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|Interview with Todd MacFarlane (1995)|
COMIC-ART.COM: Todd, How did the Spawn/Batman book come about?
MACFARLANE: How did Spawn/Batman come about? I always think of stupid things, you know. That's how I entertain myself every day, and so I, and more than that, I like to come up with jokes and stuff like that, so I like to mess with people.
COMIC-ART.COM: Go ahead. I've got a good sense of humor.
MACFARLANE: So, when I mess with people then I like to have a joke. So, I had this evil scheme that I had with Frank Miller that I phoned him because I was talking to him about maybe doing issue number eleven for "Spawn. And I go, `What if I could come up with a way for you to do Batman but you didn't have to work for DC Comic Books, and you could write it and draw it and pencil and ink it and you wouldn't have to listen to anybody?' You know, now at this point, you know, again, like a lot of people, he just thinks I guess I'm thinking far too much. But, what I ended up doing is I thought about it more and more. See, the original joke went something like: I get this deal. We kill Spawn in the first page. Oh, beauty! Now we've just got Batman. I break my arm on the second page and Frank Miller gets to write, pencil, ink and draw this cool Batman project because that's what I would want to see. You know? Oh, Batman and Frank Miller all over again.
But since it wouldn't be that easy and somebody would probably catch us halfway through it, the more I thought about it, then I'd go, Ah, we could never pull this off. It was just a bad joke anyway, Frank. But then I thought about it and I'd go: We're never going to be able to just get a Batman book all to ourselves, but we could probably get the next best thing. So, when I phoned DC Comic Books and offered that they do one book, I do one book, we swap characters and we both kind of do our own gig and see who puts out the best book. At that point, then I'm able to turn that around to Frank and go: `Frank, have I got a deal for you. It's not quite as good as what I told you a couple of months ago, but it's not so bad.' And after thinking about it, he decided that it would be kind of a cool thing to do.
COMIC-ART.COM: When did you approach DC?
MACFARLANE: I don't know. Months and months and months ago.
COMIC-ART.COM: Like '93? '92?
MACFARLANE: Yeah. In '93. At the beginning of this year, probably.
COMIC-ART.COM: Who did you approach to make the deal with?
MACFARLANE: Who was it? Let me think. I think it was Paul Levitz, to tell you the truth.
COMIC-ART.COM: That's who I assumed it was going to be. And they seemed receptive, pretty much?
MACFARLANE: Paul was, like I said, Paul, he was more than generous, you know? I mean he was like, yeah, cool! And it was, you know, he was easy. I mean they've been easy on me at this point. I've been easy on them. So, we've, it's been working out. There's going to be two cool books coming out in March and essentially they're standalone books. They don't cross over to each other or anything. So, you could buy one or the other, if it'll make any difference whether you have to collect both. It's not like a necessity on a kid's part. But, again, to me, the competitive edge of trying to outdo them is what will try and get me to do a better product. And hopefully, they will have the same competitive edge to try and outdo our book and the end result will be two good books.
COMIC-ART.COM: Why did you bring Frank Miller in, just because you wanted to work with him?
MACFARLANE: Why'd I bring Frank in? Because again, one: out of fear. You know, this was going to be a pretty big project and I didn't really know whether I was up for it, you know, in terms of: you know, the last, big standalone book, you know. I kept thinking like, "The Killing Joke, you know? And I'd go, but that was Brian Bolland and Alan Moore and I go, I'm known for my art, but I don't that I can write a story that goes down in history, you know? So, again, out of fear, I go, well, I'll take one crack at getting Frank and if he says no, then I'll just do it myself. And luckily, you know, he came around.
COMIC-ART.COM: Was it because you were a fan of Frank's work in general or because you knew he'd written Batman?
MACFARLANE: A combination. I don't think you can be a fan of Frank's without ever having read his Batman stuff, you know? It was one of his benchmarks. So, and in terms of marketing, I mean that's a hell of a plus, you know? So, "Spawn/Batman and MacFarlane is always going to sell anyways. And I was going to sell it anyways, but for me to throw in that one little jab: `Oh, by the way, Frank Miller's writing it.' That just solidifies that project to go, Wow, we got a winner project here. We could sell this project.
