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Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 3 – The Chain Gang

Todd McFarlane and Spawn – the comic book has been doing remarkably well in recent months – after sales had dropped into the low five figures for much of the noughties and teens, recently he has seen orders rocket to low six figures instead, and not stopping. It feels like a good time to talk to its creator and President of Image Comics, Todd McFarlane, about the future, more than the past, but maybe the lessons to be learnt. The interview has run Bleeding Cool in a handful of posts spread through the day. But for now, the final part – and some big news for Todd McFarlane.

Part One: Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 1 – Triumph & Disaster

Part Two: Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 2 – A Missing Generation


Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 3 - The Chain Gang
Youtube screencap of Todd McFarlane.

Todd McFarlane Part Three: New Superhero Comics For 2021

Then we got talking about Todd McFarlane's Spawn plans for 2021. Recently he has been introducing other Spawns to the Spawn comic book, which have been driving sales, including Gunslinger Spawn and Ninja Spawn – and he is going to use them to create a superhero team of Spawns which may or may not be called The Chain Gang. And that will also lead to more that one Spawn comic book going forward into 2021 as well. How many? Well, we talk about that.

"2021 is gonna be the year of Spawn. I've been talking about a shared universe since day one of Image, right? I just think we should have coordinated ourselves way back, but you know everybody has their directions they're going to. The time is right, I've been at this for 20, 30 years, I think I can expand. I think I've been fair-minded to the consumers. Thirty years ago issue one was a buck ninety-five it's now $2.95. I've gone up a dollar in thirty years. While Marvel was a dollar and DC was a dollar and their books are 4.99 they've gone up 400 per cent. I haven't been doing money grabs, I've been playing nice and so I think that Spawn has earned the chance to expand. I think it's it's time to coordinate an expansion and that's sort of what what we're doing for 2021. We're gonna roll out the expansion okay?"

I asked how many books he would you like to be publishing. "More than one. All those plans will be revealed soon in detail uh so I'll have names and times so that the retailers can prepare, instead of just being 'oh here's a mini-series here, oops there's a one-shot there'. The Chain Gang is meant to be like the start of expanding the Spawn characters into new titles. They've already been in the books off and on, some of them a little more prominent in the last couple years. They've all been there, it's just that I haven't expanded beyond my guy right. But if I start thinking about his world as Halo, I've done 300 issues of Master Chief. Maybe it's time to show the world you know some other components of this thing. Let's go have some fun. I keep that floor as high as I can so that I can go to creative people and say, hey, how much is everybody else paying you, I'll beat it, come work for me. Come do some crazy cool work, I've always been an admirer of your stuff and then if I can find a couple of those, even a guy like Frank Quitely, to say 'hey, I'll give you three years, do three issues, you do it at your own tempo but when it comes out it's going to be magnificent' and then I can sell that to the consumer and then the consumer is going to say, there's some quality stuff coming out of that that Spawn camp, so it all just feeds on each other, it's all those components all rolled up and it's working."

Letting the comic shop owners in on the secrets.

And as for why he is talking about this now, "I think it matters, especially at this point, giving retailers as much advanced knowledge of what they're about to buy into and that it's going to be steady. It was one of the reasons with this you know overshipping that I'm doing, I don't want to do it for a month, I want to do it for six months so they can see whether that program works for them and who knows at the end of the six months I may extend it another six, we'll see. But at worst at the end of those six months they're gonna have a lot of knowledge of what the next step is in the evolution of Spawn in his world because they're going to go, oh my god, Todd did that and he did that and then he did this now and now look what's coming, boom boom boom boom boom. And it'll be an organized fashion so when you're allocating your dollars, don't forget me in this corner over here.

I asked if he saw any danger in cannibalising his own sales with multiple Spawn titles, "It's a fair question and it's and it's one of the reasons why I've been hesitant for nearly 30 years to do it but when I look at the landscape and I see that there are multiple Spider-Men and multiple Supermen and multiple Batmen, I don't want to do eight different Spawn books, but can I go from one to two, probably. When I got my Spider-Man book, the one that set all those records way back when that was the fourth one. One of the things that drove them to put a fourth book out was that they wanted to have Spider-Man readily available every week you walked into the store. So that's sort of a little bit where my head's at, I've been making Spawn a monthly thing, is there any way that I can get to a point where with proper planning and with the right creator quality, can I get to a point where every week you walk in there's some new Spawn-esque Spawnverse thing. Is it possible? I don't know well, I'll take it one step at a time. I'll go from one week to two weeks and if that works we'll go to three. If there's a goal, the goal would be, there's never a week where there isn't something new. Can it cannibalize? Sure, just like anything else but all those other big characters have been able to figure it out and have way way way more titles than I'm even thinking of right now."

Spawning an entire world to play in.

As to why this thrust may differ from Hellspawn, Medieval Spawn and Sam & Twitch series attempts in the past, Todd McFarlane talks about "a coordinated message so they understand the why and the where and who's on it and how it ties into the mythology and why this book is important, a better message, marketing and branding. Before it was just oh, sh-it, there's a cool book right, here's a cool book, a little bit later, here's a mini-series, here's the one-shot, like I was just throwing darts every now and then.

I'm thinking more of a coordinated expansion as to why all these things are tied together and who they are and why they all matter. It doesn't mean you have to buy them all but if you're into that sort of thing then you can now get it in this little corner that's outside of the realm of Marvel and DC. At this advanced age, I'm not inclined to just let them have that space without a little bit of a fight

As to the name of The Chain Gang, Todd McFarlane lives and works in Arizona, so I had to ask. "Is the new team anything to do with the fact that Arizona is the only state to still have chain gangs?"

"Um no and I've got a couple of names. It may not even be the name that ends up sticking. I've got a couple that I've been toying with. I'll probably test a couple of them, when you're writing solicitations, you've got to come up with something and then it just it was the first thing off the top of my head. In hindsight, it's not bad, it could make some cool imagery but I've got some others because, as part of expanding, I don't want all the characters to look the same and knockoffs of Spawn. I don't think that would be interesting. If I'm gonna my Avengers and my Justice League they can't all just be Batman knock-offs. Nobody wants to see that that group. That's a working title at best right now."

It was getting into the wee hours of the morning and I had to cry off. Timezone problems. I would have liked to ask him about his role as President of Image, and maybe get him to read Rudyard Kipling's If aloud. Maybe next time. After all, he'll be wanting to talk about those new Spawn comics at some time.  You know, maybe it's time for me to send him another sketch…

Part One: Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 1 – Triumph & Disaster

Part Two: Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 2 – A Missing Generation


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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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