In 1991, my brother Marc and I decided to start a business called Family Fun Stop. My mom wanted to be a part of it, because who wouldn’t want to hang out with us? So she would essentially do party planning and make birthday party souvenirs, while on our side of the store we would sell comics and had arcade games. The Beard, my sister, Dee, Jammy, and Bengi all wound up working there at one time or another.
During our heyday, Todd McFarlane’s Spider-man was a top seller. Apparently unhappy with the treatment of talent in Marvel, McFarlane, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, a slew of really good artists, and God-save-us Rob Liefeld decided to start their own comic line called Image Comics. Theoretically, not a bad idea: Creator-owned properties that would have those same creators determine story lines without editorial input nor interference. As a creator, myself, you want to own the fruits of your labor. I get it.
The first issue of every single one of those comics sold very well, but there was a major problem that developed right away on issue #2. With no editorial direction, these artists felt no urgency to complete their work. Consequently, all the support these artists engendered from their first issues, fell by the wayside as EVERY single artist without exception missed their deadlines. Some issues #2 were as late as eight months. For a comic shop owner this is the kiss of death. Any momentum you get on a hot selling book, cools as the next anticipated issue fails to hit the newsstand.
Worse and most offensive, the artists began to draw full page splash pages to give the appearance of sequential art that was more akin to a poster book than an actual comic book.
Sure, the books LOOKED pretty, but there was very little substance. Spawn, from it’s inception was different. It was something special. McFarlane tried to do something innovative by creating an anti-hero that was less superhero and more demon hunter. He wanted to demonstrate more range as an artist by drawing and writing the adventures of Spawn.
A lot of the Image artists felt the same way. They simply believed that a writer was superfluous. They felt that they could do the job of writer/artists and do them both equally well. Sadly they were mistaken. Just as they were wrong to believe that they didn’t need an overseeing editor to keep them on task, they were wrong to believe that they didn’t require a writer.
Let me be clear. Even though IMHO Todd McFarlane is the least egregious of the lot, the artists that left Marvel en masse were guilty of a specific kind of hubris that rankles me as a writer. Writing is a VERY important aspect to the sequential art form. McFarlane worked best when he gave up his writing dreams and focused his responsibilities on being a creative director of his book and was smart enough to realize that if he wanted to keep to his deadlines, he needed help. Last year, Spawn celebrated a milestone. Spawn reached its 300th issue, making it the longest running independent comic ever! Extremely laudable accomplishment.
There was a big celebration behind it, and we at the Mustache and the Beard feel we should temper the celebration a little bit, because I remember those beginning days of Image Comics, and all the promises that they made. Sure, Todd McFarlane has been the most faithful to the promises of Image Comics. Spawn had the benefit of becoming a movie character with an attempted reboot. There were also two adult-themed animated shows. Not to mention that McFarlane Toys are the best the industry has to offer.
Somewhere along the line, McFarlane lost focus. I did the math. There have been 28 years since Spawn was first published. If you multiply 28 by 12, it equals 336. The milestone really should’ve been reached 3 years ago. I don’t blame McFarlane for being a millionaire and expanding his brand. I just want to temper the celebration with the fact that he could’ve gotten to the milestone sooner had he gotten help earlier. I’m glad, McFarlane figured it out, because you really ought to pick up the book. It’s really very good.