Although Spawn creator and Image Comics founder Todd McFarlane has shifted his business to more profitable mainstream pursuits such as toys, he still enjoys waxing poetic on the subject of comics.
‘My motto is build it and shove it where they are,’ says McFarlane. ‘Who is your target audience? If you’re trying to sell Spider-Man to 12-year-olds, then you should be asking `Where are the 12-year-olds?”
And yet today’s comic industry is supported by consumers who grew up on the product and know where to get it. So how do you replenish that base? ‘In all honesty, I don’t think you can,’ says McFarlane. His main point targets comic book stores. ‘When the Spawn movie came out and there was a comic store 20 feet away from the theater, did they hand out any flyers telling people they had a bunch of Spawn product? No. Did they put up a poster? No. Even if you create a character, turn him into a US$200-million movie like X-Men, get him promoted and sell tons of DVDs. . . somehow the comic book world still can’t figure out what to do.’
Worse still, in a bizarre chicken-and-egg twist, character awareness does not always translate to comic awareness. ‘Men In Black came from a comic book, but I don’t think the average person knows that,’ says McFarlane, so you’ve got to raise awareness for the medium, not just the characters. ‘You’ve got to be where people are, and that means a mall. You go into a mall and sell pop culture, and you’d be surprised at how well you do.’
Another concern comes from the creative end. If young up-and-coming artists and writers can make their millions creating video games, movies, TV shows, etc., McFarlane argues that they’ll drop comics in a second.
‘If Spawn was selling what it used to sell, I wouldn’t be doing anything other than comic books.’ At its peak-minus the debut when it sold 1.9 million copies-the series was selling approximately 700,000 copies a month through the direct market. Currently, publishing only makes up around 8% of McFarlane’s business; the rest is split between toys at 85% and entertainment at 7%. ‘The number one selling comic book now sells as many copies as Spawn used to overprint,’ he says with a laugh.