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Haunted by Comics: Todd McFarlane on Haunt

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After many long years away, Todd McFarlane has finally made his return to comics with Haunt, a new character he co-created with Robert Kirkman for Image Comics. 

In part one of a long talk with Broken Frontier, he sat down to discuss the October-debuting book and the creative process behind it.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Haunt was brought up 3 years ago at Comic-Con, when Robert Kirkman laid down the challenge to you to get back into comics.  What were your initial thoughts upon getting this challenge?

TODD MCFARLANE: Well, first there was a little bit of embarrassment in that I didn’t know what this guy looked like and we were publishing his book.  It’s like with sports, most people know athlete names but then they wouldn’t know what the person looked like if they ran into him.  With Robert, I now know that he’s a bit of a goofball so I know that he was sitting in the audience, laying in wait to throw this challenge at me. 

And the thing is the question wasn’t really that out of the ordinary.  Some people had seemed to want to give him a hard time for doing it, but it was really a fair question, in a sense saying, “Yeah, you did Spawn, but what other horses do you got?” And then it turns out that he’s a creator whose book we’re publishing.  So we decided to make it easy, and he said I’ll do half the heavy lifting in the creative process if you want to come up with another character.

It took us longer to get a book out than we should have but the concept stuff starting fairly quickly after that conversation.  People are saying “It took you 3 years to come up with that concept.”  But it really didn’t take us that long.  Robert came down to my office one time and we worked on the costume and idea.  From my perspective, it was just being able to do the book with the look that we wanted and the quality that we wanted. 

We had some fits and starts, if you will, and some false starts, but now we’re here.  We have a good team assembled in Greg [Capullo], Ryan [Ottley], Robert [Kirkman] and myself with a great colorist on the book.  We’re here, so whatever we were doing for those 3 years is irrelevant now because we’ve got a great book coming your way.

BF: With the creative process did you combine to come up with the characters and concepts?  Did you guys join up that one time, then let him run with it for a little bit, then let you run with it for a little bit or was it all combined with just the two of you making the decisions together?

TM: There was a little bit of each guy stewing on things since the first volley came from him.  To me it was like “Well, you challenged me, so you go first. You think you’re such a big shot.” [Laughs]

He had his concept and we talked about what we thought would work and what wouldn’t.  Then, as you might imagine, what that storyline might mean, per se, visually.  In effect, what is that book going to look like?  Robert’s first instincts were that he wanted to do a straightforward superhero book and do something that competes with Captain America and Batman, Superman, and things like that.  And I get that, because he thought that things like Walking Dead and Spawn were a little bit askew to that and weren’t hitting the exact same audience.  BUT, with that said, coming up with a guy whose name is Haunt, doesn’t necessarily convey all fun and games either. 

So, I don’t mind characters having a little bit of an edge to them.  It’s the reason characters like Wolverine and Punisher and to some degree Batman remained popular, because they have that edge to them that other characters don’t.  To void yourself of that wouldn’t mean that you have to walk away from good superhero stuff though.  And that’s going to be the balance more than anything else:  How do we do a cool character that is kind of a badass, but not let it become a “Vertigo” book or something that is a little bit too hoity toity on our part?  And can we come up with a cool badass character that people will really like because of that edge and because they think he can kick other people’s asses?

BF: So he wouldn’t be quite an anti-hero type, but he’s living closer to the edge than a lot of the other straight super hero characters?

TM: Yeah.  To me there are buckets you can put superheroes in.  The “Superman Bucket” is your Boy Scout guy.  He always says and does the right thing.  Captain American can be put in that bucket.  Then there’s the other side of that extreme, which is your Batman, and even more so your Wolverine and Punisher.  The guys who are somewhere between there are guys who are like Spider-Man, who at times will bend the rules to get the job done, but it’s not done out of any kind of emotional malicious intent.  Spider-Man would be far more inclined to do something like that than Superman. 

Our guy would be closer to a “Batman-type” guy.  A “my job is to get the job done” guy.  So we’ve got those serious type elements in it, where we can’t make it all goofy like the Thing spouting funny sayings before he goes into battle.

BF: The character is based on two brothers, one of whom is dead, and they end up going on these James Bond espionage type missions.  Do they straddle both worlds in the living and dead?  How does that work?

TM: You’ve got two brothers and the big conflict that is there is that the two didn’t like each other.  So anyone who has a sibling that they didn’t quite get along with understands what that means.  So you had a sibling that you didn’t get along with, and in a lot of ways you were on opposite ends of the world.  And now, he dies.  It’s a bad day, but they were never really that close to begin with.  Now, somehow you’ve been connected to this brother, that you really hated to some degree, and now you’re channeling him. 

The other brother is more like a disgraced priest.  And now he’s paying the penance, or bearing the cross for his brother, who he didn’t like in the first place.  And if he doesn’t channel his brother, he’s going to die because these people chasing him are serious. 

