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The Future of Haunt

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Broken Frontier kicks off its new regular segment with comic superstar Todd McFarlane. Each Thursday, Todd talks about his experiences in the comics industry and his current work. Expect a few reflections every once in a while on hot industry topics too... because, as we all know, Todd is someone with a strong opinion.

This first episode has us catching up with Todd and what it’s like to be back on a regular book again.

McFarlane’s Mark is produced by Sam Moyerman and Frederik Hautain.


BROKEN FRONTIER: The last time we spoke in August you were preparing for Haunt to release.  Now that it’s been out for 4 issues, what’s it been like for you to be back in such a capacity on a monthly book?

TODD MCFARLANE:
From a collecting point of view, I always liked it when I could count on a book to release on time and with the same creative team involved.  The best books I ever collected had some real stability for 60 issues or so.  Sadly, we can only really count those on 1 hand.  Jack Kirby obviously had his long run with Stan on Fantastic Four.  Gene Colan had a tremendous run on Tomb of Dracula, and then of course there’s the Claremont/Byrne/Austen X-Men that was all the rage when I was in my hey day of collecting. 

I’ve always told people if you stay on the same book for a long time you don’t have to be the best writer, artist, inker, or creator; you just have to give your reader a good sense of stability.  After a while, I believe, it doesn’t matter since there is a certain comfort zone with buying that book that the rest of it doesn’t matter as much.

That said, Haunt #5 marks the end of Ryan Ottley.  So already we’re causing a bit of disruption for people who have jumped on board and were buying those issues.  The upside to the situation is that someone who has been involved with issue #1, Greg Capullo, is fully taking over the art duties [instead of just laying the pages out].  So it’s not as if we’re bringing in a complete stranger. 

Greg has been around for years and obviously doesn’t have the same artistic style as Ryan but still brings a great amount of talent to the table.  So I hope that no one is disappointed that we’re trading one great artist for another.

BF: Has that transition been tough for you as an inker or was it an easy switch for you to make since you’ve been working with Greg for years?

MCFARLANE:
No, although Greg’s artwork is fantastic (and I’m probably his biggest advocate), it is by no means easy to ink.  When I brought him onto Spawn I thought I’d bring on a penciller and just ink to save time, but then it turned out I was spending more time inking Greg’s work than I had spent penciling and inking myself.  At the end of the day, because he puts in so much detail it still looks fantastic.  I’ve been talking to Danny Miki about coming onto the book to help out with the inking, as he did on Spawn back in the day. 

At some point you have to be realistic about your own skills.  Greg draws way better than I do and Danny inks way better than I do, so sometimes you just need to know to step aside.  When they were the art team on Spawn, I was jealous of their work all the time.  So I called Danny and approached him about “putting the trinity back together” and see what we can come up with for Haunt.

BF: For the fans, how much of a shift will they see going from Ottley’s work to Capullo’s?  I know that Greg has been doing all the layouts and breakdowns, will that be a drastic change for readers in what they will see in the book?

MCFARLANE:
That question actually has 2 answers.  In terms of the storytelling obviously the answer is no because Greg was doing all the layouts and storytelling and he’ll continue to do so.  There should be a certain continuity for people reading where it will “feel” the same.  For people who are aware of Greg’s artwork and study the pages that Ryan did, you will see Greg’s influence because Ryan was just building on what Greg had started. 

The big change with the artwork and whether or not people will like it depends on personal preference.  Ryan has a very clean, sleek look, while Greg is more into the rendering and adding more detail into places, and making it a little more moody.

Going forward story-wise, Greg and I have been nudging Robert in that direction because Greg’s artwork is darker and grittier.  So we want to put Haunt into more shadows and hide him in the darker scenes.  Greg will naturally render it with those shadows to play up the word “Haunt.”  Greg and I really want to explore the connotations and emotions derived from that word and push the character in that direction.

BF: That certainly does touch on my next question.  Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley have developed a great working relationship and are incredibly in tune with each other as a creative team.

MCFARLANE:
Yeah, on Invincible.  And that comes back a little to your first question about collecting a book and having the same creative team there 65 issues later when you’re still reading.  That’s awesome stuff.

BF: And you seem to have a similar relationship with Greg from his years on Spawn.  Will you now become more involved with the story to help Robert develop a similar working relationship with Greg?  Or is that something that you leave Robert to handle on his own?

MCFARLANE:
Robert has more talent than most of us will ever have, so he doesn’t need me to give him anything.  Since the character was created by the both of us, we do talk from time to time about goofy stuff. If he’s stuck on something he’ll ask me what I think about it.  I’m sure now he’ll start leaning more on Greg.

One very interesting thing though is that from the time I left Spider-Man almost 20 years ago, all books were done in a way where the writer would give the artist a rough outline or plot synopsis and we’d take that and pencil 20 pages.  We’d hand that back to the writer and they’d fill in the dialogue.  Fast forward 20 years and something happened where that all changed.  I was completely unaware of it because I was only working on my Spawn book for so long.  But somewhere something morphed where the writers were doing these full scripts. 

I remember having dinner with David Hine when he was writing Spawn and I asked him why he was writing that way and he said it was the way he had been doing it and the way almost 100% of all scripts were done.  To him writers had been doing that forever, but I was flabbergasted.  I was a guy who had completely worked with outlines. 

When I was working with Greg, I would give him maybe 20 sentences for 20 pages and then we’d talk about it.  Sometimes I wouldn’t even give him the 20 sentences and we’d just talk and he’d record it.  At some point he’d just say, “I got it Todd.  You want 3 pages of Sam and Twitch in an office and they’re mad at each other but then Sam finds the file he was looking for.  Then someone bursts in and says there’s an emergency.  No need to write it down, I got it here in my notes.”

Robert is now doing that [laughs].  Greg and I will continue to be the “Haunt sandwich”. The meat in the middle will still be Robert, but we’re the bread on the outside keeping it together and telling him “Don’t worry about a full script, we got it covered artistically.”  And he has been doing it the last 5 issues; even if he gave Greg a full script he’d probably just keep laying the pages out the way he always has.  And Robert has now realized he doesn’t have to give as much information to Greg because he doesn’t need to work that way. 

We’ll continue to nudge him to tell him he has to make it creepier or just point out that even if he doesn’t, artistically, we’ll make it creepy on our own [laughs].  So he knows that we’ll put more shadows into the work and will work towards more of Greg’s strengths.

BF: Have you found yourself doing that already with Ryan’s work, putting in more darkness and shadows?

MCFARLANE:
That came from the very beginning when I talked to Ryan.   I told him that I didn’t want to over-ink him.  In fact, I think my biggest influence was on issue #1, where I wanted to show the readers.  But I told him that my expectations were that at the end of the first 3 issues of Haunt, people would be talking about whether or not they liked Ryan Ottley better on Invincible because it was cleaner and some would prefer the shadows of Haunt.  But in the end they would still be talking about Ryan Ottley’s artwork.

I told Ryan I thought we would have failed if people couldn’t tell the difference artistically. I’ve always wondered why something has to look exactly the same as the work you did elsewhere?  So I told Ryan that for his career he should have these little pockets of artwork where people could say either that they didn’t like it or they could really love it and ask him to go back and do it more. 

Either way it keeps people engaged in his artwork and that’s the important thing.  Ryan was already doing more shadowy work on Haunt due to Greg’s layouts and he really liked it.  By the end of issue #5 he told me he had learned a lot by just seeing how Haunt was being done – about the storytelling and shortcuts that Greg had been using in the layouts and the rendering I did on the inking – and that he was going to take some of that into future projects.  From an artist’s point of view it’s always cool when you teach or learn a couple of new tricks.

BF: From your point of view in inking again, how has that been?  Has it got those juices flowing again?

MCFARLANE: Oh, Ryan was by far the easiest guy I ever inked.  He was near flawless.  Greg is fantastic and I’m his #1 fan.  But he makes me work because he puts so much work down on the page.  With Ryan the storytelling was all there; the art was all there and I didn’t feel as if I needed to do any heavy handed stuff to it because it just looked so good.  Could I have gone in there and “noodled” with it a little more?  I guess so, but I told Ryan early that my job was to be smart enough to know when to get out of the way.

There were some panels, and mostly with the Haunt stuff, when I thought, “Nice, now I get to be gnarly and do some cool stuff.”  But when he was just doing the pretty people, I thought just get out of the way – perhaps add a highlight in the hair, or a wrinkle on some clothes, but nothing that modified what he was putting down.  If I had Ryan Ottley on all my books I’d be 12 issues ahead.  His books were the easiest things I’ve worked on in years.

BF: From a creative standpoint as one of the creators of Haunt, as you’ve said Robert has been pretty much running on his own with the writing, how has the first arc met your expectations?  Have you been happy with the way the first few issues went?  Has he surprised you with anything he’s put in there?  Or is this what you really wanted and expected out of it?

MCFARLANE:
Again, it’s very interesting.  Robert and I never really sat down and created a true blueprint for the character.  The decision was never made that Haunt would do this and that in issues #1-5.  It was more like “Let’s come up with a character.  How did he get the costume, where did the others around him come from and what are their motivations?”  And from their motivations the stories will just spill out.  I’m sure Robert has more details in his brain than I ever did, because he knew he would have to write it where I was more concerned with the visual look and feel of it.

But for me, I don’t think and never believed you needed to define everything about a character within the first 10 issues or so.  I actually think it’s a detriment at times.  If you give the complete origin and background and motivation to a character in the first three issues, then What are you doing with the next 60 or 70 issues? 

This is why Superman was never really that interesting to me.  He came out of the womb perfect, he was perfect, and he kept acting perfect.  Now keep that going for 500 issues.  It’s entertaining to a certain extent, but I would never name him in my top 10 heroes.  There were no flaws, no inconsistencies, and it never seemed like his character ever grew much.  He was prebuilt right from the get go, there was no mystery to him. 

That argument is also one of the reasons why Wolverine was so popular in my heyday of collecting: we were screaming for more answers.  “What’s his origin?  Who does he belong to?  Why won’t you ever talk about him instead of Phoenix and Cyclops?!!”  And Marvel kept with that and after a while he became the most popular member of the X-Men because, in part because they were able to make his story engaging for a long time before they actually spilled the beans on him.

I’m hoping that Haunt has that same mystery about him where people don’t get to issue #15 and think they know all the answers. Because then it would devolve into superheroes punching each other for 60 more issues.

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Comments

  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Feb 12, 2010 at 1:07am

    wow...that was really extensive! Love hearing Todd talking like this!!

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