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Year of the Artist, Day 211: Todd McFarlane, Part 5 – Spawn #9

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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 Spawn #9, which was published by Image and is cover dated March 1993. Enjoy!

Yes, it’s the issue that launched a thousand lawsuits and probably kept us from enjoying Miracleman for at least a decade, if not longer! Whoo-hoo! I bought this issue of Spawn solely because Neil Gaiman wrote it, and who knew it would turn out to be so contentious? We’re not here to talk about the future of Angela, though, we’re here to talk about the art on this one issue, so let’s get to it!

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Here’s good old Medieval Spawn himself, checking out the sweet, sweet “maiden” (who’s a maiden no longer, which is just how Medieval Spawn likes ‘em!). McFarlane, as we can see, never quite reached the heights of exaggeration as his fellow Image Founder Rob Liefeld did, as Spawn’s shoulder pads actually fit on his shoulder and they only have two measly spikes sticking from them. McFarlane did enjoy inking, though, even as we’ll see later in the post that he might not have had as much time to do it as closely as he was doing in the past. Here, with a set pose, he can take his time a bit, so we get nice blacks on Spawn and nice hatching on the shield and the horse. The horse has a lush mane, which is apparently just something McFarlane likes, because so many of his women has that kind of hair, and here it is showing up on the horse. There’s a lot of nice attention to detail in this panel, as we can see that McFarlane is quite good with nice, dramatic poses.

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In this sequence, we see some developments in McFarlane’s art. The first panel is fairly typical – heavily inked, in other words – but once Spawn and Angela go behind the waterfall, we get Panel 2, where the two characters are plunged into darkness. This isn’t a bad panel, given the circumstances – McFarlane uses nice thick, simple lines to show their outlines, which is all we need here – but it’s a bit of a foreshadowing to other, less impressive panels. In Panel 3, Spawn lights things up, and in Panel 4, we see the effects. Once again, we can make the argument that because of the lighting effect, the random inking on Spawn’s hand and his overwhelming cape make sense, which is certainly something. McFarlane still takes time to hatch along the edges of the light on he cape, which adds to the lighting effect. Still, it’s something to remember. In the background, Angela shows her true colors, as she brought Spawn to the cave to kill him, and McFarlane draws her revealing her evil. She’s interesting, because she’s an evolved McFarlane female – even more feline than Mary Jane in yesterday’s example, as McFarlane emphasizes her arched eyebrows, makes her eyes thinner, and gives her a cockeyed evil grin. Her hair is not as richly inked as with Mary Jane, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as in other panels it is lusher, but here it’s interesting, as the frizz seems to imply more evil than a different style.

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Angela reveals herself, and man, look at her. McFarlane could still bring it when he wanted to! Her hair, so frizzy in the previous panel, gets an Alberto VO5 upgrade, as McFarlane inks it more heavily, creating a lush, bouncy mane. She wears a Valkyrie headdress (I guess), with wings stretching far and wide. Instead of actual functional armor, she has chain mail arm guards, because the most important thing to protect in a fight is your upper arm, don’t you know. The disappearing sword (where does it go on the other side of her body?) is thicker, it seems, than her waist, and I’m not sure if her hands, the way McFarlane draws them, can actually grasp that hilt. In yesterday’s entry, Mary Jane was obviously wearing a belt from Macy’s “Angela Collection,” because Angela sets the trend right here, and then we get to those boots, which we’ll see more clearly below. A couple of things stand out about this drawing (I know, DOZENS of things stand out, but I’ll try to focus on two): First, the giant weapon that Angela holds is very odd. McFarlane tries to make it impressive by having it smash the panel border, but it’s weird because if you look at it too closely, it becomes more of an optical illusion. I appears that the actual blade part – whatever the hell that is – is much closer to the reader than the top by Angela’s head, yet McFarlane doesn’t really do anything to add depth to the way she’s holding it. The base of the blade, for instance, seems to be viewed head-on, when we would expect it to be angled slightly backward. This lack of perspective is one of the more frustrating things about the artists who came of age during this time period – as good as some of them are (or were), there was always this element of style triumphing over substance, and it was frustrating. Secondly, the way McFarlane inks Angela shows that he really does need an inker. He doesn’t go nuts with the line work, which is nice, but the fact that he inks her torso at all is strange, as it makes her skin, which should be sexy and glossy, more hardened and rough, and ages her as much as the other characters we’ve seen McFarlane ink. While his restraint is commendable, even the little bit of inking he does seems misplaced, making Angela’s body look far more desiccated than it should be. If you’re going to draw Angela in an outfit like that, you could at least make her as sexy as possible, but McFarlane doesn’t because he can’t control his inking instincts.

