Todd McFarlane is a busy, busy man these days.
The first line of DC action figures designed by his company, McFarlane Toys, hits shelves later this month.
He has plans to write and direct a live-action Spawn reboot film from the top horror company around these days, Blumhouse.
Meanwhile, he is writing (and sometimes drawing) his long-running Spawn series which recently revved up due to a milestone 300th issue.
Inbetween all of that, Newsarama caught up with McFarlane in a Los Angeles hotel as he was preparing for a signing to talk about it all.
Newsarama: Todd, last year we talked Toy Fair about how the DC collaboration was to start in January, and how you were chompin at the bit to begin. It's now January, and here we are - with the toys in my hands!
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, I have a three-year contract that started January 1 and wanted to get as close as possible to January 2nd since the stores were closed on New Years, so we didn’t quite make that, but we’re only about a week behind it and should be there soon.
Nrama: Yeah, because I had seen that Target broke street date on them and now I can’t find them at all, but looking at this first wave that was announced recently, it’s pretty large by comparison to say Marvel Legends where it’s maybe five or six figures in a wave. Here, it’s 12. What made you want to go so bold right out the gate?
McFarlane: I don’t consider it to be twelve figures though. I don’t design anything for the completist. What I like is sort of a buffet. There’s nobody who tries to put everything on their plate, but just picks what they like. So what I did was ask the retailers if I could get a peg for Batman, one for Superman, one for kids? Will give you me a video game peg? Will you give me a 12-inch peg, an animation peg?
Again, when you’re going to retailers you ask for as much as you can and hope you get a fraction of it, right? Because you’ve got the vehicles too. So to me, here’s a bunch of different looks and the price point is going to be all in the same ballpark anyway, and it’s up to the consumer to decide what they’re interested in. But if you're a fan of the Flash, eventually, you get a TV Flash, a movie Flash, a comic book Flash so those fans can pick what they want or you can now have multiple Flashes in different styles.
Nrama: So you have three different Batmans and Supermans, so talk about why you wanted to go with that many at the start.
McFarlane: That’s actually a pretty good example of what we want to do though for a lot of characters. You have the comic book look, the animated look which some people are used to, and them in some sort of battle armor in big, bulky plastic that look super cool. I don’t think there’s a lot of visual overlap and the consumer can pick and choose what sells and what doesn’t.
Nrama: Can we talk about the packaging for the toys because they’re almost like a celebration of the character and DC as a whole. Did you have any input on that?
McFarlane: We went back and forth on that, but I get most of the credit to the Warner Bros. Consumer Products people. Because we did a bunch of iterations, but definitely knew what they wanted. Once we had the colors picked out, we just had to keep a nice clean design to it. The box is a little bit bigger, too, compared to what Hasbro is doing with their Marvel Legends line.
I think the presentation of them is pretty good, too. Not just side-by-side with competitors, but even just by themselves on the shelf, and I think that having not a lot of color, you can let the colors of the characters and props be the thing to catch your eye. It’s like having a pretty basic frame around a great painting.
Nrama: And when can we expect the next line-up?
McFarlane: Yeah well, let’s look at things in our first wave in our Build-A. I didn’t want to do a Build-A-Figure (BAF) because, you know, everybody’s done that and a lot of times the BAF is somebody that isn’t really popular or a bigger figure and you have to chop them up, but the biggest thing is when I was 15, 16 and asking somebody to buy six toys to get one that might not be a top ranked character, I think is asking a lot. When I first got into the toy game, they were like $5, $6 but now $20 each is a lot so we decided to cut it into the three [Nightwing, Batgirl, and Batman Who Laughs].
There are dozens of Batmobile designs so it would be cool to have on your shelf, but within a few lines, you’ve got a little Batmobile collection. I’ve seen designs of the second one, and it’s even cooler.
Now, we’ve talked about eventually doing a BAF or even a Build-A-Diorama so you can build like the Batcomputer or something like that down the line, but it’s all an experiment right now.
Nrama: Do you have a personal favorite of this wave that you’re proud of?
McFarlane: Uh [pauses] I think the Batgirl came out nice. She’s sleek and looks like a comic book toy. I think with action figures, if you’re not basing them on an actor, too much realism takes away from the simplicity of it. I thought that Batman and Superman in their armor are cool. I have an affinity for that.
Nrama: Is there any character that you’re eager to get to?
McFarlane: I don’t know if there are any I’m eager for but what I’m eager to get to is to experiment with their look. Take a character like Batman Who Laughs, wouldn’t it be cool to see him in the animated style? I just can’t wait to get cut loose because I want to have some fun.
Nrama: Things seem to be going well with DC. Hypothetical, but could you do the same for Marvel - simultaneously?
McFarlane: Possibly, but I mean, anybody who wants me to give me their license, I’ll take it. It would be cool. Every comic contract should come with the clause that states Todd McFarlane gets to do one figure. [Laughs]
Nrama: Does any of this collaboration with DC bleed over into your comics work - or at least talk of comics work?
McFarlane: No. I’m a founder of Image Comics. I can’t draw for a competitor, right? My toy company is a separate entity from that, but in a weird roundabout way, I can make some cool toys and if they choose to put that into a comic book, I can’t stop them from doing that contractually.
So that’s the way they could get McFarlane again, it’s not the front door, just the back door.
Nrama: Rob Liefeld said last year Jim Lee had approached the Image founders about a crossover of some kind. Can you say anything about that?
McFarlane: I mean, yeah, we talk about crossovers all the time. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll do it, but we’re always talking about something. Like “wouldn’t it be cool if…” but doesn’t mean it would all work out.
Nrama: Spawn surpassed 300 issues. What's your next big goal in life and your career?
McFarlane: My next big goal? In the world? To direct my Spawn movie!
I’ve gotten a lot of interesting offers, and luckily this movie called Joker came out. When I was at New York Comic Con, Joker came out and Hollywood has a penchant for looking at what works, then doing it 10 times over. This movie opened up, then made a billion dollars which is still 33% bigger than any other R-rated movie in the history of cinema. So, Hollywood is on the go for R-rated comic book stuff, right? The phone has been ringing and I’ve got lots of people thinking about Spawn now. There’s a different momentum happening right now and in the next month, I should have another big announcement about the movie.
Nrama: Speaking of, what's going on with it? You have stars attached, you’re the director, what’s the latest update here?
McFarlane: I’m trying to add one more piece to the puzzle, then I think that will tumble the rest of them. So I just need this one piece. I was supposed to have a meeting yesterday but that didn’t happen so that got pushed to a few weeks, but if that goes well, there will be an announcement soon. Hopefully we can start production this year, because if we don’t, I probably won’t make it. The window is open right now and if I can’t pull it off this year, it’s only going to get harder, right? I’m confident enough that it’s going to work, but give me a month, and I’ll get back to you.
Nrama: Lastly, say a young Todd McFarlane type was breaking into the industry now - what kind of advice would you give him?
McFarlane: Do the work. I was never talented or skilled at the beginning, but I was a grinder. So if you don’t do something that establishes your career, and if you want to go work outside the realm of comic books, the hardest part of starting out is having people know you exist, so build upon that on different levels. People ahead of you are going to tell you to slow down, don’t listen.