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Todd McFarlane was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on March 16, 1961, but spent most of his childhood in Southern California. Returning to Calgary at age 14, Todd first discovered the world of comic books in high school. He bought all the comics he could afford, especially the works of his favorite artists: John Byrne, George Perez, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Art Adams and Walter Simonson. Although he spent a lot of time drawing comic book heroes, playing professional baseball was his ultimate dream.
Todd’s love for baseball was cultivated in Little League and continued throughout high school and college. He was awarded a baseball scholarship to Eastern Washington University, where he earned a general studies degree with an emphasis on graphic arts, communications and art. Despite the baseball scholarship, Todd worked as a janitor and at a comic book store, enabling him to finance his entire college education on his own. He was recruited by a Seattle Mariners scout to play on a semi-professional summer team in Kamloops, British Columbia.
When Todd’s college baseball eligibility ended and no Major League teams sought him out, he continued to draw comic book characters. Determined to find a job in the industry, Todd submitted his artwork to comic book editors across the United States and Canada, collecting more than 700 rejection letters along the way.
His break finally came when Todd accepted an offer from Marvel/Epic Comics in March 1984, pencilling “Scorpio Rose,” an 11-page backup story in the comic book Coyote. In the meantime, McFarlane married his high school sweetheart, Wanda, in July 1985. They moved to Washington, where Wanda completed her biology degree and then moved back to Canada, living in a suburb of Vancouver. Todd continued to make headway in the comics industry, pencilling several issues of Marvel’s Incredible Hulk, and several assignments with DC Comics, including the Batman title Detective and two issues of Batman: Year Two .
With his unique style and commitment to quality work, Todd eventually worked his way to the top of Marvel’s artist roster. His pencils and covers for Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man ultimately took that title to #1 from its previous #9 ranking and launched Todd’s career into comic book superstardom. Todd enhanced Amazing Spider-Man with his trademark style, popularizing a new way of rendering webs, transposing the character’s human body to spidery positions and adding spider-looking eyes. Marvel eventually gave McFarlane a title that he solely could write, pencil and ink: Spider-Man. Spider-Man #1 shipped to stores in September 1990 and became the best-selling comic book of all time, selling more than 2.5 million copies.
Todd took a six-month hiatus from Marvel in August 1991 when his first daughter was born, and a few months later, the family relocated to Portland, Oregon. During the hiatus, Todd helped care for his newborn daughter, and laid plans to form his own publishing company. Todd had grown frustrated with the workings of the mainstream publishing companies, which allowed artists little creative freedom or control over their own creations. Determined to create a company in which the artist could make the important decisions about his characters, Todd spoke with several other prominent Marvel artists, learning that many of them felt the same way. After months of discussion among themselves, the seven hottest Marvel artists announced their departure from the company. The rebels included Todd, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio. The group formed Image Comics, the parent corporation and publisher of each artist’s individual comic book company. Although the partners publish together, they each control the destiny of their own characters and reap the rewards individually, including all licensing and merchandising decisions.
Only with the creation of Image Comics did Todd feel that he could begin publishing the comic he had created nearly 10 years before, Spawn. “Spawn is in this seedy, David Lynch kind of world that isn’t quite right. I made it dark to make the guy who he is. If the shadows are removed, then the essence of the character is removed,” Todd said.
When the first issue of Spawn was shipped in May 1992, it sold 1.7 million copies, making it the best-selling independent comic book to date. Since its debut, Spawn has continued to be a top-selling title in the United States and around the world. Spawn is published in 10 languages and sold in 35 countries. Several spin-off titles have evolved from Spawn, including Sam and Twitch and Hellspawn.
Following the continued success of Spawn, Todd drew the attention of a variety of potential licensees, including toy companies, movie studios and television producers.
Seeing his own characters produced as toys appealed to Todd, and he pursued proposals only to be disappointed by each company’s unwillingness to grant him creative control over the toy production. In 1994, Todd decided to form his own toy company, now known as McFarlane Toys, to be able to guarantee his fans a quality product that he personally was completely satisfied with. Intricately detailed, highly articulated and reasonably priced, Spawn action figures have become some of the most highly sought-after toys on the market.
After receiving proposals from almost every major studio to make Spawn into a movie, Todd signed with New Line Cinema, who agreed to allow him the most control over the script and production matters. The live-action Spawn film opened August 1, 1997, at theaters nationwide. Spawn grossed $37 million in its first 10 days of nationwide release, ranking second at the box office in week one, and hitting the $50 million mark in only 19 days.
