The last time Image Comics founder Todd McFarlane collaborated with DC Comics, it was the one-shot Batman/Spawn with legendary writer Frank Miller. Twenty-five years later, Todd brings not his pencils and inks to DC, but moulds and accessories instead.
At last month’s Toy Fair, McFarlane announced an exclusive contract with DC to produce a line of toys based on the many heroes and villains from the company entitled DC Multiverse. The toy line will draw from a variety of interpretations that will include the looks of iconic characters from TV, movie, and animated features. As to his target market, McFarlane intends to expand the fan following for DC Comics, but he has no intention of reinventing the wheel. “Every few months, there is a new fan coming in and sayin ‘I just like those characters.’ [I] think if you overthink it, you start to add things that tend to jack up the price and I have always been price sensitive. [At its core] I just need to do those characters right in a variety of looks that people can just pick the ones they want.”
Canadian-born McFarlane has proven himself to be both a successful artist and entrepreneur throughout his 30-plus year career by taking chances and pushing the boundaries. His stay at DC involved pencilling the Batman: Year Two story, and then he went on to Marvel to work on The Incredible Hulk and reimagine Spider-Man. Dissatisfied with the restrictions and consistent complaints from the editing department about his graphic approach to their characters, Todd and handful of artists – including then-X-Men artist Jim Lee – left Marvel to found Image Comics. The fundamental difference in policy between Image and the competition? Every character at Image was creator-owned. Todd’s own character, Al Simmons aka Spawn, burst onto the scene in 1992 in the vein of the mature stories and graphic violence that catapulted Image onto the world stage. From there, McFarlane invested in toy development. McFarlane Toys, whether superhero or sports icon – Todd is an avid sports fan – have become known for their articulation and intricacies that outshine other toy manufacturers.
DC itself (through DC Direct) has distributed artist-inspired statues and action figures of their line of characters to the satisfaction of the fans. As to the question of whether kids will be playing with a McFarlane-inspired Batman figure or display a McFarlane-inspired Batman statue on their mantle, Todd is open-minded. “[If] DC says ‘We just need a cool-looking Batman’ then I get to put on my Todd McFarlane hat and go ‘Okay, what’s that look like?’ [I’m] not saying they’re going to approve of every little thing we put out to them, but they’re sayin if I have a cool idea in my head, then show it to them.”
But what’s cool to Todd? Given the investment popular culture has placed in superhero media these days, he tries to take the tastes of the general 25-year-old fan into consideration when approaching a project. After all, not every movie goer or Netflix binge-watcher reads the source material the comic book action originates from. “Take for example Aquaman, ” he says, “if you took everybody that reads the comic book today and got them to go to the movie, it would have made maybe a half a million dollars. Instead it made a billion worldwide. That tells me that not just comic readers are going to these movies, but people who just like the concept of superheroes. That doesn’t always mean they like comic books.”
Todd expands this theory into the difference between what the hypothetical 25-year-old and a mom shopping for her son’s sixth birthday thinks is best. The former would want what he watched on the big screen, while the latter would be looking for “something at a value [and] something with a bulk to it that it can be played with. It’s a toy! Take both of these and put them at the store together both wanting Aquaman because he’s sort of hot right now then they may be looking for something different.”
But what does Todd himself find exciting, in particular about this new contract?
“Getting to do the core characters because I don’t want to sit there and complain how I never got to do a Batman. [Every] week there is a new Batman fan walking through those stores.”
The line is set to debut in 2020, which sadly means that DC Multiverse will miss the Christmas rush. As to how Todd feels about that, he says “I get it, I’ll miss Christmas. [But] I know there are people out there who want to see a Todd Batman and Superman.”