CBC Digital Archives

Todd McFarlane's Spidey sense

From the wholesome wartime heroics of Johnny Canuck to the exploits of a three-foot-tall aardvark named Cerebus, Canadian comics are anything but dull. Though comics got their start south of the border, Canada has become home to an eclectic roster of cartoon talent from the Pulitzer Prize-nominated strips of Lynn Johnston, to the world-renowned comic art of Seth and the multi-media phenomenon of Todd Mcfarlane's Spawn. The CBC Digital Archives takes an in-depth look at the history of our homegrown comic strips, comic books and graphic novels.

As a kid he dreamed about becoming a professional baseball player, but Todd McFarlane wound up finding his fame in a completely different arena - superhero comics. He landed his first assignment in 1984 with a small job for Marvel Comics, now six years later he's one of the most popular artists in the medium penning the iconic Spider-Man. This clip from The National catches up with a 27-year-old McFarlane as he revels in his newfound fame.
• Todd McFarlane was born in Calgary on March 16, 1961, and was raised primarily in Southern California. He returned to Canada when he was 14, and soon after developed an obsession with reading and drawing comics.
• McFarlane's other passion, baseball, was stoked when his father enrolled him and his two brothers in a summer baseball camp. After he graduated from high school, he attended Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington on a baseball scholarship.

• McFarlane helped fund his college education by working as a janitor in a comic book store.
• After he graduated from college, McFarlane was recruited by a talent scout to play on a semi-professional summer team in Kamloops, B.C.
• After years of struggling as a player, McFarlane made one last try at professional baseball in 1984 when he tried out for the Toronto Blue Jays farm team in Alberta. He placed 26th on a roster of 25 players.

• Turning to comics, McFarlane began submitting his art within the industry. He received 700 rejection letters before he got his first gig in March 1984, as a pencil artist in a backup story for an obscure Marvel comic called Coyote.
• In July 1985, he married his long-time girlfriend Wanda and moved back to Washington where she finished a biology degree.

• McFarlane moved to Vancouver a few years later and got work as an artist on the Incredible Hulk and Batman's Detective Comics
• In the late 1980s, he achieved celebrity status thanks to his work on the Marvel Comics' title Amazing Spider-Man in which he altered the appearance of the superhero with his highly-detailed style.
• By the time this clip aired in April 1990, McFarlane was living on Vancouver Island and was one of the highest-paid cartoonists in the world with his title regularly making the top of the best-seller list.

• Frustrated by his role as an artist, Marvel granted McFarlane his own comic simply titled Spider-Man, which he wrote and drew. The first issue debuted in September 1990 and sold 2.5 million copies, earning it the record of the best-selling comic book of all time.
• In the summer of 1991, McFarlane and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where they had their first child. He also took a leave of absence from Marvel after clashing over creative differences.

• Soon after, he left Marvel and created his own company, Image Comics, with fellow disgruntled cartoonists. McFarlane dusted off an old superhero character he had created in high school and released it through his new company in May 1992.
Spawn, a gritty, violent anti-hero, sold 1.7 million copies – making it the best selling independent comic book in history. The story revolves around Al Simmons, a CIA operative who is killed by his own boss and winds up in hell.

• In a bid to see his wife one more time, Simmons makes a deal with a demon to become a "hellspawn" – an undead soldier of hell.
• "Spawn is in this seedy, David Lynch kind of world that isn't quite right," McFarlane says on his website. "I made it dark to make the guy who he is. If the shadows are removed, then the essence of the character is removed."
• McFarlane named the secret identity of Spawn after a fellow player from his semi-professional summer team in Kamloops, B.C., All Simmons.

• Spawn is sold in more than 120 countries and published in 16 languages.
• It has also been made into a live action movie and a cartoon series, and was the flagship of a wildly popular line of highly detailed "adult" action figures.
• In 1994, McFarlane formed his own toy company, McFarlane Toys, with which he has duplicated the success of his comic.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: April 16, 1990
Guest(s): Dick Deryk, Todd McFarlane
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Bob Nixon
Duration: 2:02

Last updated: May 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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