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Around this time, we begin to see that McFarlane wasn’t putting quite as much effort into his artwork as he was before, as it seems time constraints began to eat away at the length he could devote to interior artwork. His close-up work – Panels 2 and 4 – are still pretty good, although there are some concerns there too – but Panels 1 and 3 are more sketchy. Our characters are fighting in a cave, which explains the black background. The way McFarlane lays the panels out is fine, too. From the distance, we can understand why he sticks to basic shapes and rather dull inking lines on Spawn in Panel 1 and why he might go for the Frank Miller tribute in Panel 3 (if the entire book was drawn like Panel 3, in fact, that might be extremely interesting, but McFarlane doesn’t got that way). Panels 2 and 4, however, despite being a bit more detailed, also seem to have “weaker” lines – Angela’s hair is back to being frizzy, and Panel 4, especially, has some sketchiness to the line work. Angela’s left hand is quite odd, and I’m not really sure what’s going on above her head – it’s her body, obviously, but is it her lower back or her shoulder? I’m going to say shoulder, because her arm is over that way, but it’s still weird. These little things are death to McFarlane, because his sketchy pencil work is never his forte – he needs inking and even coloring in his art to make it work.

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So now we’re in the present, and Angela shows up to hunt the new Spawn. McFarlane doesn’t quite mail this page in, but it’s close. The building in Panel 1 does nothing for anyone, as it’s not even a detailed cityscape that McFarlane drew quite a lot on Amazing Spider-Man. It’s just a boring building. Then we get a full-view shot of Angela, ready to rumble, with her Spawn earrings and her odd … coat? dress? suit? what the hell is that thing? Once again, Angela’s hair is a bit frizzier than when she goes “Full Angela” on us, and McFarlane continues with his penchant for drawing women with rather wide cleavage (McFarlane, I would imagine, influenced a lot of artists in this way, as it became much more common to see this in the mid-1990s). Once again, we see the very thin, blackly-rimmed eyes, and has Angela’s face shrunk? Either way, the pose is kind of strange, as it comes seemingly in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, so why is Angela doing it? Just for us, the readers? Can she see us?!?!?

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Despite this, McFarlane could be quite a careful draftsman, and this close-in panel of Angela is pretty cool. He inks her hair nicely, he doesn’t over-ink her face, so that she still looks youthful, he gives her that wonderful, evil eye with the nice thick lashes, the wide-but-not-too-wide smile, and he takes time to draw the energy emanating from her “hunting permit.” He couldn’t do this kind of thing on a regular basis, but he could do it occasionally!

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I didn’t show this entire double-page spread, because I wanted to focus on Angela again. McFarlane still doesn’t know quite what to do with all her weapons – the giant blade looks smaller, the hilt of the sword is definitely wider (and the sword once again disappears behind her back), she’s wearing yet another giant blade on her back, and then she has some kind of standard sticking out to the right. What the hell, McFarlane? I mean, really? She’s a magical character – can’t she just summon those from another dimension when she needs them? Her right leg, you’ll notice, also disappears at her knee, and while I didn’t mind it too much when we saw it in Hawk & Dove, here it seems a bit more egregious for some reason (I can’t quite explain it). The blacks on her body distort her torso a bit, which is weird, and the way McFarlane draws her, we get the giant boot on her left foot coming right at us. McFarlane gets out of drawing her feet by putting those boots on her, but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that it’s a very weird-looking boot. How does she even move in those things? This kind of drawing, with its odd detailed-but-not-detailed look to it – McFarlane inks her wings, the blades, and her hair well, but overall, there’s a looseness to the pencil work – became standard for McFarlane, and again, I wonder if he was becoming to obsessed with action figures at this time to spend enough time drawing.

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The bottom panel is what I want to focus on, but I included the top panel because of DAT ASS. That’s just hilarious. Spawn has vanished … into his cape? is that right? and he drags Angela in with him, and so we get DAT ASS. Anyway, inside this shadow dimension, Angela and Spawn battle, and we get the bottom panel, which is pretty neat. McFarlane does a nice job with the details on Angela, although I’m not sure what that hunk of metal in between her upper arm and lower arm is – her breast cone? Maybe, but I’m not sure. McFarlane uses rounded black chunks to make the metal shine even in the dim green light, which is neat. He keeps Spawn in shadow for the most part, which allows him to emphasize his mouth and eyes, with the scribbly lines flowing out of the corners of his eyes as he fights. I imagine McFarlane drew these in, unless it was added in by Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude, who colored this issue. It looks very “electric paintbrush,” which was the trend back in those days, but it could have been McFarlane using thick marker and then the colorists going over it with green. McFarlane’s heavy inking style works pretty well on Spawn’s hand, as he’s supposed to look burned and mummified, but once again, you can see that he inks Angela’s hand a bit too roughly. Finally, we get a nice inset panel of Spawn’s mouth and drool. Charming!

