Todd McFarlane's Spawn comic book changed the dynamics of the comic book industry in the 1990s. Spawn set sales records, helped an upstart new company become a major publisher, and enticed the top talents in the industry to leave Marvel and DC to make their fortunes with creator-owned properties.
In the late 1980s, Todd McFarlane gained some notoriety as a comic-book artist for his work on Marvel Comics' Incredible Hulk title. At the time, "hot" artists drove comic-book sales, and when McFarlane moved to penciling Amazing Spider-Man, it quickly became Marvel's best-selling book. In 1990, Marvel created a new Spider-Man title for McFarlane to write, pencil, and ink. It immediately became their top selling monthly, and the first issue sold an incredible two and a half million copies. McFarlane began to wonder why, if he was so popular, he needed to do work-for-hire on a character that someone else owned.
Born of this thinking, McFarlane formed a partnership with a few of Marvel's other popular young artists in 1992. Together they founded Image Comics in order to publish creator-owned comic books and reap the full rewards of their popularity. For the first few years, Image Comics, true to its name, proved to be more flash than substance. However, when McFarlane came up with Spawn, it proved to be the backbone of the company. Unlike the majority of Image books, Spawn was consistently published on time and, thus, enjoyed consistently high sales. The first issue sold 1,700,000 copies, far outstripping the circulation of any other independent comic book. For decades, Marvel and DChad so dominated the industry that any comic not published by one of the "big two" was considered "indepen-dent." By its second year, Image Comics had such volume of sales that the industry press began to suggest the possibility of "the big three," and by 1996 Image, albeit briefly, surpassed DC to become number two in market share.
McFarlane proved to have the best head for business of the young Image artists, and was aggressive in marketing his characters. Spawn became a multi-million dollar industry. By 1993, there was a "Spawnmobile" super-competition funny car touring with car shows, and Mattel was selling a "Spawnmobile" Hot Wheel. A comics industry trade magazine, Hero Illustrated, named Todd McFarlane the "Most Important Person in Comics," and in 1995, with New Line Cinema's McFarlane-scripted live-action Spawn movie in pre-production (it was released in 1997), he signed contracts for a Spawn animated series on HBO. Also in 1995, Sony began developing a Spawn video game, a Spawn board game was in stores, Halloween costumes were licensed, and McFarlane Toys brought out a new line of action figures. Somehow, McFarlane found time to keep producing a new Spawn comic book each month, remaining number one in industry-wide sales for a fourth year in a row. Both the sales and the marketing frenzy then began waning somewhat, but in the space of four years Todd McFarlane had become one of the wealthiest people in the comic book industry.
The name and face of McFarlane's main character were borrowed from his real-life friend Al Simmons, who became somewhat of a minor celebrity on the comic convention circuit. The fictional Al Simmons is a principled but efficient killer for a mysterious branch of the government. When he begins to question the orders of his commander, Jason Wynn, he is burned to death with laser weapons by two of his fellow agents. Sent to Hell for the bloody deeds he has committed, Simmons becomes a pawn of the Dark Lord Malebolgia, who needs just such a soldier to lead Hell's army in the final battle against Heaven. For a chance to return to Earth to see his family again and take revenge on Wynn, Simmons forfeits his soul and agrees to become Malebolgia's general. Simmons's horribly burned body is reanimated, and he returns to Earth as a grotesque but incredibly powerful Hellspawn. Spawn is clothed in a symbiotic uniform and wields hell-born energy that is seemingly capable of anything that he can imagine. Yet, once this energy is fully expended, Simmons will have to return to Hell to fulfill the rest of his bargain. As Spawn regains memories of his former life, he begins following his own agenda and using his powers against the forces of evil. He lives with homeless people in a Bowery alley and becomes their defender. He watches over his family and his love for his wife begins healing him spiritually. However, he is constantly plagued by his "guardian demon," The Clown, whose task is to keep Spawn from straying too far from Hell's path.
Spawn provides savage, gory adolescent fantasy with sexy images; McFarlane has admitted that much of the success of his book is probably due to his ability to draw a "really cool looking cape." As other "hot" artists migrated to Image, or copied the Image style, there was an ascendancy of what comics pioneer Will Eisner refers to as "wallpaper comics," filled with splash pages, double-page spreads, and bravura artwork but not much story. In a medium that already stressed the visual over the verbal, the success of Spawn and other "wallpaper" comic books further diminished the role of the writer.
Malloy, Alex G., editor. Comic Book Artists. Radnor, Pennsylvania, Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1993.
Jones, Gerard, and Will Jacobs. The Comic Book Heroes. Rocklin, California, Prima Publishing, 1997.
spawn / spôn/ • v. [intr.] (of a fish, frog, mollusk, crustacean, etc.) release or deposit eggs: the fish spawn among fine-leaved plants | [tr.] a large brood is spawned. ∎ (be spawned) (of a fish, frog, etc.) be laid as eggs. ∎ [tr.] (of a person) produce (offspring, typically offspring regarded as undesirable): why had she married a man who could spawn a boy like that? ∎ [tr.] produce or generate, esp. in large numbers: the decade spawned a bewildering variety of books on the forces. ∎ Comput. [tr.] generate (a dependent or subordinate computer process): from time to time it spawns two copies of the ip-up program, other times only one.• n. the eggs of fish, frogs, etc.: the fish covers its spawn with gravel. ∎ the process of producing such eggs. ∎ the product or offspring of a person or place (used to express distaste or disgust): the spawn of chaos: demons and sorcerers. ∎ the mycelium of a fungus, esp. a cultivated mushroom.DERIVATIVES: spawn·er n.
Spawn ★★★ 1997 (PG-13)
Government agent Al Simmons (White) returns to earth, six years after being murdered, in the form of Spawn, a hell-born creature with supernatural powers. He wants to avenge his death and also save his loved ones from the evil Violator (Leguizamo). With green eyes and a friendship with Satan, Spawn's more of a lethal weapon and way more sinister looking than the villain. An unrecognizable Leguizamo and sleazy Sheen team up as adequate adversaries. Extravagant special effects, and a complex, dark story put a unique spin on the over-exposed superhero premise. Adapted from the best-selling comic book. An R-rated director's cut, which includes a “making of” feature and an interview with Todd McFarlane, is also available. 97m/C VHS, DVD . Michael (Mike) Papajohn, Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, D.B. Sweeney, Nicol Williamson, Melinda (Mindy) Clarke, Miko Hughes; D: Mark Dippe; W: Alan B. McElroy; C: Guillermo Navarro; M: Graeme Revell.
Hence spawn sb. eggs of fishes, etc. XV.