18 years ago last month, Spawn hit comic shelves and caused a sea change in the world of comics; it was one of the pillars for the creator-owned comics bastion of Image Comics, and was also released at the high-water mark for comic sales with the first issue ultimately selling over 1.7 million copies. Since then, Spawn has branched out to toys, a live-action movie, a cartoon series and numerous video games. Through it all, the Spawn comic series has endured, and this summer it will be reaching a milestone with its 200th issue.
For the occasion of the release of Spawn #200, Todd McFarlane is returning to the book for one issue, both writing and illustrating a majority of the book. Although he's remained active in the books overall direction since it's inception, he recently took a renewed interest in the series in 2008 as he once again took up the writing chores – and even inking in some cases. The fact that McFarlane hasn't illustrated a complete issue of Spawn -- or any other comic title – in many years makes the occasion of Spawn #200 even more special. With just two issues remaining until the milestone 200th issue, we talked with McFarlane about the build-up to this special issue and the work involved to get him there – and what he's got planned next.Spawn #198 Newsarama: What are you working on today, Todd?
Todd McFarlane: I’m jumping all over the place between schedules for the comics, the toys and other project. I’m going over the last couple of pages of Spawn #201, and then I’m doing the final runthrough on Khary Randolph’s pages to Spawn #198. Erik Larsen’s already got Spawn #199 waiting for me, and then we get to #200. By that time, Will and Szymon will have Spawn #202, #203 & #204 waiting for me. These past few issues have gotten off-track and we lost some time, but we’re working hard on putting it back on track. Having several artists working on their own issues simultaneously will help us get back up to speed.
Nrama: You’re coming into a very special milestone in a couple months – the 200th issue of Spawn. In many ways, this series has become your life’s work – so what’s it like to hit this benchmark?
McFarlane: It’s been 199 issues in the making.
Nrama: [laughs] This 200th issue is something fans, and me personally, have been really looking forward to. Back on the last really big moment in Spawn #100, you had all sorts of things going on – variant covers, the death of Angela and Malebolgia. You also had the twins, and Al Simmons finally accepting his fate.
McFarlane: It’s a big one – I always try to drop a very big, pivotal moment on these special issues.
For Spawn #200, we’ll see the return of one of the big characters in Spawn mythology after a long absence. That return will lead to a domino effect that will effect what’s going to happen going forth with the series. I’m probably giving away too much, but I can’t help it; something’s going to happen to make people realize that all this supernatural fighting going on in the public eye is not getting anybody anywhere, and it’s time to take the fight underground. All of the fighting and hatred that run through Spawn will still be there – but instead of big, bloody battles in the middle of Times Square, it will occur in the shadows and underground like the Mafia.
Nrama: It seems like the style of incoming artist Szymon Kudranski is ideal for this new direction.
McFarlane: Right. Szymon has a very street-wise urban style, if you will, and it was one of the reasons I chose him. If you look back and see what Alex Maleev did on Sam & Twitch and later with Daredevil, you’ll see that artists in this particular style lend themselves to depicting confrontations between characters behind closed doors, in stairwells and not out under a blue sky. It’s a world both you and I know, and these upcoming issues will highlight those settings while still keeping the fantastic supernatural elements we’ve had since day 1.
I think this approach is one of the reasons why horror movies do so well; most horror stories take place in familiar, small surroundings. When these spooky things come up, having it in a confined private space is more threatening than out in the middle of a very public place.
In Spawn #200, we’re taking the fight to the shadows.Spawn #200 Nrama: This 200th issue of Spawn comes at a time when the new Spawn, Jim Dowling, still has that new car smell so to speak. In recent issues he's started to come into his own. From your convention appearances and online, what would you say the fan reaction is now – and what is it for you – now that you’ve lived with the new Spawn for some time?
McFarlane: I think from a fan perspective, they're still growing into him. There were so many stories with the original Spawn, that it's easy to see why there would be a resistance to let go of that. I know that first hand, from reading comics and being bummed when a certain character or certain creator went away. My job with #200 is to show how the new Spawn, Jim Dowling, is now fully entrenched with the Spawn mantle and he's accepting it all, as opposed to resisting. You could argue that the prior Spawn, Al Simmons, was in a vastly different position where it was a grueling thing. For Jim here, he's embracing everything that being Spawn is. He's thinking to himself, "hey, I can take these powers and use them to get answers." Jim's personal life is going to be in flux now, as now that he's got a direction he wants to go he's going to get some resistance along the way.
One of the things that's been happening with the book, and will continue to happen and get even more apparent as the story unfolds, is that Jim's powers are spilling out even when he's not in costume. The mainstream media sees that and thinks, "Oh my god, he's a faith healer." We're going to be playing with that aspect as time goes on, and the idea of being a celebrity. That's going to be one of several parts that'll be different than when he's in costume.
Nrama: I can see you drawing a real firm line between what Al did with the powers and what Jim's doing.
McFarlane: Exactly. I mean, the big difference you have is with Jim he kind of gets off on being Spawn, whereas Al Simmons always resisted. For Jim, he's thinking "Cool. I'm Spawn. I love it." It's a little more fun, like the Punisher or Wolverine, where they're nasty and maybe a bit sadistic.
Nrama: I know Spawn #200 is front and center in your mind, but people are already talking about what's next – namely, the new creative team with Spawn #201. We talked with writer Will Carlton and artist Szymon Kudranski earlier this week, but I want your perspective as well. What's going on in this new era?
McFarlane: Will's been around the office for awhile now, and he's always been coming in and poking his head in with ideas. He's one of about five or six people here who still race out on Wednesday to pick up new comics. And when I began thinking about getting back on track with the series, I knew I need to bring in a writer.
