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Spawn #1: Todd McFarlane on Respect

October 15th, 2014 by | Tags: ,

Before I worked at Image, I grew up a fan of stuff like Spawn and Wildcats. I found this essay while re-reading old Spawns and liked it enough to transcribe, since apparently that’s where I’m at in my life right now. It’s from the end of Spawn #1, by Todd McFarlane. Any typos are mine. I added the date to his sign-off, but otherwise, I believe I transcribed this correctly.

Spawn-Letter

Why Image?

This is a question that will be asked a hundred times over the next few months. The answer will be as varied as the creative people involved in this somewhat historical undertaking. Though I wouldn’t profess to speak for any other creator, I can give you some insight as to why I stand with Image.

The entire reason that I am here doing what I am, can be summed up in one word: RESPECT. Or, more appropriately, the lack of it.

Traditionally, comics companies have been the moving force in this industry. They had the name, financial backing, creative pool and characters. Because of this combination, it was almost suicidal to try to ply your trade outside of the company boundaries. (This fear started in the ’30s.) As time went by and options became fewer, the creative pool became more convinced that we couldn’t survive without the big corporation backing us. Luckily there were a few shining lights along the way. The biggest of them, for me, was Jack Kirby.

I was born in 1961 and was too young to be there when Mr. Kirby seemed to be electrifying the industry with his literally thousands of creations. By the time I started collecting at age seventeen his legend had grown to almost mythical proportions. Here was a man who had created, co-created, or at least had a hand in the conception of nearly every character I had ever heard of. In almost any other occupation, a person of his esteem would command respect from both the people he worked for and from those who follow his work. Unfortunately, as far as I could tell, this wasn’t true.

By the mid ’70s, I had heard and read about some of the struggles Mr. Kirby had endured. It was this rude awakening that was always in the back of my mind during my entire career working for Marvel and DC Comics. I mean, if Jack Kirby could be shuffled to the sideline and generally ignored, what chance did I have? The answer was none. Armed with this reality, I kept a close eye on the further advancements of the comic industry as a whole.

New companies seemed to spring up at the end of the seventies, such as Eclipse, Pacific and First. All of them had their time in the sun and all of them ran into a few obstacles too. One of the things they accomplished for the creators was to offer a choice, offer ownership and more importantly, offer the acknowledgement that we mattered. People like Kirby, Mike Grell, Frank Brunner, Jan and Dean Mullaney and a host of other talented people helped to pave the way for a much needed change in the industry. It is these people, along with others such as Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Curt Swan who put in years of service, with Marvel and DC, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. Their work affords me the luxury of having creative control and a royalty payment on my work and it is my hope to acknowledge that what they did mattered to me.

Sadly, I do not think Marvel and DC feel the same way. They insist that their characters are always more important in the creative process than the creators. Almost all of us would probably agree that the characters are very important, but not at the expense of forgetting those whose visions led to the popularity of those characters. Somewhere along the process the companies seem to have lost sight that actual human flesh created every one of the characters that they now own. I think you will find that rarely do the companies make mention of the people who initially created the characters. I am not looking for them to go out of their way to give the life history of the creator. However, I have read ten page articles with information on characters given by the companies, without ever a mention of the creator.

As the years went by, my heroes turned into the likes of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, John Byrne and George Perez. I got more enjoyment from these four people than I thought I would at an age when comic books are usually the furthest thing from a young man’s mind. But again, I stood by and watched as one by one they built up enormous popularity and readership for the companies that changed the rules half way through the ball game. Suddenly the company had all the answers as to why the books were selling, with no credit to the creative team that brought the books to the attention of the public. None of these four men are currently working full-time for the “big two.” Frank Miller, in the beginnings of his career—his passions, his visions, his opinions and his convictions—turned out to be the things that the companies couldn’t deal with, or were actually negative factors as the process continued. If he wanted to change the look and feel of a bad selling comic book ten years ago, why didn’t those same things count eight years later? What it amounts to is, when a book isn’t selling it doesn’t matter what you do on it and when the book is a success new ideas are squelched and suddenly a status quo with a bag full of rules is attached to it. Mentally, I wasn’t willing to accept these conditions any longer. Whether that is a lack of character on my part or seeing that there were other options available is irrelevant. I made my decision.