With Todd as its executive producer, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, the animated series for HBO, began its legacy in May 1997 with six half-hour episodes. Another six original episodes aired in May 1998, and the next six debuted in May 1999. Released on video in August 1997, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Season 1, became HBO Home Video’s top-selling original programming video of all time. McFarlane is the proud recipient of two major awards: an Emmy and a Gold DiVi award for the HBO series and the Spawn motion picture DVD, respectively. All told, three seasons of the animated series were created and helped ensnare a whole new crop of fans into the dark world of Spawn. Plans for a fourth series are currently under way.
From 1998 to 2008, McFarlane owned a minority ownership in the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey club. In 2001, he co-designed the Oilers’ third jersey, which became the biggest-selling third jersey in history.
McFarlane has delved into the world of music, helping create award-winning music videos for such groups as Korn and Pearl Jam. He collaborated with Eddie Vedder to create an animated video based on Pearl Jam’s song Do the Evolution from the album Yield. The video, which has received more than 40 international artistic awards, was nominated for “Best Short Form Music Video” for the 1999 Grammy Awards.
Todd also produced the Freak on a Leash music video from Korn’s Follow the Leader album. That video won a Grammy and two MTV Video Awards.
In January 1999, Todd took his love for baseball to a new level by purchasing Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball from the 1998 season for a record $3 million. Todd acquired nine other McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run balls from that amazing home run race season and created The McFarlane Collection. The Collection toured stadiums and special events to showcase the baseballs to fans and to raise money for ALS, battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. To date, more than 2 million fans have seen the exhibit.
The new millennium saw the epic 100th issue of the Spawn comic book hit stands, featuring extra content and six variant covers by leading artists. Spawn is one of only a handful of independent books to ever hit the century mark. The comic continues to break new ground and sell well in 2003.
The latter portion of the 1990s and the new millennium saw big changes for McFarlane Toys, too. What started out as a forum for producing high-quality action figures of Spawn and the associated cast of characters somehow turned into one of the world’s largest and most highly regarded toy manufacturers.
It may have had something to do with the company’s extreme detailing, dead-on character likenesses and low price point.
Whatever the reason, McFarlane Toys moved from producing just Spawn action figure to figures of pop culture icons in all genres: film, music, gaming and sports. As of early 2002, McFarlane Toys has secured the official league licenses for all four major North American sports (football, baseball, basketball and hockey). This was a major coup for McFarlane, who had long dreamed of being able to produce highly detailed sports figures in realistic action poses.
Additionally, the company has worked on toys with a huge variety of licensors, including: KISS, Shrek, X-Files, Austin Powers, Metal Gear Solid, Clive Barker, Akira, the Beatles, Army of Darkness, Jaws, Rob Zombie, Alien, Predator, AC/DC and dozens of others.
McFarlane Toys has become known the world over for the quality of its work and the collectibility of its figures.
Oh, and Spawn still plays a big role, too. Taking on many different looks and themes over the years, McFarlane Toys released the 21st and 22nd series of Spawn action figures in 2002.
In the entertainment field, Todd is hard at work on the sequel to the live-action Spawn film. The new film – which McFarlane is co-writing and co-producing – will have a darker tone than the original. Several other film projects are in the works, not the least of which is a collaboration with horror/fantasy icon Clive Barker, based on the Clive Barker’s Tortured Souls series of action figures released by McFarlane Toys. The two inked a deal with Universal Pictures for the property.
Through it all, spawn.com has been nurtured and grown radically. The company Web site receives around 200 million hits monthly and serves as a clearinghouse of information on Todd’s various companies and activities, and a spot for fans to interact.
Today, McFarlane, his wife, Wanda, and their three children still reside in Arizona, where Todd maintains a happy (but busy) balance between his family and all his interests (sports, film, comic, action figures).
McFarlane attributes his achievements to a little talent, being in the right place at the right time, a lot of hard work and perseverance. Todd’s biggest influences have been comic book artist Frank Miller, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and most importantly, his wife.
“My ability to deliver a good product is my greatest strength,” said McFarlane. “I’d like to be remembered as a guy who turned out some quality comics and toys, while doing a few different things even if it wasn’t the easiest road to follow.”