Todd McFarlane: Comic Creative, Visionary, and Rebel

When I watched Todd McFarlane’s SyFy Documentary, “Like Hell I Won’t,” I did not see just a story about a comic creator and what he does in his day-to-day. I saw a story about a man who became a creative, a visionary, and a rebel. When I think of those three words, I think of Todd McFarlane, the creator of the comic book “Spawn” and one of the founding fathers of Image Comics.

The documentary showed a McFarlane who was a creative the moment he started to grow. From doodling pictures in class to drawing amazing works of art for the love notes he gave to his girlfriend (and future wife) Wanda, he was honing his craft as a comic artist. Sure, in an alternate universe, he could have been Todd McFarlane, the baseball player (since he played some baseball) or something else but comic books became his passion. Comics was something he wanted to pursue and he had a vision.

However, he was bogged down by the notion that comic book artists were only bred in New York. However, that notion changed when he saw comic book artist John Byrne,who was working on “Uncanny X-Men,” on television saying that he was living in Calgary, Alberta, McFarlane’s hometown. And at that instant, McFarlane decided to pursue comics/ And since McFarlane wanted to work in comics so he did what any up and coming comic creator would do.

He submitted samples of his art to different publishers for years. However, he had gotten 300 rejections. He could have given up on his dream but if there is anything I learned about McFarlane, it was that he never took no for an answer.

McFarlane’s persistence reminds me of a quote from Zig Ziglar: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” He never gave up on his goal and aimed to work in the comic book industry and eventually got his first gig from an publisher name Steve Englehart. The gig involved drawing art for the comic called “Coyote.” Although four months later, he would lose that job due to the book getting canceled, McFarlane would rebound and eventually do art for “The Incredible Hulk” under Marvel Comics and eventually would do one of his best works on “Spider-man” in the early 1990’s.

As I delved further into the documentary, I learned that the reason McFarlane’s “Spider-Man” work was the best was because he broke the rules. Marvel Comics wanted him to draw Spider-man they way the wanted him to. However, the Canadian artist did the opposite and it sold. Marvel must have been scratching their heads as to how this dude from Calgary, Alberta Canada was helping Spider-Man gain a lot of sales with his unique art. One of the things McFarlane changed out Spider-Man was the eyes on his mask and the web that came out his webshooters. McFarlane wanted more emphasis on Spider rather than just the “man.” To this day, the Spidey’s webs are still written in the highly detailed style created by McFarlane.

“Break the rules and make it look cool,” McFarlane would say. And it paid off. “Spider-Man” became one of Marvel’s highest grossing comics but it was not enough for the comic company. As a result, McFarlane and six other artists made up their minds and decided to waltz into the Marvel headquarters in New York and call it quits.

These seven comic creators would create Image Comics and it was a place where McFarlane would not be told no since he had 100 percent creative freedom. And with that freedom, he created his flagship comic book, “Spawn.”

The amazing thing I saw from the documentary was that “Spawn” is more than just a comic book story about a U.S. Marine, named Al Simmons, who sells his soul to the devil and becomes this supernatural warrior hellbent on going after those who did him wrong. Its also a love story about a wounded warrior who longs and fights to see his wife…Wanda (same name as McFarlane’s wife) once more. Some of McFarlane’s inspiration from the story comes from his love for his wife and family. And it really got deep when the artist said that he would do the same exact thing Spawn would do see his wife again.

Despite the implosion of the comic book industry back in the 1990s and facing several lawsuits (Notably from Neil Gaiman, an NHL hockey player and many other), McFarlane was (and still is to this day) tenacious when it came to working on “Spawn.” By doing so, a movie based on the comic came out in 1997 and adult toys were made (which revolutionized the adult collectible toy industry. An HBO cartoon based on “Spawn” was also made.

All of this stemmed from not only his love of comic books. But it also stemmed from wanting to be like his father while at the same time not being pushed around. McFarlane admired his father for his hard work and blue collar work ethic but was affected by how people took advantage of his father.

After working on “Spawn” for so many years, McFarlane was able to write the 300th issue for the comic book he started in the 1990’s while founding Image Comics. It is ironic how after he got 300 rejections, he was able to create 300 issues of “Spawn” because he was a creative, visionary, and a rebel. And this inspired other creators to put in that same effort into the comics. Creators like Robert Kirman (“The Walking Dead” and “Invincible”) have been inspired by McFarlane.

McFarlane’s story is nothing new. Its a story of a man who never gave up even when people told him no or when it was the eleventh hour. And because of that perseverance, he is living the best life. If McFarlane could pursue his goals and aim for them, why can’t any of us? If nothing could stop him from doing his best work creating, what is stopping you from doing yours?

If you want to watch the documentary, “Like Hell I Won’t,” you can click on this link.

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