Over 25 years, McFarlane Toys has built an empire on producing some of the best collectibles on the market. In addition to churning out military, monster, and fantasy figures, the company, led by veteran comic book artist Todd McFarlane, has dabbled with some of the most popular IP in modern culture, including The Walking Dead, Call of Duty, Fortnite, and more recently, the DC Multiverse. That’s not to mention McFarlane’s own cash cow, Spawn.
To mark the 25th anniversary of McFarlane Toys, McFarlane is launching a Kickstarter campaign to remake the company's Series 1 Spawn figures, beginning with the piece of plastic that started it all: the 1995 Series 1 Spawn. Created by McFarlane in 1992 for Image Comics, Spawn served as the catalyst for McFarlane’s current toy empire. As he told SYFY WIRE ahead of the campaign's launch on April 8, after making dozens of versions of Spawn along with near-countless more supporting characters, variants, and villains through the years, he wanted to do something different this time, releasing a figure without the usual constraints of the toy market.
“We didn’t get stuff like Marvel or Star Wars [when we first started out], and we only recently got DC,” McFarlane tells SYFY WIRE. “We've survived for so long because we built a better mousetrap. Our toys had to look better than the giant guys.”
“Even though we got acclaim for the original line back then, in hindsight it really pales in comparison of what we can do today,” McFarlane continues. “I had my years in comics where everything was in motion and detailed and when I started this I just wanted to see if we could do that with the figures themselves.”
In terms of using Kickstarter for the project, McFarlane says something this niche may not do as well in big box stores. So, why not bring it directly to the consumer?
“The internet is a great equalizer," he explains. "If you have a great idea you can shop it around to the big stores still, but if they don't take it, you're left with two options. I can accept that my product isn't good enough or I can be stubborn, or even delusional, and I'm going to offer it up anyway on my own.
"With Kickstarter, you're able to do that without the risk of having to make it if it isn’t funded.”
When Spawn debuted in 1995, the blister package included a comic book, a character with moving limbs, and a poseable cape and a weapon (the odd plank and nail). With that in mind, McFarlane says he wanted to stay true to the original with the new design while pulling out the stops for its presentation.
“We wanted to keep it simple, so you’ll be able to get a few variants, the classic, modern and artist proof,” he says. “They’ll come with a couple different heads and as sort of a wink-wink to the original Spawn, we’re going to get an updated version of stick and nail. We’ve got this gnarly updated version that is reminiscent of something a medieval knight would use.”
It’s all about upping the ante, he explains: “What we want to do is take what came out 25 years ago and sculpt it in the way we can do it today. Make it the scale we can do today. Add the articulations we can do today. And don't get limited by — which we constantly are — the size of the box.”
With a bigger box, designers and sculptors are able to create a little more freely. The packaging is an experience in itself. Within the collector box and slipcover, McFarlane has provided a resealable clamshell package, a perfect solution for the collector and casual fan. In addition, the new remastered version toy will include (for some levels) a hand-signed autograph from McFarlane himself.
The comic book that came with the toy is also getting revamped, McFarlane teases. With each version of the toy, he’ll be providing a new cover for the accompanying book.
“I’m going to re-ink that classic version and for the other two I’ll be doing an original cover,” he says. “The comic cover used for the original toy in 1995 was actually just a blown-up panel from an issue and I actually found the scan for the original.”
Flashing back to 1995 when he was creating the first line of Spawn toys, McFarlane sees how limited in scope the industry was at the time. Even some of his own toys suffered as McFarlane tried to navigate a new business.
“Some of the initial figures of Spawn are somewhat laughable now, but it was a big step up at the time. Let's take the figure Overt-kill. Overt-kill to me is at best average. In fact I think it's below average. It still made it to the marketplace,” he says. “I was frustrated by that figure. I thought Spawn came out cool and Medieval Spawn came out pretty cool for that moment in time, but then I thought some of the other figures regressed a little bit. Overt-kill and Tremor, even the little bendy Violator.”
At the start, McFarlane Toys used the same processes as the larger toy makers. Even though they had McFarlane’s artistic talents to work off of, the company used a single sculptor to do its figures. Eventually, though, McFarlane finally figured out the magic of making the best toys.
“The key is not allowing one person to do it,” he explains. “I know it's frustrating to sculptors and I just had this conversation with some of them. You can sort of see this puppy-dog look in their eyes. 'What, you don't trust me?' And in all honesty, I don't. It's not because I don't think you're a good artist, it's because I don't trust myself. I'm an award-winning artist and I know that I have weaknesses. I'm at least mature [enough] at this point to admit that I'm not good at everything... if I [could have found] people that [could] cover my weaknesses, my comic books would have looked twice as good.”
In the past decade, McFarlane Toys has become a well-oiled machine, churning out incredible, ultra-realistic figures, sculptures, and toys. Those results, McFarlane says, are mainly due to the process behind the scenes.
“We found that we were getting our best results if we were passing the toy around and everyone who had a skill set — someone good at clothing, detail, body, monsters, textures, or weapons — [worked] on their part,” he says. “It's too hard from an artist's point of view to say you have to be good at everything. It's too much of a burden. So, just get me at 75 to 80 percent of where your skills are and then let me pass it on to other people who will finish it up. The whole will be better than the parts.”
While it may be a bit of a gut punch for sculptors, McFarlane says the proof is in the work over the past two decades, especially in some of his "favorite" toys. McFarlane doesn’t actually have a favorite toy (maybe it’s the Series 1 Spawn), but what he does have are five or six figures that have components that changed the way he thought toys could be made, putting them ahead of the rest.
“Mandarin Spawn is one of those,” he says. “When I was early in the business, pros, people who had been in the business a long time, would tell me 'You cannot get that amount of detail in a six-inch figure.' So they put all these barriers up and I'm sort of this bad teenager who's going to push against it. So, we went for it. Let's see if it can hold up in the mold, which it does. So, let's see if we can find skilled factories and workers who can paint it, which we did. Then all of a sudden, I remember looking at the toy and just saying 'Wow, it's doable.'"