WEDNESDAY at 6 P.M.: TODD McFARLANE at GOLDEN APPLE
Todd McFarlane, one of the superstar names in comics, will be at Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles Wednesday at 6 p.m. for a celebration of the 200th issue of Spawn, his comics series about a supernatural force that punishes the wicked. The event at the Melrose Avenue landmark is a special one for McFarlane, as Golden Apple hosted the signing party for the first issue — in June 1992. We caught up with the artist and entrepreneur to talk about anniversary of a standout moment in comics publishing history and his aspiration to bring “Spawn” back to the silver screen.
GB: It must be nice for you to be going back to Golden Apple for this event.
TM: I remember the first time — for the release of Spawn No. 1 — my wife was out of town so I had my little daughter who was about 5 or 6 months old. So I packed her up, “”OK, I’m going to do this signing with my daughter.” And now fast-forward and she’s in her second year at NYU. Wow. It’s been that many years and that’s what it takes to get to that kind of a number in comic books.
GB:You’ve had so many successes and different stops in your career, but tell me about that first Spawn issue and what that represents for you now when you look back.
TM: The culmination of it — being that high school kid that loved comic books and teaching myself to draw and sending out my samples, getting rejected and eventually having someone crack open that door open for me. It was like essentially getting the mailroom job, if you will, and climbing up from no-name books and eventually getting to work on Batman, Hulk and Spider-Man. And then getting to a point — I guess I’m just restless — where I found new creative itches to scratch. I wanted to tell stories that didn’t require clearance from somebody else to tell. And even more so, when you jump on a character that’s got 200, 300 issues behind them, there’s baggage that goes with it. And, you know, I’m now in that position with Spawn. Anybody who comes in, the first thing they feel they have to do is read the past. But back when it started I was looking for a clean slate so we could tell stories without keeping them in the corporate box.
GB: The success went well beyond comics, too, with television, toys and film. Are there any new adaptation efforts in the pipeline?
TM: One of the things that happened is after the first movie came out I started the toy company and sort of got distracted. But these days, as you might imagine, with the [Hollywood] success of Batman and Spider-Man and some of the Marvel titles, everybody’s on a comic-book buying binge and the phone constantly rings. My attitude toward it is I can’t get my head wrapped around some big special-effects movie with a supervillain in there. There will be plenty of those and they’ve done pretty well.
I’ve always seen Spawn as being cut from a different cloth. It’s more of an urban, psychological story that’s being told. The answer I’ve given the last few years is that Spawn should be a small-budget movie in which the only thing that’s out of the ordinary is this thing that intellectually we know as Spawn and there would only be a handful of people that see it. I call it “it” because it never talks, it’s just a force of nature. Really, the story revolves around the people who are trying to decide: “Is the ghost alive? Is the shadow actually moving?” When I give that pitch, some of the executives scratch their heads. To a lot of people, a movie where the [title] character doesn’t talk doesn’t make any sense. There have been a few movies like that. “Alien,” you know, that guy didn’t say much. Or “Jaws,” the shark didn’t have too many speaking lines. “Jaws” is the closest example, the movie wasn’t about the shark, it’s about the people chasing the shark.
GB: There are so many against-the-grain films in the sci-fi or comics sector that I would think it wouldn’t be that strange of a pitch. If you consider the premise, plot or approach of movies like “District 9,” “Kick-Ass,” “Sucker Punch” or “Cowboys & Aliens,” how strange, really, is Spawn as a movie?
TM: The idea I pitch is that the movie shouldn’t be about superheroes and laser beams — it’s about the id of people and the group of people caught up in the story and seeing things out of the corner of their eye. And when I give the pitch, I also say that I will write and direct it. There’s the nonnegotiable pieces of it. Then I have four suitors who say, “Yeah, cool, when do we start?” It means we’re not looking for a $20-million actor and we’re not looking for a big-budget extravaganza with lots of special effects.
GB: Then more like a “Paranormal Activity” approach but with urban-crime trappings…
TM: The story that I pitch is very tight, very contained, but done right. I want a movie that gets people’s hearts racing. I want to scare them. Spawn, done right, is a creepy character. Instead of a superhero who just stands there. That’s why Batman was always the coolest of all the good guys. I never had one moment of affinity for [Superman]. He was a Boy Scout right from the moment he hit the ground. He was always polite and said the right thing. I never felt like he was in danger because he could spin planets on his finger. Batman is a guy who could die if you threw him out of a window. More than that, even though he had women throwing themselves at him and millions of dollars, all he wanted to do was to wait until 3 a.m. and the pitch of black and say, “time to put the costume on and scare the bad guys.” I relate way more to that guy. Spawn is Batman untethered, without the corporation behind it. Batman without limits, Batman who kills the Joker.
GB: It reminds me a bit of those great Spectre comics from the 1970s, this ruthless spirit of ultra-violent punishment…
TM: Yep, that’s it. I even use that word in the movie pitches. Spawn is a spectre, a sentinel, he’s that thing that nobody can get their hands on. As a kid growing up, the movies I was enamored with were the creepy movies where there’s only one creepy thing. Going back to the black-and-white films, way back, “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” there was only one fantastical element. The title character. Dr. Frankenstein and Igor were just a madman and simpleton. They were still humans. When you start adding others to it, it loses me. The son of the Wolf Man or the bride of Frankenstein, even, it loses it. I like “The Exorcist.” I like “Rosemary’s Baby.” A little bit of the fantastic and then everything else was real. You went for the ride and felt like, “If there was a ghost in the house, this is what it would be like.”
GB: The trip to Golden Apple is more than nostalgia, of course. Tell me about your expectations with issue No. 200.
TM: We’re going to ring the bell again. Two hundred issues of any comic book in our industry is a pretty decent feat, let alone an independent one. To my knowledge, the only other one is Cerebus by Dave Sim, a Canadian, like myself. We’re waiting for you Americans to start pulling your weight.
– Geoff Boucher
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