Todd McFarlane’s no stranger to The Walking Dead, having helped form the very company that’s published Robert Kirkman’s zombie saga, Image Comics. And, through his McFarlane Toys, he’s responsible for perhaps the hottest Walking Dead merchandise on the planet — the official action figures of both the comic book and TV show. Now, McFarlane is taking the undead phenomenon to a new level by introducing the next step in building toys — Walking Dead Construction Sets. We recently caught up with McFarlane, and — in addition to sharing his thoughts on major league baseball and Brian Wood’s upcoming run on Spawn — the multi-hyphenate talked about his plans for the next wave of Dead toys.
You can read our conversation below, and you can get a chance to win your very own Walking Dead set — featuring either Daryl and his chopper (pictured above) or the infamous Governor’s room (below)! Enter to win by simply sharing this post on Twitter using the hashtag #DeadGiveaway. You can craft a tweet of your own or just click here. Contest ends next Wednesday, November 19th, at midnight. (Contest rules here.) Good luck!
Nerdist: I want to start where we always start. We’re going to talk a little bit of baseball, and you’re going to explain to me what I should be paying attention to now that we’re in the post season. So how does the effects of the post-season affect what you decide to make in your lines in the next year?
Todd McFarlane: Well, two things. Number one, you can get career years fatigue. So the teams this year, the Royals and the Orioles, haven’t been in there for decades. All of a sudden, now, they’re going to come in. If they end up pulling it all off at the end, then they become sort of the talk of the town. They become Cinderella a little bit. If anybody on one of those teams, or on the Giants or Cardinals, decides to go off and do something crazy, or they hit three walk-off homers in three consecutive nights in the World Series, everybody’s going to know who that player’s name is.
So right now, it may be the seventh batter on the team that is an okay player that most of us know, but they’re not nationally known. And you can do stuff in sporting events that will put you on a national stage, that will get you national attention. And so if you win the Super Bowl and you’re the MVP of the Super Bowl, you can carry a lot for your entire group.
N: So something like Jeter retiring captain, would that make him a prime guy for a figure next year?
TM: Yes. Since he gave us the heads-up that he was retiring, we go, “Good, we’re not chasing it.” We can actually do it in advance of him coming into his sort of big heyday right now, where everybody is talking about him.
N: That leads us to the next question. The thing you’re working on now — the builds are finding a huge fan base that are creating what you’re putting out there to design, but they’re also having a blast building their own scenarios, like destroying the watchtower to make it look like the end of the season — things like that. Everybody was kind of questioning whether or not this was a great idea, but it seems like fans are really taking to it. They love these mini-figures and the builds. How does that feel now that you’re getting a lot of great feedback on it?
TM: People saying nice things only goes so far. At the end of the day, we still have to do commerce. So what’s going to prove that it’s successful is if I get a phone call from Toys ‘R Us, who gets the exclusive for 2014, and then eventually my other retailer phoning me and saying, “Hey, the product you’re giving us is selling. Do you have any more?” Then we can give them some more.
So if we sell a lot, then they’ll go, “Hey, Todd – we’ll offer you half.” It does two things. It allows me then to expand some of the ideas, maybe even some of the price points on what we’re thinking about with The Walking Dead, and it also allows me to then go and get other brands. There’s one brand I think is pretty strong. They just said, “Give us the data from the first two weeks of your sales. If it works, we’re in.” They’re sort of going in “You think older people want to build stuff?” I go, “Yes, I do!” When I was younger, I built model kits. And so to me this is sort of this weird hybrid. It has all the same mechanics of everybody else’s build. It’s just at the very end when I put that skin on it, it then looks like a model kit. It looks like art. It looks like a diorama. And so the answer is yeah. It’s hard for me to imagine that every adult’s going to say, “No, it kind of looks like that popular thing I already collect, but I don’t need a mini version of it. I need something bigger or more expensive.” It just doesn’t seem like it.
N: So we’ve talked a few times now over the past couple of years and it always just amazes me that you don’t stop. Do you think there’s going to be a point where you’re going to slow down or do you just keep finding more things that you want to go after? You were going to slow down, but then you went after the building kits.
TM: Here’s the smarter answer. There’s really two Todds at my company at all times. There’s Todd the artist and Todd the CEO. So it depends on what the conversation is, what hat I’m wearing at any given time. I think the question is a little bit backwards. The question isn’t “Todd, are you going to be the CEO and let other people do it?” The smarter one is “Todd, can you find a CEO so you can do more art?” I have to remind my employees from time to time where I’m like, “Guys, I need you to be good at the business side of it so I have more time to do the art, because essentially everything that you see in this company started because the Todd the artist guy had the time to think of stuff. If you let me have the time to think of stuff, then it’s better for the business than me thinking of business and spread sheets.” I can hire people to do that. I can replicate that. What’s a little bit harder to replicate is people with goofy ideas. I’ve got a lot of them but my value isn’t as a CEO, my value is the artist side. Let me do more art.
