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Spawn – The Rise of Image Comics


[Intro music] I want to talk a bit about creators’ rights, and, specifically, a publisher’s relationship with their artists and how a character like Spawn really changed that conversation for a new generation of creators. “Spawn” launched in May of 1992, written and pencilled by Todd McFarlane, one of the premiere comic artists of the ’90s, and probably the most influential. With those first few issues, he, along with writers like Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Dave Sim, all shaped Spawn into something truly unique. It kept the capes, cowls and powers, but took the superhero trip in a radically different direction, fighting the forces of good and evil simultaneously. Angels, child killers, cyborgs and demons, all on the same antagonistic plane, along with introducing things like the necroplasm timer, giving a seemingly omnipotent character a finite amount of power, which made him resort to using weapons, guns, chains and spikes to give a practical reasoning for that nineties excess aesthetic. Spawn was dominating in comics popularity at that time, He was outselling Superman, he had his own film, along with an Emmy-winning animated series on HBO, but before creating his own character McFarlane made his name in comics over at Marvel with “The Amazing Spider-Man”, where he would permanently reshape that universe, helping create characters like Venom, and giving Spider-Man his, now iconic, spaghetti-webbing design, adding a flexibility and an elegance to his movement and posing. By putting more emphasis on the “spider”, rather than the “man”, he could shed all the formal conventions of anatomy in perspective, and focus on giving the images real energy. Spider-Man had been in the sixties for three decades, and Todd wanted to bring a modernity to those comics, and, of course, the result was hugely successful and it wasn’t long until he was handed his own book, both writing and pencilling the adjective-less “Spider-Man”, which sold over 2.5 million units in its first issue. But that level of popularity meant more money, and more money meant less creative control from McFarlane. Voiceover: “It was sort of interesting that when they gave you the book when it was floundering, they said ‘Here do whatever you want creatively because it’s not working’, and then you take it to the top and, all of a sudden, they want to jump back on as the conductor. So, now they’re going ‘Oh Todd, it’s too popular now, you can’t do that, you can’t do this, because there’s a lot of eyeballs on it, you don’t want to offend anybody’, and so, I just sort of got worn out of those conversations and eventually decided that we were going to go off in our own.” And in December of 1991, he, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, three of the biggest names in comics, walked out on Marvel, feeling that they weren’t being appropriately compensated for the success of their work. And you have to remember, in 1990, McFarlane had already set the record for best-selling comic of all-time with “Spider-man”, Then, barely a year later, Liefeld broke that record with “X-Force” No. 1, only to be beaten out two months later by Jim Lee’s “X-Men” No. 1, selling over 8.1 million copies, still the highest selling comic book ever published. These weren’t just hot-headed kids rebelling against the system, these were the driving forces of the entire industry. Comics were picking up steam, and the creators wanted equal compensation, but then-Marvel president Terry Stewart famously stated “The importance of the creative people must always be secondary to the characters”, and it’s that kind of backwards thinking that left Bill Finger out of the credits of every Batman comic, film and video game from 1939 all the way up until just a few years ago. Comic book artists and writers have historically been taken advantage of, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Siegel and Shuster getting only a hundred and thirty dollars split between the two of them for creating Superman. This is the actual check from that transaction. So, McFarlane, Lee and Liefeld, along with Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino, all abandoned the Big Two, to create a bigger third, Image Comics. A hub for creative independence, where the artist owned a hundred percent of their work. Image owned nothing but the name and the logo, and was actually six separate creator-owned companies, all allied under the Image banner, with each artist imprint having its own flagship title, Spawn being the highest-selling of the bunch, as well as the best-selling independent comic of all time, selling over 1.7 million copies. That’s an independent comic featuring a creator-owned character, by a publisher still in its infancy. Now, to put that into perspective, let’s look at Marvel’s latest big crossover event, “Civil War II”, a book that was strategically released alongside of “Captain America: Civil War” to capitalise on its success, sold only 380,000 copies in its first issue, and only 148,000 in its second. You can see now why comic book artists were considered rock stars in the ’90s. There was a general excitement and enthusiasm around comics that just didn’t exist prior to, or even after, that period. For just a short time, what was popular were the books and the creators, not just the characters. Image was a gateway for millions of new fans to get into comics, and it also served as a jumping-on point for people too intimidated by the four or five decades of history and continuity of Marvel and DC Comics, and the success of Spawn allowed McFarlane to pursue other ventures like McFarlane Toys, which set a new standard for action figures and merchandise, showing that toys didn’t just have to be cheap, minimally-detailed pieces of plastic, they could be high-quality miniature sculptures, real works of art. Image opened up a lot of opportunities for artists, with works like Chew, Saga, and The Walking Dead, it’s been a home for some of comics most creative voices, and it’s allowed them to showcase their talents without restriction. Todd McFarlane was only 16 years old, when he first created Spawn. Just a kid with dreams that, one day, his own character could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the legends, and he just happened to revolutionise the entire industry in the process, so, take a chance, and go make some stuff. [Outro music] ♫ Spawny, Spawny, he’s our man, ♫ if he can’t kill ’em, no-one can! ♫ Yay Spawny! ♫ S to the P to the A to the awn. ♫ S to the P to the A to the awn. ♫ Go Spawny, go Spawny.♫

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