Todd McFarlane is scheduled to begin filming Blumhouse's Spawn film reboot in 2019, but that doesn't mean he's taking a break from the comic book - in fact, he's planning for a milestone Spawn #300 next year as well.
McFarlane sat down with Newsarama earlier this month to discuss Spawn's plans on the comic book and movie front, from casting Jamie Foxx to the Image co-founders own plans to return to drawing Spawn with #301.
Newsarama: Todd, at your spotlight panel at New York Comic Con you spoke about the Spawn comic book, the Spawn film, as well as upcoming productions from your toy company. What are you most excited about?
Todd McFarlane: It’s interesting because as a businessman in those different areas I sort of look at them now as all of my creative children and as a proud papa you should try to love them all equally, right?
What really is the most exciting thing is always the thing coming out next. Because once you get to that product and you get to open it up to the rest of the world and see the reaction, that rides over and then you go “but we have this next thing” and that comes out and the next thing. I mean, personally, I maybe happen to like that brand a bit more or I like that book more or that character more, to me it’s really exposing all of it.
There’s really one big thing that I’m looking forward to and it’s to get this d*** movie off the ground, but that’s just me. I’ve had that in my belly for so long, I just want to puke it out, but the rest of the stuff we’ve only been dabbling in for a few years, for the most part, especially some of our new licenses.
Nrama: Why do you think now is the perfect time for Spawn to make a reemergence?
McFarlane: You know, I didn’t plan it that way. I just happened to finish the script and today is the day we just happen to be pushing the boulder up the hill. Luckily in the delay of me writing the script over the years, more and more successful comic book movies have come out and made the environment, hopefully, more conducive to me in trying to get this project off the ground. I just need to convince them more and more each time, there is a hunger for this type of material with a proper budget and everybody isn’t foolish about their expectations.
Nrama: The original Spawn movie came out in 1997 and that’s before Blade, that’s before X-Men, but as you mentioned there’s been this wave of comic book movies that have sort of taken over pop culture. It’s weird to think people know who Groot is now, right?
McFarlane: I’m hoping that greases the way a little bit, but what’s working are these movies with giant visual effects, but are rated PG-13….
Nrama: Like the ‘97 Spawn?
McFarlane: [Laughs] Exactly, but I’m not playing in that sandbox anymore. We’ll just keep nudging them until we get it across the finish line.
I’m attaching some good talent to the project and like Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions, Jamie Foxx, Jeremy Renner. So, everybody, I’m bringing in to this is some kind of award winner and if I just keep that up, they will obviously see that I’m the weak link here and will surround me with people who know what they’re doing and that will help lower their nervousness. It’s my job to make them confident in what we want to do.
Nrama: When the original Spawn film debuted in 1997, it debuted #2 at the box office behind Air Force One. You were asked about that by Wizard, with you saying something to the effect of "ask how the Patriots feel coming in second place at the Super Bowl."
How do you think the fanbase has grown in 21 years or audiences as a whole with going to see comic book movies? When this Spawn reboot comes out, do you think it could grab the number one slot?
McFarlane: I think enough time has gone by that, again, if you were born the day that Spawn came out you can go see an R-rated movie. There’s this whole generation out there that have lived in a world where Spawn has always been here, but to me, I’m not looking at it like I’m doing this comic book movie to appease my fans, I’m trying to do a movie that will be entertaining for at least two hours to movie-goers.
I understand my place in life and the vast majority don’t know who Spawn is or who Todd McFarlane is. They’re going to go to the movie based on a couple of criteria: they saw a trailer, hopefully, it was interesting enough that they want to drop ten bucks on seeing it, then at the end of the day the question would be were they entertained. If they knew the source material or not is irrelevant. They’re just going to go and say I want to be entertained by a movie.
I’m hoping I can draw enough of those kinds of people. There’s an appetite for creepy movies and by the time you add in the superhero movie crowd and those personal fans of Spawn, will that give it that little bit of edge that pushes it over to the top? I’m hoping all for the above.
