Today, at ComicsPRO, Todd McFarlane announced Spawn's Universe – a one-shot coming in June with Jim Cheung that will spin our three new ongoing series, King Spawn, Gunslinger Spawn and The Scorched, a new title every two months, through 2021. He talked to me earlier this week about what he's doing and why he's doing it. We talked with Todd last year, when he broke the news he was starting a Spawn superhero team called The Chain Gang. Now we get to see one of the other shoes dropping. Todd had a lot to say, and he began, following up on our conversation last year,
"We've got one of the retailer summits, those are always important to get the retailers together and I'm going to drop my news that I'll do my best to get them enthusiastic about it. But I think that everybody is going to underestimate what's in my head. Because it's too easy to think of what I'm announcing as a comic book story period, but that's not what's in my head, Rich. What's within my head is way beyond comic books. The simple question is DC started their universe in the 30s and Marvel started theirs in the 60s – can anybody else do it in the 2020s? That's the question I'm asking and I'm going to probe it as best as I can."
"What I'm about to announce is, in my head, a 20-year plan. It's not, hey I've got some cool hot comic books, isn't that cool, and hope they work. It's an attempt at seeing whether lightning can strike a third time. You and I will come back in 20 years and we'll see whether I was overexcited or whether I underestimate myself. But what should happen is that these new books should be new characters and storylines and villains and everything else, that then spring out into their own books and their own ideas. And what starts with maybe a dozen, fifteen new characters and ends up being hundreds. Done right, in the future, should be thousands of characters."
"Not all worthy of their own book, not all worthy of a tv show or movie or video game, I'm not saying that. But what I'm saying is that each one of them should be able to basically expand and do what spawned the original Spawn. So that there will be 20 books with 20 characters 20 years from now, they're up to issue 300, and that are as equally worthy as Spawn is, and oh by the way they all live in the same universe."
So many questions to ask. Because Todd had been down this road before. We have had spinoff books like Violator, Angela, Hellspawn, Sam & Twitch, Medieval Spawn, Boof, Boof & The Bruise Crew and more, just not of late. Instead, Todd seemed to switch his creation of new characters in a Spawn Universe to the toys instead. So why is this different?
"Yeah I created a bunch, arguably you're right, a bunch of them have been pre-created because I had years and years of designing them in the toys. The next step is taking some of those and giving them stories and origins and conflicts that people will care about. More importantly, though you know although Spawn is at the centre of the start of this, as time goes by, he should be less and less important to the success of it, if I do my job right. Because I'm going to be asking a lot of creative people to jump on board as we begin and keep going and growing and getting them to join the party, and so can I create a playground where it's conducive for people to come and bring their ideas, for them to create their "Venoms" and be equally compensated and rewarded for that creation. As we move forward, can a band of creative independents take on the big guys in the long run? I don't know, we'll see, I've been going at it sort of on my own. With Image, I've been getting some help because we've got a nice team but on the toy front, it's been sort of me going solo. But I've been able to navigate the shark-infested waters and survive and during the pandemic, the Kickstarter sets a record, we just won toy of the year with it, and Spawn has gone up anywhere from 100 to 800 per cent – and that's in the pandemic. It's not doing okay, it's thriving and if you look at the sales chart, Spawn is now a top-five book, which basically means it's outselling 90% of my competitors' books – they have billions at their disposal and resources that I will never be able to imagine. So why do we have to sit here in the year 2021 and assume that we're only going to see two universes of any magnitude for the rest of our natural lives? I'm not willing to give them that free pass and I'm betting I can find other creative people that are willing to join me and in the creative fight."
Interesting, but not quite the question I had asked. It was more, you tried doing this before and then stopped, why is now different?
"Because back then, I was just putting out comic books and it was fun. There was no organized plan, but I'm now a 30-year vet of the comic industry and being a businessman and this is different. This is an organized plan for me." Indeed he compares what he is doing now to the foundation of Image Comics itself. "I'm trying to get to my own employees to understand this is a bigger moment for me than starting my toy company. Because if we come back in 20 years and I've done what I think we can do, then this moment is the moment that we're gonna go wow, remember we just started that thing in 2021, and we just thought it was like this some cool monthly books and it was sort of fun and it was way bigger than that. That's what's in my head, the comic book start is but the beginning of my evil devious plan."
But as for the comics? "Part of it is Spawn's been sharing a lot of his pages with other characters for the last year and the story's big enough that I need to push those characters out and give Spawn his book back. But the only way to do that is to give these characters you know their own stories and their own playground."
Of course, Todd is not the only one with a shared comics continuity.
"Marvel and DC, they've already been gobbled up. I understand there are other companies trying to do it but I'm just cocky enough to just go, you can have Valiant's universe if you want. Ask yourself, have they had any comic books go past a hundred? Have they had any characters in the top ten in any steady significant way? No. Have they had any sort of impactful event? No. Do they have a bunch of characters? Yes, so you're buying a bunch of characters. I'm saying do you want a bunch of characters, that also have a history of having value behind them, like I said, sales are going up, setting records with the toy, Spawn in his universe is relevant and thriving today, we're talking 30 years after its inception. I think I'd have a story to tell outside the comic books that somebody should sit up and want to pay attention to in a big way."
I also wanted to note that Spawn, at one point, shared his universe with the other Image Comics characters, and that there were rumours that Image might be starting this all up again, courtesy of Radiant Black and Crossover.
I don't own all those characters and I don't have the final say, so will I be asking big questions to a lot of people, who thinks that it makes sense for them and who doesn't. I'll let each individual creator determine that for themselves."
As to the other creators he is bringing onto Spawn Universe, we've seen Jim Cheung's artwork for Spawn Universe, but who else? "I've been burning up the phone so the conversation usually you goes something like this – 'Hi, this is Todd, I think you're super awesome, I'm doing some cool stuff and I'll take any work between one and infinity amount of pages from you.' That's a short version of the conversation but luckily I've been getting a lot of people say yes, between one and infinity, so uh we've got a list." And here is that list."
Art Adams, Jason Shawn Alexander, Carlo Barberi, Brett Booth, J. Scott Campbell, Greg Capullo, Donny Cates, Jim Cheung, Mike del Mundo, Javier Fernandez, David Finch, Jonathan Glapion, Kevin Keane, Aleš Kot, Puppeteer Lee, Sean Lewis, Sean Gordon Murphy, Ben Oliver, Stephen Segovia, Paulo Siqueira, Marc Silvestri, Marcio Takara and Frank Quitely,
"Some will just be coming in doing a cover or two and then moving on right you know but others will be more permanent fixtures."
Oh and no, Todd McFarlane isn't anything to do with any consortium looking to buy DC publishing rights, and he hasn't been jabbed yet. But his wife, who works as a teacher, has…