I attended the Image Comic Expo in Oakland, California, and it was an amazing weekend. From one minute to the next I was casually chatting with publishers, editors, writers, and artists – everyone was quite accessible. One of those people was Will Carlton, or as you might know him…Todd McFarlane. He was nice enough to answer a few questions about the future of TMP, breaking into the industry, and how he currently spends his time when he’s not making comics.
Adam Messinger: What does the future hold for Todd McFarlane Productions? Do you have more projects down the pipeline?
Todd McFarlane: Obviously we have Spawn. We did 15 issues last year with the same creative team. I’m guessing this is the first time in the history of comic books that 15 issues came out from one book, and it was the same art and writing team. We may have actually done something no one else did and no one was really paying attention to it. We’ll bring out another 12. We’re heading into the 20th anniversary of Spawn. That’ll be issue 220. I’m going to jump on board and do the covers starting with that issue. I’ll start doing some goofy stuff. I’ve been writing the book. You know, nobody really paid attention but there was a guy that took over the book with 201. A writer named Will Carlton. That was actually me writing under a pseudonym. So I’ve been writing the book from issue 185 non-stop. When I say that 15 issues were done by the same team, I know that because I was the guy writing all that. We’ve got another book we got planned to come out. We have the McFarlane artbook that’s sort of a retrospective of my career.
We obviously continue to work on the other areas of work on video games. We just had The Reckoning come out from EA. We’re going to make an announcement next week on some other information on that game. We got a big MMO game due to come out later in the year.
We still have the toys. Some more Walking Dead, that continues to rock the world. The Halo 4 game is coming out. So we have the license to do the toys. We’ll do gangbusters with that. Sports continues to do good for us.
We’re starting to make a concentrated effort on getting the movie back. That’ll help drive the all those other elements that people were used to when Spawn first came out and went to the top of the charts. I’m about halfway through the script. I’m the hold up. I’m always the hold up. We’ve got people ready to put in the money. I’ve got an academy award winning actor that phones me every week who came out to the office to say he’s in. We’ve got an actor all ready to go. I get to direct it. That was the negotiation. We’ve got the animation that we’re trying to push up the hill.
I’m sure I’m missing a couple other things, but we keep busy. Don’t worry about me. My hands aren’t idle too often, and I coach a little league. We’re okay.
Adam: Is there a moment you’ve put to paper that sticks out to you or a proudest moment in your last 20 years with Spawn?
Todd: No, and I only say that because I think I’m wired different than everybody else. Tomorrow is always the best day for me. I always forget. I had a couple guys reminding me yesterday about some of the things we’d done over the years that I’d forgotten about. I was like “Oh, yeah! That’s right! That was sort of a big deal when we did that or did this!” I don’t know. I’ve never been sort of good about remembering what happened yesterday. I’ve had way more people tell me what I did in baseball games when I was playing Pac 10 baseball. “Remember you won that game, Todd” No, no I don’t. I don’t remember it. I have certain recollections of high school but not vivid.
In 20 years, I know we’ve grown from a handful of super hero comic books to swapping out and moving the partners. Bringing someone in like Robert Kirkman. Looking around this room, there are a lot of eclectic books now. It’s not all musclebound guys in tight spandex. We just sort of continue to evolve and survive in the comic book medium. No, for whatever success I had yesterday, I always think I can double it the next day. It’s a sort of a sense of self confidence and a bit of arrogance on my part. I think tomorrow’s always going to be the best day I’m going to have on this planet.
Adam: Over the years, with your drawing, I’ve noticed you’ve become more selective of what projects you choose. What gets your juices flowing and makes you go “I’ve gotta draw that!”
Todd: It’s interesting because I still do a fair amount of drawing. Because I’ve evolved artistically away from being a full time comic book guy, people think I just don’t draw. I’ve kept saying it over the years. I do lots of drawing for the toys, I do lots of drawing for the video games, and we’re doing stuff in animation. If I’m directing a music video I do a lot of concept drawing.
It’s just that in comic books whatever you draw gets printed. People got used to “Todd draws, we print it”. It’s not true anymore. There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that I do. On top of it, the reason you don’t see as much is because I’m involved with things where there is a collaboration. Video games now, doing movies and animation stuff, it takes dozens or hundreds of people to get it off the ground. One person can’t be “The Guy”.
As to where comic books, you go in a room, you draw it, you give it to them, they print it. It’s all you at that point, especially if you’re writing, penciling, and inking like I used to. People don’t quite understand that there’s plenty of art still coming off my hand. They’re just not getting to see it. What they’re getting to see is the end result of it. So if you like the toy, the video game, or the music video I did then the end result was that I was doing the art through all that project.
Even directing is art. It depends on your definition of art too. If you’re directing something that’s still imagining art in your brain and putting it on film. It’s not drawing it on a piece of paper. I just keep going where opportunity knocks and where either A.) I go “Wow! That would be cool to do!” from a personal point of view or B.) “That would be good to do from a business point of view. If I do that, I think it’ll help drive some of the other product in my company forward.”
Adam: Do you have any advice for any future creators out there looking to break into the industry?
Todd: My guess is that it’s not very much different than it was 20 years ago when I broke in. You have to just take your portfolio, knock on everybody’s door at conventions, shove it underneath everybody’s nose, send it in the mail over, and over, and over. Just be relentless. I’ve met people before over the years that sort of get rejected once or twice or four times and they’re ready to throw in the towel? Unless you’re a superstar, artistically, at that point, you’re not going to get it in the first four of five times. It’s sort of like being an actor. You’re not going to get the role on Broadway. You’ve gotta start someplace. You got to get the community job and then move your way up. You just have to be stubborn.
The other piece, is that you don’t have to be as well rounded an artist as you might imagine. I, as a comic book artist that pencils and inks, have to be able to draw cars, people, buildings, and do lighting and shadows. You name it, I have to be able to draw it. You can make a great living in Hollywood, the video game business, and other capacities if you can just do great lighting. If you can just do great sound effects. If you can just do great lettering. If you can just do great weapons. If you can just do great clothing. There are people who earn livings, and good money who just do one of those little segments. If you try in one area and can’t get in, then maybe sort of get a little myopic with your talents. Say “I think my strengths lie here. I’m just going to do THOSE two things. I’m good at costume design but forget it I can’t draw the human body very well.” Stop it. Just become a costume designer. That’s an honest living.
A special thanks to Todd McFarlane for his insight, and to Jen Cassidy and Brett Gardner for being the masters at coordination. I’m stoked to see where Spawn is headed in the future! Come back Friday when we will have Royden Lepp, the creator of Rust. It’s a wonderful graphic novel from Archaia press that melts the most hardened criminals with its heart.