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Year of the Artist, Day 210: Todd McFarlane, Part 4 – Spider-Man #5

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Todd McFarlane, and the issue is Spider-Man #5, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated December 1990. Enjoy!

Marvel made a huge mistake in the summer of 1990, giving Todd McFarlane his own comic because he wanted to write. McFarlane was not a good writer in 1990, and I have no idea if he’s gotten better in the quarter-century since then, but Marvel caved because they didn’t want him to leave, which of course he did a few years later. The first 12 issues of Spider-Man (which are the only ones I own) are painfully bad in the writing, although McFarlane got marginally – I use that in the smallest way possible – better by the third story, “Perceptions” (issues #8-12). None of that mattered at the time, of course, because McFarlane’s Spider-Man sold in numbers that today’s Marvel executives can only dream about. I was working at a convenience store on County Line Road in Hatboro for my summer job between freshman and sophomore years of college, and I recall rushing out on my lunch break, driving down Maple Road to Willow Grove, and buying five copies of issue #1. Four of them, I’m a bit ashamed to say, have never been opened. Damn straight. But reading the series later … man. It’s rough. But let’s begin in happier times, with Amazing Spider-Man #300 (May 1988), which gave us Spider-Man’s first battle with Venom. I just want to show a couple of things that became indicative of McFarlane’s art – his “McFarlane face” and the way he drew Mary Jane Watson-Parker.


Once McFarlane started drawing ASM, he really took off with the more rounded faces, although his later work on The Incredible Hulk showed it too. He also decided to make a lot of the characters have really thick eyebrows, as we see with Peter. This is just unusual, and I’m not sure why McFarlane did it. He was always a bit cartoony with his style, and when he started inking himself, he really embraced that side of his artwork, but it does seem a bit odd that he was drawing such serious stories – even when he wrote them himself – yet he tended to draw his characters so unrealistically so often. But here’s a good example of “McFarlane face,” for what it’s worth.


McFarlane is also responsible for sexpot Mary Jane, which 17-year-old Greg certainly appreciated. Her hair might be a bit crazy, and her proportions might not be perfect, but when you go back and see what a Plain (Mary) Jane she was when people like Romita Jr. or Ron Frenz drew her, you appreciate the fact that McFarlane actually made her look like a super-model. She even dressed … well, like something. Definitely better than her frumpy clothes of the past, but man, that belt! She’s not as heavily inked as she would be below, and her features hadn’t evolved to “Peak McFarlane” yet, but she’s getting there! I just love everything about this page, from the fact that she’s trying to make Peter feel better, to the fact that she’s willing to pose for “private” pictures, to David Michelinie’s oh-so-subtle caption box to end the page, and I even love it because I imagine 26-year-old Joe Quesada reading it and thinking, “Hey, the Spider-Man of my youth would never have had sex with such a fabulous woman, and since I’m a nerd like him and will never have sex with a super-model, I’m going to make it my mission in life to destroy this marriage and crush his dreams just like mine have been crushed!” And thus a career path was forged!


When he moved over to Spider-Man, McFarlane began designing these pages with a lot of thin, vertical panels. Back when I took a look at the first page of issue #2, I mentioned that I think he did these vertical panels to give a sense of the skyscrapers and canyons of Manhattan, although he used them in other circumstances, too, as we see here. It’s just a theory!

Story continues below

This artwork on Spider-Man – at least the stuff McFarlane inked himself – might be “Peak McFarlane.” It’s not because his art is as good as it will ever be – I think we can see that it’s better when someone else inks it – but because this is pure, unfettered McFarlane, before time constraints started to slow him down. You’ll notice the very cartoony style he uses for the characters in this sequence, as we get the “Ugly McFarlane face” that we saw all the way back in “Slash” – the squat nose, thick lips, and wide face on the dispatcher, along with the bushy eyebrows. Meanwhile, the cop behind him has a long, thin face, with a severely sunken chin and beady eyes, which are other McFarlane staples. Notice, too, the inking, which is a bit more excessive than we’ve seen, but it’s also stronger than it was on the example from Detective that I showed yesterday. Unfortunately, that’s not really a good thing, as the excess of lines combined with the fact that they’re stronger makes the characters look a bit more decrepit. It’s unfortunate. This is printed on slightly better paper than Amazing Spider-Man (it’s not quite Baxter paper, but I don’t know what it is), and we can see that colorist Gregory Wright takes advantage by using more shading than he might get away with on cheaper paper. It, too, contributes to aging the characters, unfortunately. The thin panels don’t interfere with the storytelling in this example, and they help McFarlane end the page with the destroyed building in which Spidey was being tortured, but the thin panels do occasionally make the artwork less decipherable, which is too bad.

(By the way, you get exactly ZERO Cool Points – long-time readers of the blog might remember Cool Points and long for them nostalgically! – if you tell me what the next caption box reads on the following page. Honestly, at this point you should repeat the phrase at completely inappropriate moments, like during sex and while at funerals.)


McFarlane’s obsession with details was evident during his 1987-1992 peak, and we see a bit of that here. In “Torment” (issues #1-5), he really did a lot of close-ups, and it’s interesting to note that it seemed pertinent only to this story – his artistic storytelling skills were far more developed than his writing storytelling skills were at this point. He uses close-ups in a lot of his stories, but in “Torment,” he really went to town with it, far more than in “Perceptions,” and I think that’s because “Torment” takes place in short period of time in a cramped place, while “Perceptions” takes place in the wide-open Pacific Northwest. If that was McFarlane’s intention, he did a really nice job with it (and if it wasn’t, he still did a nice job with it!). Anyway, the details are the devil, as we get the “cracked” Spidey eye in Panel 1 (McFarlane treats them as some kind of plastic, when I always thought they were fabric) and the ripped mask, and then in Panel 2 we get Peter’s grimace, which still looks a bit cartoony, with the lack of lips and the really big teeth. McFarlane doesn’t line the two panels up perfectly, which is interesting as it extends Peter’s face just a bit, making him look more inhuman than perhaps McFarlane wanted (or perhaps not, given his penchant for drawing Spidey in such bizarre ways while he’s web-swinging). In Panel 3, McFarlane gives us a cool Spider-Man braced above the wreckage (the mansion exploded at the end of the previous issue), and a nice view of the beams jutting out all haphazardly and the fire and smoke billowing through it. It’s a neat image.