One of the things that's slowed me down in the past is getting reasonable plots out on time. I didn't want the book to go into the classic superhero comic style, which is unfortunately holding less and less interest to me with each passing day. That's one of the reasons we're going underground. We're aiming to do things in a more adult fashion, and both Will and Szymon have ideas that, with mine, will take us there.
Nrama: Can you point out any upcoming adversaries Spawn will be facing?Page from Spawn #198 McFarlane: He'll always be a target for the forces of Heaven and hell – with that costume, you can't escape that. We're also going to be spending time with him trying to get answers as to his real identity before he went into a coma. He's not sitting back – he's taking a proactive stance to root out the truth, and using his new-found powers to do it.
Getting back to the idea of adversaries, he is going to be getting a couple new foes. The war is still going strong, even though it's more underground and out of the public eye.
Nrama: The idea of these battles going from being public spectacles to more a "behind closed doors" thing is a big shift for the book, but this book has always been one of those that’s been able to do that successfully. Is this something you’d been weighing for some time?
McFarlane: Yes and no. Originally I had mentally decided to take over the book – draw it myself. But with that said, I was wanting to take the book – and my art – into a different visual direction. I talked it over several times here at McFarlane Productions with the staff, explaining that I wanted to do a more realistic – almost photorealistic – look. Basically, my original idea was to draw Spawn #200 in my classic style that people know me for, and then after that issue give a dramatically different look to my work.
So I was working towards that goal, but then by pure happenstance I run into this new kid – Szymon Kudranski – who had the style I was aiming towards. And on top of that, it was very polished – he’s been doing it with the work he’s done for DC and others up to now. So instead of me trying to learn it and try to do that, I decided to let go and use someone who can do it and hit the ground running. Although he doesn’t officially take over the book until Spawn #200, he did a five page epilogue that’s going to be at the end of Spawn #200 as a preview of sorts.
Nrama: Szymon explained to us yesterday that you ran across his work after he blind-submitted it to you via twitter. From how you describe it, it really hit home with you. Can you explain more of that for us?
McFarlane: When I saw those sample pages he did, I thought to myself “Wow, this guy’s got the look I pictured in my brain on these pages. Let’s go get him, and get him going”. By the time I’m done with Spawn #200, Szymon’s on pace to be done with #203. So once we break #200, we’ll be in a position where I can start to double-ship issues to pick up the time we last in the past few months and actually get back close to the original schedule we had set out in 2009.
Nrama: You sound really excited to be catching up – and I think fans will be too. You’ve got a lot going on here in 2010 – you’re putting out the milestone 200th issue, you’re launching a new creative team in #201, the new Spawn Jim Dowling is finally getting comfortable with himself, and to top it all off, Al Simmons has returned to comics in the pages of Image United as a very evil Omega Spawn. Will the story unfolding in Image United roll over into the Spawn title?
McFarlane: A little bit. Robert Kirkman is actually doing a flashback story for Spawn #200 which will show the origin of Omega Spawn, but it’s a little more complicated than just being Al Simmons. That’s the deal I made with Robert when he proposed Al as the villain of Image United -- the back-story to that has to be deeper and richer than just “evil” Al Simmons. We’ve got some ideas to explain how he got from his last appearance in Spawn to showing up in Image United.
Nrama: You've got Robert doing the Omega Spawn origin, and Szymon doing a tease for his upcoming run – do you have plans to bring in anyone else to pitch in on the issue?
McFarlane: It's going to be mostly me, with Robert Kirkman pitching in for that Omega Spawn origin story and then previews of Szymon's work at the end. Depending on time constraints, I might have to call in some inker buddies for mine but that's it.
Originally, the plan for the story of Spawn #200 was to have three or four flashbacks, with the idea that you'd get a different artist to do each flashbacks with the glue of the story – the beginnings, the middles, and the ends – would still be mine. But then when I thought about it, I realized that it might get too complicated and just decided to take it on myself.Page from Spawn #198 Nrama: I think people’s ears perked up when they found out Robert Kirkman’s writing some of Spawn #200, but I think the majority are psyched for the sole reason that you’re coming back to draw this milestone issue. You mentioned earlier that you were originally intending to do it in your classic style before going to a more photo-realistic style. What’s this going to look like?
McFarlane: It’s like the old days; most of what I’m doing for Spawn #200 is me laying out, penciling and inking – like when I was doing Spider-Man and Spawn in the beginning. In recent years when I’ve done pages here and there, I’ve had help with layouts; Greg Capullo’s been with me on Haunt to help keep that momentum going. For Spawn #200 I’m probably doing more pages than I should; It’s going to be bigger than a normal 22-page issue, and we haven’t yet nailed down how big though.
Nrama: One last one for you, Todd… You said you’re doing this book like the old days, so I have to ask – what’s it like being chained to the drawing board and drawing a full comic?
McFarlane: It’s very familiar -- I think I eased back into it pretty quickly. What I’ve found is that since I returned to the book on issue #185 with the writing and inking, it’s been pretty therapeutic. I’ve spent years up to my elbows in the business stuff, so now being locked in a room doing artwork I’ve discovered how soothing it can be. When you’re drawing day-in and day-out for years it can drive you crazy; I can say that from experience. But at my core, I don’t think I’m a businessman but an artist first – but an artist who does the business part to drive the art to its fullest.
Am I looking forward to getting Spawn #200 out? Definitely. But the idea of getting back into it permanently is pretty tough; the biggest problem is the lifestyle and pace I’m accustomed to now. I don’t know whether I could get back to focusing just on comic pages and not have ten raging fires to handle on the business side. Honestly, I never really know what my future holds. We’ll see.