Nrama: Springboarding off what you want from this, the cast of Lionsgate's Hellboy movie has also said they're not treating it like a superhero movie, but in that case treating it like a monster movie. At NYCC, you spoke about what separates the PG-13 fare from the R-rated crowd like Logan, Deadpool, and how you want to be as far as both of those as possible.
So, on a visual level, what are you wanting from this movie?
McFarlane: I’m hoping that the audience goes I don’t know what that thing is, but I’m glad he’s on our side!
Nrama: Do you think that first Spawn movie was ahead of its time? In retrospect, do you feel like you should have waited to get scooped up in the comic book movie madness of the 2000’s?
McFarlane: We didn’t know. We had no idea what was coming. We had no idea that this tsunami of superhero movies was coming, but we were definitely ahead of the curve. Does that mean we would have succeeded if we waited? Probably, but ultimately you needed to deliver a quality product from start to finish and I don’t know we could say we hit a home run with it. We delivered a solid project that was ahead of its time but you know, maybe we would have gotten $5-10 million dollars more in the opening, which would have put us past Air Force One [laughs]. But by saying we were number one, would that have mattered going forward? And since we were ahead of the curve, we were sort of our own island and didn’t get compared to anything else at the time.
Nrama: Switching gears here because you have Spawn #300 and you've said you will resume writing and drawing the series with #301...
Nrama: Spawn #300 has been a big goal for you, framing it as the bar Cerebus #300 set - and if you surpass it, Spawn will be the longest-running independent American comic book. What does that mean for you, that achievement?
McFarlane: It’s interesting to me that I’m breaking Dave Sim’s record, who is also Canadian, so I don’t know, maybe we’re more diligent? It’s a sense of pride because one thing I found out in the 30+ years I’ve been doing this is that volume matters. Time eventually matters and it’s called attrition.
When I took over the Incredible Hulk, my grandmother was very proud of me, but here’s the thing. My grandmother is from Russia so do I believe she ever bought a Marvel comic for herself? No. Do I believe she ever bought a Hulk comic? No. But somehow she knew that character existed.
Whether or not through the TV show or seeing the comic, or just by hearing about it, because what happens is, it becomes a brand. You may not consume the brand, but you know it exists. I know more about Kim Kardashian more than I probably should, but I’ve never read anything about her day-to-day life.
Nrama: Sort of like osmosis.
McFarlane: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying! Big brands are more well-known but there’s still a small percentage that knows the lesser-known brands and you just keep going from there. It’s a mountain to climb, and Dave said he was going to stop at #300, but I’m going to keep going for way, way longer.
Nrama: With everything going on, it’s interesting to see that Spawn sales have had this boost recently, what does that mean to you for Spawn having this sort of staying power as it has?
McFarlane: The initial success of all the first Image titles were predicated on one thing: the creators themselves. Nobody knew what Savage Dragon, Wildc.a.t.s., Cyber Force, or Spawn was going to be about, but they knew Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, all of us, myself, that’s what they were buying into. We all knew that our characters were going to have to be interesting enough to get past that initial bump. We all knew the sales were going to be good, but how can we keep it going and that was more going to be the task at hand.
Have there been ebbs and flows of any book? Of course. You can show me any book and I’ll show you the highlights and low lights. I don’t care if it’s Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Spawn, Savage Dragon, you’re going to have these pinnacles of ups and downs as time goes by. I’ve been on that horses, but we’re back on the upswing now with people paying attention to Spawn a little bit more. Why? Probably because of the movie buzz we have going on. I’ll take it any way I can.
Nrama: Are you guys going to be making a big deal out of #300 and #301 over at Image?
McFarlane: Oh yeah. We just had a meeting about should we make the 300th issue double-sized or triple-size #301, but they talked me out of that one. But both are very, very meaningful.
Nrama: So what’s in the next ten years for Todd McFarlane, the creator, and the brand? You talked about how you want to make money from your creations to just keep creating.
McFarlane: Oh, man. TV, movies, toys, video games, it’s all creating. I just want to go create. I want to be able to have the good fortune and have enough success creating. I’m an artist first and foremost. Give me any rules of the game and I’ll try to put the art to whatever. We’re developing some TV stuff, which should be announced soon, and more video games, just all of it. There’s a lot of rollercoasters out there and I want to ride all of them.