More good details here, but I wanted to note the webbing panel borders. You can say what you want about McFarlane’s art, but the dude designed comics pretty well, and this is just one neat instance. The Lizard is pretty cool, too.


Look at this page! So there’s “Calypso” on the left (that’s her name, apparently, but I still don’t think she’s ever named in the comic, as the caption box points out), while Peter reminisces about how he got into this predicament. Calypso is a truly fantastic McFarlane creation, from the wide face, full lips, and thin eyes, to the absolutely crazy hair, to the somewhat buxom-but-not-too-wild breasts and the relatively solid thighs. McFarlane, unlike so many other artists, didn’t just draw giant globes on the chests of his females – yes, Calypso’s breasts are a bit perky for their size and the fact that they’re covered with thin strips of cloth and not a good supportive bra, but they’re at least breast-shaped and aren’t too huge. Despite the excessive line work, McFarlane is actually somewhat restrained in the inking – her face is clear, her skin isn’t too overly hatched, and the blacks on the leopard skin she wears and the tattered cloths around her legs make sense in context. Meanwhile, McFarlane draws smoke as well as anyone (yes, it’s a weird thing to notice, but he totally does), and we get that drifting smoke motif I mentioned back when he was drawing Coyote. On the right side, we get more of Peter grimacing (he does that a lot in this story), and again the details are impressive. McFarlane is still treating his eye coverings as plastic, as this one appears even more cracked, but it’s still a neat effect. In the age before a lot of digital effects, McFarlane drew every drop of blood and water, so the liquid dripping off Peter looks more tactile and viscous than a lot of digitally-created water of later years. Once again, Peter’s lips are basically non-existent and his teeth are gigantic, but McFarlane’s hatching on his face is relatively restrained, which helps keep our hero youthful.

Story continues below


Here’s an example of where McFarlane’s vertical panels fails him a bit. He shows a bit of Spidey in Panel 1, with the good use of spot blacks to imply that Peter is really, really angry (the teeth help with that!), and then he widens the panel a bit to show Calypso and her Simonsonian sound effects cascading down on her. Panel 3 is weird, because of the width of the panel. It’s Peter’s thumb and index finger, but the brown background in most of the panel and the fact that the thumbnail is partially obscured by water makes it a bit harder to read on a quick glance. Of course, McFarlane doesn’t want you to take a quick glance, but still! The thin panel works when Calypso looks up, as McFarlane cuts off most of her face and focuses on her accusatory finger, and once again we get very nice details, with all the braiding in her hair. McFarlane remembers to scuff her skin a bit, as she has been through an explosion, and you’ll notice the “McFarlane lips” down in the panel’s lower right. He also gives us a nifty Panel 5, focusing on the Lizard’s gaping maw. Even so, he uses tics of the “McFarlane face” on the Lizard, with even thicker ridges above the eyes, making them thinner, and a wider, squatter nose. You can see a hint of this in this panel, but it’s there, believe me.


Some people might argue that McFarlane, at least in his later years, was style over substance, but while Spider-Man is very stylish, you can tell that McFarlane put a lot of work into it, and we get really nice pages like this. The spot blacks in the first two panels are really nice, with the Lizard’s face fading from a bit of green into total black as he succumbs to his hunger (he was being restrained by Calypso, who controls him with … voodoo!). We get the thin eyes and giant, toothy mouth, which has a pretty cool effect. In the background, McFarlane doesn’t take any shortcuts with Calypso except to put her in silhouette – her hair is still insane. Then we get Panel 2, where he continues with the silhouette, but adds cool details to make Calypso even more evil. One thing that McFarlane remembers is the drool from her mouth, which shows how crazy she’s become. In Panel 4, we see more of the Lizard, with the giant brow ridge and the thin eyes, but because his mouth is open, it’s harder to see the wide nose. Still, it’s a neat image, and the way McFarlane shows Peter flinching as the Lizard roars at him is well done. Peter is very human in this story, and this is one place where it shows nicely.


Here’s a view of “Peak McFarlane” Mary Jane. McFarlane didn’t change her too much from early in his run, except ink her a bit more heavily to flounce up her hair even more (look at that volume!), but you do notice that her eyes are even more feline than they were a few years earlier, when McFarlane redesigned her. Her green irises are far larger than we might expect, filling up the thin eye shape that McFarlane uses. The combination – large irises, thin eyes – make them far more cat-like. He also uses thick inks around her eyes, which of course implies make-up and isn’t unrealistic, but it does make them stand out more. Her face is a bit more rounded than it was in the earlier comic, but it’s really the eyes that are so different. As I noted, his lush inking job on her hair in both panels is really well done, too.


One more incredibly detailed page, as Calypso decides to skedaddle. The breaking of panel borders doesn’t work as well as usual here, partly because of the coloring, as Wright uses the nauseating green on Calypso in the center of the page, which isn’t a bad hue but tends to blend her into the background. The drawing also bleeds into Panel 1, and even though Calypso speaks in Panel 1, the fact that we only see her hand and that mess of black hair and the fact that part of her is intruding from Panel 3 makes the transition less seamless than it could be. Still, McFarlane gives us another cool, black-edged Spidey in Panel 1 and the groovy drawing of Calypso in Panel 3, as she smiles triumphantly because she’s just mind-fucked Spider-Man for five issues. As we’ve been seeing, McFarlane makes sure that we can see every drop of water on Peter in Panel 2 and all the wreckage in Panel 3. This might not be your preferred style of art, but you can’t say that McFarlane was taking any pages off!

