By Jesse Semko
Todd McFarlane has lived every boy’s dream: comic books and baseball are his life. The native Calgarian has penciled Batman, The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man comics – he’s the guy who remade Spidey’s character to look more “bug like.” Later, disenchanted with corporate world, he led a coup that saw seven of Marvel Comics’ top artists leave to start Image Comics. Running his own company, McFarlane created Spawn, a character named after a teammate on his semi-pro baseball team in Kamloops. Millions of sales, a Hollywood movie, an animated TV series, minority ownership in the Edmonton Oilers and legions of action figures followed. Now living in Arizona, McFarlane talks about crackin’ into comics.
How did you get into comics?
I have clear recollection of the day it started. I’m not sure why. I hadn’t done it for 15 years prior to that day. But for whatever the reason I went into a mom and pops confectionary and, instead of buying a Coke and a couple of chocolate bars, I bought five comics. They blew me away. I came back the next day and bought more, and then the next day again and bought even more. It’s strange. I got into comics in high school, at an age when most people are getting out of comics. And it changed my life.
What was it about those comics?
It wasn’t about being inspired by certain characters, or great art. I was drawn in by the shitty comics, and there were lots of those. I said to myself, ‘if this guy can get a job and draw this character with crooked eyes, then I should have no problem making it.’ I started to teach myself to draw superheroes a few months later.
What’s it like cracking into the industry?
It’s grueling. I went to the U.S. on a ball scholarship. I also worked as a janitor at a comic book store. Not for money. I was a Canadian kid, after all, and couldn’t get paid, so I did it for the comics. After midnight, I’d do my art samples. I sent them to every editor at every comic. In hindsight, given that I received 350 rejection letters, I should have caught on to my lack of skill. But I was an athlete, stubborn and immature. I kept pounding it out until I wore them down.
You mean they eventually gave you a job?
Yeah. I got hired to do some work on a Marvel comic, which went under shortly after I started. The good thing about that, though, is afterwards I was able to send my samples off and say that I worked for Marvel comics. That’s completely different than saying you’re an amateur who would like to break into comic books. That type of industry cred goes along way. Even though my artwork was arguable no different than five months earlier all of a sudden it was being taken seriously. They’d look at my samples and go, ‘oh, look… an am amateur. That goes in this pile. And here’s a pro that’s looking for work. We’ll put that in the good pile.’
How did you make your way into Spiderman?
By 28, I had done work on the Hulk and a few other titles that got my name out there. The Amazing Spider-Man books were in a mess, so I approached the editor. He put me on it, a title even my mom had heard of. That catapulted my career. It was weird. You just don’t think about the people who draw comics; it’s like elves do it. But when you’re on the other side and have to hunch over and put in 10, 15, sometimes 20 hours a day to get your deadline done, the magic goes away. People get sore backs doing this shit.
Describe yourself during your mid 20s
I was very myopic, yet still very singular on certain things. I had to fight for everything. I think I probably took that into getting a job. Going back to that stubborn mentality… my baseball coach and I never got along. My first year, I never started a game. But I made sure that whenever we did stairs at practice, I always came in first. One of the other coaches asked me, “Todd, why do you bust your hump?” There were two reasons: one to spite him, to let him know that even his starters couldn’t beat me; the other, because I’m the fastest guy on the team, and that man would never slow me down.
What’s your true love: baseball or comics?
Are you kidding me? I’d drop everything I have today, yesterday and tomorrow if they said ‘Todd, you can play center field for a major league ball team.’ That’s just a byproduct from playing ball as a kid. I didn’t get into comics until I was 16, so my baseball memories are stronger and run deeper. Plus, it would have been cool to bat with 20,000 people booing you on the enemy’s turf.
What motivates you when you draw?
The guy I draw for first, and this may seem a little egotistical, is myself. I try to entertain myself first because I know I’m going to spend a lot of hours doing what I’m doing so if I’m not enjoying myself it’s going to be a grind. After that, I cross my fingers and hope that others will be of like mind and like what I’ve done. I’ve been fortunate that my tastes, artistically, aren’t that out of whack with everyone else.U