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 will be running on Bleeding Cool in a handful of posts spread through the day.
Part Two: Missing A Generation
Todd McFarlane also wanted to talk about what he sees as a comic industry creative gap. "When we were coming up, the Image Boys generation, our targets were only ten years older than us. We weren't gunning for fifty year old dudes, and now it's almost like it skipped the generation, where's the brat pack that was supposed to take us down? It's weird that we've had the spotlight and I don't mean me particularly, I'm saying our generation because when you think the great artists, Frank Miller, the Kubert Brothers, John Romita Jr, Greg Capullo, Jim Lee, and if you want to throw Todd in there, fine, but it's like they got they all got one thing in common, they're all old men, where's the 35, the 40 years olds? 25-year-old Todd, if you had said the guy you're gunning for is 55, I would have gone I'm going to put one hand behind my back, my drawing hand, and I'm going to jump on one leg, this would be a Monty Python sketch. Like I got to take down a 55-year-old, come on give me give me something to work towards. For me it was John Byrne and George Perez, they were probably eight years older but they had their ten-year run, we should have only had our ten-year run and then there should have been another. We should be sort of a footnote."
I pointed out that Image flipped the script by creating their own publisher which retarded that natural churn. Todd McFarlane countered saying "here's the thing, the blueprint has been in the public domain, anybody else could do it. I'm not doing anything unique. Robert Kirkman didn't do anything unique. Greg Capullo working for DC is not doing anything unique, but he's bent over the board every day and he's grinding it. Rich, I say this with all honesty, I think that there's more talent because I've seen it. I think there is more talent in comic books than at any time in my career at any time, I think it is staggering the amount of talent, and yet with all of that talent, why haven't the next Jim Lee, Frank Miller, why haven't they risen?" I threw out a few names, Peach Momoko, Mirka Andolfo, Pepe Larraz, Jesus Saiz and more, and Todd said "you're absolutely right because those are the young fresh dogs, I'm trying to figure out what happened to the group in between… I'm not complaining, as a matter of fact it's good for business. I don't understand why I am as relevant as I am after all this time. Sometimes when I have conversations with them, I start to go ah, there it is, it isn't about the skill, that's only one component, it's about the personality, doesn't want to be a hustle. I think Rob Liefeld is a perfect example of somebody who you could argue isn't the greatest talent, but he has milked the most out of it because he just hustles his brand and himself, everything he can to make sure that he's getting the attention that he needs and I think if he could draw, if Rob Liefeld's attitude was combined with Frank Quitely's drawing skills…"
I had to interject, "He'd be even later than he is now." There's a chuckle "It would be magnificent so you don't even have to be great at drawing skills, you got the hustle and when I start meeting these guys they are the most gentle, kind, good people – and that's part of the problem."
How Norman Reedus makes a living.
I pointed out to Todd McFarlane that this missing generation may be down to a shift from artist to writer in public appreciation, with the likes of Robert Kirkman, Brian Bendis, Brian K Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Warren Ellis, Kieron Gillen, John Layman, Donny Cates and – king of them all – Mark Millar, taking on that hustle.
Todd agreed but saw other factors too. "There's also this other component that's you've seen it happening where people can go to conventions now and do sketches and make a hell of a living on weekends and so they're the incentive to do interior artwork on a regular basis isn't there, they can literally make more money doing cover sketches and covers than doing interior artwork."
I was reminded talking to a Hollywood agent who despaired that actors on genre TV shows were turning down acting work in favour of a convention appearance for the same reason. Todd concurred "I used to see Norman Reedus at the show and I'd go, man, why are you showing up to all these shows, you're on the biggest show on tv and he's like, 'I make more money on this weekend than I'll make in the next five episodes of Walking Dead'. The difference is for the comic book artists is that some of them are going straight into the cover and sketch business but they've never really exposed themselves to people who can't get to a convention and when you factor in the number of people that can go to a convention and can't it's the vast majority of the people that are following you will never ever meet you. So they're going to conventions and they're doing good and God bless them, but they're never gonna know your name, you're never gonna be like the Iron Man guy or the Captain America dude. You just got to do ten issues, make your mark someplace and then go and do what you're doing right now, you'll be able to charge more. Just plug away one year of hard labour – which is what monthlies are from an artist's point of view – and you'll be able to ride it for a long time. Bernie Wrightson's Swamp Thing, John Byrne's X-Men, Frank Miller's Daredevil, Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man, make your mark and then you're good, gotta carry you for 20 or 30 years. Thank God they didn't have those opportunities when I was a kid because I might have gone down that road. I could see this temptation, it would have gotten the best of all of us. I'm no saint, I wasn't any better than anybody, that possibility wasn't even there for me in my career. There was no such thing as a cover artist."
When Toddy Met Donny.
Todd McFarlane also advocated the need to do your own thing. "I remember having a conversation with Donny Cates, calling me his god and he's saying 'I'm going to do Venom, I'm going to do 50 issues of Venom and I'm going to Hollywood'. You walk in and you tell me you've written the most issues of Venom ever and you got some other ideas? I walk in, I say I created Venom and I've got some ideas. Who do you think they're paying attention to, right? He's seen it, the studios can't buy Marvel or DC anymore, they have to buy the independent stuff, that's all they got."
"Writers can do five books a month, artists can't. The artist has to literally put his eggs in one basket and hope it works, where the writers can straddle. They can go, I'm going to do# They can go, I'm going to do Flash or Wonder Woman and I'm going to do Spider-Man and Avengers and then I'll do my creator-owned book and if it doesn't work it's okay – we don't have that luxury. But I would argue the upside is that then you have no choice you to come to my book because that's the only place you're going to get my artwork. I don't believe there's one single person who bought Spawn #1 in 1992 because they gave a f-ck about Spawn, they just wanted to follow the Spider-Man artist, and then at that point, it's like how can we make that character relevant now here we are 300 issues later."
"If everybody's got a limited amount of money in their pocket and you're doing five books and one of them is a creator-owned book and I've only got, you know, eight dollars in my pocket I'm probably going to buy the known quantity. Oh, you're doing Batman I know that book. But if you do creator-owned all the time, then they have no choice but to spend all their money on your creation. You have to cut off that other outlet."
I pointed out that was what the likes of Bryan K Vaughan, Ed Brubaker and Mark Millar had done just that in recent years. It didn't stop his flow, he just jumped tracks. "This is the head-scratcher, There are actually examples that are out there. I can see more people going in that direction." I suggested this seemed to be where the likes of Donnie Cates, Scott Snyder, James Tynion and more were heading.
"Why'd it take you 20 years? It was always there for the taking and that shouldn't have taken you 20 years to try yourself… as I get older I go, okay all the things that are natural to human being like me are not natural to everybody else and I have to concede that right. You're not a disrupter, you're not a fighter, you're a polite person, I get it. I've got children that fall into that category right, they're going to be kind gentle people and they're not going to be a freak like their Dad. That serves people well but it doesn't move the marker and it lets old men still be relevant. God bless you."
God bless you, Todd. We'll pop back a little later…
Part One, Talking To Todd McFarlane About Spawn: Part 1 – Triumph & Disaster