After working on Spider-Man for another year, McFarlane left the book to help form Image and spawn, well, Spawn. That’s where we’ll find him tomorrow as we finish up with the Toddster! Feel free to wander through the archives while you wait!


some stupid japanese name

July 29, 2014 at 2:10 pm

What happened to Peter that he had to have the side of his face stapled together?

Marvel made a huge mistake in the summer of 1990, giving Todd McFarlane his own comic because he wanted to write. McFarlane was not a good writer in 1990, and I have no idea if he’s gotten better in the quarter-century since then, but Marvel caved because they didn’t want him to leave, which of course he did a few years later.

Slowly, Peter’s spirits begin to rise… RISE ABOVE IT ALL!

Calypso was not created by McFarlane. She first appeared in ASM 209 and then on Spectacular Spider-Man 253 before leaving for limbo comics, until Todd rescued her, although her name is never mentinied in Torment, and her story do not show any indication that she has been to NYC before, it’s clear she is the same character.

And she’s on the left side of the page.

The placement of those thin strips of cloth is… advantageous.

Truly, ’tis a rubble pile to rise above them all!

Joshschr, darn you, you beat me to that.

Even there are no cool points, I shall try to “rise above it all.”


some stupid japanese name: Don’t go picking on McFarlane’s inking like that!

Jeremy: DOOM, indeed.

Fermin: Wow, for 20 years I didn’t know that she had appeared before this story. Thanks!

Josh: Whoops! I’ll change that.

Mr. JR: I told you you’d like it!

Will B.: Mr. JR beat you to it slightly, but if I were in charge, I’d give you a Cool Point! :)

The Mutt: I was hoping someone would say it!

….. Well okay, so it’s not an exact quote…. heh. I was hoping you’d go with either this story or the Hobgoblin one that followed. :D loved this stuff when I was 13, the webbing panel borders, the wild hair, the grungy settings, the exaggerated figure work, it was all just so weirdly captivating. Had the single issues, the trade (back when Marvel rarely put out trades), and one of the related posters. I might not have quite the same eye for it that I did back then, but teenage me refuses to apologize.

Slowly, Peter’s spirits begin to rise… RISE ABOVE IT ALL!

tom fitzpatrick

July 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm

The mind boggles at the sheer fact that Mr. Burgas was 17 years old.

It really most does. Always thought he was ancient. :-)

Ah, finally some McFarlane that I experienced first hand (back then, I was not reading the other tiles that have been covered so far). But yeah, I was a big fan of McFarlane on Spidey, and I doubled your purchase of Spider-Man #1, Greg! I think 9 of mine are still unopened! Oh the agony! The only good thing I can say about that is that at least the comics were cheaper back then. (Not going to mention that I made significantly less money back then as well. Nope, not going to mention that.)
I loved how McFarlane drew Spider-Man’s webbing. That was one of the very first things I noticed when he became the artist on ASM, and I thought it was nifty! His characters must all be geniuses when it comes to dental hygiene – from Batman yesterday to Calypso and The Lizard today – because in the darkness, that’s all you see. Their teeth.
I love the art, still do, probably always will – but I agree, the writing was terrible. I thought issue #1 was ok, but when I realized that all the issues were going to be written like that, I started thinking about an escape plan. I was glad when McFarlane left the title, actually. Sad to say. (I actually did not keep getting it, I think there were a couple of Erik Larsen issues afterwards and that was about it for me.)

I did follow him over to Spawn, for like the first 10 issues maybe, memory fails me, to see how he would fare with his own creation. And again, I liked the art, but the story… notsomuch. I finally gave up, because I do eventually need to have a connection with the story.

I personally hate the way Mcfarlane drew Mary Janes face in Spider-Man #5. When studying how to draw books, it’s always said that the eyes must be one eye apart from each other. But in that panel, Mary Janes eyes are way to close to each other. Also, her nose is huge and so are her lips, making her look kind of creepy in my opinion.

You have to say that McFarlane was fun as an artist. He tried stuff and a lot of it worked.

On the other hand, his High School English has some crimes for which he needs to atone.

@DavidTheGrey – re Spawn, I also read about the first ten or twelve issues as hey came out, and, being like thirteen at the time, thought the idea was cool, but the execution (writing-wise) not so much. But, there were things I thought were awesome about the character, and was excited when the HBO series took the good ideas and the amazing style and married them with some halfway competent writers (turning the one-off ice cream man/serial killer into the moral crux of the season was a brilliant decision – though, I should say I haven’t seen the series for like fifteen years now…).

Of course, it was a couple if years after the HBO series that I realized literally everything I had liked in Spawn – beyond the visual design – was from the one issue written by Neil Gaiman. Teenage me knew that the issue and those around it were guest-written, but I guess I just didn’t put it together at the time that McFarlane had no input on the cosmology Gaiman created.

Greg, you were in Willow Grove? Damn. I assume you were shopping at that store in the Willow Grove Mall which isn’t there anymore. I was getting my Spider-Man #1s at Dave’s Comic Collection in Feasterville. Small world.

Amazing how these comics were the best thing ever to twelve year-old me, and how they’re a running gag on CBR to 36 year-old me now.


I recommend Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” as the soundtrack to the “POISON. POISON. POISON” page above.


Anon: Well done!

tom: Do you mean that you can’t believe I was ever 17? Or that I was 17 in 1988? :)

David: Yeah, I loved the way McFarlane drew webbing. It kind of became the standard. And as weirdly as Mary Jane evolved, she never went back to the boring 1980s look, and that’s all on McFarlane, too.

AngryAtheist: McFarlane cares not for your “art books”!!!!

Adam: I lived in Warminster, but I usually went down to Willow Grove to get my comics – not the store in the mall (although I went to that one), but the one on … was it Davisville Road? There was one right south of the 611/263 split, and I used to go there. Of course, I went to Dave’s quite often, too, but usually when I was looking for back issues. I went back there in 2011 and wrote about it!

buttler: Everyone loves Bell Biv Devoe, and it’s the right time period, too! :)

That last issue was obviously the inspiration for the final act of every single Spider-man movie. You know the end-part where Pete always gets the crap beaten out of him and his costume is torn to shreds!

