Since the title’s introduction back in the early 1990s, Spawn has been host to some of the most pre-imminent comic creators of our time. Creators such as Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman and even Brian Michael Bendis (if you count his work on spin-off book Sam & Twitch) have taken to the title and its titular character – but chief among those is the book’s creator, Todd McFarlane. Over the course of the title’s near-200 issue run, McFarlane has acted at different times as the series’ writer, artist, editor, plotter and even inker – and in recent months he’s again taken a more active role in the direction of the series. And as the series nears its milestone two-hundredth issue, he’s invited some of all-star friends in to illustrate the countdown to Spawn #200.
In last month’s Spawn #196, McFarlane was joined by his friend and Image co-founder Rob Liefeld. And in the upcoming three issues leading to Spawn #200, Spawn’s creator has invited Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio and Khary Randolph to lend their drawing hand to the character’s chronicles. Of all the guest artists coming in to illustrate the book, Portacio is the most familiar face for Spawn fans – having illustrated the series for several issues a few months back. After doing an amazing issue of Uncanny X-Men featuring the return of Kitty Pryde, Portacio’s return to Spawn with #197 will show a new side of Portacio’s rendition of McFarlane’s creation.
“From the start Todd has had the visualization of a much more simpler in style and therefore more primal Spawn; this last issue holds to that,” said Portacio. “My pencils for this as directed by Todd himself are more basic, more primal with the use of shadows and almost nothing else. It is a stark, cinematic look, something very different for Spawn but the end goal of what we've been striving for from the beginning...more primal.”
That idea of getting to the core of Spawn is mirrored in the issue’s story. In a recent press release, McFarlane explained that in the aftermath of the recent “Endgame” story-arc, the new Spawn, Jim Dowling, is finally getting into his own in regards to the powers eh possesses. “Spawn #197 will be the beginning in tying up the loose ends with Jim's powers, which are slightly different than the previous Spawn's,” McFarlane said in the press release. “They have some kind of healing power to them. Also, Jim will become a much sought after individual in the media."
Since inheriting the role and responsibility of the moniker of Spawn, Jim Dowling has questioned everything surrounding it – just as fans have wondered about the new man in the suit. But over the course of the “Endgame” storyarc, the Clown has provided answers and a resolution of sorts for Dowling – leading him to accept his fate, and also use it to his advantage in ways that the previous Spawn, Al Simmons, never dreamed.
“[Readers] can expect somebody who embraces his powers when he’s using them,” said McFarlane in the press release. “He's going to stop being the reluctant hero, and start being aggressive with his powers."
After Whilce’s final pages in Spawn #197, the following issue shows animation-inspired artwork of Khary Randolph. While his name is perhaps the least known in the company of names like McFarlane, Larsen and Portacio, Randolph has considerable history with the character – having served as the artist for the Adventures of Spawn webcomic series years ago. For Randolph, the prospect of returning was a mix of both excitement – and fear.
“Well, when I finally got the job I mostly had a mix of emotion -- pure joy and absolute terror,” Randolph revealed. “Having worked in animation for the past three years, I really hadn't drawn any comics in a while, and I experienced some serious stage fright for a bit. But I got over it with some nice words of advice some Todd and also by realizing that there was no way I was gonna be Todd, or Greg [Capullo], or Whilce, or Angel [Medina] or any of the other incredibly talented guys who have worked on the book in the past. Those guys are some of the best there is, and it would be foolhardy to try and emulate them. So I just set out to do what I do best, which is making fun, energy filled comics. I basically tried to embody what I loved most about Image Comics at its core -- frenetic, action packed FUN comics -- which is something I feel is missing in a lot of the stuff I see out these days. Hopefully, the fun I had drawing the pages will translate to the readers as well.”
Spawn #198 showcases Khary’s return to the fold just as McFarlane introduces a new villain into Spawn’s world – one that has connections with Jim Dowling’s life before he came to be the new Spawn. Although details at this time are kept under-wraps, look for us to ask McFarlane about this in our interview with him on Friday.
Turning the page to the next issue – the final issue before #200 – we find McFarlane joined by another familiar name to Image fans, Erik Larsen. Larsen has a long history with Todd McFarlane, having joined him in the foundation of Image Comics back in the early 90s but his camaraderie with McFarlane goes back further. During their time at Marvel, they worked virtually side-by-side as the primary artists for Spider-man in two companion series. Since the foundation of Image, Larsen has worked almost exclusively in the pages of his own series, Savage Dragon, which like Spawn has been Image’s two longest-running titles.
When asked about illustrating a full issue of Spawn, Larsen’s answer was surprisingly simple.
“Todd asked. It wasn't a complicated process,” said Larsen.
From Larsen’s statement, the idea of Larsen doing an issue of Spawn could be considered a “no-brainer” for all parties, but when it came time to collaborate with McFarlane, who is both writing and inking Larsen’s issue, more thought was put into the outcome.
“I just hope to do [the character] justice,” said Larsen. “My stuff tends to be more physical than a lot of artists--with characters in motion and power-packed punches--I'd like to bring some of that to the book. Plus--Todd's inking it--and I've always wondered how that would look. I've seen it in small doses on covers and whatnot--but I'm look forward to seeing the full treatment.”
As Larsen explained, he and McFarlane have collaborated on small efforts numerous times, including the most recent Image United miniseries currently underway. But the task of taking on McFarlane’s signature creation in a twenty-two page story that will be pleasing to both Larsen and McFarlane – not to mention their fans – could be quite daunting.
For each of these guests artists coming into the book – Whilce Portacio, Khary Randolph, Erik Larsen – that challenge is met by their own adoration for the character McFarlane has established over fifteen-plus years. Their enthusiasm in many ways echoes the same kind of enthusiasm that led McFarlane, Larsen and others to establish Image so many years ago – the idea of getting to work on cool characters that they have a vested interest in.
“Spawn is just cool,” Larsen said matter-of-factly. “He's got everything a guy would want from a superhero with the spikes and chains and mask and cape and all that. Part of his charm is his visceral appeal. It's not complicated--it's very straightforward--and I think that's why readers respond to the character--it's that gut level response--you look at the guy and think he looks awesome. Toss in all the character stuff and you've got one hell of a comic book.”