Todd McFarlane is an icon in the halls of San Diego Comic-Con - a shining example of a creator who stepped out the shadow of the Marvel and DC giants, and made good all on his own. McFarlane's Spawn has been a modern classic, and the series is now set for a major movie reboot, with McFarlane himself directing. That made his panel, "Inspiration & Determination" an especially interesting part of San Diego Comic-Con 2019.
And McFarlane didn't disappoint!
McFarlane started the panel by plugging his new book, Spawn #300, before inviting three self-identified "competent artists" to work on Spawn #300 while he moderated his panel! The fan artists' job was to fill in black shade on some penciled pages by artist Greg Capullo, and it was actually a cool activity to see unfold!
While the "slave labor" worked on the pages, McFarlane started his spiel with a talk about Spawn #300. He said he had two stories to tell; one he knows the ending of, and on the audience will help create the ending of. He then thanked fans earnestly for all the "hared-earned money" they've given to him and his family for 30th years, saying it's why he thanks fans for their support in every interaction.
McFarlane then talked about Spawn reaching issue 300. He made the crowd due the math on one issue a month from 1 - 300; using his daughter as the example, he recalled signing a fan's issue #1 of Spawn with his newborn daughter in arm; now his daughter is starting her residency as a surgeon at North Carolina. He said people who say he's been lucky mistake luck for daily grinding.
We then hear about one of the "inflexion points" of McFarlane's career, in a story about how he was living in Calgary, Canada and one day ran into John Byrne in a comic shop, and was told "You can do it," by the iconic comic creator. In that same time frame, McFarlane got to sit for a three-hour chat with Stan Lee, who gave him something similar in the way of inspiration.
The other inflexion point for McFarlane was when Spawn #1 came out in 1992. He showed a photo of himself on that day, and announced to the crowd that Spawn #301 will mark the longest-running creator-owned comic book ever. To give potential creators in the crowd hope, McFarlane showed early (failed) concept art of Spawn from McFarlane's teenage years, side-by-side with artwork fo the finished Spawn from issue #1, and Spawn now on the issue #299 cover. He went into a full diatribe about facing the word "no," or fear of failure, and beating it down.
Interestingly, McFarlane told the audience they should go into every job interview or propposal meeting with the assumption that you'll get a no. That way you'll never be disappointed. He told a funny story of all the hundreds of "No's" he got from Marvel, before he got one of the thirteen editors to believe in him. He was still getting rejection letter from Marvel, while working at Marvel!
He talks about learning to be creative and navigate the language of business at the same time. He assures the creatives in the room that they too can become "bilingual" about business speak. He begins a talk about the process of learning to be pro-level:
- Step #1: Finding the confidence to even try.
- Step #2: Develop greater skill. It's not just about natural ability, but the tenacity to work on what you're not best at. Doing so will make you better than the naturally gifted who don't try. "I could never be them; they could've been me in ten seconds... God bless them: Lazy people make me look good." He compares himself to Donkey in Shrek, saying the tenacity to take be the first to volunteer for a job.
McFarlane showed a stat about how 94 of the top 100 comics in June were DC or Marvel; 2 were existing properties; 4 were original creations not being sold off. He cites the potential for new things, in an era where media companies are thirsty for content they can acquire outside of DC and Marvel, and challenges new creators to aim for that "108th" spot on the list, where their property may just get acquired by a bigger entity. That was all a build up to the next step to success:
- Step #3: Create
McFarlane reveals to the crowd that Hollywood is currently scouring comic book stores to find something new to acquire. Getting your foot in the door that way, and building something, can ultimately lead to:
- Step #4: Make History
The final portion of McFarlane's speech was aimed at building up the youth. He doesn't believe in hanging with old fogies who are youth haters, because people have been saying the next generation of youth are the worst ever, forever. He acted out the cycle of generations of cavemen all complaining about their ancestors. He ends with the wisdom that old folks like him are good for one thing: blocking youth from making the same mistakes they did.
To close the panel, McFarlane shared a picture of him with Frank Miller, who was wearing a Superman shirt, which McFarlane used for the "S" in a Spawn sign he's holding. He checked on his fan artist inkers for Spawn #300, and they all killed it!0comments
Before a Q&A, McFarlane shared a photo preview of Spawn #300's cover by Jerome, as well as couple of photos with him and Stan Lee - including one where Stan is a holding a sign that read "Who is this dummy?"
The first question was whether or not McFarlane has been fired. Marvel put him on G.I. Joe: Real American Hero, where he clashed with the writer and got fired. A few minutes later, DC Comics called him for Batman: Year Two. It was a long six minutes of unemployment. McFarlane never even told his wife. That issue of Batman was also McFarlane's first inking job, which ultimately established the full "McFarlane Look."
In terms of changing times - McFarlane is most impressed with the volume of global talent in the comic industry now. He's most disappointed with the big comics publishers now using full scripts instead of prompting creator ideas. He thinks it makes modern creators under-trained.
Asked why Spawn endures, McFarlane says it's because he personally sticks with it. He says that keeping just Spawn, and appreciating that, is all he needs for a good life.
On the question of the Spawn movie, McFarlane says that the production is set, but just needs the final financing push to get it going. He proclaims that if it comes to it, he'll take a dollar from 20 million people on Kickstarter to get it going. He says he's playing nice "now," but won't let it go.