COMIC-ART.COM: Sounds like you're excited about it.
MACFARLANE: Oh, yeah. Frank and I are like kids. Because deep down, with all the crap and all the stuff that we do, and we're always like barking at the establishment, deep down we're just like little superhero comic book fans, you know? Like: Cool, we get to do Batman and we don't have to phone up DC Comic Books Cool! And we just get to do it, and it's kind of like we think we got away with something, and we're like little kids.
COMIC-ART.COM: How did you and Frank work up the idea for your story? Did you both contribute ideas? Or was it mostly Frank's?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, I mean I had some because again, I didn't know that Frank was ever going to say yes. So I had some ideas myself andI threw some of them out at Frank, but essentially, you know, I mean, when people work for me, I like to give them as much freedom as possible. So I threw a couple of ideas at Frank and told him, you can use any, all or none of them, I don't care. And that's exactly what he did and then he brought in his story. Because, again, I don't want him to do my story. I want to do his story. You know because I think he'll do a better story if he's working from something that he wants to do. And that's what ended up happening. You know, he just did his thing and I'm just happy to be a part of it. So...
COMIC-ART.COM: Did Frank do a full script for you?
MACFARLANE: No. Just, no. On "Spawn eleven he did, but I don't like those, so he just gave me a plot outline, you know, that I can, like, expand and contract at will.
COMIC-ART.COM: And then he's going to go back and dialogue it later?
COMIC-ART.COM: Okay. So, he did go ahead and do an issue of "Spawn
MACFARLANE: Yeah. "Spawn eleven he wrote.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, that was the first project I heard he was working on. This Batman thing is new to me, so I was surprised. That's an interesting idea, doing two different comic books with the same character.
MACFARLANE: That don't relate to each other and stuff.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, the stories are not connected at all, correct?
MACFARLANE: Kind of two What If? universes, you know? What if they met on this planet, and here's their idea. And what if they met on this planet, there's our idea.
COMIC-ART.COM: How are Batman and Spawn brought together in your book?
MACFARLANE: Because of an illegal arms shipment that's coming into America that's got some kind of military background to it that Al Simmons, who's "spawn, used to be in the military and its somehow draws both Spawn and Batman into this thing in New York, and they have to kind of get along together to solve this problem even though they dislike each other.
COMIC-ART.COM: Ah, so it's not going to be a happy relationship?
MACFARLANE: No. Quite the opposite. And they don't really like each other?
COMIC-ART.COM: So it's going to be grudging allies?
MACFARLANE: Yes, that's it. I mean like I said, we got a cool ending to it that we insisted on keeping because they had a bit of a problem with it when they read the plot, but we were able to keep it because it's got kind of a funny ending to it. I mean I think it's funny. Maybe other people won't. But it's, you know, instead of them going out hand in hand into the sunset, we wanted to end it with a little bit more of a pizazz than that, so...
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, do you think fans of the regular Spawn book are going to be happy with it?
MACFARLANE: Yeah. I mean, again, they got a Frank Miller story, they got Spawn. They got the guy that they're used to drawing Spawn on the book. And so, just in terms of if you like Spawn and you like Todd MacFarlane then I don't see where you're going to have any problems with it. Then you got the bonus of Frank Miller, who's been associated with Batman. And you get to see Todd draw, who you haven't seen him do that for years and years and years.
COMIC-ART.COM: Did you ever draw Batman before?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, oh yeah. Years ago. I did three issues of "Batman: Year Two.
COMIC-ART.COM: Ah, I didn't remember that. Are you going to be working with your regular production crew, like Steve Oliff on the colors and so forth?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, oh yeah, yeah.
COMIC-ART.COM: When's the book due out?
MACFARLANE: Both of them are solicited for March, so I think theirs is going to come out in, like the second week, or the first week in March and mine will come out a couple weeks later.
COMIC-ART.COM: And DC's pretty much giving you a free hand with how you put yours out and everything?
