The hour is drawing nearer to the release of Spawn Universe #1, Todd McFarlane's latest expansion of the Spawn franchise and the first entirely new Spawn ongoing series to hit a #1 in 30 years. In addition to McFarlane himself, Spawn Universe is stacked with top-tier art talent including the dynamic veteran Brett Booth, and superhero superstar Jim Cheung, whose work helped define the tone of major publishing initiative for both Marvel and DC in the last decade. McFarlane is able to zero in on something appealing about their work that translates to an expansion of the broader Spawn brand.
Specifically, McFarlane notes that after thirty years of a single narrative shaping the varied world of Spawn in a single ongoing title, now there will be two -- and the opportunity to diversify the look and feel of the Spawn Universe title so that there's a Spawn book for more than one kind of consumer is irresistible to the Image Comics co-founder, who became a household name while working on Marvel's Spider-Man stable of titles in the '80s.
Back in February, Image Comics President and Spawn creator McFarlane announced the creation of his own multi-character, interconnected comic book universe. The goal, McFarlane and Image say, is to establish a shared fictional universe over time, in the vein of what the other comic industry giants, Marvel, and DC Comics, have accomplished with their comic book universes. The plan is to have four ongoing series set in the Spawn Universe by the end of 2021.
More recently, it was revealed the some of the artists behind helping McFarlane expand the line would be Booth, Cheung, Steven Segovia, and Marcio Takara. It's a heavy-hitting lineup, especially since McFarlane himself is necessarily spending a little more time overseeing the various Spawn projects than he was when it was just the one book. Those big names won't be alone, though.
As part of his announcement, McFarlane announced four new titles coming out in 2021, with three of them continuing on as regular monthly titles, meaning that there will be an opportunity for fans of the Spawn character and his new expanding world, to get their stories from it on a weekly basis in the coming months and years, not unlike how the Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman titles functioned in the comics heyday of the '90s.
Besides those already named, McFarlane has plans for content from an all-star list of comic book creators such as Art Adams, Jason Shawn Alexander, Carlo Barberi, J. Scott Campbell (whose variant cover for Spawn Universe #1 you an see here for the first time), Greg Capullo, Donny Cates, Mike del Mundo, Javier Fernandez, David Finch, Jonathan Glapion, Kevin Keane, Aleš Kot, Puppeteer Lee, Sean Lewis, Sean Gordon Murphy, Ben Oliver, Paulo Siqueira, Marc Silvestri, and Frank Quitely, just to start.
And, as McFarlane shared with ComicBook during a recent interview, none of the choices are random.
McFarlane sees the inherent value in having an artist like Cheung who is not only a talented draftsman, but whose work, taken at face value, is inherently commercial and has a broad appeal and a mainstream feel to it.
"I'm going to appeal to a wider, arguably newer, audience -- because again, some of this [story] is going all the way back to the release of Spawn #1," McFarlane explained. "You can be 30 years old now and say, 'That happened when I was a kid. I have no recollection of it' -- so, Spawn may not be that meaningful to you if you're a younger person. So what is meaningful to you? Well, the Marvel movies, and some of the DC stuff and whatever that you're watching on TV."
"I have to acknowledge that...besides retaining those that have been in-the-know about what Spawn is or something like that, that I also have to say out loud that there will be a big portion of people that I'm hoping, fingers crossed, will be coming and sampling Spawn for the first time," McFarlane continued. "If that's true, I then must present it in a package that makes sense to them. And I think Jim Cheung makes sense to them."
Not specific to Cheung, but certainly inclusive of him, is McFarlane's philosophy that in expanding the Spawn universe, he has to expand the kind of stories he's telling and they ways that they're presented within that universe.
"Here's the advantage now of having two ongoing Spawn monthlies: they don't now both need to be the same book," McFarlane said. "If I was doing a moody story, I could use someone like Jason Shawn Alexander. I think his stuff is wonderful. But before, if you don't want a dark, moody book, then there was no other option for you. You'd just go, 'eh, Spawn is not my cup of tea.' Or the opposite; some people go, 'Oh, finally, Spawn is giving us something dark and moody. I'm tired of superhero books, I've seen it, I'm bored of it.' I'll have two books now, and my plan is to dabble a little bit in and out of them, and if one's getting a little bit heavy, probably intentionally lighten up a little bit on the other one, just to say, 'Hey, it's not all going to be the same thing; I'm going to give a little bit more variety to it.'"prevnext
Cheung on Spawn
Cheung followed McFarlane over from Marvel and, like so many readers in the '80s and '90s, has been reading Spawn since the beginning.
"I picked up Spawn from the very first issue," Cheung told ComicBook. "I was a fan of Todd's art from when he was drawing the Hulk, and had followed him onto Spider-Man, so there was no way I was going to miss seeing what he was going to do with his own creation. I still have the books stashed away at my parents' home and enjoy leafing through them whenever I go back."
