Todd McFarlane Celebrates Spawn's Best Year & Teases MCU Inspired Expansion

2021 was the best year to be a Spawn fan. June saw the release of Spawn's Universe #1, which became the bestselling Image Comics' first issue of the 21st century.  Following that success, three new monthly Spawn comic book series launched throughout the year: King Spawn, Gunslinger Spawn, and the team book The Scorched. Each new series broke their respective sales records, from Gunslinger Spawn #1 selling 385,000 copies this past September to The Scorched #1 selling over 270,000 copies as the biggest comic book team debut in the past thirty years. At the helm of Spawn's successful expansion is the superhero's creator and Image Comics co-founder Todd McFarlane, who sat with CBR to reflect on 2021's banner year.

McFarlane discussed how 2021 expanded Spawn's mythos and delved into the volatile team dynamics within The Scorched series. Additionally, the comic creator provided an update on the multimedia future of Spawn and its continually expanding universe. Also included with this interview is a sneak peek at the covers for The Scorched #1 by the following artists (and posted in this order): Puppateer Lee,  Marc Silvestri, Greg Capullo, Todd McFarlane, Don Aguillo, and Brett Booth.

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The first time we spoke last year, Spawn's Universe #1 hadn't come out. Now that's 2022 and the line has expanded, with The Scorched #1 selling over 270,000 copies, how has it been seeing this plan unfold over the course of 2021?

Todd McFarlane: Well, I set the plan in motion. Theory and planning are part of every business equation. What ended up happening, as you start getting hindsight, is you look back and ask, "What went according to plan? What went less than planned? And what went better than planned?" If you have any educated guesses as to why any of it was better or worse because then you can avoid the negatives or continue to do the positives. It played out pretty close to what I would've imagined, minus the actual numbers -- the theory played out.

I have these four books and put them out in a very specific order. It was a conscious effort. Put the event book out, Spawn's Universe, come back with the known quantity, King Spawn, follow that up with the popular new guy on the block, Gunslinger Spawn, and then, at the end, mash them together in this team book. I thought that would create the best overall momentum. I thought people that got excited about Spawn's Universe would then order King Spawn because it's a known character and then if it worked, people would then take a look at Gunslinger Spawn who had been in those two previous books. I had been teasing him along the way to get there. By the time you get to The Scorched, you figure the other monthly books are doing good so go for The Scorched.

If I was to rank them sales-wise, I would've said that Spawn's Universe was going to come out, King Spawn was going to do better, and Gunslinger Spawn and The Scorched were both going to be somewhere in between with Gunslinger Spawn being higher, and that's exactly how it played out. What I wouldn't have imagined was that the first book to come out, Spawn's Universe -- the bestselling Image Comics first issue of the 21st century -- would be the worst seller of the bunch but still well over 200,000 [copies]. At the time I was planning if I could get a book to 100,000 that would've been a home run.

The pandemic and geekdom getting more involved with comic books had an effect. Spawn's Universe would've been an event anyway but it came out at a time when the industry was moving in a positive direction during difficult, challenging times for the world. All my numbers were off but the ranking was right [laughs]. Now, the challenge is to maintain sales on all four books, including the original Spawn book. If I take the sales of all four books and divide them by four, that'd average out to be about 50,000 copies per book. If that's true, and I can get anywhere close to that, it'll be double what I would've been satisfied with doing. That would be four books with sales greater than pre-pandemic [numbers].

For a long while, the only book we had done over 50,000 was The Walking Dead and then that went away, and then Spawn#300 crossed that threshold, and Image Comics had one book that hit that number on a steady basis. We were rarely launching new titles over 50,000 copies. If you take a look at what Image Comics has done in the past couple of years, it's about 25-35 books that have launched over 50,000. This is working on a lot of levels, not just Spawn, trying to create an average at the top of Image's sales, when books come out like Crossover, Department of Truth, Stray Dogs, or when Saga comes back.

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As cool as Spawn is, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of Image Comics. Are there any plans to commemorate Spawn and Image's anniversary and how wild is it to see Image go from a publisher that started with mainly superhero titles basically encompass every literary genre over the past thirty years?

I would argue that, thirty years later, superheroes may be the smallest part of the definition of our books -- in terms of titles that are pure superhero books. I think it has been one of the more satisfying parts of this 30-year journey -- #1, by far, is just surviving. We're now fully entrenched after thirty years. We're now stabilized and part of that stability is because we've diversified. That diversity is what makes us strong, not whatever game plan we had coming out of the gate. We took an alternate path to success.

What we do with the 30th anniversary, which coincides with Spawn's 30th anniversary, I don't know. No one knows what we can do on a social level. What's the outcome for comic conventions given the state of the world right now? Is it going to open up to a bunch of conventions or be a middling amount or are people just going to get out there? We're going to have to adjust accordingly on how to interact with people because I think interacting with the fans is worthwhile.

With these record-breaking numbers, we're seeing there's a renewed hunger in Spawn, including from fans who weren't even alive in 1992.

I think that happens from two ways. One is just longevity, that's always going to get you. When I bought my first Superman book, I wasn't alive when he was first on the scene or on TV, I came into it and he had been around for so long. I also think mass-media plays a big part in that. If a character like Spawn happens to get into TV, movies, and video games, it will be a doorway into the characters much like it was for The Walking Dead with Robert Kirkman. Never underestimate people seeing your brand in other places, not necessarily in a comic shop. If I can get a little bit of both, the time will always be there and we'll have Year 31 with Spawn.

