Todd McFarlane discusses the comic industry and it’s pitfalls

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Todd McFarlane, legendary creator of Spawn, recently sat down with Comic Book Therapy to talk about his new art book.  Naturally, we couldn’t talk to him without getting his opinions on the comic industry as a whole.  Sorry folks, but he had no clue about the Rob Liefeld and Scott Snyder incident that happened on Twitter a few months ago.

Congratulations on a great career, and the art book is beautiful.  I recently read a book about Marvel (Marvel Comics: the Untold Story) and the major problems that sprung up during the 90s.  What would you say is the biggest pitfall that is facing the comic industry today?

Todd McFarlane:  Wow, that’s a tough one.  I always thought during my career, being in the fray of it, and saw a lot of things hurting it.  I think there are a lot of short term thinking.  The fact that you couldn’t go all the way back to the first issue of Spider-Man.  I remember there being a meeting about having a bunch of cover, and this is back when they were everywhere.  They escalated so fast.  It went from two covers to seven.  It pushed the envelope quickly.  And at some point, although it worked, the short term problem was the variants were popping.  People were buying them high, and then a few months later they were back down to $3-$4.  It was like buying a stock high, then finding it out crashed fast.  If you do this over and over to your customer, they won’t want to take it anymore.  People work hard for their money.  Also, we started going into the renumbering stuff, especially if it’s not selling.  I use to collect a lot of books when I was younger, and I was talking to this guy, and I said “You know, I don’t really like that book. I’m just buying because I want to keep that collection intact.”

Oh god do I know the feeling (laughs).  I have done that with a few books in the past.

TM: (laughs) Yeah it’s goofy thing.  No one puts a gun to our heads, but we keep doing it.  But I found out when they go to renumbering or mini-series, it actually gave people a reason to STOP reading.  Then all of sudden you think, “Wow, I can go without this for a month?  What about about two or three months?”  You never let the crack addict never stop smoking it (laughs).

What a fantastic metaphor (laughs).

TM: Once they go a month, they start to think they can live without it.  I eventually weened myself off books this way to only the books I wanted to read.  And with people having limited recourses these days, the reader is even more selective.  The big comic companies didn’t realize this.  They have their reader who comes in every Wednesday, and they start scolding them.  They increase the price to $3 or $4, making the consumer not want to buy those books anymore.  They can’t afford it.  It doesn’t seem like a good way to create a base audience.

It’s ironic since the big two have had massive relaunches recently.  DC with the New 52 and Marvel with Marvel NOW!

TM:  Right.  If you look at it historically, and graph it like a stock, the stock has gone down. It’s never going to be where it was before, but they get that short term pop that they want for issues 1-8, but by issue 25, it’s at a lower rate than when you first started it.  The top book these days is selling around 85,000.  TV and movie get people in the first show or weekend, and that’s not difficult.  The difficult part is keeping them around for weeks.  My first series of toys always sells better than any other.  But the second and third series are going to legitimize you and show you if you have a solid foundation.  I think the renumberings are false positives to the industry.  People over react to it.  I’m sure, and I don’t have the data to back this up, that the DC 52 started off great and had some huge failures.  I’m betting the ones that had quality numbers had quality talent behind them.

I’ve been tracking them for a few months, and I see what you mean.  Books like Batman are high each month, but other books just tank each and every month.

TM: Exactly.  They start off great.  Like Hawk & Dove.  It starts off with 40,000, then been by #5 it’s down to 25,000.  (laughs) This is where I’m going to start showing my age now.  Put a gun to my head, and somebody says, “Go collect every single Fantastic Four.”  I wouldn’t even know how to do that.  I’m that confused now as to what the chronological order for that book.  When I was a kid, I actually thought the higher number was a badge of honor.  It’s been around forever and must have a good book.  But the big two are asking “what’s a good starting point for a kid.”  Don’t worry about that, just keep going with your story.  Twice as many people watched this season’s premiere of The Walking Dead than the last.  Good word of mouth is getting out there.  People won’t be deterred because they didn’t watch the first season.  If you want to catch up, you go back and buy the back issues or DVDS.  I remember buying Avengers #165 and thinking “I wanted to buy every single Avengers issue.”  You can do that with Spawn though.

I did that this past summer with Invincible.

TM: It looks good, and it’s in one cohesive book, and you’re all set.  It’s that easy.  It all comes down to wanting habitual buyers.  They get in a routine and will continue to come in week after week.

You’ve been an industry staple since the 80’s; what would you say is your proudest point thus far in your career?

TM:  Easily the proudest moment is getting that first job.  When I got that first phone call saying I got some work…..it seems like yesterday.  It’s like sports players; they always remember the first hit/catch/bucket.  The #2 moment is the start of Image Comics.  I don’t include in that, but the mere fact that we were able to create another option in the comic community.  So that people who had the same like mind could come and create the comics they wanted too.  People who have no desire to do superhero comic books that everyone was doing.  We never moved off the original intent that we wanted to own anything.  We still don’t own anything.  I’m incredibly proud of that.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!

TM: My pleasure!

 

Todd McFarlane’s art book is out on 12/4.  Click here to preorder it on Amazon.

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