MACFARLANE: Yeah. I mean, that's part of the deal. They don't really say so over how I do it, you know. So, in terms of packaging, in terms of paper, in terms of production, in terms of who I hire on the book, and vice versa, you know? That's part of the race. You do yours and I'll do mine. I get to pick my tennis shoes and you pick your tennis shoes. If you think yours are going to, by picking those, you're going to run faster, so, you know. If we get too crazy, they'll like crack the whip on us and otherwise, I'm sure they'll just sit there and go: `Not bad! Not bad! But we got this.' And I'll go: `Not bad, but we got this.' And so, we'll be going back and forth, trying to outdo each other.
COMIC-ART.COM: How long is the book going to be?
MACFARLANE: We've got a minimum of a forty eight page count right now. I might have to expand on that.
COMIC-ART.COM: So, it's going to be like a little graphic novel?
MACFARLANE: Yeah. Again, I just see it like kind of like you know, "The Dark Knight and "The Killing Joke, and these square bound books and stuff like that?
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh yeah, with like nicer cover stock and so forth?
MACFARLANE: Right. You know, for $3.95, you know, get in there. I mean, you know, so ours is $3.95, theirs is $4.95, so I already got out of the blocks. You know, I'm already one step ahead. I beat 'em in price. So, I just, again, you got to do anything to survive out there in the marketplace. So I go: Okay, they did a better job on this, so I got to try to do a better job on that, so...
COMIC-ART.COM: Are you doing anything special for the cover, like a painting or something?
MACFARLANE: Uh, no. No. Actually the cover just came in. Essentially the way that they color the books these days almost look like paintings anyway, so I mean I don't do paintings and stuff like that, so...I wish I did, but you know. But we'll just give you a slick cover.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I noticed in the Spawn books that there's a lot of modeling in the color. I think yours is about the best looking of all the Image books, just in terms of overall art and presentation.
MACFARLANE: Yeah, I mean, you know I think that Steve's doing an awesome job, but I think that Image comic books as a whole has the best production out there in the industry right now. You know, we've raised the level of comic books that like everybody else now has to try and color their books a little sharper and maybe put better quality paper on the book and stuff, so, another byproduct of trying to outdo your neighbors is that, again, you raise the level of everything, which is good for the kids.
COMIC-ART.COM: Who's doing the DC version of "Spawn/Batman? Is it the regular Batman writers, right?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, the three regular writers. Doug Moench and Alan Grant and Chuck Dixon. And then Klaus Janson's doing the penciling and inking on it.
COMIC-ART.COM: How do you feel about the DC guys doing your character? Does that make you uncomfortable at all?
MACFARLANE: No, not really. I mean, I hope not any more uncomfortable than me doing Batman. They've been used to doing
it, so...Again, I get a little more testy on Spawn when it's tied to my regular book and my regular continuity. But because this is kind of like a What If? story then again, I'm not all that near and dear to the project, you know, so I just hope that they do a good job and they don't kill him. And I know they're not going to kill him, so.
COMIC-ART.COM: Can you tell me a little bit more about the plot besides it revolving around an arms shipment. Like, does it start with Spawn first, or does it start with Batman?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, it starts with...Frank wants to give you an action comic book. And he doesn't want to do anything deep and philosophical so we start it off with right in the middle of a fight and it basically takes off from there with Batman. I mean, it's just going to be action. If you've seen some of the stuff that Frank has done like with his "Sin Cityù and stuff, he likes action. He likes to keep the pace of the stuff going quick, quick, quick, quick, quick and he doesn't want to rest to go into these long, eloquent, you know, speeches and testimonials and stuff, so. I mean, there's no Joker, there's no Violator and stuff like that, because, again, we didn't want them to fight costumed characters. We wanted to keep this kind of grounded to kind of an urban setting of two guys running around on building tops chasing arms guys and terrorists and stuff like that, so I think a lot of the Frank stuff is going to come in some of the dialogue and the snappy patter and stuff like that, so.
COMIC-ART.COM: Does trying to ground it in reality more, did that affect your art at all? I mean the way you approached it?
MACFARLANE: Um, no. In a weenie kind of way I think that, other than when Spawn is fighting some demon or something, heostensibly lives in the back alleys of New York with a lot of bricks and garbage cans and a lot of crap, you know, so, I'm used to drawing buildings. I haven't drawn too many spaceships in Spawn recently, so you know, I'll just be continuing to do what I do right now.
