McFarlane's Mark: The Future of Comics - The Industry


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This week, we speak to Todd about the future of comic books, beginning with a discussion of new digital delivery methods and how they affect the business of creating comics.

his installment of McFarlane's Mark was produced by Jason Wilkins and Frederik Hautain.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The last time we talked you were off to the premiere of Iron Man 2, so I thought we’d start with asking what you thought of the sequel. Did it live up to your expectations?

TODD MCFARLANE: I thought the movie pushed all the right buttons and accomplished whatever it is I assume was the studio’s goal, which was to give the people more of what they liked the first go-around. From that aspect, knowing what it is that they wanted to do, I think they hit a home run.

If you’re asking me specifically, then I liked the first one better, because I sometimes get a little leery of sequels that try to do too much. I thought for me, this one was trying to do a little too much. I could say the same thing about the Transformers 2, Spiderman 2 and 3. They take the step and everybody goes, “That was cool!” Then they try and do it three times over in the next movie.

BF: All of this talk about movies and comics got me to thinking about the future of comics as a medium and as an industry. Presently, they’re pretty trendy things and the future seems relatively bright, with all of the new methods of delivery out there. So I was wondering how you thought comics would be affected by things like the iPad, online comics, motion comics?

MCFARLANE: It’s interesting that for all of the hype that iPad’s getting…I think from a computer standpoint, there are a lot of people who have a wait and see sort of attitude. But for downloading comics, like they’ve been doing on their iPhones? It almost seems as if the iPad was built for comic books. It’s about the size of a comic book, right? So people go, “Wow! It’s not the size of a newspaper or a magazine. It’s about the size of a comic book page.

I’ve had a couple of people in the office here show it to me with the comic books on it and it’s terrific. Now, does that mean that a bunch of people who don’t read comic books are instantly going to jump out there and start reading comic books because a machine is now holding their hands or because now the page size is good? Nah, I doubt it.

At least those of us who have been doing it or contemplating doing it now have a format that almost handpicked for it. On that level I think it’s exciting. We now have a place where we don’t have to cut up the individual panels and break up the true nature of how the artwork was intended to be seen.

BF: Have you been able to look at any comics on the iPad then? They’re not widespread in Canada yet, as far as I know. What’s the interface like?

MCFARLANE: Yeah, it’s pretty good. It definitely serves its purpose. I think it’s a tremendous upgrade from cutting them up panel by panel in the downloadable versions that are going on your iTouch and iPhones. That’s why I wasn’t really doing it. The panels and designs were built to go at a certain size and to me now I was going backwards. Now, I’m trying to fit my size into their size. I was always saying, “Hold on a sec. If I’m going to do a downloadable comic book, why wouldn’t I actually design it to the size of the screen?”

Why draw something that’s not the size of the screen and try to jam it in there? Because all of this stuff is pre-existing right? So, now with the iPad, Apple inadvertently sort of inadvertently solved that problem for us. They’ve actually built the screen that’s almost right nuts-on for comics. God bless them for it!

BF: It seems like some of the online comics have tried to format their viewing application to a more comic book-oriented size or at least a size that fits comfortably on the screen of your computer. What it’s been like for you trying to make the reading experience as comfortable as possible?

MCFARLANE:  Let’s talk about the medium first. I’ve never been one of those guys who assumes that just because there’s a new form of technology out there, that everyone’s going to jump on board very quickly. A lot of times, there’s a lot of iterations on it. I mean if we go back to websites – when they first hit. Every company had a website. Disney spent hundreds of millions of dollars creating a website, I think it’s called Go, that didn’t do quite do what it was they originally thought it would.

It’s always easy to jump on the bandwagon and have people say I think, way too casually, “This is the wave of the future.”  You know what? I’m more inclined to let someone show it to me – that it’s the wave of the future – and then I’ll try to go out there and do a better version of it. Because it takes too much time and effort and money to convert people away from original buying habits,

I think that’s where you have to let the big companies that have way more money and clout do that marketing thing for you. And then you come in there and say, “Good, now that everyone who thinks they need a big screen TV, I’m going to be the company that builds the best big screen TV on the marketplace.” Let someone else convince people they have to have it.

So, I’m still sitting on the fence as to what level in the next few years, comic book sales and the money to be had in terms of the current state of downloadables actually increases. Here’s what I do know. Nobody’s bragging about how much money they’re making and if somebody was getting rich off of it, somebody would be bragging. Nobody’s bragging right now.

That tells me that there’s some money, which doesn’t necessarily mean just because there’s some money – and I’ve told people this for years and years –  “Just because you can make a nickel, doesn’t mean you should.” At some point, you might actually need to make that nickel and if you’ve already took it, you can’t go back because you’ve already took it.

So I’ve always been a little more conservative, which is why I took 50-60 issues to put out my first comic book over and above Spawn, when we first started out with Image. I just want to concentrate on the one thing, make it work, and then I’ll worry about coming out with another regular book and some of the other things, which is too easy to do right out of the starting gate.

I’ve always had a little bit more of a passive approach. People think, “Build it and they’ll come.” I’ve always been, “No, no, no. You have to build it and then get the hell in their way so they trip over you.” But that takes time, effort, and money and like I said sometimes it’s easier to let the big boys spend that money and figure it out.

For example, Disney spent way too much on Marvel Comics to not try and figure out if downloadable comic books are a viable business. Once they figure it out, they’ll have figured it out for the rest of us. So I’m not too anxious to try and to do something that we may then have to reinvent, because somebody has created a different and better way to do it.

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