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Todd McFarlane wants artists to go 'hog wild' in first look at variant cover for Spawn's Universe #1

By Mike Avila
Spawn Universe Cover

Todd McFarlane's signature creation begins its long-awaited expansion in June with Spawn's Universe #1, and we have your first look at one of the killer variant covers for that one-shot. In a phone interview with SYFY WIRE, Spawn's creator explained his idea behind the variant covers that will accompany the debut of the comic that will officially kick off the Big Bang for the Spawn universe.

"I wanted to have a couple of covers that showed some of the players [in the universe]," McFarlane says. "J. Scott Campbell is doing a dazzling job of doing single-shots for his [variant] covers, showcasing each character. But if you're going to have the word universe on the book, then I needed a couple of them that at least sort of hint and tease at that. Brett's cover does that perfectly."

Brett being penciler Brett Booth, who did the "group shot." Here's the variant cover he drew, with inks by McFarlane himself. It features the entire crew, including OG Spawn, She-Spawn, Medieval Spawn and everyone's favorite, Gunslinger Spawn:

Spawn's Universe #1

Along with drawing the above cover, Booth penciled the Gunslinger Spawn chapter in Spawn's Universe #1, which hits comic shops in June ($5.99 for the 52-page issue). McFarlane will be writing the primary story, centered on Spawn, and artist Jim Cheung is handling art chores on that chapter. The other stories are being scripted by other writers, with plotting input from McFarlane. Artist Stephen Segovia will handle the Medieval Spawn chapter, while Marcio Takara is drawing the She-Spawn tale.

McFarlane has often resisted tailing the industry trends toward multiple covers as a way to boost sales, saving it for special occasions like the 300th issue of Spawn. For this one-off comic, he has a number of variants planned. Some are yet to be announced, but as mentioned above, superstar J. Scott Campbell is doing four covers spotlighting the main characters in Spawn's Universe's first issue. It would be a shock for the first #1 Spawn comic in nearly 30 years to debut without a cover drawn by his creator, and McFarlane confirmed he'll be drawing one, too. "Yeah, sure. That guy's not bad," he jokes. "Plus he worked pretty cheaply."

Relinquishing a bit of the day-to-day control was something McFarlane admits he had to come to terms with to make the idea of an outsized Spawn universe work. He's more of a showrunner now, giving ideas and being a sounding board for the writers handling the upcoming spin-off books in the franchise, coming later this year: King Spawn, Gunslinger Spawn and The Scorched.

With the artists, he sees himself as a de facto art director who gives them some guidance and sends them off to put their own creative signature on the page. "I try to give as much freedom to almost every artist I work with, not just big names like Jeff [Scott Campbell], because I'm hoping that the more they are putting of themselves on the page, the more the readers will see it," he says.

The problem he sometimes runs into is that the artists on his book also grew up reading Spawn. Sometimes it's a challenge to get them to take bigger artistic risks out of fear the boss may not like it. That's the last thing McFarlane wants. "Part of it ... there's 300 issues of this character and then, the Todd part," he says. "So there's a little bit of at times -- what's the right word to use? -- I think they give it a little bit more reverence than they need to. I don't want it, I want them to just go hog wild, but I think that a lot of them go, 'Oh, okay, I'm going back to classic Spawn and the first five issues, and I'm going to give him that perfect superhero Spawn.' And I keep trying to push them away from that, to the point I've been starting to send them reference shots of not Spawn, but other cool images and tell them to use that for ideas."

Note to young artists who dream of drawing Spawn: Embrace the cape if you want to really impress the Toddfather. "It's weird, he's got a cape and a lot of people don't use the cape as a design element," McFarlane says. "It's an odd thing to me."

Jim Cheung certainly needs no pointers on incorporating the cape into a Spawn drawing. We've also got a sneak peek at some of the interior art Cheung penciled (and FCO colored) for the story in Spawn's Universe #1 centered on Spawn. Here are a pair of pages from that chapter:

Spawn's Universe #1

McFarlane's excitement for the upcoming launch of his grand plan of expansion for his signature character is palpable. During a panel at WonderCon@Home, the creator/toy mogul talked about how he envisions a fully-formed world that doesn't necessarily revolve around his incredibly popular Hellspawn he created back in 1992. "I'm pretty excited right now. Hopefully I can deliver some excitement to everybody with this new universe."