I met Todd McFarlane at an autograph-signing at a comicbook* convention…my first at age 56. Todd broke away from Marvel comics in the early ’90’s at a point where he was making $1 million per year as the writer/artist on the Spider-Man comicbooks. There, he created the supervillain Venom. He left because he had characters he wanted to create, but couldn’t come to an agreement regarding ownership. (Creators for DC and Marvel did not own any ongoing piece of their creations. To this day, Stan Lee himself does not own a piece of Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Dr. Strange, or any of the many other characters he co-created with different artists.) Todd left Marvel to start Image Comics in 1992. His first hit was Spawn, which started a trend toward creator-owned comicbook characters.
I’ve always liked Todd’s art, and the fact that he told Marvel to go jump in a lake. So, at the Amazing Comic Con in Las Vegas, I brought along my copy of Spawn #8. The artwork is beautiful, and Spawn is posed in an iconic Spider-Man pose created by Todd a few years earlier. Perfect for signing.
I asked Todd if he would quote a favorite line he’d written for Spawn. He thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t really…..there’s nothing I…AH! Here. Here you go. I’ll write this” He inscribed, “ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES!!” Then, deadly earnest, he said, “What I mean by that is this…YOU have to take control of your life. So many people miss that. If you want to be an artist, pick up a pencil. If you want to stop drinking, put down the fucking bottle. If you hate your boss, quit your job. Only you can prevent forest fires.” We then chatted about the Cubs, Steve Bartman, and how he wishes he had won the auction for the ball. He would have waited, then publicly blown it up just before game one of the World Series.
He also spoke about art. Todd is writing, producing, and directing a SPAWN film. He told me that this degree of creative control was non-negotiable. He’s successful enough that he doesn’t need the film, which puts him in a position to do it his way or no way. “That’s the reason to pursue success.” he said, ‘To be able to create more art. If I hadn’t been constantly creating and building on my early success, I wouldn’t be able to move this project forward. After this project, I’ll create more art.”
He also said, “Hollywood has all these new platforms to deliver content, but they have no new IDEAS. Everything they are doing now is something they’ve already done. Now is the time to be a creator. They need YOU.”
All in all it was a delightful 6 minute chat with one of my favorite artist/writers.
(*Stan Lee later that day said the ONLY correct written form is the one-word “comicbook”. I’ll take his word for it, and pass that along to you.)