As noted above, his artwork evokes a somewhat more traditional superhero feel than many of the artists to work on Spawn in recent years. And while McFarlane wants that look, Cheung himself isn't interested in just plopping Spawn into what looks like an Avengers book. He says he is working to find that balance where he keeps the tone of the Spawn universe without losing what makes his work special and approachable.
"With Spawn, I really tried to create more atmospheric pages to keep in tone with the book, so it's been a great experience," Cheung said. "I've always felt that my art was on the lighter side, so to have the opportunity to push it in the opposite direction was relished. I'm constantly striving to improve, so it's been a lovely learning experience."
"The idea of working with Todd was a little daunting at first, since he is such a legend," Cheung added. "Also, with the pedigree of artists that had come before, I wanted to make sure I did my best not to disappoint. Todd has been very generous though, in giving me a lot of freedom to do my thing, and has provided only minimal notes to me. His plots are very open and provide just enough detail to let the imagination run wild."
There's obviously a big world with a lot of bizarre designs to work from in Spawn Universe, and many of the favorites Cheung name-drops are pretty unconventional-looking.
"While it was fun tackling Gunslinger and his hat, Cy-Gor was a favorite," Cheung said. "Can't beat a cyborg gorilla, can you?! All the characters have such great designs, and hopefully I'll get to tackle Violator, Clown and Malebolgia in the future.
"Spawn's cape is almost a separate character, and it took me a while to really embrace that when drawing the pages," he added, noting that it's one of the few things that carries over to virtually every iteration of Spawn. "It can be so expressive and abstract that it becomes a tremendous design element, and Todd really encouraged me to push it in that direction."prevnext
McFarlane also has plenty to say about Brett Booth.
"First off, can I just say, the kid's a maniac?" McFarlane joked.
"No matter how much I try to give him easy pages, he figures out how to make them way more impressive than they're supposed to be," McFarlane said of the artist, who cut his teeth at Image but has been a staple of some of DC's highest-profile books in recent years. "I know my artists, and what their speeds are, and what their deadlines are, and whatever else. I've been on the end of drawing somebody's plot, so I know what can be frustrating, and what you can't do, so I try to pace out my pages so that I'm not killing my artists. It's a good way to retain a good relationship with your artists."
Booth, though, apparently finds ways to challenge himself even when McFarlane is intentionally throwing him some softballs.
"I gave him one I thought was actually going to be page one, was actually going to be the easiest page he's probably ever drawn, or at least in recent memory. I thought he was going to use three panels and leave the bottom two blank, because it was essentially going to be a stack. You've seen these stacked pages. I was playing with time a little bit. And he redrew it three times. I'm like, 'Brett, that was a stacked page. Why do you have to draw that every single ...' He's like, 'Well, I made the blade of grass a little bit different bend over there, and I made one of the leaves blow in a different direction.' I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' But it was true. I started looking at it going, 'God, there actually is a nuance to each one of these.' At first blush it looks like it could be a stack, but ...! What I like about him, besides he just draws his ass off, is he's been around long enough that he should probably start, you would think, slowing down, but he's drawing like he's 20 years old. I'm going, 'Wow, dude. Wow, dude. Wow.'"
McFarlane joked, actually, that the same philosophy about wanting to keep relationships intact with his artists might apply to getting Booth to calm down and take a breath every so often -- even if it isn't just for Booth's own good.
"I'm going to figure out how to get him to not have to draw every square inch of every page, because I want to retain my colorists and my inkers too," McFarlane told us with a laugh. "I think he's a guy that might make that job a little more difficult for me, which is why I'm inking some of his pages, so that I can commiserate with his other inker. So it's like, 'Hey, you're not the only guy suffering. I'm doing some of Brett's pages too.' Like I said, he just puts a freakish amount of detail in it. But again, if you go back to when you and I were younger, I remember that first miniseries of Longshot that Art Adams did, or the annual that Michael Golden did of the Avengers, or some of the early stuff that George Perez did that just blew you away...you just couldn't get your head wrapped around it, even as a professional, of why and how people do it. Especially when you're a reader, it's just magnificent."
All joking aside, McFarlane told us, he's tapping into that energy to try and create something special for Spawn readers in Booth's contributions.
"I'm hoping that his little segment in Spawn Universe tweaks that same nerve that it did for me when I was 15, 16, of people used to do that, and you'd just go, 'Man, that's cool,'" McFarlane said. "That's why I'm going to keep looking at these pages, because I find something new every time I look at it.
Booth, of course, has not worked exclusively in comics, but has done creative work elsewhere, and some of his non-comics experience is also going to be capitalized on in his Spawn Universe stories, McFarlane promises.
