Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is set for a historic celebration next month as it breaks the record for the longest-running creator-owned comic book in the world with its 300th and 301st issues.

Spawn is a monthly comic book, with hundreds of millions of copies sold worldwide in more than 120 countries and 15 different languages. Spawn debuted in 1992, selling 1.7 million copies — an unprecedented feat in independent comics. In addition to more comics, Spawn has since expanded into action figures, film, and animation.

Spawn No. 300 will be a 72-page, full-color comic book, celebrating 27 years and counting, of the hit independent series starring Albert Francis “Al” Simmons as the titular character.

“Man, 300 ties the record, 301 breaks the record,” says Todd McFarlane, Spawn creator and Image Comics president. “So, what we’re gonna end up doing is: 300 is gonna end in a cliffhanger, right? So, to finish the story for 300, you have to then go finish reading it in the history-setting book.”

Spawn No. 300 cover by Todd McFarlane

DAVID VS. GOLIATH

Spawn is published by Image Comics, founded in 1992 by a collective of artists, which has since grown to be one of the largest comics publishers in the U.S. In addition to McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, and Eric Stephenson sit on its board. Although Image is now a larger company, the fact that it’s not a huge corporation allows McFarlane to keep a creative hand in Spawn, and plays a big part in its success.

“It’s almost a business story,” McFarlane says. “ … Why did an individual have the drive to go against the giants of his industry and be able to survive for decades and is still in charge of that process decades later? … When I pull back the microscope that’s sort of the bigger story. I don’t care what you want to do — you want to make widgets, you want to make glass windows, you want to make anything clothing, designer, I don’t care — the big [companies], they’re gonna tell you ‘no,’ you have to do it their way, and that’s just not true.”

While McFarlane spent time working at bigger publishers, such as DC and Marvel, Spawn lives in a much smaller home, which allows it to remain creator-owned. Although it doesn’t have the numbers that Spider-Man or Batman comics may have, Spawn has a substantial group of loyal fans that allows it to co-exist alongside these bigger companies.

“From time to time, you get stories in all industries where people from the outside, or rebels, or whatever you want to call them, just go, ‘No, I’m just gonna do it on my own’ and succeed,” he says. “To me, the story here isn’t how David took on Goliath, the story here is … why can’t Goliath kill David?”

And that’s just it: Goliath can’t. Even 300 issues later, McFarlane has big plans for Al Simmons, taking the character and his story to a new level. He understands the advantages of being the David, and how those traits are what help Spawn to succeed.

“The corporations move slow, so they don’t adapt. The advantage of being small at any time … is you ask me to do something today and in 24 hours, 48 at the most, I’ll tell you whether I can do it. If the answer is, ‘Yes I can do it,’ we’re already going to be starting working on it. That fast. Right? So, we’re nimble and we’re flexible, and that gives us — at times — an advantage to survive,” he says.

As far as the fans go, McFarlane says that when you’re a smaller fan base, each fan’s opinion holds more weight. Citing properties like Spider-Man, he talks about how the opinions of 100 fans are insignificant when you have 1 billion fans. But if you have closer to 3,000 fans, the opinions of those 100 is important. “I think that for smaller-scaled companies, fan and customer influence is a vital to making sure that you’re always staying as relevant as you can,” McFarlane says.

The longevity of Spawn is also due in part to McFarlane’s creative process, and how that translates to his creative team.

WHAT WOULD TEENAGE TODD DO?

No. 300 will boast an impressive lineup of comic creators, including McFarlane himself, Greg Capullo (Batman), current Spawn artist Jason Shawn Alexander, fan-favorite J. Scott Campbell (Danger Girl, Spider-Man), rising star Jerome Opeña (Uncanny X-Force, Seven to Eternity) and bestselling writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Metal, Wytches). In addition to being a hefty book, the title will feature 12 covers by McFarlane, Capullo, Campbell, Opeña, and Alexander, including gorgeous black-and-white “Artist Edition” variants showcasing the original, inked artwork of both Capullo and McFarlane.

“I close my eyes and I try to channel the 15-year-old Todd McFarlane, and the 15-year-old Todd McFarlane was super geeky, loved comic books, loved geeky stuff, and didn’t have a lot of money in his pocket and wanted to be entertained … ,” McFarlane says. “When I talk to some of the guys who are on it  — J Scott Campbell and Greg [Capullo] and [Jerome] Opeña — then they go, ‘What do you want the covers to look like?’ And I go, ‘Close your eyes, remember your 15-year-old self. That’s when you all started collecting comic books, and draw the cover that would f—ing be the coolest to that kid.’”

“I’m not giving you any more direction than that,” he adds. “If you can channel that, I’ll love it.”

While creating comics is always a team effort, these big, historical issues are some of the most collaborative projects yet for McFarlane and his team of creatives. While Spawn is ultimately his creation, it’s important to McFarlane that the team is enjoying what they’re doing — and truly working together. McFarlane noted that as a writer, he looks to what his artists are interested in or like drawing and then he’ll write the story around that.

Todd McFarlane, 1991

“If you say, ‘I like elephants, trees, and rocketships,’ give me a couple pages and I’ll come up with some kind of story that’ll have all three of those elements,” he says. “I’ll make sure the rocketship crashes in Africa with a bunch of trees near some herd of elephants or something, … we’ll get there.”

This sort of work flow is just another benefit of the comic being creator-owned. It’s special attention that you couldn’t get from a bigger publishing company. It keeps the creative team interested in the books, which is important — especially for a story that’s 300 issues in. By keeping the staff, and himself, engaged, McFarlane ensures that he’s producing content that will keep Spawn fans coming back for more.

“I’m still the guy who created him in issue one, and I’m still the guy writing at issue 300,” McFarlane says. “And this is where I’m gonna get a little selfish: For me, Todd McFarlane, to still be excited to continue doing Spawn comics, I have to entertain myself and evolve the character along the way because if I keep writing the same five stories I did in [the first five] issues then the repetition — at least for a guy like me — is going to drive me stark-raving mad.”

So, what’s next for Spawn? “We’re going to hit a bit of a turning point here at 300,” McFarlane says. “He’s gonna have a very, very focused mission of what he’s about to do. I would say that up until issue 300 — especially all the way almost up to 250, but for sure all the way up to 300 — he’s been sort of a passive participant in his life for the most part, he just wants to be left alone, … but he’s now at the point where that’s going to flip.”

One thing is for sure: Al Simmons’ journey isn’t ending anytime soon.


SPAWN AT SDCC

Fans at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) can join in the celebrations, too. At the Road to Historic Spawn 300 & 301 panel, fans can get up close and personal with McFarlane and other members of the creative team as they take a look into Spawn’s past, reveal new artwork, offer giveaways, and more. The panel, hosted by Image Comics, will take place in Room 5AB from 1:45-2:45 p.m. on Sunday, July 21.

Plus, fans can get a sneak peek into the launch of the new Spawn merchandise program, which is an event exclusive program for this year. Visit the Image Comics Booth No . 1915 for a first look.

The line includes pretty standard merch fare, such as T-shirts, lapel pins, and hats. It also includes a Spawn figure, but it’s unlike the intricately detailed figures you’re used to seeing from McFarlane Toys, the product branch of McFarlane’s brands.

“[It’s a] little cute, little fat, little dumpy Spawn. I’ve done 20 of the well-proportioned ones, [this is a] little, cute, adorable one,’” McFarlane says.


This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Summer 2019 Issue No. 4, click here to read more!