There and Back Again selects a character to highlight, then showcases iconic stories and moments within that character’s history.
Welcome to another “There and Back Again,” this month we’re going to be covering Spawn, by Todd McFarlane. However, we’re changing gears a little bit by shifting our focus away from individual stories this month. The main reason being, Spawn has been running nonstop for over twenty years, and frankly that’s a ton of continuity to try and cover. Very few comics have ever run continuously for over two decades without a reboot, or break in their run. Spawn, as of this writing is coming up on issue #262 this month. TWO HUNDRED and SIXTY-TWO issues. I don’t care what anyone says, that’s impressive. Spawn was, and still is, a great comic and exciting character. So, over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a look at different aspects of the Spawn series, and discuss why, and how, Spawn has shaped the comic world.
Written and Art By: Todd McFarlane
Published: 1992 by Image Comics
Well, this may come as a surprise to some, maybe not to others, but I’m actually a huge fan of Spawn. It’s the only comic of which I own a copy of every issue. Yup, you read that correctly. I own 261, and as of next week 262, issues of Spawn. Some of you may be asking…why, out of all comics, would that be the one you’ve collected the most? Spawn was my gateway comic. It was the comic that propelled me into a die-hard comic fan. Why? Because Spawn represented something very personal to me, even way back in my teenage years. Spawn, and Image Comics, represented a way of breaking away from the typical, and venturing out to create something on their own. As a kid, I remember how much influence that had on my thinking. It showed me that the path to creating things isn’t a straight line, nor is it the same for everyone.
Image Comics was founded by a group of comic artists who were, I may be mistaken here, primarily working for Marvel at the time: Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, and Rob Liefeld. These were not unfamiliar names within the comic industry. These were the names of the comic industry. McFarlane had revolutionized Spider-Man. Liefeld invented, with the help of Fabian Nicieza, Deadpool. Jim Lee was…well, JIM FREAKIN LEE. Marc Silvestri, as admitted by many of these founders, was the most talented artist out of the bunch. I mean, when these guys to walked into Marvel’s offices, quit, then went and started their own company, they were writing history.
The news, within the comic world, was explosive. Especially when the foundational purpose of Image Comics was based around the creators themselves, giving more ownership to the people who actually write and draw these things. To give context, at that time, Marvel and DC Comics didn’t have the best reputation for taking care of their artists and writers. So when these guys broke away to make something new, there were a lot of people watching to see what happened next.
So why is Spawn so important in this story? Image Comics launched in 1992 with Youngblood, by Liefeld, and let me tell you, no one was ready for what was to come. When Youngblood hit the shelves, it shattered records for sales as an independent book. Anyone who was a doubter of Image ate their words, but Image wasn’t done showing everyone what they could do. Where Youngblood was the break out comic for Image, Spawn was going to be their unstoppable force. For everything Youngblood represented, Spawn took it all to another level.
Spawn #1 hit the shelves in May of 1992, and it took off like it had legs. Not only did it break sales records the month it launched, for the first time, an independent book ranked in the Top 5 sales numbers for the entire year, reportedly selling 1.7 million copies. Spawn, for everything it represented in the 90’s is now one of the quintessential books talked about when discussing the success, and pitfalls, of indie books. Image Comics, because of books like Spawn, really reshaped (both good and bad) the comics industry.
Now, an interesting point to note, Spawn #1 might be one of the most over printed comics ever produced. Seriously, it might not actually be worth the cost of the paper an ink it’s printed on now. Not that I’m putting it down, I’m the guy who bought two issues because I read the first one so much I tore it so I needed a copy that I could keep nice. However, regardless of the mistakes made with over printing, 90’s storytelling, 90’s character design, really almost everything that happened in comics in the 90’s, Spawn was THE comic that redefined what people though of independent books. For everything complained about, there’s no denying that Spawn established it’s place in comic history. As for this writer, it is, and will always be that one comic that took me from a casual reader into fandom.