"It's one of the opening moves that I give to all my artists: 'Tell me your three favorite things in the world, and I'll make sure it gets in some kind of page somewhere,'" McFarlane said. "I remember Brett saying, 'Todd, I do like dinosaurs,' and I'm like, 'Okay, I'll figure out something.' I made it my personal mission to figure out a dinosaur page, so when you see something with a dinosaur page in the future, then you can go, 'Yeah, that's right, I told Todd he liked dinosaurs, and Todd listened.' So yeah, you can go on record as saying, at some point, somehow, I'm going to figure out how to get a dinosaur for Brett. I don't care how I get there, I'm going to get a dinosaur for Brett."prevnext
Booth on Spawn
For his part, Booth says that he has been a fan of Spawn since the series launched, making work on the long-running title almost as loaded with history and nostalgia as his work on characters like Superman. His love for McFarlane tracks back even farther than the Marvel work.
"I picked up 2 copies [of Spawn #1]," Booth said. "One I could read and study, and one I could store for later. I've been a Todd fan since Infinity Inc. though. Read his Hulk and Spider-Man as well."
Booth clearly has a shared sensibility with McFarlane, since when we asked what the best part about drawing Spawn was, he zeroed right in on that aforementioned cape and chains.
"The gothic nature is always fun, but the cape is the most fun for me," Booth said. "Figuring out how to get to look right. Todd is the master of drawing capes so trying to figure out his secrets adds a level of enjoyment when you get it to look right."
Getting it right is a challenge anytime, but Booth notes that his usual, hyper-detailed style is being cranked up to 11 because he's working on Spawn specifically -- even if it's a take on Spawn that has already given him a chance to draw 11 dinosaurs and a handful of skeletons.
"To me, detail and Todd McFarlane go hand in hand. It's what drew me to his work," Booth explained. "And Spawn just took it up a notch. I don't think I really did more than I normally do, but I do think Todd cranked it up a notch or two with his inks! The characters lend themselves to the details though. Monsters and demons, undead, skeletonized faces where you can just get lost drawing wrinkles or decaying flesh. It's way more fun than I thought it would be! It makes you want to add just that bit more."
Working with McFarlane -- especially s someone who grew up as a fan -- is a daunting task for Booth, but it's worth it -- especially since what he's feeling on Spawn Universe is a blast from the past in some ways.
"This has been what I've missed the most from the early days of Wildstorm," Booth said. "Pitching ideas back and forth. Just getting on the phone and talking about what would cool and fun to do. I'm not as familiar with the current books as I would like. I don't get much free time for reading. So I pitch out some vague ideas, and Todd will use that as a springboard. We flushed out some of Gunslingers backstory for Spawn Universe, but what we used for the short is sort of the aftermath of that. World building, the unseen stuff!"
Booth's cover is a little crowded, but some of those he hasn't written in-story yet. But he'll get to them.
"This one was mostly just Gunslinger, but I do love drawing him," Booth teased. "They sent me a bunch of characters and just said draw what you like for a cover. So I did! Or at least what I could fit on there easily. Raven Spawn and Haunt look quite cool as well...!"prevnext
Steven Segovia, who has done dynamic work for DC and who has drawn numerous iterations of a number of characters in the Convergence crossover event a few years back, will bring that ability to differentiate between doppelgangers to team Spawn soon, starting with a run at King Spawn.
"He said, 'Todd, what does he look like?' And I went, 'However you want to draw him,'" McFarlane explained, noting that Segovia will tweak the look a bit from what longtime fans would recognize. "Here's the rules of Spawn: he's got this symbiotic costume, and it moves, and it shifts, which is why I've been able to alter his look through time, and since the book's been published. So if you want, you can treat the armor in the same vein. The rivets, and the helmet, and the gauntlets, and his boots don't always have to be the same from issue to issue, or from creator to creator. As long as it has the vibe is right -- as long as it feels like it's that character, and we're going to have pretty much the same color palette -- so as long as you put in the right pieces in the right spot, I'm not concerned that it matches exactly anything that's gone before. If you want to use that, go ahead and use what you want to use. Don't be slavish to it if you don't want to. I don't care. But do something cool."prevnext
McFarlane is also working with Marcio Takara, who will draw a female take on Spawn. Takara, who has worked on A-list Marvel characters like Wolverine and Jessica Jones, brings what McFarlane calls "an elegance to his work."
"He draws very clean," McFarlane said. "When you go into some of the corners of Spawn's world, it can be a little grungy and a little dirty, and I think that contrast will be interesting to look at, not only from story to story, but eventually when I get to the team book and some of these characters are commingling, [within a single story]. So, how do you do basically Beauty and the Beast?"
"The Old West, when I think about it, is a lot of dust, and squinty eye Clint Eastwood-type," McFarlane explained. "A guy like Brett, who has energy that closer to mine, where we're sort of manic when we draw, works more for that than trying to do something elegant, if you will. So I would say that Marcio falls closer into the Jimmy Cheung bucket of artists that are just nice to look at. I think almost any person -- my mom, my dad, next door neighbor -- that are not traditional comic book artists would appreciate just the way that they draw. I think somebody like Brett Booth, and artists of his ilk...I think people like them probably for some of the same reasons they like mine, because there's a lot of work on the page, and people respond to that in a different fashion than something elegant or handsome."
Spawn Universe #1 will be available in stores and online on June 23.prev