COMIC-ART.COM: Do you have any future Spawn crossovers in the works?
MACFARLANE: Nope. Nope. No, I keep him pretty close, you know. And again, I don't like to lend him out because, again, you can oversaturate your characters so I want to make sure that when he goes out, he goes out in a big way and there's a reason to bring him out, and then bring him back in and let him out again when there's a big reason to let him back out again.
COMIC-ART.COM: Why were you having Frank Miller and Alan Moore come in to do scripts for you? Was it to give you a break?
MACFARLANE: A couple reasons. One, there's a glut in the market. And when there's a glut in the market, it's tough to survive out there. I mean, anybody's book it's tough to survive. I knew I was getting up to issues seven, eight, nine, or ten. And I knew they'd buy issues one, two and three, but, you know, after a half a year, every now and then you've gotta send up a flag and go,`Yoo hoo! I'm over here in the corner. Don't forget about me.' And so it was my way of drawing attention to my book without basically having to put foil on it like everybody, because that's what everybody else is doing. And I'm not saying that it's right or wrong, you know, I don't like that they have to raise the price. But, if nobody was doing foil, I would've. But because everybody's doing foil, I'm always looking for ways to do something different. And it's served me well in my career so far, that it's like, how can I get attention on my book without doing the same thing everybody else is doing? I'll do this: Blap! And it seemed to work. So, you know, it's just like the Spawn and Batman crossover, you know, it's got, you know, again, I, two books coming out simultaneously, but they don't cross over to each and I'm able to bring on Frank Miller to do a character that he hasn't done for years and years. So again, it becomes a little different than the standard crossover comic book again, you know, so.
COMIC-ART.COM: As far as I know, I don't think anybody's ever done a crossover exactly like this before.
MACFARALNE: No, I know they haven't, in terms of, I mean, at least in terms of the contract, the way that it's written.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well the idea of two independent books with the same main characters is kind of interesting. Do you have any idea of what the DC book is about?
MACFARLANE: Oh yeah, I've their script and saw some of the artwork already.
COMIC-ART.COM: How do you like it?
MACFARLANE: Not bad.
COMIC-ART.COM: Not bad?
MACFARLANE: Well, I mean I like mine better.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, of course.
MACFARLANE: So, but, you know, I mean, again, whether it was good, bad or indifferent, I 'm here to just say Hallelujah to them, you know. I'm not here to really make their book any better or any worse, you know? I'm just here to say `Just don't kill my guy.' So, even if I saw something I didn't like, I wouldn't necessarily change it. I'd just go, `I love it!' Because why would I want to make their version better than mine? So I just keep sending it back going: `I love it!' Even if I don't love it, `I love it!' And they think I'm the easiest guy to work with right now, so...
COMIC-ART.COM: Did you find them pretty easy to work with?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, so far. They've been pretty cordial about everything. I mean, who knows? We'll get into some arguments, I'm sure but for the most part we'll solve all the problems relatively easily.
COMIC-ART.COM: I was wondering about that because DC has a reputation for foot dragging and red tape, you know.
MACFARLANE: Yep, but that's okay because we'll solve the problem because again, ultimately, the worst thing that they could do is get me mad or get Frank mad 'cause we'll quit, and if we quit their book goes down the tubes. And I don't think they want their book to go down the tubes, so, you know...But we're just stupid enough that we would walk away from it even if we were ninety per cent done. Again, I don't care about this, you know? Because again, I don't have to make a profit and I don't have, you know, stock people and I don't have a boss over me, so it's like we can do illogical things if we want, so.
COMIC-ART.COM: I guess that's one of the nice things about being your own boss.
MACFARLANE: You bet! you bet. So, that's right you've gotta deal with psychos, that's right.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, in general, Todd, how's everything going with your book and your various deals?