I had to resist the urge to shout out “Rise above it all!” when I saw the title of this post. It might be the greatest line in the history of comics.

For all the hate the original Image guys seem to get, I actually think most of them are pretty good artists. Maybe not technically good, but there’s definitely something there, and I feel like most of them got to be so popular for a reason. I can’t stand Portacio’s art, and Liefeld is Liefeld. But I think Lee, Larson, McFarlane and Silvestri are all pretty good artists in their own right. I feel like a lot of the hate comes from them being so popular and people wanting to hate things that are too mainstream.

And I’m not trying to say that’s what Greg is doing or anything. But it does seem that even in this post where he has mostly good things to say about McFarlane he feels the need to qualify or justify it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you think McFarlane or Lee or whomever is a good artist.

I also don’t know how Greg resisted the urge to use any of the “Rise above it all!” panels or the “Advantageous” panel. That is some super human level of self control right there.

Jazzbo: As I was writing this, I didn’t think I was trying to justify liking it, but maybe it comes through. I love McFarlane’s art on Amazing Spider-Man and even on The Incredible Hulk, but by this time, it was starting to slip a little. I’m a fan of his, Lee’s, Larsen’s, and even Silvestri’s art. I think all of them suffer a bit from certain tics that they don’t overcome, but as I noted with Liefeld and a bit with McFarlane, if people keep buying the comics, why should they change too much?

The “Rise above it all!” panels are double-page splashes, and the one for this issue was pretty boring. And for all the humor in “advantageous!”, I think he only uses it in issue #1, and I decided not to spotlight that, so it wasn’t too hard to avoid it. You might even say avoiding it was … advantageous.

Jeff Nettleton

July 29, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Re: the webbing: Michael Golden did it first, which McFarlane has cited for his inspiration.

Re: The Crimes against High School English. McFarlane, in his Comics Journal interview, said he didn’t read anything but the sports page. One of the biggest common traits of good writers is that they are big readers. It’s a skill, just like drawing. McFarlane developed his drawing skills, but he never really worked on his writing skills. That is one area where I think Erik Larsen and Jim Valentino surpassed him. Larsen was far stronger as a writer, in my opinion, than an artist. Valentino was a better writer when he wasn’t doing straight superheroes, though his stuff on Guardians of the Galaxy was pretty good (not so much on Shadow Hawk).

I was never a fan of McFarlane’s art on Spidey cuz I thought he made Spidey too creepy. The grungy backgrounds, the over-rendered faces, the blacked out evil smiles seemed out of place in Spider-Man stories, which are usually light in tone (with the exception of this one).

Travis Pelkie

July 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Man, at least Jeff showed love for Valentino. My birthday buddy Jazzbo totally forgot about him!

Darth Weevil: Well, I was 22 when you were 13, so I should have had a little more sense! I never did get to watch the HBO show. And I don’t remember too much about the Gaiman Angela mini, except for thinking “These are much better written!”

Jeff: Thanks for that insight re: the webbing. Now I am curious what Golden’s version looked like. Was it for a Spidey comic, do you happen to know?

Jazzbo: re: the hate for Image founders – for me personally, I think I liked most of those artists on Marvel titles better than on their own. But after thinking about why, I think Jeff Nettleton hit it on the head – for me it was due to the writing. None of the Image comics were able to keep my interest, even though most (ahem, definitely not Liefeld) had the same great art I had enjoyed at Marvel. And the two that Jeff indicated were decent writers, were the ones I was not wild about in art styles. Of course, this is all my own personal tastes, I have no qualms with anyone liking or disliking these guys.

It’s stunning to see McFarlane’s decline. The first day you covered McFarlane, his art looked so decent that I began to question my judgment of his work. But that’s because I knew McFarlane from Spider-Man, and indeed every page you posted above looks terrible. His linework is so messy, it’s accidentally abstract. And I don’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish with his vertical panels. For instance, on the page with the cops, a standard (grid) layout conveys the same information much more easily. It just seems like McFarlane never thought about flow, or at least was happy to sacrifice flow if it meant he could pull one of his signature kewl moves.

Greg: For the life of me, I don’t know what comic shop that was. I recollect that there was a shop in the stores across the street from the Willow Grove SEPTA station, so I guess that was Davisville Road. I know that there was a recording studio in those buildings at one point. I only went there once, maybe in the early to mid 90s. I can’t imagine that that’s still there either.

For the record, I lived in Southampton. I grew up in an era when I got half of my comics from the 7-11 or the local bookstore, and dammit, I could probably get a stack of books for 5 bucks. Often, though, if I needed more specialized stuff, I would go to Dave’s in Feasterville, or some shops that were in the Bucks County Mall, or up at the Roosevelt Mall on US-1, or some other shop on Bustleton Avenue that I can’t remember. Yeah, I got around. In the mid-90s, a shop called “Comics A to Z” opened in Huntingdon Valley, and they got most of my business until I finally moved after graduating college.

What’s sad is that none of that stuff is there anymore. It’s a symptom of the collapse of the industry, I guess, but I don’t think the greater Philadelphia area has had much in the way of “staple” comic shops which have been around for more than a decade. “Brave New Worlds” is still around in Willow Grove (they used to be in Jenkintown) and I think there’s still a guy up in Doylestown. And of course, I think Dave’s is still in Feasterville, go figure.

Dammit, you’re making me nostalgic. If you ever want to do another article on a Philly comic shop, I’d read the hell out of it.

I feel like a lot of the hate comes from them being so popular and people wanting to hate things that are too mainstream.

