Todd McFarlane is one of the most influential comic book creators of the last 30 years. He's a co-founder of Image Comics, a constant entrepreneur behind things like McFarlane Toys, the creator of Spawn (which passed 300 issues last year), and a larger-than-life personality even beyond his contributions to comics. McFarlane's career, achievements, and determination will be celebrated later this weekend in SYFY WIRE's original documentary Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won't, but before that happens, McFarlane is also willing to have a little fun at his own expense.
On Thursday evening, SYFY WIRE's own Mike Avila hosted a chat between McFarlane and two fellow legendary comics artists -- fellow Image founder Marc Silvestri and longtime Image artist J. Scott Campbell -- in what was officially billed as an "Untold Tales of Todd McFarlane" panel to celebrate the documentary's arrival. Beyond that, though, it also proved to be an opportunity for some of McFarlane's longtime friends and peers to give him a little roast.
For Silvestri, who's known McFarlane since before they launched Image together -- and who opened things up by joking, "Well, first off, this is all kinda awkward, because I thought this was a Jim Lee roast" -- it was a chance to poke fun at his friend's roots and the way that he's perhaps still a little too attached to them.
"People forget, Todd came to a new country, and obviously the Canadian and the American language barrier was tough for him," Silvestri said, chuckling. "He had to learn a whole new language, and people today talk and go, 'Yeah, he's still struggling with that problem, obviously.' And he had to change the way he looked at life, and he had to realize painful lessons like 'You can't go grocery shopping wearing hockey skates in this country. It's frowned upon!' So these are the things that Todd was able to combat and defeat."
When it was Campbell's turn, he held up actual examples of McFarlane's art style while both paying tribute to and poking fun at McFarlane's somewhat bombastic way of storytelling.
"Todd was a standout, without a doubt. I always liked Todd's subtlety," Campbell joked, holding up a very McFarlane-ized image of Spider-Man. "Just inching up Spider-Man's eyes just a tiny bit made such a big impact, and just adding just a little bit more webbing, I always thought, 'Look at that nice subtle improvement,' just by that little bit of additional webbing, and just maybe a little bit of subtlety with posing, just nudging it just a little bit more."
Campbell then turned to a drawing of one of McFarlane's most famous creations, Venom, and had jokes for that as well.
"The genius move of saying, 'What if Spider-Man had some teeth?' It seems like that was such an amazing move that nobody else had thought of," Campbell said.
And then, of course, there were the life lessons passed on to Campbell from McFarlane, who became a mentor to the young Image creator.
"The fact that Todd taught me humility, and to respect authority, these are two things that I always thought Todd always acknowledged," Campbell joked. "And then frugalness, the sense that you should never run out and make an expensive purchase without carefully thinking about the ramifications! These are all the many lessons that I think I've learned from Todd."
While the trio spent plenty of time trading jokes and funny stories -- including an infamous Hollywood meeting in which McFarlane began disagreeing with his Image partners just to make a point that they were all independent -- there was also a good deal of discussion centered on McFarlane's impact on the comics industry and beyond. As Silvestri and Campbell both talked about their friend and collaborator, one thing became clear: McFarlane is McFarlane, no matter what environment he's in.
"The thing that's interesting about Todd is he lives up to the hype," Campbell said. "It's not a persona in the sense that you think it's like 'Oh, I'm gonna turn it off now and you're gonna get this laid-back, quiet guy.' I mean, both Todd and Stan -- Stan Lee, of course -- both are the real deal. The version you see on TV or the version you see in interviews, and the sort of big personality ... there's no off switch. That's just the way they both were and are."
In discussing the documentary about McFarlane, which included unprecedented access to his home, office, and general life for many months of filming, Avila noted that McFarlane only asked the team to avoid speaking to one person for the film, and that person wasn't even involved in the comics world. Other than that single request, everything was fair game, something McFarlane noted was by design.
"If you're going to do a documentary or book on people, you should show both sides," he said. "Given that I don't really care that much what other people think about me, it was easy for me to say, 'Then put it all out there, and let people make their own decisions.' It's not going to waver me one iota from what I'm about to do for the next 30 years of my life. So, if after this documentary everybody thinks I'm great, I'm gonna still go down the same path, and if they all think I'm a demon, I'm still going down the same path. So, put it out there. It's entertainment. Let's go!"
McFarlane also touched on his hopes for the documentary's impact. While he acknowledged throughout the panel the sense of freedom that success has given him at this stage in his career, he also made it clear that he wants fans -- even those who've heard him tell stories about his work for years -- to understand that his job is still a grind.
"There's highs and lows, there's highs and lows of all this, and it's not as pain-free as you might imagine," he said. "I don't think you should be giving any delusions to anybody that if you want to achieve something that it's going to come easy, like winning a lottery ticket or something like that. You've gotta just bust it every day, and advocate for yourself every day."
Speaking of advocating for himself, McFarlane also used the panel as an opportunity to assure fans that the new Spawn film he's been working on for the past few years is still very much in the works, and that star Jamie Foxx is still attached and "arguably more dedicated" than even McFarlane himself, who also noted that he hopes the documentary will underline his tenacity in pursuing the project.
"If they catch anything out of the documentary, they're gonna just see that I'm just savage when I get focused. I become blind, and getting this movie done -- a dark, R-rated movie that I direct -- is either gonna happen or I'm gonna die," he said. "Those are the only two choices. There's no third choice to me. I hope it's not the second one, so we're gonna get it done!"
Because McFarlane's endless energy continues even during Comic-Con@Home, he was also back on Friday for a spotlight panel hosted by Comicbook.com's Jim Viscardi. The conversation was, as many McFarlane panels are, a rather freewheeling journey, but allowed McFarlane plenty of opportunities to get a bit serious on how he's doing business during the pandemic shutdown. That included a discussion of the realities of the comics market right now, a few peeks at toy prototypes he's working on, and even a little tease that he's been using all this time in lockdown to "dust off" just about every idea in his arsenal for meetings with various producers. Check it out.
Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won't premieres Saturday at 11 p.m. EST on SYFY.
Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020.