Todd McFarlane isn’t sure whether he was being youthfully naive or overly confident, but the famed artist and co-founder of Image Comics said he is right where he thought he would be as his most popular comic-book creation, “Spawn,” celebrates its 25th anniversary.
“You try to create characters that will not only endure time, but will also, in a perfect world, actually outlive you,” McFarlane told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “For me, I sort of take a look at a career like Walt Disney, who created that little mouse guy. Now, Walt is no longer walking the earth, but the mouse is. I’ve actually referred to these characters as your creative children. And just like your real children, you hope they outlast you and you go to the grave first.”
On Wednesday, Image Comics will publish the 273rd issue of “Spawn,” as well as a “Director’s Cut” 25th-anniversary edition of the first issue of the series. As McFarlane marches toward 300 issues, a rare number in the modern comic-book era of renumbering and reboots, he considers it a badge of honor that “Spawn” and Image Comics have made a name for themselves among industry giants, such as Marvel and DC Comics.
“We’re going against big corporations. Marvel and DC are owned by Disney and Time Warner. They have billions of dollars at their disposal,” McFarlane said. “And they’ve got tens of thousands of people to move whatever mountains they need to. So if we can survive those odds, it is a victory to me every day.”
Current “Spawn” production sees McFarlane write each new issue, as well as occasionally dust off his digital pencil to illustrate covers. He’ll also sometimes draw the initial layout sketches for current “Spawn” artist Szymon Kudranski. As finished pages come to him, McFarlane leaves notes for his artists and colorists, and spends a dedicated amount of time with his letterer focusing on word balloons and making sure they’re in the right spot in each panel.
“I’m pretty anal about stuff that people don’t pay much attention to,” McFarlane said. “But to me it’s like being an umpire. If you don’t notice that the lettering is obtrusive, then I’ve done my job.”
Not lost to McFarlane is the fact that he created and owns the rights to one of the most popular superheroes of color in the comic-book industry — a fact that at times isn’t as celebrated as the most recent diversity-aimed creations at major publishers, such as Marvel’s Miles Morales/Spider-Man or DC’s Chinese Superman. McFarlane acknowledges that many fans don’t realize or remember that Spawn started off as a black man.
The initial lightbulb moment of McFarlane’s creation of Al Simmons/Spawn came from his time as an artist at Marvel.
“I just thought it was a little bit odd that characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man that are clothed and costumed fully from head to toe, that we just assumed from the outside that they were just like Superman and Batman, you know, they were just little white boys,” McFarlane said. “I was always curious, I was like, why can’t it just be somebody else?”
“I didn’t want to do a story of a black man because I wanted to tell a story of black people. Because who am I? I’m a white Canadian. I just wanted to say, heroes come in all sizes and shapes and sex and beliefs. Doing good is not exclusive to being a white male in America.”
Spawn’s reason for being throughout his comic-book series was the love of his life, his ex-wife Wanda, a character whom McFarlane recently killed off. For years, McFarlane wrote Spawn as a passive and reluctant hero. He said that attitude from Spawn will be changing as the series goes forward with Spawn’s true love gone forever.
“[Spawn] didn’t really want to be a hero. He’s been around long enough that he understands that’s not possible,” McFarlane said. “He now is going to take it in the other direction, and he’s going to go after evil and make evil say ‘Spawn, leave me alone.’ He’s gonna get [the bad guys] to start saying ‘uncle.’ ”
After a quarter-century of publishing, McFarlane said he can see the ending of “Spawn” in his mind, but that doesn’t mean it will be arriving anytime soon. If Superman and Batman can be around for almost a century, why can’t Spawn?
“Do I have an ending? Yes, I do. Do I hope I ever write it? No,” McFarlane said. “Nobody is asking what’s the end of Batman. As a matter of fact they’re going, ‘Hey, can we see more?’ Do I ever see a time where I just [say] I’m tired of ‘Spawn,’ I don’t want to have any guidance?’ No. At worst, I’d be the editor on those books, just sort of the creative father. I think I’ve got something to add to every issue even if somebody else is working on it.”