I think you’re half-right. People hate on them because they genuinely dislike their work, AND the fact that they’re successful makes it all the more grating. Personally, I hate when bad work succeeds, because that means (in comics especially) there will be a lot more of it from people trying to duplicate that success. Plus, there’s a lot more than art to hate about the Image founders (e.g. the fact that they perpetuated some of the same exploitive work-for-hire practices that they decried when starting Image).

tom fitzpatrick

July 29, 2014 at 8:03 pm

@ Mr. Burgas: Both. :-)

@ Cass: McFarlane’s decline (as far as I’m concerned) was not due to his art, nor due to his ill-attempt at writing, but due to the Miracleman/Gaiman fiasco.

Now, Marvel is helping us make up for all those years wasted in pining for the return of UK’s greatest super-hero.

Travis, I actually did think about Valentino while writing my comment, but decided that since I never seem to hear him mentioned when it comes to Image founders, maybe no one really considers him an Image founder for some reason? I dunno. I do like his art, though.

I was in the wilderness all last week and wasn’t online to celebrate our mutual birthday. My age ends in a “0” now, so it was a bit of a bittersweet birthday. Hope you had a good one!

^^^ Angela?

Bah, Jazzbo beat me by a couple of seconds. That was my bad joke response to tom.

Adam: I often drove down to Roosevelt and Bustleton – the one was in that strip mall, and it was a pretty cool place. Cyborg-1, which is the one in Doylestown, is a really good shop, even though it’s too small to have back issues, and the owner is really cool. I’ve never written about that shop, but I will the next time I get back to PA (probably next year sometime). I often think about all those cool shops and miss them a lot!

tom: I see … :)

I’d argue that McFarlane’s early work on Amazing was much better than his work on the adjective-less Spider-Man. Once McFarlane started drawing his own stories he got sloppy.

buttler: It’s funny, I was thinking exactly that, that McFarlane had been listening to too much Bell Biv Devoe.

The best Spidey ever art wise. Is the writing, well, uh, not the best, yes, but it is far from being the abysmal work that everybody claims it to be. Don’t know where it comes from, but the trend to bash all Image guys is really annoying and getting old. Especially strange if you consider it mosty comes from people who own tons of Image books. Maybe it is the bitterness that their speculation failed and instead of owing comics worth millions they ended up with nothing but toilet paper value.
I stick to it, love early Image, sure the writing is not really good, then again dragging through twenty issues of decompressed stories today is also not so much fun, but the art exploded and it was, and still is, entertaining to look at it.

For better or worse this was his most influential work and probably THE most influential comic art of the 90s.

I won’t argue on whether McFarlane’s arranging of panels, close-ups, details is a trademark or easy workaround, but that Lizard’s profile on page 8 is just wrong. A rectile might have a loose mandible, but it still has only one! How any vertebrate is supposed to rise its nose above its eyes? It looks like a rised car’s engine cover. Even Tex Avery respected this anatomy rule in his rubbery deformed caharacters depiction.
Every time I try to reconsider McF. art I stumble upon such issues and go naaawww….

Travis Pelkie

July 30, 2014 at 2:08 am

See, Valentino’s actually the underrated Image founder. I think if things had been left up to Toddy, Robby, Jimmy Lee and Marc-y, Image wouldn’t still be around and be so damn awesome. They probably would have all gone back to Marvel for good (bar Toddy, probably).

I think Valentino (and Larsen as well) had the link to the indie crowd (remember, Valentino was actually the guy to get Alan Moore (and the other 1963 guys) to Image) and knew enough to expand and to hire well (hiring Larry Marder as a guru — can’t remember his actual title), and this helped them weather the ’90s storm.

That they of course created, but still….

And my age now ends in a 5, so that’s been disconcerting for me. Huzzah us!

And to bring up a better Spidey artist (hee hee), Ditko’s got a new Kickstarter for the return of Mr A. I may need to go for this one.

No offense, Greg, but I much prefer Ron Frenz’s depiction of Mary Jane Watson to Todd McFarlane’s. MJ as drawn by McFarlane comes across like some sort of airbrushed, photoshopped centerfold pin-up model with an army of stylists and make-up artists to help her look good. MJ drawn by Frenz, on the other hand, feels like she has this genuinely natural beauty about her. That’s the best way I can explain it.

Also, I agree with some other comments, Jim Valentino is a much-underrated creator.

I remember when these issues came out here in Finland, someone on the Spider-Man letter pages said that “the percentage of women who suffocate in their own hair must be high in McFarlane’s world”. I was a preteen and still dug McFarlane’s art back then, but even I realized how ludicrous MJ’s hair looked.

About the vertical panels: they were popularized by Miller in Daredevil, right? Given that McFarlane’s writing in Spider-Man is clearly influenced by Miller (maybe also by DeMatteis’ “Kraven’s Last Hunt”) with its grim staccato monologues, maybe he also imitated Miller in the art department? The difference is, though, that Miller used vertical panels on cityscapes and other long-range shots, where they worked nicely, but McFarlane seems to think they can be used equally well on mid-range and close-range shots, even though that makes the flow of the images much harder to follow.

Jeff Nettleton

July 30, 2014 at 6:56 am

Regarding Image: I know one of the problems, at the beginning, was their rather arrogant statements about being “held back” and not needing writers or editors, and that their Marvel writers contributed nothing. It wasn’t everyone; but, it was a common mantra. Larsen made some pretty bold statements that drew a lot of wrath, and Liefeld didn’t exactly think before he spoke. McFarlane, if I recall correctly, was the big one talking about being held back. Basically, they came across as a bunch of egotistical punks. Not everyone, though. Jim Lee could speak without putting his foot in his mouth and Marc Silvestri didn’t fire off anything nuclear. Then, when their books came out, they were, more or less what they had been doing at Marvel; just with shallower characters. You can argue Spawn a bit, since it was more supernatural; but, it looked like Spider-Man, in a darker costume (and with a cape). Most of the rest were some variation on X-Men, except Savage Dragon and Shadow Hawk. Dragon was at least a fairly well formed idea; Shadow Hawk just looked like a pastiche of about a half dozen other heroes. Personally, I was more interested in Image books from creators other than the founders, like The Maxx and Mike Grell’s Shaman’s Tears.