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N: I’m going to wrap this up where we always kind of end things. I’ve got to talk about Spawn. You’ve created this character that, at its core, is about rebirth and renewal; and every time you bring on a new creative team it’s great to see them focus your vision and bring new things to the table. Since you’ve got a new team coming on, what can we look forward to out of them and how much freedom are you giving them now?
TM: Let’s talk about the mechanics of it, then we’ll talk about the freedom. Spawn #250 comes out — big anniversary issue, triple size, and at the end of it, the return of Al Simmons. The original Spawn comes back. All right, fans should be okay with that. But here’s where the creative team comes in — the goal is to bring him back as a changed man. If you took a guy who was nineteen and you put him in prison for twenty years I have to assume that when he walks out, he’s not the same guy. Something happens to him. He’s either going to go squirrely, or he’s going to go, “I need to change my life.” So the new Al coming back is now smarter, more mature, more calculating. He now has a plan — before, he didn’t have a plan. He was like, “Leave me alone, I want to live my life!” Now he’s going to have a plan. He’s going to know what the consequences of his plan are. He’s going to be a mature guy. He’s going to know the game he’s playing. Before, he didn’t really know the rules of the game he was playing. He knows the rules. He’s going to try to take advantage of the rules.
Our greater goal, both artistically and in the writing, especially with the new writer Brian Wood… I said “Hey, your goal is to make me seem irrelevant. People should be going ‘Why did we waste the first two hundred and fifty issues reading Todd’s shit when now we’ve got this cool stuff?’ If you can get me to that point — if you can get me to the point where people think that what I did for the first twenty years was a waste of time, then you will be my best friend.”
If all you’re going to do is regurgitate my own stuff back at me, you’re going to exhaust me. I don’t want it. I want somebody who’s got the courage to say “Todd, I like some of the stuff you did. I’m going to keep like thirty percent of it. The core is still going to be Spawn, but I don’t know why you didn’t do this and this and this and this. When I was reading the book, I thought he should have done this and this and this.” That’s the guy I want. I want to go, “Pretend I gave you the trademark and the copyright to this. What would you do with it? Don’t try to please me. Please yourself. If you do that, I think you’re going to be a lot closer to the right path than the other way around.”
N: Well, Brian Wood is an amazing choice. That guy can write anything. I don’t want to call anything Woodsian, but he brings this authenticity to his characters, and I can’t wait to see what he does.
TM: What I like about him is he’s shown a range. He can do sort of tight urban stuff, and then he can do this classic X-Men stuff. So the range is there. So I’m encouraging him. We’re talking about the mythos of Spawn. We had breakfast this morning. So just do clever stories within that range, and you’re never going to hear a peep from me.
N: As a Brian Wood fan and as a Spawn fan, hearing that you’re kind of letting him off leash and letting him go — I’m excited.
TM: I’m hoping that – because sometimes I can be a big presence, and they’ll go ,“Give me your ideas,” and I do most of the talking. I don’t want him doing my ideas. I just don’t think he’s read all two hundred and fifty issues. I’m just trying to give him an overview of two hundred and fifty issues. “Here’s where the characters are, what they’re doing. Here’s the mentality, here’s the motives. You can use any, or none of what I just said to you. I’m just saying that if you have an idea, maybe there’s a characters that you can plug into it, so you have a little bit of continuity. Or you can say, ‘No, no, no, I have another character that I think can fill in, because then I don’t have that baggage.'” So I’m going. “Knock yourself out!” My only criticism of his work will be if I feel like I’ve read that issue, or I feel like I wrote that issue.
N: And that’s a fair bar to set.
TM: Right. And then artistically with Jonboy Meyers, he’s already wound up going “Can I change the costume? Can I do this? Can I do that?” And I’m like, “Yeah, if it looks cool.” I mean, badass works on a lot of levels.
So one of the things that is going to happen when he comes back is that he’s going to be completely in control of his costume, which has never happened in two hundred and fifty issues. So now the costume’s going to be his dog, and the dog listens to the master very well. So he can now sort of go in and out of public and look however he wants, because the costume is going to be able to look like whatever he needs to look like, and he’s going to be able to move in plain sight a little bit and not draw attention to himself but still move amongst the humans and not have to hide all the time.
N: That’s awesome.
Note: For more info, visit the McFarlane Builds website!