If there's one thing no one could ever say about Todd McFarlane, it's that he lacks self-confidence. When the Georgia Straight connects with the Canadian-born comic-book creator and entrepreneur via telephone from his long-time home base of Phoenix, Arizona, he sounds beyond delighted to let us know how his day is going.
“I’m killin’ it, and it’s still early, so I still even have way more room for improvement,” he says. It seems we have caught McFarlane on deadline day for issue 305 of his long-running dark-superhero title Spawn, and he reveals that he will be inking while he talks.
Mind you, multi-tasking is nothing new for McFarlane, who also happens to be the president of Spawn's publisher, Image Comics, and the founder of McFarlane Toys, among other ventures. In recent years, much of his focus has been on getting a new Spawn movie made. Fans may recall that the comic book has been adapted for the big screen once before, in 1997, but the version currently in the works will be grittier and closer to McFarlane's own vision. He has written a screenplay himself and may well end up in the director's chair. Jamie Foxx will reportedly take on the title role, with Jeremy Renner costarring.
"I attached a couple of really big actors to it, then I finished the script and went around town and showed it to a couple of people," McFarlane says. "Everybody was in ther PG-13 superhero mode, because those films were making a billion dollars for everybody. So, you can imagine, in Hollywood—whatever's working, you do it a dozen times. I'd been saying, 'No, it's a lower-budget, R-rated, super-serious movie.' And they're like, 'Nah, it needs to be Captain America.' In October, when I went to New York Comic Con, I said 'Everybody go to this movie called Joker.'"
The success of Todd Phillips's Joker, which has grossed over US$1 billion worldwide and earned 11 Oscar nominations—it won two, including a best actor nod for Joaquin Phoenix—seems to have convinced producers that the world is ready for a comic-book movie that takes itself seriously and doesn't skimp on the violence.
"The last two-and-a-half months, my phone has been ringing quite constantly," McFarlane says, "with people going 'You know what, Todd? We need to do that dark, R-rated Spawn movie you've been talking about for two years that we pooh-poohed you about.'"
There have been other R-rated films based on comics—Deadpool and Logan come to mind—but McFarlane says those were essentially PG-13 movies tarted up with F-bombs. If the Calgary-born writer-artist seems dismissive of PG-13 superhero flicks, it's worth noting that his name was connected with one that came out in 2018: Venom. Although he had no input into the making of that one, he did help create the title character when he worked for Marvel three decades ago.
He also worked for Marvel's chief rival, DC, early in his professional career, but he says he has no interest in drawing the likes of Batman or Spider-Man again.
"Marvel and DC are the equivalent of high school for me," he says. "This is the thing: people say, 'You won't go back because you hate 'em.' I don't hate them. I have fond memories of Marvel and DC. I have fond memories of the people I worked with. I have fond memories of the time that I did stuff there. Just like high school; I have fond memories of all the things I did when I was in Grades 9 through 12. Do I plan on going back to high school? No. Does it mean I hated high school? No. Does it mean I disdain high school? No. It means high school is in my past. Marvel and DC are in my past, and they've been in my past for almost 30 years."
McFarlane would rather focus on his future projects—but don't expect to hear much about those when he appears at Fan Expo Vancouver this weekend. Get this man in front of an audience and he would rather deliver what he calls his "Dad lecture" than talk about comic books or how to break into the industry.
Unsuprisingly, a lot of what McFarlane has to say is about the power of believing in oneself. He offers the following example: "If you're in a room with 10 people, and we rank you skill-wise, one through 10, and you're the 10th best in a room of 10, and somebody says 'I've got one job,' can you get the job? Of course you can! Here's how you get it: you raise your hand, and you hope the other nine don't fuckin' raise theirs. And then you're in a room with nine lazy people who are twice as good as you, and if you sit there going 'Well, I'm the 10th-best person,' and you never raise your hand, you're never gonna get the job. Shoot, you know how many jobs I got because I was the only guy stupid enough to raise his hand that that moment?"
The pathway to success, in McFarlane's view, has less to do with inherent talent than it does with the ability to overcome self-doubt. "Nobody loves you more than you, so show it," he says. "Every day, show how much you love yourself, and advocate for yourself. Don't put yourself down, don't say you can't do something. I'll give you 10 minutes to tell me why you can't do it, and then give you an hour to tell me why you can. I'll give you both, but only spend 10 minutes on the can't."
Todd McFarlane appears at Fan Expo Vancouver, which takes place at the Vancouver Convention Centre Saturday to Monday (February 15 to 17).