Next, they couldn’t get the books out on time, which caused a big enough problem with Diamond that they threatened penalties for late books, which is about when Larry Marder entered the picture. There was a lot of unfinished stuff from that period and they derailed the crossover with Valiant. That didn’t earn them fans in the pro community or with readers. Then, they got grief about some of their stuff being done as work-for-hire, in their studios, after making all this noise about creators owning their stuff. Then, it started coming apart at the seams, leading to Liefeld leaving/being ousted. Things started to quiet down from there.

Larsen is a decent writer; not at an Alan Moore or even Mark Waid level; but, he writes good, basic superhero stuff. He helped promote nostalgic fun, like the Big Bang Comics. Valentino was terrific at quirky stuff; but didn’t have the best feel for superheroes. His normalman (yes, with a small “n”) was a great satire of comics (published through Dave Sim’s Aardvark-Vannaheim). Touch of Silver, at Image, was one of the best written things they produced, in my book. Valentino was more at home in that kind of “indy” world.

I was in my mid-20s when Image began, and had just resigned my naval commission. To me, there books seemed rather simplistic and derivative. I gravitated more to the Legends stuff, at Dark Horse, and the Bravura line at Malibu. It helped that those were guys of my era; but, they also had some more interesting ideas. I did find it comical when John Byrne attacked them for doing the same stuff as when they were at Marvel, while he was producing Next Men, Danger Unlimited, and Torch of Liberty, all of which mirrored his Marvel work. I was a Comic Buyer’s Guide subscriber and Comics Journal reader, and they took a lot of hits in both. Wizard slobbered all over them, since both camps catered to speculators. I did start to find more interesting stuff at Image, when Valentino was running things. He seemed to be the one that really pushed them beyond the knock-offs.

I think that a lot of the hate for many of the original Image founders (particularly Liefeld and McFarlane) comes from all of the stupid shit that they said about Marvel when they left and the attitude they had about art being the only important aspect of comicbook story telling. Combine that with the fact that they repeatedly blew deadlines and shipped their books very, very late and when the books did finally ship the art looked rushed and sloppy. Their premadonna attitudes (I think) made people scrutinize their artwork more than they would have if they had come off as more likeable guys to the comic reading public. Go back and read some of the letters columns in your old Spawn issues and you can see this in McFarlane’s rants. The guy came off as a total ass.

Good points from Andrei.

Of course it now seems that, at Marvel and DC at least, comic books have done a 180 degree turn. Writers (and editors who often tell them what to write) have much greater influence now at the Big Two, with the artists working from extremely detailed scripts. The artists have become almost interchangable, as many series have begun shipping more than 12 times a year, meaning that there is often a new art team on every single story arc, because no one is fast enough to keep up with that sort of schedule.

Kirby could have kept up with that schedule. :)

Andrei makes a good point. I’m sure some of the backlash against them isn’t just how popular they got, but how they handled that popularity. I know I stayed away from Erik Larsen in general and Savage Dragon in particular because of that “Name Withheld” letter that was printed in CBG. He came off as a real pompous ass. Of course now Savage Dragon is the only Image founder title that I think I would actually be interested in. But I’m ok with that.

Jeff Nettleton

July 30, 2014 at 9:43 am

DavidTheGray: I don’t think it was a regular comic; but I can’t exactly recall. It was either a promotional drawing, a portfolio piece, or some kind of special, if foggy memory serves. McFarlane discusses it in the video he did with Stan Lee (Stan had a series of videos, where he talks with various artists and at least one writer, Chris Claremont), back in the 90s).

Ben: Well, maybe that’s my 17-year-old self talking! :) I don’t disagree with your assessment at all, but in 1988, Mary Jane by McFarlane is pretty much what a supermodel was supposed to look like. You can prefer Frenz’s version all you want (and as I’ve gotten older, despite still preferring sexpot MJ, I have appreciated her pre-McFarlane look a bit more), but there’s no way that Mary Jane was a supermodel!


July 30, 2014 at 10:51 am


I feel like a lot of the hate comes from them being so popular and people wanting to hate things that are too mainstream.

Several people have given good reasons for not liking the Image Guys. My feelings were along the lines of Cass and Andrei’s comments.

I couldn’t stand their rock star attitude, their fascination with meaningless details and cross-hatchings and the wave of imitators that came out of the woodwork to ride their coattails. They also made all those statements about being able to do the characters they’ve always wanted to do and they turn out to be the worst kind of Jr. high notebook rip-offs of existing characters

With the Image guys the only ones who I thought had promise were Larsen and Silvestri, of course Silvestri seemed to lose any semblance of his former style and seemed to totally embrace the Jim Lee look, which is too bad, because his former style had a nice loose kinetic quality to it.

I’m one of the few people who seemed to enjoy Larsen’s run on ASM much more than McFarlane’s.

I was first exposed to McFarlane’s art in Comics Scene Magazine and I thought his drawings of Batman (the Cape!!!) and Spider-Man (those poses, those webs!!!) were very exciting and different. When I actually started reading his ASM run It fell apart for me, he could do great pin-ups, but the lack of panel to panel storytelling consistency was annoying. I followed the adjectiveless Spider-Man title for a year or so (working at a book store and getting a nice discount helped a lot) but his artwork just got sloppier and more and more excessive and his storytelling skills didn’t seem to get any better.

I did however buy two versions of the first issue, the standard newstand one and the “special” silver and black one. I paid something like $12 for the special one and immediately felt like a tool for doing so.
That was my last attempt at being a “collector”. At least I bought it with credit from an early issue of Faust that I traded in, so in the end “garbage in garbage out” I guess.

Also: I just gotta say, his version of the Lizard looks TERRIBLE, I’ve always hated it. It looks more like the Phillies “Thing” than the classic character from the 60’s.

