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Haunted by Comics: Todd McFarlane on Image United

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Taking a walk down memory lane, Todd McFarlane talks about what it is like collaborating with his old Image partners on their new Image United book.

Part One: Haunted by Comics: Todd McFarlane on Haunt
Part Two: Haunted by Comics: Todd McFarlane on Spawn

BROKEN FRONTIER: Let’s move on to about another book you are actually doing more pencils on with Robert Kirkman and the other Image founders: Image United.  What has that whole process been like?  Has it been a trip down memory lane to be working with all these guys again?

TODD MCFARLANE: The practical part is that we're just sending the pages back and forth to each other, so when I get a page it's already got 4 other characters on it.  That way I don't have to have any meaningful conversations with my pals if you will.  The trip down memory lane is really just looking at the other guys' stuff and seeing how cool it is and remembering when we all used to be able to do it on a full-time basis.  It reminds yourself of why each of us got that notoriety at some point in our careers. 

And then there's a little boyish part of us saying, "Remember when we used to do this on a full time basis and it was pretty cool?" before we all got distracted or moved off in different directions, myself being one of the biggest examples.  As I've been doing more and more stuff the past year or so I've been remembering of how much I really used to enjoy doing comic books.

BF: Has that given you an itch to get back into it even more?

TM: It's more that it's acted as a reminder to me that anytime I want to go and get back into this full time again it's there for me.  So it's just a matter of me making that decision one way or another.  I was just talking to someone recently and told them I could see myself, as I get a little bit older and don't want to run corporations anymore (seeding that power over to other people) and then, instead of just retiring, now I've got time to do comics full time again. 

To me, it's more of a really fun hobby than a full-time job at that point where I could still make art and make a living bringing money into the house and not have to go meet with bankers and deal with customs and immigration and all the stuff we have to do with the toys.

BF: For Image United, was that another idea that Robert brought to you guys or was that something where you all got together and decided to do it?

TM: My recollection in all that is that it was Erik Larsen who came up with the idea.  For us Erik has always been the best of the geeks of all of us, and I use that term with absolute affection.  He's always been the guy who kept doing it.  Rob, Jim, myself, and Marc Silverstri, we've all in some ways been distracted by stuff outside of comics through the years and Erik seems to be the most single-minded of us with just wanting to do comics and wondering why all the rest of us didn't just want to stick with the comics. 

I've always admired him for that. 

So, we were together here in Phoenix, where I live, for a signing and they were passing around some posters where each of us had drawn our figures onto it.  And Erik saw that and wondered aloud, "Why can't we do this on a regular basis?  Why can't we do this for a sustained amount of time?" 

It made sense, because even with all the [outside work], we’ve all stayed involved.  Whenever someone wanted a cover or something we always did it.  But no one had ever organized a sort of full-frontal attack, so, Erik proposed it to everyone and then we got Robert to come onboard and that's how it started.

BF: You’re the last one to get the pages a lot of times. Is there any particular order these are going around or is that just the way the pages go?

TM: No, not really.  It's just worked out that way.  With the characters, at least in the early pages, when you've got 6 characters charging at you, whoever is in front has drawn first.  And it's just gone that with these pages Spawn has been in the back for a lot of them.  Someone might have just figured out that with his damn cape, if you put him in the front too much he's just going to hog up all the glory, so put him in the back.

But it has allowed me to get in there with him and then, in a sense, to finish the pages.  To me, when I get them, they're not quite finished when I'm done inking them because there is the element of the background, which is not to be taken lightly.  So, on a number of pages I've gone in and upgraded the background, if you will, putting the smoke in or finished off a building. 

There's another part of it that I think we're kind of tripping over: even if you have 8 guys on a page, everybody gets a little bit tender as to where they stop and start their characters, because you never know what the next guy is going to do.  So, I'm finding that there are some drawings where I'm wondering where someone's hand is.  I find that in those instances they didn't draw it in because they didn't know where the next guy was going to start and stop. 

We could send it back to that guy to finish up, but we're already going to have a crazy fed ex bill doing it the way we're doing it.  So on a number of the pages I get I'll finish them off and add a hand or fingers, goofy stuff like that [laughs]. That way, the page feels more smoothed out and was done more by one hand than 6 guys just sticking something on it and hoping the collage looks good.

