Spawn creator Todd McFarlane could be one of the most interesting, and all-around busiest people alive. Soon after getting noticed for his innovate interpretations of Spider-Man, Todd left Marvel Comics to start his own imprint, Image Comics. It was there where he introduced his own creation, Spawn. From there, Todd’s talents quickly evolved with more comics, a ground-breaking action figure company, film productions, animations, video games and so much more.
Most recently, Todd landed in the spotlight with the new Spawn x Famous Stars & Straps Collaboration. Tilly’s caught up with Todd and got to chatting about his early beginnings, his love of baseball, the next Spawn movie, the FMS collaboration, & the new Tilly’s Spawn Contest.
Read on and get to know a true legend of the visual art game.
How are things going Todd? Well I’m not very good at idle hands so, if you’re working and staying busy, than you’re not getting in trouble too much.
Let’s just get right into it. What got you into art initially? I was the proverbial, best artist in the class kid. And that was at age 5. I remember one of the teachers said, 'We’re going to draw a barn, some cows and a pasture.' And you know, this is at age 5. And the teacher came to me and said, 'Todd, sorry, but there’s a mistake here… you made the sky green. You have to make the sky blue and the grass green.' Because everybody did that sort of, horizontal shot. And I went, 'Teach, this is a drawing of someone looking down at the barn from up in a tree.' And again, I didn’t really understand perspective, but I was trying to make the barn look like you were looking down at it. And without knowing it, I was trying to do perspective. And she was like, 'Ahh, you’re right.' And I ended up winning a couple of art awards and had one of my paintings up at Angel stadium where I was living at that time. Somewhere along the line, I was a little ahead of some of the other kids. Why was I an artist? I don’t know. But I knew early on that it was something that I had a skill for.
Early in your life you were a big baseball player. Were there any similarities in your drive to play baseball and art? I’d say the only sort of overlap as I got older was, playing sports you get very disciplined, right?Especially at the college level, it’s almost like being in the army. And everybody around you is equally as good as you, if not better. And if you want to succeed, you have to be disciplined. What it did to me was, if you want to get a job in comic books, and that took a few years and lots of rejections, you have deadlines… and the only way to get through deadlines is to draw a page a day. I can’t go out with my buddies, I can’t go do errands for my mom and the things you want to do. Even though you’re a freelancer and you’re at home on your own, there’s no boss telling you that you need to get work done. You need to have self-discipline at that point. And because I was an athlete, it was easy for me to go, ‘OK, I have to get a page a day done. That’s 20 working days, and a couple days on the weekends to get the covers done and I can do a comic book. That’s what it takes to have a regular gig in the comic book industry. I would say that mental aspect helped me when I became a freelancer.
I know that you had this immense drive to break into the comic book industry, yet encountered countless rejections from editors. How did you not succumb to this feeling of rejection? I sent out about 700 samples and got back about 350 rejections. In a bizarre way, there was a lot of immaturity on my part. I was too dumb to know that I wasn’t that good. I was sort of head strong, going, ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about!' They’re only the pros. I even started my own comic book with Spawn at that time. And I went, ‘If they don’t give me a job, I’ll just do my own comic book.' Unlike literally hundreds of people that I met over that years that get 3 rejection letters and they’re in the fetal position, I took each rejection as a personal assault. So I went, ‘Oh I’ll show you.' It probably goes back to my competitive athlete mindset. So if a guy struck me out, then I’d get him the next time. Eventually I think I wore them out. After 700 samples that I sent to every editor at every company. Marvel had about 12 or 13 editors so they were getting about 13 packages from me every month. I’m guessing that somewhere along the line, they were like, ‘Can somebody give this guy a job so he stops sending us packages!’ I think I just wore them out. I was relentless.
As a new comic book artist back then, what was it about your style and way of drawing that made you stand out from your peers? Well, I was at Marvel for only a short while. And then I went over to DC Comic books. And that was the beginning when people sort of noticed my artwork. What I think I brought to the table at the beginning was a sense of artistic flare in terms of page layout. I ended up getting a degree at college, thinking I was going to be a graphic artist. So I did a lot of design stuff. So when I got to the comic books, I go, ‘Look, I’m a mediocre artist at this point. I’m just beginning my career. I’m not good. I’m as good as 100, 200 other people out there. So how am I going to get noticed?' And the only way I could figure it out was not with drawing ability. I needed to basically go with page design. So I did this crazy page design stuff that nobody else was doing. My drawing was mediocre and was nowhere near where it ended up being ten years later. So I needed to hide my average drawing with a sort of spectacular page layout. So I was sort of baffling them with my bull***t, if you will. And luckily it worked and it kept me getting work month after month after month. Eventually what happened was, I didn’t have to cover up the crudeness of my artistic skills because somebody was now paying me to draw 10 hours a day, day in and day out. I was actually getting better, just like any other occupation. You’re always better a year later than you are your first day of work. All of a sudden, two, three years go by… and at that point I was able to take some of the flare that I had and instead of putting it in the framing of the pages, I actually started putting it into the characters I was drawing and the way that I was pose them. I was no longer using it as a mask; I was using it to compliment what I was doing. My stuff was also very detailed and I think that appealed to a big portion of the readers. People will acknowledge you if you do something different. It doesn’t have to be better, just different. A lot of times people will applaud that you tried not to be status quo. And a lot of the changes I made to Spiderman, most people seemed to enjoy it. I got to enjoy drawing and do it on a character that arguably needed some reinvigorating.