LouReedRichards: Did you … did you seriously just disparage an issue of Faust? HOW DARE YOU, SIR!!!! PISTOLS AT DAWN, I SAY!!!!! :)

And it’s the Phillie “Phanatic,” thank you very much. And the Lizard should feel HONORED to be compared to him!!!! :)

@Greg: The thing about Mary Jane is that she was never supposed to be a “supermodel.” She was a beautiful woman who worked as a runway model, yes. But she was NOT supposed to be the equivalent of Cindy Crawford or Naomi Campbell. It was once McFarlane started drawing MJ like she was exactly that type of flawlessly perfect woman making tons of $$$, though, that readers started to complain that Peter Parker, who was famous for his bad luck / everyman status, had suddenly become unrelatable.

I never meant to imply that there aren’t any legitimate reasons not to like the Image guys, just that a lot of people seem to hate them just because it’s now popular to hate them.

Although blaming them for the imitators that followed isn’t really fair. They were popular and influential, so of course a ton of people imitated them. Often very poorly. That’s not the fault of the Image guys, though.

Ben: It’s been a while since I read ASM, so I’ll take your word for it. I thought she was more high-profile than that. Even if she wasn’t, wouldn’t she be ambitious and therefore try for a makeover every once in a while? :) But I thought she was more supermodel-y before McFarlane and Michelinie got a hold of her. Hey, Matt calls her a “supermodel” in his post about the wedding issue, and that was from before McFarlane! :)

LouReedRichards: Add me to the apparently small list of people who preferred Larsen over McFarlane. I always felt that Larsen was the superior Spider-Man artist. His people were odd-looking, but not outright ugly like McFarlane’s. He drew action very well. His work always had that Kirby-esque feel. His Spider-Man was dynamic and interesting, and although his big Spider-Man arc was sloppily written, his art never was. Of course, he slipped a little when he got his chance to do adjective-less but, generally speaking, Larsen had the better Spider-Man stories (Spider-Man #15 where Spidey teams up with The Beast is leagues beyond anything McFarlane could write).

Come to think of it, Larsen deserves a feature.

Although, I will say this about McFarlane, he had the right idea, somewhat, with his characterisation of the Lizard. McFarlane felt the Lizard should never speak and I honestly tend to agree. The Amazing Spider-Man movie is exactly why the Lizard shouldn’t speak.


July 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

You’re right Jazzbo, it’s not fair to blame them for all their imitators.

The copycats were inevitable, it was just so infuriating to see every book get the obligatory image make over.

I feel that I have to blame somebody for it, if not them who? I know, I’ll just blame YOU!

BTW: Happy belated Bday to you and Travis, where did you spend a week in the wilderness?


July 30, 2014 at 1:34 pm

@ Greg – Yes I did disparage Faust, deal with it!
We shall meet for the duel. I just hope your overly rendered, painstakingly inked Vigil gun will work properly.

Sorry about the Phillie Phanatic slip. Where I come from we only have an Elephant or a tiger to root for, these imaginary creature mascots confuse me. That said, I’ll take the Phanatic any day, his general goofiness is refreshing.

@ Solid Snake – total agreement, except for the writing part. I must have dropped the title by then. I might look for #15. Thanks.

Solid Snake: I have Larsen on my list, but I’d have to find some of his pre-Doom Patrol work (if he did any pre-Doom Patrol work!), because that’s the earliest art I have by him. And I have very little recent work, because I don’t get Savage Dragon. But he’s on my list, so we’ll see if he shows up!

LouReedRichards: My Vigil gun might not work properly, but I’ll look cool holding it because I’ll have far too many muscles and veins! :)

LouReedRichards: I feel you on wanting to blame someone for the imitators. There was some truly awful stuff coming out then. The worst I saw was after Liefeld left X-Force and the artists that were doing a sub-par version of Liefeld’s art. That’s right, a SUB-PAR version of Liefeld’s art. Who’d have thought that was even possible?

My wife and I, (not Travis and I,) rented a cabin on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota. It was lovely, aside from when I fell in waist deep muck in the lake.

Greg: He did a fill-in issue of Adventures of Superman that’s collected in one of the ‘Man of Steel’ trades (no 4, I believe). He also did DNAgents for Eclipse. Both pre-date his work on Doom Patrol, at least according to his bibliography: http://www.savagedragon.com/eriklarsen.htm

Jeff: re: webbing – Ah ok, I am not going to hunt down those videos (although the one with Stan & Claremont sounds interesting!). I am not familiar with Golden’s work, I know I’ve read it, but that was back before I paid much attention to art styles. And definitely not as much attention as I’m learning to lately! ;-)

Re: Image imitators & 90’s in general – I remember Bravura (‘Breed, which I tried not because I was overly familiar with Starlin’s work, other than Infinity Gauntlet, but because I had read Starlin’s novel “Among Madmen” and liked it!), and Nocturnals (by Dan Brereton). I also remember Dark Horse Legends, which I also sampled, for Miller, Byrne, and Mignola. I think Dark Horse, Malibu, Valiant, Vertigo and a smattering of Marvel titles are what got me through the 90’s. The Image comics definitely didn’t – Spawn lasted the longest with me, but even that was not very long at all. My previous Marvel mainstays: Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. were given up completely. (An amusing side note: I got out of ASM before the Mackie Clone story, and I remember all of the vitriol he got from that, being called a hack etc.. But I was really enjoying the new Ghost Rider series!) Another switch for me was moving over to Punisher War Journal with JRJR. Punisher was not a character I ever cared about, until the 90’s.

Enjoying these posts, I hadn’t thought about Bravura or Legends in a while!

Some of Larsen’s early stuff was collected in the “Dragon Archives” mini (I think that was the title), and he did some AC comics stuff, iirc. I think he was around a while before Doom Patrol.

And Eclipse’s Giant Size Mini Comics, too, iirc.

Would have been totally awkward in a cabin together, Jazzbo. Total Odd Couple, man.

We need a CSBG con, though, actually. We can all meet up together and hang out. There’ll be a presentation in room 210 about how the Batman TV show followed the comics pretty closely. Yeah.

