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San Diego Comic-Con 2010 Thoughts

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Todd recaps this year in San Diego including his announcements, impressions, and how you can get him to sit on your lap at the show.

This edition of McFarlane’s Mark was produced by Sam Moyerman and Frederik Hautain.


BROKEN FRONTIER:  Last time we spoke, it was just before the major convention season so I first wanted to touch on San Diego and your experiences there.  Was it pretty much what you expected?  Any surprises?

TODD MCFARLANE: 
San Diego doesn’t really surprise me anymore, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t the “Wow!” factor.  It’s giant with lots of people.  They bring out all the heavy hitters with star power; show some really awesome trailers for upcoming movies, TV shows, and video games.  It seems to be more of the same, just with a bigger scale every year.  I don’t know where the finality of that is, because they obviously can’t keep letting more and more people in since it’d be a fire hazard.

But for anyone who wants to see some really cool stuff and get a head start on seeing what is coming out of the pipeline, San Diego is definitely the place to be for those few days.

BF:  Before the convention you weren’t really sure if you would have a big presence, but it seemed like you ended up with more than you thought.  The big thing for you, which you mentioned before, was the video game reveal with Studio 38. Originally it was called Project Mercury, now called Reckoning.


MCFARLANE:
Yeah, last time we talked we were undecided about revealing it at San Diego or taking one other opportunity, but we finally decided that San Diego was the place to do it.  So I went from not having anything big and new to talk about to having a nice presence at the show; which was good for us because it ups the ante and intensity a little bit.  It’s nice to have something like that to announce, but obviously tough because you have to go against all the A-listers.

BF: Well, you did come out with some pretty big heavy hitters too for this game.  R.A. Salvatore designed the world for the game.  Ken Rolsten, who is famous for his RPG games, is doing all the gameplay elements; and of course Curt Schilling is involved at the top.  With you involved that’s pretty much a dream team. What’s it like to be involved with such people, who in a sense, match your stature in their own fields?

MCFARLANE:
  We’ve been working together for years now on this, but this is the first time we’ve “pulled back the curtain” to let everyone see inside.  Everyone on the project seems to understand where their start and stop points are.  A lot of people are curious as to how you fit that many egos in one room.  Since Curt is involved I’ll use a baseball analogy – everyone is on the same team, but we all have different positions. 

The goal is still the same: to put out the best game we can.  But we’re not stepping on each other’s toes.  I wouldn’t go into R.A.’s office and tell him how to create the world just like he wouldn’t come into mine and tell me how to do cool art.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have some discussions with each other, but it isn’t what we were brought in to do.

BF: Was it cool for you to be given characters and settings from R. A. Salvatore, someone world renowned in the fantasy genre, to design and work on?

MCFARLANE: 
Yeah, that’s always been fun to do.  Before I went off on my own to do my own character I was always working with writers.  They’d come in and share some ideas and you’d have to take those cool ideas and turn them into something great.  And R.A. doesn’t just have a few ideas, he’s got thousands of great ideas for this game and I get to put visuals to it all.  It does take me back to my roots a little bit in not having to be the guy creating it and just be able to put pencil and ink to design it.

BF:  I did read somewhere that some the designs surprised some people as it didn’t look like your typical stuff.  Was that a conscious decision on your part to do that and get away from your signature style or is it a product of working in video games where I’m sure there are a lot of people putting the artwork into the game structure and animating it?

MCFARLANE:
Well we’re still early in some of the stuff we were showing.  That said, the intent was never to make a game that looks like my comic books… and maybe we need to stress that a little louder.  The intent was to put out a good looking kick ass game for people who play role playing games.

You start to run into a little dilemma.  While my name is well known in some areas, the goal is to sell this game globally where people may not know who I am.  So you have to take those factors into account and not try to sell it for my artwork.  My whole thing is to make sure it’s a good looking game first and foremost and then we can try and put in the “McFarlane look” if it fits in there.

Every time I go into a different venture there are a whole new set of rules for me to play under.  You can’t just take what works in one area and simply put it into another one.  Look at the Spawn HBO series.  That doesn’t really look like my artwork per se.  So then what we have to do is, because we’re working in the limitations of a new medium; figure out what it is that makes video games interesting.  To me it’s the playability of it and the coolness of the characters and the world.  I’m way more focused on that then I am making sure it looks like one of my toys or comic books.

BF:  This game is still about a year away. Is there a plan of attack now to keep releasing images and previews over the next year to keep it out there in the consciousness?

MCFARLANE: 
Absolutely.  We have constantly been discussing the schedule of events.  Since we pulled back the curtain to show it and hopefully people really liked it, we need to keep them interested.  Our job is to figure out at what rate do we want to show things, what do we want to show, and where do we want to show it.  Curt’s attitude is that we need to keep refreshing the images from time to time so it doesn’t remain static.

BF: One of the other panels that you weren’t sure you were going to do but ended up doing was the Image Partners panel.  That’s got to be a lot of fun to get up there with those guys.

MCFARLANE:
Oh yeah.  For me, given how big Comic-Con has gotten these days, that’s absolutely the best part of the show.  Just being able to hang out with the people you like and those guys are some of the ones I enjoy the most.  We’ve always enjoyed each other’s company and because of our busy schedules we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like.  So it was good, not just being on the panel with them, but also to get out to dinner with each other and have a few business meetings.  Keeps it interesting and fun at the same time.  That’s the coolest part to me, to get to hang out with Silvestri, Valentino, Kirkman, and Larsen.  They’re such good people.

