Among the sea of creators and vendors that make up the show floor of New York Comic Con, there is only one with a giant balloon floating over him, his name emblazoned across it, and that is Todd McFarlane. The co-founder of Image Comics and founder of McFarlane Toys sits like a king in the midst of the chaos as people line-up to see him, even if he isn’t actually doing a signing at that point. We got a chance to chat with Todd about the business of comics, figures, and nerd culture as a hot commodity.
Nerdist: How has your Comic Con been so far, Todd?
Todd McFarlane: That is the falsest question you can ask somebody, and here is why; the answer always has to be “great.” You are so busy and there is so much to do that no one would ever stop to criticize you. There’s no time. No one is going to wait in line for 45 minutes to tell me he hates my product and isn’t going to support it. No! They are going to go to the stuff and people they like, so it is a complete false-positive. If anybody tells you they didn’t have a good convention, that is trouble. So how is my convention going? Very good.
N: So one of the things that is being most prominently displayed at Comic Con this year are your Construction sets for The Walking Dead. How did you come about to deciding on this sort of product for the license?
TM: I’ll go all the way back to the origin of it. I got the Walking Dead license because my partner (Robert Kirkman) co-created the series. I had a bit of a backdoor to that one. Robert had been making that comic book forever. It was Hollywood that had to take the time to catch up to him. I remember him struggling to try and sell it, and who would have ever known it would end up being that big? After they picked up the show and it did gangbusters, I told Robert that they were going to split the title up into a comic book license and a television license, then make the retailers choose “do you want this or this.” They are going to side mostly toward TV, because that’s where most of the eyeballs turn to. So, I told him “choosing one side does the other a disservice, and you should let one guy do both sides. If doesn’t have to be me, it can be somebody else, but I make some pretty cool stuff.” So, it was a matter of getting both licenses, and the construction sets really are just a way to diversify.
The Walking Dead lends itself, in very important ways, to these types of products. There are a lot of locations and backgrounds in that show that mean something. Dale’s RV, Hershel’s barn, the Prison, Woodbury; these are all environments that are as recognizable as this great, big cast of characters. These construction sets are a way for fans to be able to enjoy those environments as well as the characters. We are now going to be doing the same thing for Game of Thrones. That’s another one where you can say The Wall, the Throne Room in King’s Landing, or The Red Wedding and people know exactly what these places are and what they look like.
So, I told [Robert] “choosing one side does the other a disservice, and you should let one guy do both sides. If doesn’t have to be me, it can be somebody else, but I make some pretty cool stuff.”
N: You have been working at this for years. How are you able to keep it fresh for yourself after all of that time?
TM: You do anything for twenty years and you’re going to have highs and lows. You have to find the moments that are those highs. With the Spawn comic, we’ve done 256 issues, going on to 257. So, how do I stay pumped up for that? Erik Larsen, who I’ve wanted to work with forever, is coming onto the book and we are going to co-write, co-draw, and co-ink the thing. So, we are going to do this hybrid comic. Erik Larsen is a great storyteller, and he does cool stuff on the page. I get to go my Todd-sexy on top of that, and seeing the first five pages or so made me feel like I was 12-years-old again. Now, I’m 258 issues into this thing and I can’t wait to get home and ink his pages. You just have to find these moments.
N: What toy licenses have you had your eye on that you have not been able to acquire?
TM: I think the licenses that everyone on the planet, except me, has had a piece of are Star Wars and Marvel. It is unbelievable seeing how thin they have sliced those two properties when I go to toy shows. I didn’t know doing zip ties with Marvel and Star Wars logos on them was even a category. I should have done zip ties! I mean, the name Todd only rhymes with God, but if I could run the planet, every toy contract would have one specific rule to them: “You have the exclusive master toy license for this property forever, but Todd gets to make one figure.” Just one. Just give me one Batman, one Spidey, one Star Wars. Just let me scratch that itch once.
N: What would your one Star Wars figure be?
TM: Without seeing the new movie, probably Darth Vader. As much as Luke is the hero, I tend to have an affinity for guys in dark capes; Batman, Spawn, all of them.
N: What new figure licenses do you have coming down the pipe that you are excited about?
TM: We just signed two new licenses that are pretty cool, but it will probably be another few months before we are ready to make the announcement about any of those. I mean all of this stuff is starting to creep into the mainstream with so many retailers now starting to sell our stuff. Wal-Mart is apparently looking to add collectibles to the store, and they want us and Funko to be the ones leading the way with that. From a commerce point of view, I don’t know how any business could look at Comic Con and not see that it is like the Super Bowl, only it lasts for four days.
N: They need to get in on that sweet, sweet nerd money.
TM: Right! Once they stop looking down their noses at us, even if they just humor us, and give us our space it becomes good for business. You think every toy I’ve made, or brand I have worked on is a personal favorite? No, but it is really popular and it is good for business to move forward with them.
If I could run the planet every toy contract would have one specific rule to them. “You have the exclusive master toy license for this property forever, but Todd gets to make one figure.” Just one.
[Image: McFarlane Toys]
N: Is that at all related to the sports lines that you have done over the years?
TM: The sports figures came from the fact that I’m a boy and I have testosterone. I think the demographic for sports, if you like them, is ages 5 to dead. I’ve never met someone who was into sports and had been following them for years say, “You know, I’ve been following these sports for about 35 years, but you know what? **** it, I’m giving it up.” You just don’t do that. So, I was an athlete myself. I still am, I still play and I played PAC 10 baseball. I collected trading cards, and I used to look at those Kenner Starting Lineup figures and think they were horrible. They were reasonable facsimiles of poses that no athlete has ever been in they’d paint white or brown and claim was someone famous. This then leads into another question I get all the time, that is sort of like “How is your con going,” and that is “How do you make your toys look so real?” This is especially asked about sports because we’ve won awards for the sports figures. I keep giving the secret away and no one ever seems to pick up on it. It’s called a camera, it takes photos of reality and then I look at them and replicate that reality. The question shouldn’t be how have I gotten it right and won awards for getting it right, but should be “how have they always gotten it wrong seeing as the camera has been around for over a century?”
I’ve spoken to people who worked on those lines at Kenner and they would swear to me they were looking at photography while making them, and it is such a lie. They had shortstops in poses that no shortstop, no Derek Jeter, has ever made in his life. They had hockey players with their jerseys completely tucked in. Being Canadian, it’s a real sore spot for me, and it was all because they wanted to save a few pennies by not painting three stripes on their jerseys. I used to carry a blank check in my wallet, signed and everything, and would tell these toy makers I will fill out whatever amount they want on it if they can show me one picture of an actual hockey player with their jersey completely tucked in. I had to throw the check away because it finally started falling apart in my wallet. Then, they have the gall to put a card in with the figure, that has a photograph on it, so now I can look at the card and point out all the things they did wrong with the figure. I’ve always said if you want to look smart, hang around dumb people, and I’ve been given awards for other people doing dumb stuff with their figures. It’s like a foot race where everyone else ran backwards. People are cheering for me, but I didn’t actually do anything. God bless ‘em.
Featured Image – Gamasutra