BF:  Can you spare any details about the story itself?  What brings these characters in together?

TM: I could, but there is some spoiler stuff in there so I'll leave that up to Robert, if he wants to blow it.  He'll get mad if I say something I'm not supposed to and call me up saying "Todd, you weren't supposed to talk about that yet!" [Laughs]

BF: Fair enough.  Now the one guy who is missing from this is Jim Lee, since he took Wildstorm and his characters over to DC.  Do you miss having him involved in this?

TM: Absolutely.  We had Jim on the panel for a few minutes at SDCC.  And even though I like to give him a hard time (I probably do it more than anyone else), he's like that brother, the one that you bug the crap out of but you will defend more than anyone else.  We've talked about it, and I've told him that I wish he was still part of Image Comics. 

But as I said on that panel, some of the stuff on Image United still has its roots in the stuff that Jim did for us.  So, without his effort in carrying Image forward over the years, even though he's gone now, the impact is still there.  We definitely keep bugging him about it too, to see if he can sneak a head into a panel somewhere.  He keeps saying he's looking for something, so maybe.  He is telling us he'll come up with a surprise for us here and there if he can, so we'll hold our collective breaths. 

Even if I can just get one panel out of him, then I can say "Jim Lee's on there too!" so we can truly say that all of the Image founders are in there and we can complete the origin of why this is coming together.

BF: Was it fairly certain from the get-go that this would become a miniseries?

TM: Yeah.  I believe it's 6 issues and we're each drawing our own characters and the backgrounds.  It’s not an ongoing book because none of us can contemplate that, but once we hunkered down and came up with the idea to put it out on a 4 or 5 month basis we figured we had to try it.  And this way we can get out a 6 part miniseries on time.

BF: Well, there are a lot of times when people don't have the patience and the internet jumps up and down and says "Why isn't this coming out on time?!?" But on the other hand, you guys have built up a lot of credibility where I think people will be a little more understanding and wait if it takes a little longer than initially thought.

TM: We're not trying to bank on any credibility or anything.  Quite the opposite actually.  What we're trying to do, if anything, is to surprise people by giving a date when it's coming out and then delivering on it.  Erik and Robert are both very diligent about that piece, to the point where they're telling us, "If we don't get this done on time, then it's going to be a waste of all of our efforts."  Now, I'm not saying by issue 6 we might not have lost a little bit, but at least for the first few issues it's everyone's job to get it done on time. 

Not only is it everyone's job to do it, but we've had internal discussions where we're contemplating repercussions for people who don't get it done on time.  If you don't get your pages done on time then when we split the money from this issue, we've talked about deducting percentages from their profits. That’s a good way to motivate people and finances usually get most people off their asses. 

If you f**** it up, it's on you. And not only that but if you don't meet the deadlines we can take some of your pages away from you. 

We're not going to let anyone slow down the process, whether it's me or anyone else, and the guys who don't hold up their end shouldn't be rewarded the same way as the guys who are.  We're trying to do this as best we can because we don't want people to groan right out of the gate.  I think it's quite the opposite.  They're thinking we won't get it out on time and if/when we do, it'll pleasantly surprise a lot of people.

BF: Well, you're dead on on that one.  If this does come out on time, people will be happily surprised and even shocked in some circles. 

TM: I want to say its a November book.  And I know we're pretty far advanced on issue 1 and I've even started to see some pages from issue 2.  What we want to do is make sure we can show people the completed book by the time of the Final Cut-off Order date, even if it's just black and white at that point. 

That way people can't make the excuse that they're keeping the orders down because they don't think the book will be finished on time.  The issues exist and we're showing them to prove it. This way people will think we're not messing around and they'll believe that we will get this thing done.  We want to dispel that easy notion that the six of us won't get it out when it’s supposed to.

It’s the same thing on Haunt.  I want to get it done to the point where we can show people that yes we will generate a book on time.  I don't want people to be complaining saying "Hey Todd, you said you were going to do Spawn/Batman.  Where's that?"  Well, forget Spawn/Batman, here's Haunt.  And here's a preview B&W issue that's finished.  I'm not asking you to order Spawn/Batman right now, I'm asking you to order Haunt and I'm showing you that it's done. 

If you want to hold a grudge against it because of another book, go ahead, but with a straight face, you won't be able to tell me you didn't order it because it wasn't out on time.

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