We'll just get our fingers crossed with mass-media, in whatever form that comes. I think there's potential for way, way more fans and that's going to come whenever something like movies and TV comes out because that's where people will get introduced, the way they are normally used to consuming entertainment and story-driven content. It may not be a comic book.

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With The Scorched, you're working with Sean Lewis and Stephen Segovia, who have both worked with you on other Spawn titles. What do you think they bring to The Scorched specifically?

I think Sean has a pretty tough task that I've given him. When he's doing King Spawn, I want it to be dark, moody, and gritty. It's very atmospheric. I need to put on a different hat when we're doing a team book. I think a team book should have more of an Avengers/X-Men/Justice League vibe to it. Team books, to me, were always fun. They're fun to look at as they're flying around in different costumes and you never know which one is going to be the star of that month. We don't necessarily have to make it dark and morose: it can just be a team book. I could argue none of the characters want to be in the environment of a team book because some of them are loners, like Spawn and Gunslinger, and some of them are uncomfortable hanging out with them.

From a story point, why are a couple of alpha dogs even on a team? They don't strike me as guys who would historically want to be out with a bunch of people. We had conversations about why any of the characters would want to be part of the group, their motivations. And once they're part of the group, is there a natural pecking order of who they like and dislike within the group? Like a family reunion, you're going to have favorites. You don't have to necessarily like each other, but when the threat comes, everybody has to get on the same page, and once the threat is over, you can each go in separate directions.

They each have a reason and rationale to be here, and those reasons don't even have to be heroic. They can be self-serving. I've got a lot of flawed characters in the Spawn Universe and I think it's okay for someone to say they're only here for one reason that serves themselves. There's some of that attitude.

The most recognizable character on The Scorched is Spawn himself. What is Al Simmons attitude being here because though he's done team-ups before, it's never been on this scale.

His attitude is that he doesn't want to be part of the team. They come at him with this attitude that this is all on Al Simmons and there's tsunami coming, and if he doesn't want to stop it, he needs to get the hell out of the way. They're like, "By the way, you caused this tsunami! It seems like an odd thing that you're just going to tuck your tail in and run; I thought you were better than that! Medieval Spawn and Gunslinger Spawn are here because of you and they don't want to be here either but they're here because of you!"

They don't have to hang out all the time but they have to be smart enough, when the moment's right, to recognize it's not a one-man show. This isn't a one-man war for Al Simmons, especially because there are about 700 wars going on around the world at once. Al Simmons knows and understands that and he's in the headspace as a loner that doesn't like this but the mature part of him says it's war, and it sometimes takes an army to fight some of these battles -- on one condition: he's in fucking charge.

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While most team books declare this is the birth of a new team, The Scorched #1 teases this mission they go on in Russia is the one that will make them fall apart. What was it about subverting that expectation?

Sean Lewis got engaged with the project fairly early on and he's constantly sending me emails with ideas. He just sent me some new ones today about a later issue. We're trying to see if all of his cool, new craziness could fit into what we were trying to accomplish in the other books and make sure we weren't tripping on anything that had gone on prior in the past thirty years. That's his puzzle, that even if they say now they want to be part of a team, that doesn't mean they're going to survive either. We'll see if it's part of a conceit that we'll probably be rotating characters in and out. They may need to get fine-tuned because they might not have the right combo out of the gate.

We've talked about Spawn projects in development for film and television before. Are there any updates you can provide about Spawn's planned expansion into multimedia?

Only that I think if anything big is going to happen, it's going to happen in the first six months [of 2022]. If we're going to make any announcement, it's going to be in those first six months because everybody is rowing in that direction. Once Venom 2 took off and recently with Spider-Man: No Way Home obliterating record books, especially with the pandemic, the super-obvious data is that people are going to the movies for comic book [properties]. Everybody knows that. The next question is, after Marvel and DC, where do you get the content from? I'm asking the bigger question now if we're talking about Spawn as a movie or Spawn as a brand -- the mythology beyond Al Simmons, the whole Spawn-Verse.

People in Hollywood are fluent in Spawn. He's been around for thirty years, but I don't know if they quite understand how expansive it is, which is part of the reason for beginning the [comic book] expansion last year. Brett Booth did these three interconnecting covers that I'm going to turn into a poster at some point because they're super-cool. If you take all three of those covers -- from King Spawn, Gunslinger Spawn, and The Scorched -- there's just under a hundred characters on it. I need to bring those together and make a guide or a PowerPoint so each character comes as a color pod and ask if any of them are valid enough to turn into some kind of entertainment. Of all those characters, only one of them is called Spawn. Everybody else is a unique IP in it of themselves. That's what I keep asking and am going to continue to ask, to see if anybody else understands the potential of the Spawn Universe.

Written by Sean Lewis, with additional dialogue written by Todd McFarlane, and illustrated by Stephen Segovia and Paulo Siqueira, The Scorched #1 is on sale now from Image Comics.

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Sam Stone (8566 Articles Published)

Sam Stone is a 10th level pop culture guru living just outside of Washington, DC who knows an unreasonable amount about The Beatles. You can follow him on Twitter @samstoneshow and ask him about Nintendo, pop punk, and Star Trek.

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