What inspired the creation of Spawn? It’s interesting. I created the comic book when I was about 16. And that would have been 1976 or something. And I didn’t really do anything with him until 1992. So he was sort of dormant in my portfolio. I hadn’t really thought about him. When we started Image Comic books in 1992, when I left Spiderman, Spawn was always the guy, that when I was in high school, was my favorite of all the characters I created. And then I was faced with bringing my own characters out because we started our own company. So I came out with the story line and I actually never went back. I referenced what I had done when I was 16 and when I went back, I actually kept about 85% of what I had in the original comic book. Even though when I was 16 I set it in a sci-fi environment because Star Wars was just hitting and was the biggest thing on the planet. The core of Spawn, there’s way more Todd in that character than anybody else. I was reeling against what people said I could and couldn’t do in life and saying that, This was impossible and that was impossible and you had to do it this way and that way. 'Why can’t you just accept things like everybody else?' The story of Spawn, he loves his wife Wanda very much, and by the way, my wife is named Wanda. There’s no accident there. I just took all the things that I went through in my life and just put a big fantastic paint job on it. At first it’s you mom and dad telling you what to do, and then it becomes corporate America, and then sometimes it’s even some religious institutions, the government and whatever else. For me, I think maybe I was just too much of an artist. I just wanted to be my own guy. I wasn’t hurting anybody. I just wanted to do my own thing. And Spawn is sort of that guy. And instead of moms and dads and corporate America telling him what to do, it’s the biggest things in the world…good and evil. The things that control our day-to-day lives. My character doesn’t want to be on either side, heaven or hell; he just wants to be his own guy. He just wants to be himself. And unfortunately he’s in the position where that can’t happen and he can’t ignore the world around him.
The Spawn Movie was a favorite amongst fans. Are there any plans to do a sequel? Yeah, sure. I’ve been holding out giving my pitch to the big movie studios because they want to go big, all hundred million dollar budget crazy. I don’t. I want to go small. $12 million dollar budget that’s more of a ghost movie, with everything in the movie being 100% realistic except every now and then, something sort of shimmer or moves in the shadows, which you and I would know is Spawn. I want the budget low, because if the budget’s low, I can say with a straight face, 'Guys, I want to write, produce and direct it.' They won’t say, ‘Yes’, if I say that on a $100 million dollar movie. They’ll let me produce but not direct. But on a $10 million dollar movie, you’re just going to get some 23-year-old kid to direct it, so let me be the kid. I don’t want to explain this movie that I’ve had in my head for ten years. I just want to do it myself. I’ve been living with it for too long.
How did the Famous x Spawn collaboration happen? You know it’s interesting. I don’t know if Travis’ people ran into my people, maybe at a tradeshow. Somebody bumped heads with somebody and they came in and went, ‘Todd, are you willing to take a meeting with Travis. They have a couple ideas and they
want to hear some of your ideas.’ We went out there and Travis was a cool guy. H
e’s an artist, I’m an artist. So what’s not to like?
Did you try to do anything in particular with the designs? One of the t
hings that both parties wanted, we wanted the big Famous “F” to be visible. My
aspect was not so much that we made it a Famous/Spawn shirt, but that we made it a cool Famous shirt that just happened to have Spawn on it. The best shirts to me are the ones you buy even if you don’t know why you’re buying it. It’s just a cool
This contest we have going on where a fan can be drawn into a Spawn comic book... What’s the process like of drawing someone into a comic book page? In this case, I think it’s going to be super easy because the artist that’s been on the book for the last year and a half
uses a lot of photo
realism and then puts the illustration on top of it. So will the winner be a face in the crowd, a cop, somebody that gets mugged, a secretary… we’ll figure it out. Then from there, we’ll take photographs of them in those positions, or at least simulated in those positions. And then I’ll send those out to my artist who lives out in Poland, and he’ll just do his magic. It’s like acting, illustrative acting. Do a little bit of acting and we’ll make sure that it looks right when all is said and done.
What’s next for
you, Todd? Just pushing the boulder up the hill still with the comics and the toys and trying to get the movie off the ground. We just came out with this video game with EA that I was involved in and later in the year they’ll be a big MMO version. So just of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Just hang out in these little pockets of pop culture and be fortunate enough to make a living there.
Get the new Famous x Spawn Collection here at Tilly's and be sure to Enter to Become a Spawn Character HERE!