickly as the praising began, he added, "Applaud yourself — I just put the book together." It was the biggest instance that, despite believing his own hype, McFarlane still sees himself "serving" the fans.

He knows the pecking order of things

"The movie star guys and gals own it," McFarlane said of big-time events like San Diego Comic-Con. He added that he understood that "whenever the movie industry woke up, we'd [comics] would be fourth or fifth fiddle." But he also knows that, with the seemingly endless onslaught of comics movies, those executives still need him and his cohorts.

"They cannot buy Marvel stuff — they [Disney] own it. It's off the playing field. So, there's an empty void, and everyone like Universal and Sony and DreamWorks can't get Marvel or DC, so they have to find something in between. If 96 out of the top 100 comics are Marvel or DC, that only leaves four. And from there, there's only one left — fucking Image."

He added that Image "has 27 titles in some kind of development or have already been made."

A new Spawn Film Is Coming

And speaking of Spawn, McFarlane said his beloved undead antihero will be returning to the silver screen in the near future. He's already put in plenty of work with producer Jason Blum, and said there's been "more happening in the last year than the previous four years." But we shouldn't necessarily expect some big action flick, especially if McFarlane doesn't get his way.

"There will be some big news to happen this year," he said. "We will get a production date and get moving. They'll make that announcement, or they'll piss me off and I'm going to pull back and make Spawn as some low-budget creepy horror thing. And if I don't, you'll get free gold foil covers next year at Fan Fusion."

Oh, and yes, John Leguizamo (who played Violator in 1997’s Spawn) "will make a cameo or something," McFarlane said.

Legacies Are Mostly Overrated

McFarlane understands that young creators want to make something significant a la Avengers or Batman (or even Spawn). But he just doesn't see that happening for most talent.

"Marvel has a 60-year head start. DC has an 80-year head start. You can’t build a shared universe in three to five years," he said. "You can, though, build it and die and 40 years later you’ll have something there."

He was quick to add, though, "You don’t have to invent Captain America. You can just do a cool story. And you’ll have a great life!"

Your Spite Fuels His Daily Work

Even with his many ventures, McFarlane still sees himself as a mere comics creator. That work, he says, is when he gets to do things the way that matters: his own.

"Between toys and music videos and entertainment and all that, I have to deal with people and get their appraisal," he said. "Dealing with a room full of adults can be mind-numbing, especially if they're lawyers. I come home and have this bright shining light that is my Spawn comic. It's chicken noodle for my soul."

Just don't be fooled by those wholesome vibes; he's more than happy to remind you of his accomplishments with Spawn, which will release issue #330 in June 2022.

"If you’re 20, you need to put all your wants and needs aside and focus on one goal," he told young creators. "And it’ll take you to your 60s to get to issue 300. Even if you try to get to 301, I’ll be at 600. I’m doing it out of spite."

click to enlarge Spawn makes an appearance in the exhibitor hall at Phoenix Comicon in 2011. - KEVIN DOOLEY/CC BY 2.0/FLICKR
Spawn makes an appearance in the exhibitor hall at Phoenix Comicon in 2011.
Kevin Dooley/CC BY 2.0/Flickr

Spawn's Not Just an Action Hero

Sure, the Spawn books often involve heaps of high-budget action and ample gore. But, as he's done several times in past panels and interviews, McFarlane said the Spawn story has been an allegory for his own life and worldview.

"Until Spawn #250, it was, 'You’re never getting out of the game," he said. "Issue one to No. 250, I was writing it as me. I didn't care about heaven or hell — I just want to live my life. But it’s time to grow up; he’s becoming an adult and sophisticated."

McFarlane says that like his character, he's learned a valuable life lesson in recent years.

"There’s a way to diminish your enemy without ever having to lift a finger," he said. "But you still have to have people punch each other in the face, ‘cause that’s cool."

He's Got an eye on What Comes Next

Aside from further fuel for his infinite spite, McFarlane is looking toward the future, and much of it centers around his continued work with Spawn.

"I've always had two goals with Spawn," he said. "I vowed it will always be an Image Comics title, and I was always going to put an Image Eye on my titles until I die. And second, could I create something that outlives me? That's the big one."

The fan reaction would indicate that he's hit that second mark and then some. Because he knows the end is coming, but that doesn't mean he won't still fight it tooth and nail.

"I’ve had Spawn ending since day one — and I hope I never have to write it," he said. "I’m only as good as you guys supporting me. Otherwise, I’m just a guy in a basement."
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan