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Returning to Old Haunts

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Todd McFarlane. Robert Kirkman. The former helped form Image Comics, the latter rejuvenated the company. This week, they join forces on Haunt.

It started as a challenge.

At the San Diego Comic-Con in 2006, Robert Kirkman joined the line during the question and answer portion of the Todd McFarlane Productions panel and asked McFarlane if he had any ideas for new comics. McFarlane in essence explained that Spawn was enough for him and that he didn’t have time to invest in creating new characters anyway.

Kirkman wouldn’t let it go. He pressed him on the fact that if he has time to work on toys he has time to work on a comic. The confrontation eventually ended with Kirkman asking McFarlane to do a book with him. McFarlane suggested that if Kirkman could come up with a concept that would pass muster with McFarlane’s editor, Brian Haberlin, he would collaborate with the writer.

It was one of the most buzzworthy events of the con. It very well could have been a complete set up from the get go (if it was, McFarlane having to be informed that Kirkman was an Image writer was a nice touch). It was a symbol of the new generation of Image calling the older generation out.

It also was three years and four Comic-Cons ago. But this week, finally, the long-awaited Kirkman/McFarlane collaboration finally hits stands. However, Haunt might not be what those fans in the hall three years ago were expecting.

Todd McFarlane, as most of you know, was one of the seven Marvel artist who broke away and formed their own company in the early 1990s. His Spawn, which started in 1992, set sales records, made McFarlane a very rich man, and established Image as a major player in the industry.

When Robert Kirkman joined Image ten years later, it looked quite different from when it started. Three of the original seven founders were gone. Only a handful of the titles that started the company were still around, and most of those that remained were no longer done by their original creators.

After working on a miniseries starring the Savage Dragon spin-off, Super Patriot, Kirkman co-created an unsuccessful ongoing called Tech Jacket. That series only lasted six issues, but the next year he would create two series that would reinvigorate Image.

Those series were Invincible, a superhero tale featuring a teen struggling with burgeoning Supermanesque powers, and The Walking Dead, which dealt with the human drama of struggling in the aftermath of a zombie apocalpyse. Both series were critical and commercial successes and eventually lead the remaining founders to ask Kirkman to become a partner.

The success of a writer such as Kirkman at Image was ironic, since the company was founded by artists. McFarlane would often argue that writers were less important than artists when it came to the appeal of a book. And here, the brightest star of the second generation of Image, the one who would bring the company fully into the next century, was a writer—one that McFarlane would one day willingly collaborate with.

The nature of that collaboration might come as a disappointment to some fans of both men. When news of the challenge broke back in 2006, people imagined a book written by Kirkman and McFarlane with art by the latter. What we are getting appears to be a grand mash up of the talent involved with Invincible and Spawn.

Kirkman and McFarlane are listed as co-creators, which leads one to believe both will have a hand in the plotting. The character shares some of the same “dead man coming back to life on a mission” that was one of the basic principles of Spawn. Kirkman is listed as writer, but McFarlane’s only artistic contribution is as inker. The main artwork is done by Invincible’s Ryan Ottley, working from layouts by former Spawn artist Greg Capullo.

The fact that McFarlane is not solely on art might discourage some of his fans who were hoping to see their favorite artist at work once again. But Kirkman’s involvement means that the book should be good. If it is a success, it would challenge McFarlane’s opinion regarding the importance of the writer vis a vis the artist.

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