That’s really the big level stuff of this guy having to deal with all of this, even though he didn’t ask for it.  It does have a lot of superhero M.O.s, but they’re just put into situations where you’re going to figure it out or you’re dead.  From there the priest, who isn’t necessarily an espionage guy, is going to be put into situations that have that element to them.

   

BF: With this being a character who is dead and coming back from the dead is there any fear on your part that he’ll be compared too much to Spawn?

TM: I guess.  I know Robert asked me not to make the eyes look a certain way because he thought they looked too much like Spawn.  But I didn’t get that, he was basically talking about the character having “Slit Eyes” but there are hundreds of characters with “Slit Eyes!” [laughs] You think every time I look at a guy with ‘slit eyes’ I think “Oh that’s Batman”? 

I think it’s silly, because what if I had created Green Lantern and Flash?  They’re both guys who are superheroes who are sort of the same guy.  Or if I had created Wolverine and Punisher -- you can put both of those guys in the same bucket.  I wouldn’t be ashamed to have created them both.  What about two “Goody Two Shoes” like Wonder Woman and Superman?  I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have created both of them.

   

BF: But do you have a tendency to lean towards creating more moody stuff?  

TM: Yeah, but Robert came up with the word Haunt! [laughs]   You’re going to give me something like the word Haunt and then expect me to make someone who’s lovable and cute?  The word Haunt, in and of itself connotates certain imagery.   And if that on some level makes a good (or bad) connection to Spawn, I have no control over that. 

Will our guy be in places where there are shadows?  Yes, he will.  Does Spawn go into places where there are shadows?  Yes, he does.  Are there are about 500 other superheroes who have stepped into shadows?  Yeah, of course there are.  Is he dealing with Heaven and Hell?  No.  But will there be more shadows in this book than in a Superman book?  Certainly.  I did that.  With Robert doing what he’s doing, he’s consciously trying not to trip over into the stuff that I do.

BF: For this project, both of you have brought in people who are most well known for working with you in Greg Capullo and Ryan Ottley.  Greg was really making his bones drawing Spawn and Ryan was doing Invincible with Robert.  Was that a decision that you both made or was it a natural thing to bring them on?

TM: That was something that we consciously thought of right from the get go.  At least from my perspective, it was a master plan.  The goal right from the start was just to put out a cool-looking comic book.  How we came to that was just a byproduct of it.  Like I said, there were some fits and starts and we started to think about who we wanted to do the art and whatever else. 

Robert suggested Ryan, and I thought he was an interesting choice because his stuff is very clean and a little more Superman-esque.  What made it intriguing to me is he’s known to draw a certain way, and I was thinking what Ryan Ottley would look like with just a little bit of gritty inking and some shadow work, which is what I add to it. 

So, I went to Ryan to come up with something that people will look at and say “That’s interesting; I’ve never seen Ryan’s stuff look like that.”  We’ll let readers decide whether it looks better or worse, but at least it’s not the same.  To me, as I get older that’s the thing that’s the least interesting to me, is to go back to the easy spot, the status quo spot that everyone wants you to see.  That’s just too easy. 

The gritty inking, I’ve got that covered.  And the shadows, we’ll get Greg Capullo to come in and do some storytelling, which will also help on the schedule.  Because again, he’s trying to do both Haunt and Invincible at the same time.  So artistically Greg will come in and lay down a bunch of the blacks. So far, the pages all look very cool.
 
BF: With talented people like Greg Capullo and Ryan Ottley, you don't want to step on their stuff or get in their way at all.  But part of this was Kirkman challenging you to get back into comics, do you feel any obligation to your fans to put your stamp or imprint onto it so people will be able to say "This is a Todd McFarlane book."?

TM: Yes, but it’s more important that they like the book, that's a bigger fingerprint for me.  So, again I'll be doing the covers, working on the story with Robert, and the storytelling with Greg. I’ll be inking what needs to be inked in either a light way or a heavy way over Ryan.  I'll make those decisions as they're placed in front of me.  But I'm not looking at this book thinking "This needs to be a Todd book." 

Robert challenged me to create another character that people will care about.  I don't think people have been caring about Spawn for 15 years now exclusively because of me.  In fact, I'd bet against it.  At some point your character has to be more important than you creatively. 

That's what I'm looking at for Haunt: to create a character and I'm staying out of the way when needed and then when I do get involved in the process, I'll do that.  But it's not because I'm worried about where my ego stops and starts on this.  It's just because I'll look and say "I need to add a little more Todd onto this because the product will be better for it."  And there will be other times where I'll look at it and say "Wow!  I've got to get out of the way and just let these guys do their job because this is awesome."

Haunt #1 will be in stores on October 7 from Image Comics.

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