I thank Marvel and DC Comics for giving me the opportunity to provide my family with a living and a large forum to expose my talent. But the fun had gone out of it for me. It didn’t matter that they were paying good money. My mind was wondering: In most other occupations the foreman will ask the workers how to improve the working conditions. That has never happened in comics. And why should it when the creators didn’t count as much as the characters? I can honestly say that in the six or so years I’ve been in this business, other than Jim Salicrup, no one at the office ever solicited my opinion on anything. Not that I had any great vision, but given that I experienced some success, it seems reasonable that they might have wanted to tap into some of my ideas.

What I am trying to say is why wouldn’t comic companies ask Ditko in 1963 why he thought his books sold? And Kirby in ’64? Buscema in ’65? Starlin in ’72? Byrne in ’75? Claremont in ’78? Miller in ’82? Moore in ’85, etc. etc.? Every year, heck, every few months, there is a new hot guy. Why not tap into those people? Because, as far as the companies are concerned, it really doesn’t seem to matter what we think.

Am I being a bit harsh on the big companies? Probably. Were there not any good times? A thousand of them. Then why couldn’t I turn my cheek a few more times? To tell you the truth, it would have been far easier to stick with Spider-Man, collect a big check, fly to conventions and act like a big shot. Instead i am turning my back on a sure thing for some, perhaps, unattainable goal. My wife and I have a new daughter and I know that because I am following my heart I will be a better husband and father. No amount of money could buy me that. Also, I’d like to present a nice atmosphere that I work in to my daughter so that she isn’t turned off by the whole comic process. Some day I hope she will be proud of me instead of thinking that I’m getting the shaft.

Now is the time for me to sink or swim. No one to blame but myself. The future has never excited me more. I can draw cool characters, monsters, silent issues, wordy issues, as a matter of fact no issues if I don’t want to, and better than all that I don’t have to answer to anyone. Sound egotistical? Call it what you will. Doing what I want, when I want, where I want. I call it exciting as hell.

In the future I hope to do a Spawn/Spider-Man crossover. An Image Comics team-up with Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, Tundra, Valiant or whomever. Different characters. Different companies. Different creators. The list is almost endless. I’m excited at the possibilities and I hope that you are, too. It’s time for us in this business to all play together and not divide the ranks. We at Image are not out to burn anyone, quite the opposite. Given that we feel so excited about our work, it should show through on the printed page.

With people working at different companies, such as Liefeld, Lee, Silvestri, Larsen, Portacio, Valentino, Claremont, Miller, Moore, Simonson, Keown, Byrne, Baron, Gaiman, Romita, Breyfogle, Gerber, Layton, Perez, Grell and on and on and on, topped off by the “King” himself, Jack Kirby, we now have the potential to have all of us play in the same playground with the same rules…1) Don’t screw your neighbor and 2) Turno ut the best damn comics that have ever been on the stands.

You out there now have the most important job. Let us, the creators and the companies know what you want and hopefully we’ll be able to pull off a few of them.

In closing, let me leave you with a thought:

If someone gave you something that helped you grow in your life, would you think them for their concern or figure that you would have done it eventually.

I’d let them know they helped. That’s good. That’s honest. That’s respect.
—Todd McFarlane, May, 1992

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3 comments to “Spawn #1: Todd McFarlane on Respect”

  1. Thanks for this—I’d never seen it before, and it was fascinating.

    (One typo I noticed: Grell, not Greel.)


  2. @Scott Peterson: Ah, good catch! Typing this up was a mix of being careful to not add new typos and oxford commas. I’m sure I missed more :)


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