Todd McFarlane can already hear the complaints from the fanboys and girls. No, we are not talking about the mixed to deplorable reviews the film Venom--the ultimate Spider-Man baddie he co-created to much acclaim in the ‘80s--has been receiving. The legendary comic book illustrator, creator, writer, multimillionaire owner of McFarlane Toys and President of Image Comics addresses that burning question below. No, McFarlane is ready for all that will come when he finally unleashes his big screen version of Spawn, the popular demonic anti-hero he conjured up during his game-changing, spectacular 1990’s run, to theaters.
For starters, he envisions a Spawn film, which is set to feature Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx in the lead role, dramatically different from the 1997 take which got its casting right (Michael Jai White was believable as Al Simmons and John Leguizamo was hilarious as the evil Violator), but its execution aimlessly wrong.
For McFarlane, Spawn is essentially a creepy horror flick. “Everybody keeps threatening that they are going to do their R-rated superhero movie, but nobody has really come close,” he says. “But Spawn will be a true R movie. I see it as very dark and deadly serious. I want to scare people with this film.”
And there’s more. Todd McFarlane, who breathed new life into Spider-Man way back when, is finally ready for his comic book film close-up.
Okay, let’s get right to it. The new Venom film has been getting mixed to negative reviews. As the co-creator of that character what’s your verdict?
I’ll give you what my criteria is. As the visual creator of Venom, I have a certain image of him in my head. So years ago when I saw Topher Grace as Venom in my brain I was a little bit let down because he was not very big. That version of Venom was very humanoid looking. When I created Venom way back I made him visually imposing. And the reason for that is I wanted Spider-Man, after he had just stopped a bank robbery or something, to swing around the corner, meet Venom and go, “Whoa! I’m not going to be able to do the same things I did to that bank robber!” Physically, I wanted to make the point that Spider-Man was mismatched against Venom.
So was the Venom film a Hit or Miss?
For me it was a hit. But again, that’s because of how I imagined Venom would look. When I went to the screening my expectation was are they going to make him big? And in some of the scenes they made Venom really big. That checked my biggest box. If Spidey were to get into a fistfight with this Venom he would lose. So now the question is how are you going to beat him? As usual Spider-Man would have to use his brain.
It’s been announced that Spawn, the groundbreaking character you created in the ‘90s, will be hitting the big screen again with Jamie Foxx playing the title role. What are you looking forward to with this version of Spawn?
One of the things that I sort of said that I wasn’t going to back away from is I wanted to write, produce and direct. I also knew that Hollywood wouldn’t give me the chance to direct if I wrote a screenplay that had a $150 million budget to it. As a CEO myself, I wouldn’t do that…to invest that much money in someone that has never directed before. So I knew I was going to have to create a story that would be a lot smaller and confined. That means we are not going to do all of the stuff you see in some superhero movies.
So are we going to see a more story-driven Spawn?
Yes. And it’s not like I was giving away anything. Ever since I was a kid, I was always drawn more to the creepy movies than the all-action movies. I wanted to get scared from time to time. And other than there being a boogeyman in those movies everything else was real. And most scary movies are like that. It’s all believable to me. Could I run out of gas with my girlfriend? Yes. Could it be in the middle of nowhere? Yes. Could there be a house at the top of the hill? Yes.
How much did the success of the Deadpool movies play into you getting the thumbs up to make a R-rated Spawn film?
It helps, but in an interesting and odd way. I don’t consider Deadpool an R movie. It’s basically all the tropes of a PG-13 movie except it’s a little more violent, and they drop some F bombs, and they show a few naked parts. But the weird thing is screenplay that I wrote for Spawn is deadly serious. There’s no humor in it. There’s no joy in it.
Spawn is really the opposite of Deadpool. But because Deadpool has had giant success and has an R rating Hollywood is now saying, “Hey! R-rated superhero movies can work! Sh*t, we can do this!!!” But I’m not going to bet that the Joker movie will be as crazy as I’d make it. If you want me to make a Joker film 10-year-old kids would go running and crying out of the theater. I would do insanity that would scare adults.
I’m sure having Jamie Foxx involved helped immensely with getting any green light.
Yes…Jamie is a giant name. But he’s just a good man. And he has a great following. I’ve been around Jamie enough to know that he treats his fans with dignity and reverence, which is awesome for a celebrity. He knows that without his fans [he] wouldn’t have a career like any of us.
But Jamie came to me years ago and expressed his interest in Spawn. We had a nice conversation and he was quite the gentleman. I never forgot that meeting. I knew that if I ever had a chance to do Spawn [I] would offer it back up to Jamie. And I thought Jamie forgot the meeting we had, but I was lucky he said, “Oh, my God…I’m ready!” He jumped on pretty eagerly.
Your late ‘80s, early ‘90s comic book run of Spider-Man remains one of the most popular and commercially successful versions of the beloved character. The big eyes and spaghetti-webbing look that you created is iconic. Out of all of the Spider-Man movies that have been released which one feels closet to your Spidey?
I don’t know because I haven’t seen any of the Spider-Man movies.
Oh, so you are definitely a purist, huh?
[Laughs] I just don’t go to superhero movies. At the end of the day, I draw superhero comic books. And then I unplug. That’s the point where I need real movies. I need drama, I need reality. I need plausibility in my movies. Because I just spent 10 hours doing fantasy.
MacFarlane toys has gone on to become an award-winning, multi-million company. Is there a music act or pop culture icon who you have always wanted replicate but couldn’t get the rights to?
Yeah, all the big ones! I would love to do Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Star Wars…I mean what are you talking about [laughs]? Look, the name Todd only rhymes with God. But if he made me God for a day one of the things I would do is make sure every contract said, “Yes, big company A and B, you can do all your toys. But McFarlane gets to do one figure.” I just want to do one Star Wars character…let me just do one to get it out of my system.
Okay, here’s a hypothetical. Your phone rings and it’s Marvel Studios. And they want you to direct a film featuring any character in the Marvel canon the way you want to. Which one would you choose?
Wow. You know what I would probably lean on what I know. It would probably be my own version of Spider-Man or Venom because I have lived with those characters. I don’t know if I could do justice to Captain America, but that would be interesting. Somebody would probably have to help me with the story aspect of that character though. One of the reasons I think I can direct a Spawn film is because I’ve been living with him for over 25 years. Actually, it’s been longer than that because I created him when I was 16.
So when the Spawn movie blows up and Hollywood wants another McFarlane creation who are you rolling with?
You know what? Robert Kirkland and I did this character called Haunt. It’s weird, but I think there are things in that comic book that would probably not work in a movie such as the fact that he barfs up his costume. That would never work on screen, but it works in a comic book. So I would have to re-design that transformation. But I think that the backstory on him would be interesting.
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