His Inking: Advantageous! A Birthday Tribute to Todd McFarlane
Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (go Flames go) on this day in 1961, comics superstar and business mogul Todd McFarlane initially wanted to play baseball for a living, but an injury caused him to focus on his art. When looking for professional work, he sent out seven hundred different submissions before finally breaking into the business with his first professional gig: a backup story in Steve Englehart’s Coyote, published in 1984.
The work that started to get him noticed was a stint on Infinity, Inc, and he was illustrator on three issues of Batman: Year Two, Invasion! #1-2, and several issues of The Incredible Hulk during Peter David’s legendary run, but his most famous Big Two work was his tenure on The Amazing Spider-Man. McFarlane’s elastic, exaggerated cartooning suited the character perfectly, sticking Spider-Man in a variety of dynamic contortionist poses and adding detail and texture to his webbing. McFarlane is ranked among the definitive Spider-Man artists to this day.
McFarlane was also the first artist to draw Venom, who instantly became one of Spider-Man’s most popular villains. While the details of McFarlane’s co-creation of the character are disputed --- with Eddie Brock and Spider-Man’s alien symbiote costume both predating McFarlane and David Michelinie’s tenure on the book, and with Michelinie claiming that the creation of the character was his alone --- Venom arguably became popular on the strength of McFarlane’s design. Twisting the striking image of the black costume like a funhouse mirror, McFarlane’s design deserves recognition in a fundamentally visual medium.
McFarlane later added both inking and writing to his skillset, taking his art and storytelling down a darker path with the series Spider-Man, affectionately nicknamed “Adjectiveless” to differentiate it from the other Spider-Man books. Not long afterwards, McFarlane exited Marvel, along with several other disaffected creators, to found Image Comics, and released his own creator-owned series on the world: Spawn, based on a character he designed when he was sixteen.
Laser-aimed at the late teenage mindset, Spawn shattered sales records, finding its way onto HBO as an animated series and becoming a major motion picture.
McFarlane leveraged Spawn into a business empire by creating his own toy line and entertainment company – initially to expand the reach of Spawn, and then later branching out into other areas, such as action figures based on sports, movies, and rock stars, and music videos for Korn, Disturbed, and Pearl Jam --- bands that seem to comfortably fit McFarlane's aesthetics.
McFarlane is also a noted baseball collector --- he famously owns the home run record-shattering balls of Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds --- and is a former co-owner of the Edmonton Oilers. He was also an art director on the video game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
For most creators, McFarlane's career would be the work of two lifetimes --- but McFarlane has many years left in him.