McFARLANE, Todd (1961-)

Born in Calgary, on March 16, 1961, Todd McFarlane is one of the most recognizable figures in modern comics. It was here in Calgary’s James Monroe High School that he first discovered comics.

As a fan, Todd preferred the work of John Byrne, George Perez, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Art Adams, and Walter Simonson. But his first passion was always baseball. A talented athlete with a strong competitive streak, McFarlane left Calgary to attend East Washington University on a baseball scholarship. In between his baseball commitments, and part-time jobs, he studied: Art, Graphic Design, and Communications.

After graduation, and a distinguished career trying to break INTO comics — by his own estimation, he logged at least seven hundred rejection letters, McFarlane was hired to work on backup stories for the now defunct Marvel Epic line – he quickly found himself working on mainstream superhero comics such as DC’s “All Star Squadron” and  “Detective Comics” and “Invasion” and then Marvel’s “The Incredible Hulk” with writer Peter David, which quickly became a fan favourite. In 1988 he was given the assignment to pencil Marvel’s flagship title “The Amazing Spider-Man” and work with writer David Michelinie, starting with issue 298. Todd completely changed the tone and look of Spider-Man and his world almost overnight, and the fans loved it. Not since the glory days of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko had “Amazing Spider-Man” been such a forceful, vital, and visually spectacular read, and one that landed at the top of every fan’s monthly “buy pile”.

An early example of the McFarlane touch was his dislike of the black and white costume that Spider-Man had been wearing since the mid-1980s. He made it his mission to return the hero to his classic red-and-blue webbed costume – albeit with some slight modifications. The discarded black suit design was transferred to a new villain: VENOM – and the fans loved it, making Venom one of the most popular new characters of the early 1990’s.

Todd’s distinctive, highly detailed, strongly expressionistic, yet accessible style would leave it’s mark on most of the characters in the strip. It was a perfect match of an artist and a character.

True, Spider-Man himself no longer perfectly obeyed the laws of physics. But then, when one has the agility of an arachnid, why not explore that potential? Spider-Man flew, twisted, and fought in ways no-one had ever considered before. The webbing, always a purely functional accessory under other pencils, became an artistic feature in its own right. Through McFarlane’s pencilling, clouds and piles of this webbing quickly materialized everywhere on the comics page.

It quickly became evident during the “Amazing Spider-Man” run that McFarlane was longing to stretch his creative muscles in a new way, to more fully control the plot and storytelling. Marvel, duly appreciative of his ever-growing popularity, gave him a brand-new book to pencil, ink and write: the adjective-less SPIDER-MAN.  The result was a book that, upon shipping in September of 1990, broke sales records like no other book before it, and reached the 2.5 million mark. How many people here still have their copies? Bagged, unbagged, silver, green, gold…. It was the star book in a variant craze that swept the industry.

Marvel editorial was openly comparing him to industry titans like John Byrne, a fellow member of this Hall of Fame. But McFarlane was increasingly aware that no matter his success and acclaim working on Spider-Man, he was still a creator doing work-for-hire on a company character. The tension built quickly, and when he took a much-needed sabbatical in August of 1991, Todd started to plan the next step. It would, with no exaggeration, shake the industry to its foundations.

In 1992, together with six other popular Marvel artists, Todd McFarlane publicly walked away from Marvel Comics to form Image Comics in 1992. Designed as a vehicle for the artists to create their own fully-owned superhero characters, the first great figurehead for the company came from McFarlane. He had turned to his James Munroe High School era sketchbooks to retrieve a design that he would further develop into SPAWN.

Spawn – a rebellious soldier of Hell, quickly replaced Spider-Man as Todd McFarlane’s signature character, and the fans loved it. Spawn, with his distinctively supernatural adventures and signature chains, spikes and flowing red cape, allowed for McFarlane to freely dive into elements of horror and the supernatural.

Image also marked the start of the group of companies that are now known as Todd McFarlane Productions. New fields of creative work opened, including animation, film-making and toy-making. “Spawn” was quickly brought to television as a prestige animated series for HBO, and a film version followed.

In the years since its founding, Image Comics has become an organization that fosters a unique environment for the growth, and development of, creator-owned comics projects.  Image itself has come a long way from the first group of artists who walked away from Marvel.

Perhaps the most famous name associated with the Image Comics of today, besides that of McFarlane himself, is writer Robert Kirkman, the creator “Invincible” and “The Walking Dead”. In 2010, Kirkman and McFarlane joined forces to unleash a new supernatural hero named Haunt.

Please join us as we welcome Todd McFarlane — who came to comic book fandom as a highly competitive 17 year old baseball fanatic, who used a baseball scholarship to become a successful comic artist, and used his comic artistry to become a hugely successful businessman — into the Canadian comic book creator Hall of Fame.

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