Today we're doing something fun, we're going to talk about one of the most recognizable comic book characters outside of Marvel and DC Comics; Todd McFarlane's Spawn! In case you've been living under a rock for the past 25 years here's a brief history of the character...
Spawn is a fictional antihero appearing in a monthly comic book series of the same name published by Image Comics. Created by Todd McFarlane, the character first appeared in Spawn #1 (May 1992). Albert Francis Simmons was born in Detroit, Michigan. He is the second eldest of three children (Marc, Albert and Richard) born to Bernard Simmons- a traveling salesman- and Esther Simmons- a devil worshipper. Simmons is a highly intelligent and physically strong Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. He later joins the United States Secret Service and becomes a highly decorated member. This leads to his recruitment to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Once in the CIA, Simmons joins the U.S. Security Group- an umbrella agency encompassing the CIA, the NSA, and the NSC- commanded by Director Jason Wynn, and becomes a highly capable assassin.
After being murdered during a mission in Botswana when Director Wynn hires Simmons' friend and partner, Bruce Stinson (codename Chapel), to kill him, Simmons is sent to Hell due to his life as an assassin. Making a deal with the devil- known as Malebolgia- Simmons agrees to become a Hellspawn and serve Malebolgia if he is allowed to see his wife, Wanda, one last time. Malebolgia agrees, and returns Simmons to the living realm, but stripped of nearly all his memories, with a badly burned body, and a demonic guardian, named the Violator.
The series has spun off several other comics, including Angela, Curse of the Spawn, Sam & Twitch, and the Japanese manga Shadows of Spawn. Spawn was adapted into a 1997 feature film and portrayed by Michael Jai White, an HBO animated series lasting from 1997 until 1999, a series of action figures whose high level of detail made McFarlane Toys known in the toy industry, and a 2019 reboot film starring Jamie Foxx and Jeremy Renner, alongside a sequel animated series. The character also appears in annual compilations, miniseries specials written by guest authors and artists, and numerous crossover storylines in other comic books. And if that wasn't enough... the series just reached it's 301st issue of publication!
But what is the big deal about Spawn? To answer this (what we think anyway) I decided to join my brother-in-arms Alvaro Cortez Jr to discuss just that, what does the character mean to us, what does it mean for comics and how do we feel about Todd McFarlane and/or Image Comics.
Manuel Carmona: So, Spawn reached and surpassed it's 300th consecutive issue, that's mighty impressive wouldn't you agree?
Alvaro Cortez Jr: It is, especially considering most of the "Big 2" series barely make it past 12 issues lately.
MC: Ha! That's true though. Honestly putting together ONE comic book independently takes a Herculean team effort, publishing 10, 20, 30 is almost unfathomable for indie publishers in general; reaching 300 issues??? It's unthinkable!
AC: Especially when you wear as many hats as McFarlane does. Not only is he still involved with Spawn, he oversees McFarlane Toys and trying to get the movie produced as well. It's crazy how he's able to do so much.
MC: And what do you feel Spawn reaching 300 issues mean to the industry, especially to indie publishers like ourselves; who are going on this journey of self publishing their books?
AC: It's very inspiring. He always states that now is the time for indie comics and encourages creators to keep creating and pushing the boundaries. This landmark event is so important because it shows he talks the talk and walks the walk. Sure, there's a case that can be made that he already had his fame from Marvel, and Image is the #3 company and is seen as a fine line between indie and commercial; but I still admire the HUGE chance he took and the fact that he has made mistakes along the way but he keeps bouncing back. That's admirable.
MC: It absolutely is! Spawn always had a special place in my heart for many reasons, for example showing the comic book world that it could be done; you can build your niche if you work at it tirelessly and stay true to your vision. I looked at what McFarlane did with Spawn and it was a revelation, he became my role model as a comic book creator; he showed me it could be done. For that I'll always be on his corner.
AC: I like that he took chances. Contrary to the other creators for the exception of maybe Larsen and Valentino, he made something so dark and so gutsy and so different from what the others did. I loved WildCATS and Cyber Force, Wetworks, Youngblood, etc, but they really felt like variations of X-Men. Which I don't fault them for it, and eventually they grew out and got out of their comfort zone, but McFarlane came out swinging from the start and kept going strong.
MC: I remember reading those first issues as a teenager back in the early 90s and thinking to myself "this book is dark as hell (no pun intended!) and gritty and mysterious and beautiful. I devoured every issue! Then Greg Capullo came on board with an art style very similar to McFarlane's, and slowly but surely broke out of the mold and created his own unmistakable art style and became one of the greatest artists in comics in my opinion! To me he drew the definitive Spawn, even more so than McFarlane!
AC: Even McFarlane admits the book became Capullo's during that time, to the point he altered his own style for issue number 50, which is one of my all time favorite issues of any comic EVER. I mean, Capullo and McFarlane drawing at the height of their careers on Spawn? Amazing. Tony Daniel had a short stint also alternating with Capullo before Capullo completely took over and Daniel went on to make his own studio F5.
MC: And how do you think independent creators should feel about this tremendous accomplishment?
AC: Feel inspiration about it. For the longest time he helmed this creation pretty much on his own and he did something we all must be aware of: the business aspect of it. Especially in a time when you can basically have your own store online to sell your comic, merch, even indie animation/movies, the internet has changed everything. Depending on how you want to handle your creation, he has left us the blueprint for it and the encouragement, so nows the time to push forward.
MC: Yup, I see it as a near unreachable goal to strive for; sort of like wanting to be bigger than Kirby in comics. More than likely never gonna happen but you strive for it. The way to reach that almost impossible goal is one step at a time, one issue after the other, be consistent, be diligent, be truthful to your craft and to your peers, don't take shortcuts; impossible is a word cowards throw around because they're too scared to fail. McFarlane showed us the way, now let's arm ourselves with that knowledge and reach for the stars. Keep it Truthful!