Comic artist Todd McFarlane prepares to make history with Spawn No. 301

Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn and the artist behind Venom, spoke with a news reporters on Thursday at Comic-Con International.
Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn and the artist behind Venom, spoke with a news reporters on Thursday at Comic-Con International.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Spawn” will become the longest-running creator-owned comic with issue No. 301. Creator Todd McFarlane sat down with The San Diego Union-Tribune to discuss the comic book and upcoming movie.


Todd McFarlane is one of the most successful comic book creators of all time, so you’d think his latest milestone would be no big deal.

Try telling that to him.

At Comic-Con International on Thursday, he beamed with pride as he discussed his comic book “Spawn” reaching issue No. 301 in September. That issue will make it the longest-running, creator-owned comic, surpassing “Cerebus” by Dave Sim.

McFarlane, 58, of Phoenix has plenty of other feathers in his cap, including owning the large action figure company McFarlane Toys and being a former co-owner of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. He also is writing and directing a new “Spawn” movie, but the comic book thing is what seems to have him most excited.

“It’s a record-setter — and not on a small scale,” he said in a sit-down interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s like a story you come across that says, ‘Here’s a human being that took on the giants and the giants were not able to slay the little guy.’”

The giants he is referring to are the “Big Two” comic publishers: Marvel Comics and DC. In the early 1990s, he and some of the industry’s hottest artists jumped from Marvel to form their own company, Image Comics. The difference at Image was the creators could actually own their own content and, potentially, profit more from action figures, movies, TV, video games and other opportunities.

“Spawn” was a sensation, with the first issue selling 1.7 million copies. It gets pretty complicated, but the basic plot follows an African-American special forces agent unjustly killed and makes a deal with a demon to come back to Earth. There was a Spawn feature movie in 1997 — not a huge hit but known for a popular metal and electronic fusion soundtrack — and an HBO cartoon for three seasons.

Following a speculative boom in the comic book industry where people were buying comics as an investment, “Spawn” sales dropped considerably during the bust. In June, “Spawn” No. 298 was the 19th highest-selling comic, said estimates from Diamond Comic Distributors, but sales are nowhere near the heyday of 1992.

“I can’t say ‘Spawn’ sales were down because ‘Wolverine’ sales were going down, and ‘Superman’ and ‘Spider-Man’ were all going down,” he said of a major slowdown in the comic book industry in the late 1990s. “There was a point where there was close to 10,000 comic book stores and it atrophied down to about 2,200.”

He said he never considered ending the series. Even though he said he has an ending for the series in mind, he would also be OK if “Spawn” lived on even after his death.

“What I marveled about guys like Walt Disney, when I was younger,” McFarlane said, “is that he created stuff that existed way, way past his lifetime. Why can’t there be a Spawn No. 1,000 someday? I won’t be drawing it, I’ll be long gone, but why can’t somebody smarter and better than me do the book?”

Even if comic book sales aren’t what they used to be, McFarlane has other avenues for his character. He is set to direct and write a new Spawn movie with Jamie Foxx and Jeremy Renner signed on. It is unclear when the Blumhouse film will begin production.

“I’m doing a rewrite on the script right now,” he said. “It’s for the money people because they are like, ‘You need to fix this and this before we can hand it over to the cast.’ Once the money comes on the table, then everything goes pretty fast.”

McFarlane had a roundabout experience with the silver screen recently. He is credited with designing Spider-Man arch-villain Venom, who recently got his own movie starring Tom Hardy. The film was an unexpected smash in China, going on to earn $856 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. McFarlane said he much preferred this version of Venom compared to an earlier appearance in “Spider-Man 3.”

“I’ve always said the one thing I want out of Venom, for me personally, was I want him to be big,” he said. “All I wanted in this movie was to please make him big. All the rest of it, take it up with everybody else. I’m a visual creator. I wanted him to be big and gnarly, and they made him big and gnarly.”

In the video game world, McFarlane recently allowed the use of Spawn as a playable character in Mortal Kombat 11.

“I didn’t worry about Spawn being exact perfect,” he said. “I worried if the Mortal Kombat fan would like this character if they didn’t know who Spawn was.”

“Spawn” No. 300 will be released in late August and be 72 pages, larger than the typical 32 pages, and feature all star artists J. Scott Campbell, Jerome Opeña and Greg Capullo. The record-breaking No. 301 will come out Sept. 25 and feature new art from Todd McFarlane, who has not been a regular artist on the title since the mid-1990s.

Standing on the convention exhibit hall during opening day for Comic-Con International, on Thursday July 18, 2019, Todd McFarlane the creator of Spawn and the artist behind Spiderman spoke with a news reporters.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)