MACFARLANE: Good! Good! Couldn't be better. Couldn't be better, so, I mean, we're still hanging tough. The issues that I didn't even draw, that Greg Capulo drew, came in at either number one or number two for three months in a row, so I mean I've made myself expendable. So that's proven to me that they actually like the character, which is my, one of my big goals when I left the company was to see if we could create characters that they care about. And they seem to like Spawny right now, for whatever reason.
COMIC-ART.COM: Any plans to work with some other artists, maybe to give yourself a break, a vacation or something?
MACFARLANE: Um, I mean, you know Greg Capulo did issues sixteen, seventeen and eighteen. Bart Sears is doing this Violator miniseries, and then if I need a break on anything, I'll probably see if like Greg or Bart could come back on because they'd be proven commodities, to come back on the book.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, when you're in your regular work groove, how fast can you get a page out, pencils and inks?
MACFARLANE: Ultimately it always depends on what's on the page. You know, if you've got a couple of silhouettes and the guy with the big cape, you can get in and out of that. If you got like twenty seven guys on the page and the commando fleet coming in the background, that becomes a lot longer of a thing. So, there's really no set pattern on any page, so.
COMIC-ART.COM: What about the writing? Does that come pretty easily to you or do you have to slave over it?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, well, I don't slave over it and it doesn't come easy, but you know. I probably don't pay as close attention to it as I should, so and I should probably do like twenty rewrites on the stuff, but I don't. Again, given that you have a monthly book I should probably redraw a lot of stuff too, so, you know, when you've got a monthly book and you've only got x amount of time on every single one of the chores you just kind of do as good a job as you can and hope that they like it. And then go on to the next project.
COMIC-ART.COM: Are you finding that monthly deadline on your own book a grind, or is it...?
MACFARLANE: Yeah, it can be tough, but again, I chose it so, it's my own problem if I don't like it. I guess I have to fire me as the writer then.
COMIC-ART.COM: Do you have any other future Spawn projects in the works like maybe an animated series or movie ideas or anything?
MACFARLANE: We've got some, but, again, it's not even that it's too early 'cause they're done deals, it's just it's just not the time to...Because again, right now, you and I are talking about Spawn/Batman and I've got enough to talk about that keeps people interested for the next couple months. So what I'll do is when nobody cares about Spawn two months after this book comes out, then I'll pull out these deals that are done and I'll go: `Oh, by the way, did I mention this?' You know. So, right now, you know I don't ever pull out my aces when I'm going good, I pull them out on the way down. So, when people go: `Who cares about Spawn?' Then I'll go: `what about this?' Oh, cool, I care about Spawn. So, right now the talk on the street is, they're talking about Spawn and Batman, so I can actually ride that wave right now without actually telling anybody all that much more about Spawn because that's enough right now.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah. I'm sure that'll keep the fans going for a while with the two books out. All right, Todd, I've been through my questions. Anything to add?
MACFARLANE: Not really. I don't got anything deep and philosophical to say, you know. I'm just here to kick butt and
keep kicking butt and try to be as somewhat nice to the readers as possible by returning the favor of them buying the books by giving them more books. So, that's always been my goal, and everybody between the readers is really for the most part interference in a lot of respects, so...
COMIC-ART.COM: Are you still having fun doing the character?
MACFARLANE: I love that guy. He's the coolest thing, because when you get bored with him you just put a cape across his body. You don't even have to draw him. All I have to do...You think there's There's a reason for that cape. I keep telling people. Why does everybody trying to draw the Xcmen. None of those guys got capes. You have to actually draw those people. Ol' Spawny, you want to get lazy? (Makes the sound of brushstrokes). A cape, head. I'm done. And people go: `Wow! Cool style!' Oh, okay. Good. That's what I call laziness but they call it a style. Perfect.
COMIC-ART.COM: I always wanted to know where to get fabric like what he's got in his cape. In one panel its like one length, and in the next panel Whoosh! It's twenty feet long.
MACFARLANE: Oh yeah. It suits my needs. I mean just like the Spawn and Batman capes, they're going to each have to have their own personality, right? You know the Spiderman stuff I did, the webs had a personality. So, I mean I treat a lot of stuff that's not part of the human body, I try to give it a kind of a life of its own, the costumes and stuff like that.
We thank interviewer Steve Ringenberg for this transcript