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Todd McFarlane: The Beginning – Coyote #11

October 18, 2013


Before Todd McFarlane started buying record-setting baseballs from the steroid era and making overdesigned toys, he was a simple comic book artist (with delusions of writing grandeur) plying his trade. Check that — he wasn’t just any artist, he was THE artist. He was insanely popular for a prolonged period of time, to a degree never before seen, and perhaps not seen since. Insanely popular. The yardstick used to measure this is that he was once profiled in People. This isn’t to say that being featured in a checkout line fixture magazine is a symbol of comic book industry arrival, but when you’re in those pages, you’re transcendent in a way few, probably none, are. Hm, Julia Roberts has a new hairstyle. Gosh, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore seem like a lovely couple, I’m sure they’ll be together forever. And I wonder who this McFarlane chap is. His Spider-Man certainly has big eyes. Has Alex Ross ever had such royal treatment?  

Marvel gave McFarlane his own Spider-Man comic so he could scratch his writing itch, because he could push himself back from the Amazing Spider-Man drawing board, say “Gee, I might like to do something different,” and that was the sort of thing that would happen. (The major innovation in his first solo story? DOOMDOOMDOOMDOOM.) Then he ditched that, became a champion of creator’s rights (as the Neil Gaiman brouhaha would show, mostly his creator’s rights) and co-founded Image with his personal cornerstone: Spawn. And then he pretty much coasted on that, handing his baby off to others as he became somewhat of a personal industry. Which was kind of odd. A guy who would mount a letters page soapbox time and time again to defend his creative process would put his chosen medium in the backseat (has anyone really treasured his scripting?) to make KISS dolls? This came across a lot like George Lucas and all those small, personal movies he was always yapping about, and all we ever got was the brain-dead, insulting-to-every-age-race-gender-and-intellectual-capacity Red Tails. Huh?

But make no mistake: McFarlane burned with the force of a thousand suns, and I was right there along with the ravenous masses who couldn’t get enough of him. I can still remember receiving my issue of Spawn #1 through mail-order and holding it like it was an original, recently discovered copy of the Magna Carta. Precious. (For a time I think I even signed my name like McFarlane, with big first letters. Which was very Single White Female of me. Creepy.) He’s still a big star, the sort of guy who gets the biggest font in a convention flyer.

And where did he get his start? What was the snowball that grew into the avalanche? A 1985 back-up feature in an Epic mag called Coyote. A mag that almost no one would remember if not for the retroactive interest.

McFarlane had sent a lot of samples around when he was trying to break into the business, but it was Steve Englehart who gave him his first job. And there could be no softer landing spot than Coyote, which was read by nobody. Disclaimer: I have no clue whatsoever as to what transpires in the few panels I’m about to present, and just who the hell the characters are, much less their motivations. This isn’t a jab at the people who put it together. It’s just that we’re here for baby McFarlane, and that’s it. Look elsewhere for deep Coyote analysis.

Onto said McFarlane.

He got a nice introduction on the first page, as if his later superstardom was foreseen:


His style is somewhat fully formed here — with obvious considerations made for the presence of Art Nichols’ inks. His people look like what they’d look like in later years: either round heads or noggins as straight as the Flaming Carrot’s. And you can always see the John Byrne influences in there. The guy on the right of this panel has about as McFarlane a face as anyone ever has:


His wild, interesting in a way, but ultimately over-busy layouts are on display even at this starting point. Like here, where the guy who demanded that Bugs Bunny bring him his hossenfeffer (it’s the lips) interrogates a woman tied to a chair:


And this, which feels like it comes straight out of a Spawn comic years later:


When McFarlane was sending submissions in to editors, his stuff was all pinups, and that’s what he’s always been at heart: a pin-up artist. This isn’t meant as an insult. A lot of people really like that. You can see that in these early story pages, as he translated the pin-up inclinations to sequential art. It’s been something that he’s never outgrown, for better or for worse. After Coyote, he went on to Infinity, Inc., Year Two, The Incredible Hulk, et cetera, et cetera. And toys. Many of us outgrew liking his style, but it’s interesting to see how fully-formed — but awaiting refinement — he was when his feet hit the ground.

And you can’t take too much away from a guy whose work spawned(!) the great Spawn HBO show. Thank you, Coyote — and Todd — for that at the very least.

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