If you’re a toy collector, then it’s hard to ignore Todd McFarlane’s DC Multiverse line. The legendary comic book artist has channeled his creativity into creating some of the most unique action figures on the market, and he’s just getting started with his articulated interpretations of DC's favorite characters. We recently had a chance to chat with McFarlane about the line's new Batman: White Knight figures, this year's San Diego Comic-Con at Home, and what's next for DC Multiverse.
How did your Batman: White Knight figures begin?
We had our relationship with Warner Brothers Consumer Products. Whenever you get a pro-license, and you're trying to do figures that somebody else owns, then they get a lot of input into the equation. Both sides have to find their confidence level with each other, sort of like dating. Then you get more comfortable, and hopefully the relationship gets stronger over time. There was also another company they were bringing on board, Spin Master. Everyone was trying to coordinate to make sure that there was a look that was cohesive across the board, and then there was the conversation of which characters we wanted to do. We did some of the "classic looks." I kept asking whether we could separate ourselves by doing more unique figures. If you're a fan of a certain character, you want to present some of them in a look that you don't have already. How do we sell figures to a Batman fan or a Superman fan that maybe has been collecting for the last 10 or 15 years? The answer to me is that they have to look different, so they don't feel like they're repeating themselves. I think we saw an early sign of it in the first wave when we did what I dubbed as "Superman in Armor" and "Batman in Armor." Although those both came from comic books, they're not well known, but they look good as toys, and they're different. If you're a Batman or Superman collector you can honestly say "I don't have something that looks like that in my collection." Then the next wave becomes what you and I are talking about, which is this look that's based on the White Knight comic book.
What was your impression upon seeing Shawn Murphy's art in the series?
I've always been a huge fan of his stuff. I'm quite jealous of it. Years ago I got him to do a cover for me on Spawn. I'm always bugging him, but he's always saying that he's way too busy with his Batman stuff [Laughs.] What I find interesting about his artwork -- that I thought would be applicable to what we were trying to do in toys -- is that there's a style to his work that isn't perfect. And I don't use that word in a derogatory sense, but when most people think about comic books, there's sort of this generic look that I think we all have when we close our eyes. It serves well, but I think that those stories have been made over and over. Sean's look is this sort of cool angular cut style that allows us to give a silhouette that I think is slightly different than what's been out there. There were some looks on there that I had never seen before. I realized that we can do a different silhouette and the outfit isn't the same classic costume we've maybe seen a dozen times before in plastic form. The hard part was wondering if we could turn that 2D drawing into 3D and make it work, because now it has to work from all angles and still come across as that style. That was the heavy lifting on the artistic side.
The great thing about your work and Sean's work is that as time goes on, it matures, but it never loses the idiosyncrasies that made it interesting in the first place. How are you able to maintain that integrity while still evolving as an artist?
Let's talk about a couple of goals that artists should have. One, you should want to get better all the way up to the day you die. There should never be a day where you go, "That was it, I climbed the mountain. I'm never going to get better." Every artist should go to their grave wanting more. Number two, when you're working in an industry like Sean and myself have, how do you set yourself apart? What can you do that's slightly different that gets you more eyeballs? You want people to pay attention to your career, because you're hoping to have a long career. In the music industry sometimes you have a voice that's touched by God, and other times it's because you do stuff that's outrageous, like Madonna or the band Kiss, that visually gets you there. I'm guessing that Sean sort of did the same thing, which is coming up with the style that felt comfortable for him. We both got lucky that whatever it was that ended up becoming our styles, there was enough readership and fandom supporting it, that we got to continue experimenting with that style. After a while, it becomes your visual language.
What are your favorite figures in the Multiverse line to date?
Here's the thing about the DC Multiverse figures, if anybody is excited about what they've seen, I am telling you the best is still coming. We're just getting warmed up in terms of our skill sets, and what DC and Warner Brothers is allowing us to do. There are new characters being created all the time. When the first wave came out, people were saying nice stuff, and I knew what was coming out in wave three! We've got a lot of the Dark Knights: Metal figures coming out from the Metal book that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing, and within that there are dozens of figures. And then when we cull the video games and the library of DC Comics, there's a bunch of possibilities.