BF:  It does seem like you guys are always having fun up there.

MCFARLANE:
  Historically we’ve always bugged each other a little bit.  Even when Rob and Jim Lee were with us, we always had fun with each other.  We’re kind of like brothers in that sense.  We’re always the first to insult and tease each other but we don’t want anyone else doing it.

BF:  I was reading the recap of the panel online and something that caught my eye was that it said you went out into the audience to field questions.

MCFARLANE:
Yeah, I’ve done that plenty of times.  One thing I find about panels is they can be somewhat static and boring, just in their setup.  You have all these people sitting at a table up on a stage, which makes it difficult sometimes to even see them.  Then they put a nametag in front of you that hides you (and sometimes the audience can’t even read it).  So I’ve always felt that panels, aside from being informative and interesting, should have an element of entertainment in them too.  Because it’s too easy to have 6 guys up on stage and just be static.

So I’ve always felt instead of just putting a mic out there and have people line up and ask questions, I’ll do the “Phil Donohue” and head into the crowd to get them directly.  It makes it a little more personal, even if the question is for Silvestri, or Kirkman (who fielded the most because of the Walking Dead TV show).  Gives it a little more fun factor.

BF:  I definitely think it’s cool that you do that.  A lot of times they indeed just put the mic out there.  It’s much more unique your way.  Has anything interesting or funny happened to you while you were in the crowd?

MCFARLANE: 
Well, at this one I was able to come out into the aisle, but they all thought I was coming to them and there was no place to stand so I had to sit in a couple people’s laps [laughs].  There were a few times where I had to sit on the laps of a couple people over from the person with the question.  Luckily I found some big strong dudes who could bear my weight.  So it got a little goofy with that, but then you don’t want to take yourself too seriously.  There were some serious questions but at the end of the day we’re still just doing comic books right?  We’re very lucky to be doing that and getting paid for it.  In the end we get paid good money to draw guys in tight costumes punch each other in the face, so we should have fun with it.

BF:  And going from acting as a sort of moderator for the Image panel, you also were the moderator for Stan Lee’s panel.  You had mentioned running into him in Phoenix, but didn’t talk about helping him with his panel.  How did that end up happening?


MCFARLANE: 
They needed a moderator about a week before the show and Stan had asked me to do it.  We run into each other from time to time and really enjoy each other’s company, so when they told me he asked for me I jumped at the chance.

He’s a good man, and it’s an easy job.  You really don’t have to do too much at his panels.  He REALLY gets the entertainment part of it.  It’d be great if more people understood the system like he does.  To Stan, everyone is there in the room to enjoy themselves, so he makes sure they have some laughs, he makes fun of himself a bit and tells some stories; then gives some information and allows people to ask him questions.

BF:  Did you hear anything that you hadn’t heard before?  Anything catch you off guard?

MCFARLANE:
[Laughs] He did tell a story about a “puff of smoke” that I’d never heard about.  But it was tough because I was trying to move really quickly through his career and they only gave him a 45 minute panel, which is way, way too short.  Stan Lee could entertain people for 3 hours easily.

He talked about his new companies and how he broke into the business.  No matter what, the longer he talks you always end up hearing something new and interesting from Stan and he and I have known each other for years.  It’s not always the most informative stuff I learn, but it’s always interesting.  Sort of like having your wife of 20 years say something that you didn’t know about. [Laughs]

BF:  Finally, with the conventions, you had mentioned one of your favorite things was going through artist alley and meeting and seeing new artists.  Were you able to do that this time?

MCFARLANE: 
Not as much as I’d have liked.  I did get some names and numbers of people who were going to send me portfolios and updates, but that time did get a little crimped on me.  The other thing is with San Diego, with artist alley a lot of the tables are professional established artists who are there to show off their wares.  Most of them are already employed and are not looking for a job.  It’s more the young kids who bring their portfolios who are hungry and looking for work where you find the diamond in the rough.

BF: But you did get a few names?

MCFARLANE: 
Oh yeah, and hopefully they can turn out like my new Spawn artist Szymon Kudranski, who I found on twitter.  His stuff just keeps getting better and better.  He just finished up issue #203 today and is starting on #204 straight away and it’s really blowing me away.  By the time Mike and I get done with #200 he’ll be finished #205 and we’ll have 5 issues in the bank.

And it’ll be nice to get back on schedule with a book like Spawn, especially since we’re not compromising the artwork or quality in any way.

BF:  One other thing in terms of going through artist alley I wanted to ask, and it relates to a question last time about the people who you liked to meet and talk to that influenced you: when you head through artist alley and search for artists, do you find them coming up to you and telling you how much of an influence you were on them?

MCFARLANE: 
It’s interesting because when you’re out in the public at places like that it’s a bit of a warped reality.  The people who come up and talk to you there are almost always friendly.  Most people won’t go out of their way to say something nasty to you; if they don’t like your artwork it’s doubtful that they’ll wait in a long line just to tell you that.  It’s built to be friendly to the consumer and professional to make everyone feel good.

Every once in a while I’ll see an artist who I like and tell them I’m enjoying their work and they’ll likewise tell me that they grew up reading my stuff and I was an influence on them.  And if I inspired them to do comics that’s great because it could turn for them too and they’ll be inspiring the next generation that comes along.  It keeps perpetuating and motivating the next group to see if they can outdo what we did.

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