Jeff Nettleton

July 30, 2014 at 11:38 pm

DavidTheGray: Michael Golden is worth reading. His work on the first year of Marvel’s Micronauts was fantastic! He also did an issue or two of Mister Miracle, for DC (late 70s) and a bit of Batman. He did bits and pieces for Marvel, with Micronauts being one of his few steady runs. he did the Avengers Annual #10, with Claremont writing, that debuted Rouge, and ended with Ms Marvel stripped of her powers. It also, obviously, featured the X-Men. His other big run at Marvel was the first year of The Nam, which I highly recommend. Golden was good with the details. He is cartoony and you can kind of see how McFarlane would gravitate towards him, though he is far more polished and a better storyteller. Golden gets the equipment and other fine details right, in The Nam, plus, he was good with facial expressions and body language, which helps offset the cartoony leanings.

I got through the 90s with Bone, Strangers in Paradise, the Legends stuff, Bravura, Ultraverse (at least, Firearm, prime, and The Strangers), early Valiant, Lethargic Lad, Alex Ross, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Starman, Astro City, Negative Burn, Dark Horse Presents, Star Child, Cerebus, Love & Rockets, Hepcats (well, briefly), A Distant Soil, Wandering Star, the Comics Journal, Comic Buyer’s Guide, Jack Kirby Collector, Comic Book Artist, American Century, and a few other odds and ends.

Larsen’s early stuff includes Megaton #2, doing the Vanguard strip, where Savage Dragon appeared. The character was first done in a self published book, Graphic Fantasy. He did Sentinels of Justice, at AC Comics.

Jeff Nettleton

July 30, 2014 at 11:38 pm

ps: I think you can find some of those Stan Lee videos on Youtube.

DavidTheGrey: You can see the Michael Golden drawings, with Spider-Man’s spaghetti webbing, plain as day, right here: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/09/17/snark-blocker-michael-golden-draws-the-marvel-universe/

Jeff N: Thanks, I’ll check it out.

Solid Snake – ah yeah, I can see where McF was influenced. Those are a couple of nice posters! Thanks for that!


July 31, 2014 at 9:55 am

@Jazzbo: I just Googled some images of Boundary Waters, wow, quite beautiful. It looks like a wonderful place to spend a birthday that ends in “0”. Hey, without the falling bit you wouldn’t have any of those great “you’re never gonna believe what happened to me” stories.

@Travis:You’re right about a CSBG Con, I’d love to see some of these discussions take place face to face. This is generally a very cordial and polite bunch, I can’t imagine too many punches being thrown.

I’ll give him the webbing, a great look which was picked up by many other artists. But I can see little value in anything else. Mary Jane is supposed to be an intelligent, confident young woman who happens to be a knock-out. McFarlane gives us a big-haired, brain dead hooker. I can almost here the gum snapping. I am so glad the days of this art and all the clones(A Saga scarier than even the original) are over. These stories are filled with visual clutter, confusion and inconsistencies. Though I read few super hero comics nowadays, I am thankful that most are drawn with skill, and are readable.

Spidey’s eye shields were described by Lee as half-mirrored Mylar, working like mirrored sunglasses. So yeah, they’ve always been plastic. I have to wonder why they don’t fog up when he exerts himself (in my Spidey novel DROWNED IN THUNDER, I have them fogging up in a heavy rainstorm, forcing Peter to actually yank one of the eye shields out of the mask so he can see where he’s going).

I don’t care for McFarlane’s Mary Jane. She doesn’t resemble earlier or later incarnations of the character at all. It’s like she was recast with a different actress.

Christopher: Good to know about his eye shields. I never knew that!

I mostly quit reading Marvel titles, including all the Spider-Man mags, before McFarlane came around, but eventually having heard so much about his run I did pick up the TPB “Torment”, collecting the first story arc of Spider-Man, the title created solely for him — and, uh, IMO it was a mess. The story was nearly incomprehensible and Mary Jane and Peter only vaguely resembled the characters I’d been so familiar with throughout the Bronze Age. Actually, McFarlane’s Mary Jane looked nothing like the character as drawn fairly consistantly recognizeable by Romita, Kane, Andru, etc., for 20 or so years, aside from being a lovely red-haired woman. I suppose fans just had to believe she had a serious makeover and and reconstructive surgery. Admittedly, MJ looked most beautiful (IMO) when drawn by Romita, Sr., and he did once varied her look to give her short, curly hair (in the Green Goblin story in Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine, but most artists to my recall managed to keep her facial, body and hair-style features recognizably consistant enough so that she wouldn’t be easily confused with, say, Jean Grey, Medusa, Natasha Romanov or Red Sonja.
Maybe eventually I’ll check out some of McFarlane’s work on the Hulk as written by Peter David, but I’m not too keen on checking out anything else McFarlane has written.

With Torment as a writer Mcfarlane attempted to mash up Frank Miller’s visual storytelling techniques and Alan moore’s stylized narration and dialogue. the latter failed epically but I enjoyed the fragmented imagery (extreme closeups) that built into the larger medium and long shots very much.

I don’t think Mcfarlane’s art was better inked by others at all. it was more conservative and traditional. What might be seen as “flaws” in technical execution is often what gives art it’s personality and i think in Mcfarlane’s case this was true. At least the sales of the books he worked on as penciler/inker suggested that many readers preferred Mcfarlane’s more progressive approach. I’m sure artists like Bob McCleod and alfredo alcala were improving the final product but in my opinion they did not. They either did not understand or completely ignored the intent of Mcfarlane’s artwork and undermined the look he was trying to create.

In hindsight the early 90’s comics are subject to blanket ridicule but it was the last time comics felt relevant to popular culture. I’m not saying Spider-man Torment was a great comic but it is representative of an attempt by commercial comic book artists to break free of 30 years of how to draw comics the marvel way and young readers responded to what Mcfarlane did in such an enthusiastic fashion. As a reader today i long for comics done with reckless abandon and freedom books like this were executed with. With better dialogue of course ;)

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