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Here’s another clue that McFarlane might be getting too far behind. Yes, the black chunks are used for effect, but they’re also quicker, presumably, and McFarlane appeared to be using them more and more. He was also putting people in robes and such, like the homeless dude talking to Spawn. Yes, the homeless man is more than he appears, but a robe? Really?

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Just for the fun of it, to end my look at McFarlane’s art, I thought I’d hit you with one more Batman drawing, from the Batman/Spawn crossover written by Frank Miller. Holy crap, if you haven’t read Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane doing a Spawn/Batman crossover, you haven’t lived! This is from 1994, and I’m pretty sure it’s the most recent McFarlane interior work I own, even considering he’s done barely any in the 20 years since this book came out. His Batman is a bit more muscular than the “Year Two” version, but the cape still rules!!!!

So that’s Todd McFarlane, who for maybe a year was probably my favorite comic book artist. I still like his art, but I see a lot more flaws in it these days. It’s great that he makes piles of cash designing toys, mainly because it seemed like his art was beginning to deteriorate just a bit in 1993-1994. Such is life, eh?

So tomorrow I’m going to check out another artist who doesn’t do a lot of interior work anymore, and who honestly never did a ton of it anyway. He’s also pretty slow, as the one big huge mini-series he drew needed several artists to finish it, unfortunately. But we’ll start with some tiny comics he did, including tomorrow’s, which was written by … Len Wein? Be here to see who it is, and in the meantime, go nuts in the archives!

34 Comments

Those shoulder pads may fit his shoulders, but his deltoids are still bigger than his head, I guess he’s magical, so whatever, but it doesn’t seem right. I’d forgive it from Kelley Jones, but not McFarlane!

Page 4, Panel 2 looks like Calafiore. I never would have seen McFarlane influencing him, but now I can’t unsee it. I like Calafiore more. Are you going to feature him?

Lol. Dat ass. Thanks for not glossing over that. Ah, comics.

A little disappointed you didn’t feature Spawn/Batman, my #1 choice for the Greatest Batman Story, no joke. My favorite panel: http://i63.photobucket.com/albums/h126/joshschr/burythehatchet.jpg

Josh: Yeah, those muscles are pretty big. Still more restrained than Liefeld, but yeah, you’re right.

Interesting point about Calafiore. I wouldn’t have seen that, but now that you mention it …

I don’t know if I’m going to do Calafiore. I’ll put him on the list, but I’ll have to see what he did before Aquaman, because that’s the earliest stuff I own by him, and I do like him, but he hasn’t changed all that much since those days.

I gave serious thought to Spawn/Batman, but finally decided this issue was more “Peak McFarlane” than that, so I went with it. That is an insane crossover, though!

His arms are just wrong. His torso looks proportional, but it’s like they took Strong Guy’s arms and pasted them on. It’s hard to tell from the panels you chose if he was consistent throughout the book or not. It’s a nice pin-up if you don’t look at it too criticially.

There’s just a hint of crossover between the two. Calafiore is usually so angular, it’s not obvious, but there are little hints here and there. I think he softened a little bit from Exiles to Secret Six, but it was still there. It worked fine for me, but I could understand if he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

It’s probably better you didn’t do Spawn/Batman. It would be like hearing a critical thrashing of a favorite action movie. I just want to turn off my brain and marvel at the spectacle. “I don’t get nightmares. I give them.” That is my goddamn Batman.

@joshschr. Thanks to that well-aimed batarang, the fans were treated to a few years worth of adventures featuring “shoe-lace face Spawn”!

I totally forgot about that, jay-w! I didn’t read much Spawn, but I just happened to pick up a couple and I was surprised to find that they kept that in continuity.

Holy Bat-cows, that also reminds me that we were heavily teased with a follow-up a few years later that never materialized. I can’t remember if it got as far as solicits, but searching for news about it is what brought to CSBG!

I had never seen this. It is amazing that two people as talented as Gaiman and McFarlane spent years arguing over the ownership of … this.

It’s funny, I just reread this comic this week. I had been reading Guardians of the Galaxy and wondering if Angela had ever been a good idea, and then I remembered that I actually owned this comic, because Gaiman’s name was enough reason for me to pick it up, despite my distaste for McFarlane’s work. (I also picked up the next issue because of Dave Sim.) And rereading it, I discovered that no, in fact Angela had never been a good idea.