Do I have a favorite? No, there's rarely the one figure. What usually happens is it's bits and pieces of different figures that make me go, "Oh my God." There may be a figure that comes out where the body language to me was like, "That's it! That's how I wanted him to stand! That's the shape of him." Whether we got the detail right or the paint job right is less important to me. I don't look at each figure as my favorite, because each one has its own goal that you're trying to accomplish. If you're trying to do Wonder Woman, and you're trying to do one of the Infected [from "Year of the Villain"], those aren't the same. With one you're trying to accomplish a sense of strength and beauty, and the other one you're trying to get a feeling of creepy horror across in a way that still has some humanity in it. If you can accomplish those two goals, there's not a lot of overlap. Yes, both arms will work, both their legs will bend, and you'll get the articulations in most of the same spots. But the actual sculpting, painting, and what you're trying to convey from those characters is a huge difference in what you're trying to do. It's no different than when I was drawing comic books. When the villain is a 500-pound Solomon Grundy beating up on Batman, both of those characters have to appear and act differently. If you're thinking about them as being real, they should be moving differently. It's sort of like how a giraffe doesn't move like an elephant. It's a long-winded way of saying that I'll give you the list someday of. like, here's the 12 things that I liked on these 12 characters, and if I could ever put them in one figure, that would be my perfect figure.
What can you tell us about what's to come from the DC Multiverse line?
If people like what's been happening in the Metal line for the last couple of years, then get ready because you're going to get a lot more like that. You're going to get a lot of the characters that come from that. If you're a fan and you want the whole team, and some of the key characters and the key villains, then over time, we're going to try and see if we can accommodate that as much as possible. We'll get to everybody. From time to time, we put them all together on our own shelf at the office, and it looks super cool. Again, I'm just a geek. The goal is to always make toys that I'd want to buy, and we're doing a lot that make me go, "Man I would've bought that if I was 16, 17, or 18." And the other thing is trying to do these toys at 20 dollars that some companies charge 30 or 50 dollars for. I'm trying to bring as much quality as I can, given that I have to hit a price point.
Fans are also excited about your new Batman: Black and White statue. What are your thoughts on how it captures your art?
I'm somebody who has had to take 2D and try to turn it 3D with plastic. Think about the Simpsons toys. They're just flat on a screen and you have to ask the question, "What does the back of Homer Simpson look like?" When you're doing a drawing on a piece of paper, it works from one angle, but it might not work from another angle. That image that they used for the Batman: Black and White 100 statue, which was this cover that was just a giant cape with a head - it's easier said than done, because now you have to take all those wrinkles and stuff, and make it work. I didn't have to make it work. I just had to make it look cool, because I was just doing it in 2D. And the artist that worked on it, I thought was going to go a little bit insane, because he was going to find that he'd get halfway through a mold and turn it on a different angle, and it wasn't going to work. I was actually staggered by how quickly he solved the problem, because I don't even know that I would have been able to do it if I was sculpting it myself. I never thought about how it would work if I spun it around 360 degrees. The highlight of that statue to me when I finally saw it was, 'Oh my gosh, he actually made it all work.' I thought I was going to catch the inconsistency to the work where it wasn't logical, given that I was doing this silly illogical cape, but he pulled it off. That's a huge task.
What are your plans for this weekend’s Comic-Con at Home?
I think a lot of people are taking part in it. We're trying to fill the void for all the geeks. Normally this is the week everybody makes the trek. We have one on Thursday, which is sort of an intro/talk/roast. There's a documentary coming out that the SyFy channel did on me and my career that's premiering on Saturday. So the Thursday panel is just me with somebody from SyFy and a couple of people, J Scott Campbell and Marc Silvestri, and we're just having a little bit of fun talking about longevity in the business. Friday is a panel that is moderated by Jim Viscardi from Comicbook.com, just talking about all things McFarlane. I usually do a panel where I get up there on my own and I just gab for an hour and answer questions, but I didn't think people wanted to listen to me on Zoom for an hour. I don't usually have moderators, but Jim is a good guy so I brought him in. Then Saturday is the release of the documentary from SyFy. We're thinking about making the following week -- once everybody has done their San Diego thing and there's a void -- our DC Multiverse week, where we sort of show and unveil. We're trying to see if Warner Brothers is going to sign off on us unveiling some figures. Maybe we'll do one a day for five days and call it our DC Week or something like that. We'll be announcing that if we can.
Note: Here's a look at what McFarlane has been cooking up for DC Multiverse fans. As you can see, there's a little something for everyone. For more info, be sure to visit McFarlane.com!