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Interview: Comic Book Legend and Venom Co-Creator Todd McFarlane Talks ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’

December 7, 2021Ben MK

As a nearly-40-year veteran of the comic book industry, one of the founders of Image Comics, and the man behind McFarlane Toys, artist Todd McFarlane is perhaps best known as the creator of Spawn, a cult-favorite character who debuted in 1992 and who's since gone on to star in multiple comic spin-offs plus his very own movie and animated series, not to mention the various crossovers with other franchises like Mortal Kombat. What some modern-day comic book readers might not realize, however, is that McFarlane also helped to reinvent Spider-Man in the mid-80s and that he also had a hand in creating one of the web-slinger's most famous foes. Of course, we're talking about Venom, and with Tom Hardy's second outing as the Lethal Protector hitting store shelves next week, there's no better time to find out what the Toddfather himself thinks of the sequel.

I caught up with Todd McFarlane to chat about Venom: Let There Be Carnage and what role the character might play in Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as to get the latest details on the new live-action Spawn film.

You co-created Venom back in the '80s when you were working on The Amazing Spider-Man at Marvel Comics. Can you talk a bit about how Venom came to be?

McFarlane: There was an event book that was out called Marvel's Secret Wars, and it was a big comic book event that wasn't nearly as common as it is today, where you got dozens and dozens of superheroes all together. As part of that story, they had a contest creating a new costume for Spider-Man, and some 12-year-old kid came up with this really simplistic but pretty elegant design of the black costume with a giant white spider on it. That was the one that won, Peter Parker ended up getting absorbed by this living costume at the end of it, and then, for continuity, they just continued it into the regular books.

So by the time I walk into the Spider-Man office, I'm just finishing up a run on The Incredible Hulk, and I'm looking for another book to do. And they said, "Hey Todd, we've seen your work on the Hulk. We'd really like to have you on Spider-Man." But it was a remnant of the Secret Wars and it was Peter Parker in the black costume. And I said what no smart employee should ever say, which is, "No, I don't wanna draw Spider-Man in a black costume." But they went, "Oh Todd, we really like your artwork, we think you'd have a lot of fun on it." And I was like, "Ok." So I only had one condition — Peter Parker has to get back in his red and blue costume.

I just wanted to draw what, to me, was Spider-Man. So I thought we'll just get rid of the costume and put him in the classic uniform. But upper management had something to do with the Secret Wars and they liked the costume, so it wasn't gonna be that easy. So then I went, "Don't get rid of it, take it off Peter Parker and put it on somebody else. Let's just create a new character. You'll have the black costume and you'll have Peter Parker. Everybody wins." So I gave them this drawing of a big, hulking alien creature, and they looked at it and said it was super cool.

Then they turned to the writer, David Michelinie, and David said, "I'm gonna make him Eddie Brock." And I remember going, "What? Eddie Brock? Eddie Brock's human. He's not this big, giant guy." But I was just coming off Hulk, and I figured if it worked for Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk, it could work for Eddie Brock turning into Venom. It is literally one of the happiest accidents that has happened in entertainment. And I wish I could say that David and I knew [it] was gonna be that big. Cuz we would do ten more of 'em, if we were that smart.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage really doubles down on the things that made the first film so unique. What are your favorite elements of the sequel, or what would you have done differently?

McFarlane: The things I'd do differently are usually visual cues, cuz I'm a visual guy. Storywise and just [in terms of] overall success, I don't really look at movies and say, "Hey, did they keep any McFarlane in any of that?" None of that's relevant to me. If they did, cool. If they didn't, I’m not offended. What's important when you're trying to be a business and you're in the entertainment business is [whether] you [can] come up with ideas that will entertain enough people to get your investment back so you can do more of them. That's really the goal.

So you don't need to get all 8 billion people on the planet to buy into it. You need to get enough that will basically allow you to do another one. And however you get to that victory, which is to be able to do more, I don't really get into those arguments. I let the Internet do that. I know how [hard] it is to climb any mountain, business-wise, and to keep your brands relevant. And that Marvel and Sony have figured out how to keep this brand called Venom relevant 30 years or more after I had some small part in putting one footprint into the journey — I'm a big cheerleader and applaud what both Sony and Marvel have done.

Of course, Spider-Man: No Way Home is almost upon us. And given the end-credits scene in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, I'm sure fans are hoping that we might get to see Venom make an appearance. What do you personally look forward to seeing in that film?

McFarlane: Given that at the end of the Venom movie they gave a wink to Spidey, it's possible that maybe somewhere in the Spidey movie they might give a wink to Venom. Just to keep teasing all of us who know that it's inevitable — that eventually those two are gonna somehow be in the same space. We all know it's going to be giant, but what's that relationship? Because at the very beginning of the comic books, it was adversarial. One guy was a good guy, one guy was a bad guy. You were rooting against Venom.

But now Venom is this anti-hero that you root for, not against. And so what happens when those two get together? Are they one the same team, will they just sort of tolerate each other, or will they actually be against each other? All of it is doable. It'd be interesting to see what path Sony [and Marvel] decide to take with it when it happens. Cuz we know it's gonna happen. But I think they're doing it in a measured, patient way.

Otherwise, you're keeping quite busy with Spawn. What's the latest on your upcoming Spawn movie?

McFarlane: Everybody's pushing on [the Spawn movie] right now, as hard as they possibly can. And we just picked up a couple other people and added it to the roster. Something's gonna happen in the first half of next year. Either it's gonna collapse or we're gonna get past the goal line, which means that we're gonna find our studio or our money and our production date. If it doesn't happen in the first half of next year, then I'll just go do my small mini-budget version of it. But some news is gonna come out in the first half of next year, for sure.

Last but not least, what advice would you give to someone looking to break into the comic book industry?

McFarlane: Do your samples, send it in to the people [whose opinion] you will trust, or go to shows and hunt them as many writers and or artists as you can to show your product to. And then, whatever they say, take what you think is pertinent, try to improve it, and go out there and do it again and again until you find one person that likes your stuff and says yes. And then you got a job. You don't need all the editors at all the companies to like you, you need one editor at one company to like your stuff. Or if you're gonna self-publish, then you need enough people that will give you their hard-earned dollars so that you can keep the lights on and put food in your belly and feed your family. If you can do that, you can do another issue, and keep doing it and doing it.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is available now on Digital and on 4K, Blu-ray & DVD December 14th.

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