An angel wearing boob cups, a thong, and a belt. ’90s comics, everybody.

That first “costumed” Angela drawing is hilarious. Mandroid boots, mishappen hands, and she carries more volume of weapons than her own body occupies. Yet she is very nearly naked, which makes that absurdly large belt with a toy sword look that much more absurd.

She looks like she has just jumped out of a random panel of a Howard the Duck comic.

Which, come to think of it, is a very good fit for Angela under most circunstances.

Well, I’d say this isn’t a bad effort from McFarlane. He still can’t draw faces, or women, or women’s faces, but Angela wears a mask usually so the flaws are obscured. His proportions are still terrible but oh well.

I’m wondering why Angela even bothers wearing clothing. I’ll give Marvel credit: their refined version of Angela at least fits into her uniform/armor thing. In McFarlane’s version, she literally looks like she’s about to fall out of it.

I know she’s supernatural, so she probably has more invincibility than mortals, but her armor appears to have no purpose other than a vague sense of modesty. Her stomach, chest, and neck are still largely exposed. She’s got chain mail on her…arms. I’m sure protecting your arms is important, but they’re not critical in comparison to the torso. I have no idea what the boots do–possibly provide stability, but then I have no idea how she moves her feet to assume different stances or even walk. Her headpiece probably unnecessarily restricts her head movement, and there’s no other meaningful protection to her skull unless all that hair functions as some kind of shield. The only part of her costume that’s functional is her oversized belt strap which, presumably, holds up an oversized sword.

So yeah, Angela may as well be nude, except for her ribbons and the colossal belt. The old saying is that “form follows function,” but the worst excesses of 90s comics followed the exact opposite of that.

Just for fun, here’s a link to Quesada’s redesign of Angela: http://i2.cdnds.net/13/19/618×943/comics-angela.jpg. (I’m still talking about McFarlane here, at least for comparative purposes.) Angela doesn’t look much better, but her uniform is at least a *little* more plausible without McFarlane’s trademark exaggerations. Her leg armor now comes up above the knee and apparently allows for a range of motion, compared to the colossal cylinders Todd had her in. The sword is reduced to a reasonable size and is more appropriate to the belt buckle. The chest armor doesn’t offer much more protection, but now it’s more form-fitting and doesn’t have the oversexualized boobs hanging out.

I didn’t have a problem with the chainmail on the arms, but Quesada’s converted it to more bands in his version. I guess that keeps it more consistent with the legs and has more of a “Marvel” look to it. At least he’s added modest shoulder pads, giving her slightly more protection than Todd’s version. The helmet is more plausible as well. Her hair is no longer spilling out of her head, either, and doesn’t look quite like the liability it would be on Todd’s style. (Well, I take that back–long hair is a liability in combat because it gives your opponent something to grab. Really, all warrior characters–Angela and Thor alike–need to either have their hair cropped or contained in battle.)

I guess my overall point is that while Angela looked neato 20 years ago, I can see now how outright Todd’s design of her appears today. There’s just way too much to criticize. There still is now, but at least Marvel’s version has made it less laughable.

I love this issue for pure nostalgic reasons. I remember I bought my first Spiderman trade, Torment, at a convention. Living in Germany I was never much of superhero reader, but I needed more stuff to feed my growing comic needs. A few days later I went to my comic book store and asked for more comics in the superhero genre. The sales assistent told me about this new company, Image, and how they just started, handed me Spawn 9 and I went along with it. It was so completely different to the Belgian/French comics I mainly read, somewhat exciting and full of energy, and I loved the ads for other comics, especially Eric Larsen’s Freak Force.

In that 3rd-to-last page–is Angela mooning us?

I just like the fact that one of her metal boob-cones is holding up the thin leather belt that is—I guess?—securing the fat fat sword belt. Because that is just some phenomenal costume design.

I bought the first 4 issues of Spawn out of general interest, when they first came out. Now I know why I never bought the 5th issue.

It was truly a terribly written comic, with a bunch of terrible characters. Angela is one of those T & A characters that should have been left back in the nineties. Was this even a serious take on a character or a parody?

Jeff Nettleton

July 31, 2014 at 12:22 am

Yes, I actually bought these stunt writer issues; and, no, it didn’t help the character improve any. The guys made serious coin, though I believe a lot of it was donated to charity. I was waiting to see how Angela was going to use that sword, given the size of the hilt. Frank Thorne, McFarlane wasn’t! Still, his company made some decent toys.

Travis Pelkie

July 31, 2014 at 2:29 am

I bought the stunt writer issues too, but I actually missed this one first go round, and had to get it many years later. Fortunately I didn’t pay any ridiculously inflated price for it.

