Nerd Culture

Spawn's Todd McFarlane on Setting a World Record

Famed comics creator Todd McFarlane signs an autograph in the Hall of Heroes.
Famed comics creator Todd McFarlane signs an autograph in the Hall of Heroes. Benjamin Leatherman
Time once called Todd McFarlane "The Man With the Million Dollar Balls."

While the comic book artist, creator, and action-figure mogul has plenty of chutzpah, the magazine was referring to a different pair of balls: the ones hit by Barry Bonds and O.G. Bash Brother Mark McGwire. The Spawn creator set a record for dropping a cool $3 million on McGwire's 70th home run ball. And now, the Valley resident and Image Comics co-founder is getting his name inked in The Guinness Book of World Records for a different reason: publishing the longest-running creator-owned superhero comic book series.

With the publication of Spawn #301, McFarlane's long-running series about damned antihero Al Simmons has surpassed the previous title holder — Dave Sims' 300-issue long aardvark incel saga Cerberus. To celebrate the occasion, McFarlane will be signing comic books and memorabilia in the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Chandler, located at 4955 South Arizona Avenue in Chandler, from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 26.

They'll also be screening the film adaptation of Spawn on Friday, October 25, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 26, at 5:30 p.m. He'll also be awarding an original hand-drawn sketch to the winner of a Spawn costume contest at 3 p.m.

We got a chance to talk with McFarlane on the phone about his record, his thoughts on the Venom movie, and why he won't reboot Spawn anytime in the near future.

Phoenix New Times: As somebody who collects record-breaking memorabilia, how does it feel to have your own records?

Todd McFarlane: This is actually my third certificate for The Guinness Book of World Records. I don't want to say it’s getting old hat, but, uh… so I got one years ago for the sales of Spider-Man #1. For the most sales by a single creator on a book. And then a few years after that, I got one for the dubious distinction of spending way more money than I should have on sports memorabilia, which was for the Mark McGuire ball. That’s sort of an infamous record — I wouldn’t encourage people to try and break it!

One of those records I got for being stupid with money, and the other I got for being lucky on sales. This one took way more energy than the other two. It took 27 years to get to this one.

It’s become a pretty common industry practice to reboot long-running series and renumber them. Were you ever tempted to do that with Spawn?

It’s interesting. I’ve had people ask me that. “Hey, you ever going to reboot Spawn?” Hell, no! If I put out the same character with the same story and the same creative people and the only reason an individual is going to buy it is because of some printed number on the cover, that’s got nothing to do with the quality that’s inside. It seems like a fairly inane reason for buying the book in the first place.

When I was a kid, I thought it was cool when Action Comics got up to issue #400 or #500 or Fantastic Four was hitting the 200s. As a kid, I never thought having a big number was a negative. Sometimes, they feel like they missed something, or that it’s not a good jumping-on point. Whereas I felt that big numbers meant that those books had weathered eons and decades of ups and downs and they’re still around, right? I mean, wow! Action Comics #500! That means it’s seen everything: highs and lows, fads, consumers changing their minds, and yet it’s still here. There’s something to admire about that longevity instead of bailing and taking the easy route and renumbering it.

Oh, and by the way: 16-year old Todd McFarlane used to collect thousands of books. And I used the price guides! I liked that you could look through the guides and go, ‘Fantastic Four issues 1-50 cost X amount. It was super-cool. And now, if I want to collect every Spider-Man it’s like, how many different #1 Spider-Mans are there in the world now? I wouldn’t even know how to collect every Amazing Spider-Man from 1968, back when Stan Lee did it, all the way to now chronologically. I wouldn’t even know how to do it. I’d have to find somebody smarter than me.

And these tactics haven’t proven to be advantageous to the health and growth of our industry. Marvel and DC are selling less books than they did 20 years ago. They’ve tried all these tricks and they’re selling less books. Whatever you think you’re doing isn’t working.

Do you feel any sense of vindication for the success Image Comics has been experiencing with its creator-owned books?

We’ve been No. 3 for 25 years in a row now. The pride of Image Comics is just giving an opportunity to creators so that somewhere down the line, the next Robert Kirkman or Brian K. Vaughan walks through the door. People go to me and say, “Todd, you got lucky with Spawn in 1992, but that was a different time.” And I go, “Okay, then what about Robert Kirkman?” “Yeah, but that was a different time, too.” “Okay, what about Brian K. Vaughan and Saga?”

There’s always going to be a new hot book and there’s always going to be a new hot creator. Because it happens in every other entertainment industry. Sports, music, movies — you name it. There’s always a hot new person. That’s just the nature of humanity. It just keeps going. Creative people come in all sizes and shapes. You can only offer them freedom. Some choose to take advantage of it. Others shy away from it for whatever reason.

As someone with a long history with that character, I was wondering what you thought of the Venom movie.

I keep saying the same thing. When I created the visuals for Venom, he was this big, hulking dude. That’s my bias. That’s all I want. I want that box checked. So when I went to see Venom, I only need one thing out of this movie. He needs to be the biggest, nastiest, gnarliest guy on screen. So I got what I needed out of it. ‘Cause if you remember Spider-Man 3, when Topher Grace turned into Venom he wasn’t much bigger than Topher Grace. And I was like, "What?! Come on now! He’s supposed to be as big as a gorilla!"

Everything else about the movie, I’ll leave it to smarter people to praise or pan. But I got my big guy, so I walked out of there happy.

Speaking of movies, any updates on the new Spawn movie?

We keep pushing for it. It’s interesting cause the Marvel movies, the MCU, has been doing quite well and those are PG-13 movies. I keep trying to convince people that doing a dark, serious comic book movie will work. There’s been so much success with these PG-13 movies that there’s a resistance to them in Hollywood. But since Joker came out, it proves what I’ve been saying for over two years to any executives I can talk to. Serious dark comic books can work. R-movies can succeed. So now, all of a sudden, I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls saying, “Todd, we need to talk to you about that R-rated dark thing you wanted to do.” So Joker did me a favor.

What prompted you to do your award celebration here?

When these sort of events come up, the easy answer is to just go do something in L.A. or New York. And I live in Phoenix. Why go to New York? They get plenty of fun already. Let’s keep some of the fun here for ourselves. All fans are great, but sometimes you just gotta acknowledge where you live and say thank you to the people that help support you locally.

Spawn is scheduled for Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Chandler. Todd McFarlane will be signing in the lobby beginning at noon and attending the screening on Saturday. Tickets to the screenings can be purchased via Alamo Drafthouse.
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Ashley Naftule