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Spawn's Todd McFarlane shares his tips for creating new characters fans want to read

Learn from the man who came up with one of the most successful new comic book characters in the past three decades

Spawn
Image credit: Todd McFarlane/Image Comics

If there’s one thing that Todd McFarlane knows, it’s creating iconic comic book characters. Even if you can overlook the success of Spawn — good luck with that; he’s one of the biggest comic book characters of the past 30 years — you can look at Venom as another example of McFarlane’s skills in creating (or co-creating) characters people want to see more of. So what tips does he have for people wanting to do the same?

During an interview with host Ashley V. Robinson on this week’s Enter the Popverse, the Todd offered his thoughts on how to make a character stand out from the crowd.

“There’s a couple of components to coming up with a character that people like,” McFarlane explained. “The writing, and who the character is, and their persona — what’s driving them, and what makes them… generally, for the most part, that comes from the writer. And then the answer is, at least in the artistry, there has to be a cool factor. What looks good, right? [There’s] not too many really, in-depth, comic book characters who dress in three-piece suits. There’s a bit of a flamboyant look to it, but how do you still make that fantastic element resonate [on that] level? I think if you can tap into that, you’ve got the right building blocks.”

There’s one thing that McFarlane warns against, however: “It’s way too easy to have good vs. evil, these black and white issues,” he said, instead citing Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead as a successful alternative — and talking about the ways in which The Walking Dead was a preview of the world after the outbreak of COVID… even if, when the latter happened, they focused on toilet paper rather than more important matters, in his opinion.

“I think the aliens are going to come and land, they’re gonna go, ‘Oh, there’s an intelligent species,’ and they’re gonna run the databanks and go, ‘What did they do during the pandemic?’” he joked — but added that, even that kind of behavior is something that writers can tap into to make their creation more complex and believable. “If you can tap into, if a character’s good, why, what’s driving them — and not make it easy. If a character’s bad, why they’re bad and what drove them, and not make them 100 percent bad… all of that’s okay. You start adding grey to what’s otherwise black and white. I think those are strong building blocks… with a cool outfit.”

Look at Spawn; there’s no way McFarlane wouldn’t want a cool outfit.

Watch the complete Enter the Popverse interview on YouTube, or clicking the embed below.


Previously on Enter the Popverse, Tom King has talked about Wonder Woman being the “hardest mainstream character I’ve ever had to write”.

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About the Author
Graeme McMillan avatar

Graeme McMillan

Staff Writer

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.

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