I started with the Moore issue, which isn’t bad in general, although it’s certainly not primo Moore. #10’s Sim story is an awesome allegory of the comics business. Frank Miller’s issue sucked ass to me when I read it as a lad, but when I re-read my Spawn issues a couple years back, I kinda liked it a little better.

I’m not sure about the money that the other guys made off these issues (I assume Gaiman’s eventually ended up going to lawyers….), but I do know that Dave Sim’s paycheck (or paycheque, ya hosers) went to the CBLDF, and quite possibly was the reason the CBLDF is still around (I think it was 100,000 bucks, iirc). Maybe Brian oughta feature that as a Legend….

A note: in-comic, Spawn’s shoelace-face wasn’t caused by Batman, but by an incident in some fight with Harry Houdini. (I really don’t remember the details.) Spawn had a weird publishing schedule where some issues were skipped. It was something like: Spawn #21 was released and #19-20 haen’t yet. #21 did feature Spawn getting the shoelace and it came out shortly after the Batman crossover, so the gag was, ha ha, Batman left a permanent mark on Spawn. However, when #19-20 finally came out, they showed the “in-continuity” reason for Spawn’s injury.

Keep in mind that Spawn/Batman took place in The Dark Knight Returns universe, suggesting that it didn’t “really” happen for either character. The “in-continuity” version, if any, was the unrelated “Batman/Spawn” published by DC. Neither version referenced the other.

Could tomorrow guy be JG Jones?

I also vote for entries on Ted McKeever, Travis Charest, Simon Bisley, Sam Kieth, Kaare Andrews, all interesting and popular artist going through radical esthetically changes in their craft.
Cheers

cicerobuck: Awwww, you guessed it! :)

Those other artists are good choices. I already have some on my list, but I’ll add the others!

Comic book time capsule…

I ended my collecting days not too long after the 90s heyday because my best friend (and comics buddy) passed away and I just couldn’t look at comics anymore. Anyhow, about a decade later I heard that Captain America was killed off and got sucked back into collecting. I work in politics and found the symbolism with Cap’s “death” and what was going on in Washington at the time pretty fitting. It’s at this time that I started talking comics again and discovered that the work of McFarlane and a few other artists recently featured on this blog didn’t generally hold up well.

Man, the hype was so crazy back then though. McFarlane was a god, you know? We bought multiple copies of everything, as I’m sure everyone did. For the longest time, McFarlane’s Spider Man was my favorite of the Spidey volumes. Makes me shake my head. Thanks for doing this, Mr. Burgas.

Cheers to memory lane…

cicerobuck: Awwww, you guessed it!

Darn it, Greg, that was one of MY guesses, but I couldn’t find any record of JG Jones having worked with Len Wein, and I had no idea what you referring to by “tiny comics.” Well, I guess I’ll find out later today!

Anyway, Greg, if you can find some early Erik Larsen work from the early to mid-1980s, yeah, I would be thrilled if you could spotlight him. For a look at current Larsen, hey, just pick up a recent issue of Savage Dragon. If I have any extra copies of SD, I could always mail you one. I’d have to check the longboxes in my apartment first.

Oh, yeah, *now* I remember what early J.G. Jones work was written by Len Wein! D’oh! :)

Andahaion: You’re welcome!

Ben: Well, by “tiny” I mean seriously indie publisher, not, you know, dimensionally. I’m glad you figured it out!

I think it was some Defiant thing or something…

Yeah, Greg, when you said “some tiny comics” I thought you meant that they literally measured smaller than 10 inches by 6.5 inches! :)

But I’d dare to say that his most influential projects were Wanted and Marvel Boy. At Final Crisis’ point, a whole generation had stopped to care about mainstream superheroes crossovers, or so I feel. His stilistical breakhtrough came with Shi, after his stint on Fatale. It also seems that some years ago, around his Doc Savage work, he became a guardian of his own style, like a Dave Gibbons for the noughties.

cicerobuck, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Wait for Greg to begin his spotlight :)

I would imagine a McFarlane Batman-Spawn crossover to be basically 22 pages of the two of them trying to untangle their capes from each other…

I really miss the energy and excitement artists like Mcfarlane brought to comics mostly because of the “flaws” in their work.

Adding to the optical illusion of Angela’s giant polearm is that rather than holding the handle in her right hand, her right hand appears to be phased through the handle. Her hand is off-center, and the handle is the width of her clenched fist anyway.

Billy: Yeah, that’s a good point.

I think Angela is smiling at the door to the skyscraper, not at us, but again, when you jump the axis, it’s hard to tell.

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