For the past week, we’ve been running a series of articles that came from a lengthy, exclusive interview we did with McFarlane Toys founder and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. In earlier articles, we’ve covered what McFarlane had to say about the Spawn movie, sports action figures, Spawn action figures, The Walking Dead, and more.
With all that McFarlane has going on, one might wonder if he still has time for comic books. While it’s hard to judge tone in black-and-white text, we can tell you that when it came time to talk about comic books, McFarlane lit up and gave some of his most passionate feedback of the entire interview. It’s obvious that comic books are still very much a part of McFarlane’s world, and he had some very strong views on the recent flood of relaunches by Marvel and DC.
Comicbook.com: It’s pretty impressive that Spawn has gotten up to around 239 issues now. Would you ever consider relaunching or are you going straight to try to reach a thousand issues before anyone else with Marvel and DC constantly relaunching?
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, I keep saying, if they keep relaunching pretty soon Spawn is going to be the highest numbered book in the country, that’s cool. It’s interesting. I’m a bit of old school guy, and it was weird, because when I was young, and I don’t know what historically has changed, maybe some of just the different marketing. But I actually would buy my comic books when I was younger based on how high the number was.
I took that a high number meant that the book must be pretty decent or must be a popular character because it had been around so long. And it’s weird that there’s now a little bit of a buzz that people go, “It’s a detriment. People don’t want to come in and jump in because they think that the numbering is scaring them.” It’s sort of a silly argument I’ve got to say, because it’s sort of saying, “While I haven’t seen all the New York Yankees games, and I never got to see Babe Ruth play and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, so why would I start becoming a Yankees fan.” It’s sort of silly to me. People will jump in on movie franchises or TV shows during the middle of them. They’ll jump into sports hundreds of years past the launch of that franchise. So it seems weird to me because it’s ink on paper that somehow there’s a different mentality.
Maybe, there is, but my first goal right now is to just get to issue #301, because the longest running independent comic book ever was a book called Cerebus that Dave Sim did, a fellow Canadian. And he got up to issue #300. He always said he was going to do 300 and quit, which he did. He ran it to 300 issues and quit. And so I go cool, once I get to 301 I can stick out my chest and go, “Hey, I’ve got the longest running independent comic book.”
And the other thing was, and I’ve done these goofy things before in the past, and this is sort of one of those ones, I go, “If it has a 1 on it, and that’s going to make you buy more, then I’ll put two numbers on the book. I’ll put one at the top that says Spawn Relaunch #1, and at the bottom for those of us that want to keep going, it will be issue #251.” It’s bizarre to me that a number in the corner of a book is going to determine whether you have any interest in the book. And maybe the argument is that they can say they got there at the beginning. But even if I did launch a Spawn #1 that doesn’t preclude that there is 250 issues prior to that. That doesn’t go away. So even if you are a new reader, and you buy an issue number 1, you go, “Ha, I got number 1.” It’s still a fact that story is driven by everything that went on in the past 250, so if you have any interest in checking out any of the mythology of back issues, you have to get older stuff anyway. So like I said, it’s always been an odd conversation.
Then, if we shift it from what for me is an odd conversation, and you just shift it to the quote unquote business side of it. Dude, I’ve been around in business for a long time now, and you point to me one book… one book that relaunched its numbering and sold more books in the long run. And the answer is that book doesn’t exist. So I don’t even know why they keep asking for something that monetarily and business-wise has been a failure. It’s Bizarro conversation to me. So I just do what I do and just let the chips lie where they are at.
Comicbook.com: I think they are probably just looking at the short-term press side of it. They get the press coverage with a relaunch, but then they wind up having to do it again in another year.
Todd McFarlane: I’m not taking any of that away. I’m not denying that. All that happens. What doesn’t happen is that it sticks and there’s any longevity to it. You can have Amazing Spider-Man be up to issue #375 or some weird number, and it will sell in the 300K [range]. And now you’ve relaunched it four times, and it’s selling 100K. In your relaunching, you’ve lost two-thirds of your consumers.
Now, again, is it because of the relaunch? No. Is it because of the way we’re doing business in the comic book industry? Everybody is losing sales. So I’m just saying, having that number 1 on there is not a magical thing. It’s not a magical thing. It doesn’t mean that Marvel or anybody is going to sell more issues of the book. Maybe, I think DC is having a pretty good run on Batman, but I’m biased, I think that has more to do with what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing, than anything else. But historically, it just doesn’t matter.
Could I do it and get a bump up in sales? Yeah. Do I think that a year and a half later my sales will be right where they were if not below? Yep. So why do it? My old school just wants to be able to go to the price guide book, and I want to be able to look up Spawn, right before Spider-Man, Spawn, and go, “All that I need to know about that Spawn book for all intents and purposes, other than a couple mini-series, is like in one listing.” I don’t want to have to chase it down.
Gun to my head right now, and I’m a comic geek… gun to my head right now, somebody says, “Collect every issue chronologically of Fantastic Four.” I wouldn’t even know how to do it. I wouldn’t know how to do it. I’m like, “Is it that #1 first? Do I do then that #1, 237, then they went back to the old numbering, and then they relaunch it again. And then do I go to that #1? You know what I mean? Yikes.”
And sometimes they even change the title so it’s not even listed on the same page in the price guide. I don’t know. Like I said, I thought when I was a kid seeing Action Comics with a big number was cool. I thought having Detective Comics and Thor was over 200 issues and Spider-Man was getting to be 200 issues. Who else had big numbers? Fantastic Four was getting over 200 when I started collecting them going way back to the seventies. The Green Lantern, anything that was over a 100 or 200… and then like I said, when you got to Action Comics and Detective Comics that were up in the 300’s and 400’s I thought it was awesome. I remember going, “If I could create a character and have it go that many years, that would be awesome.”