Todd McFarlane’s Spawn reaches issue #300 this week, tying Dave Sim’s Cerebus for the longest-running independently published comic book. While this means all this week’s hoopla should be reserved for issue #301, it is an achievement worth celebrating regardless of technicalities. Though it was not the title that launched Image Comics (that honor goes to Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood), Spawn has become synonymous with the publisher. The character himself is often seen as the publisher’s unofficial mascot. Though the title itself has seen its ups and downs, there is something about it that has made an enduring and prominent element of Image’s legacy.
Like the other early Image titles, perhaps the greatest legacy of Spawn is the careers of those creators who contributed to the series. There’s no better place to start than with the man himself, Todd McFarlane. McFarlane was already a known commodity at this point, thanks to his celebrated work on Amazing Spider-Man. But Spawn gave rise to Todd McFarlane the businessman. The success of the book gave rise to a feature film and an HBO animated series, giving McFarlane enough cache to launch McFarlane Toys – one of the premier figurine companies around. The HBO series also pushed the boundaries of what could be done in western animation, as well as what types of stories audiences would respond to.
The success of McFarlane’s other pursuits meant that others had to come in and contribute to the ongoing saga of Al Simmons, the Spawn. Industry vets Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman each took a crack on writing duties during issues #8-18. However, writers David Hine, Paul Jenkins, and Brian Houglin are notable for their extended runs on the series. In the case of Houglin, Spawn was his first significant run as a writer.
But if the series’ writers was an elaborate game of musical chairs, the art proved to be a model of stability. While there were a number of guest artists that came in for the occasional issue or two, the book has maintained a relatively uniform look thanks to McFarlane, Greg Capullo, Angel Medina, Philip Tan, Brian Haberlin, and current artist Jason Shawn Alexander. McFarlane’s fellow Image co-founders Whilce Portacio and Erik Larsen also contributed lengthy runs, but it are those aforementioned six artists that have maintained the series’ momentum over the course of 300 issues.
Spawn is the title that has, throughout its publication history, been a trendsetter for superhero art. McFarlane’s own style influenced much of the artwork found throughout the 1990s. Though many often look back at 1990s comics with disdain, in the moment there was nothing better than picking up a book and fawning over the art. While those he influenced may not have had the same level of talent, McFarlane’s own art remains great.
Greg Capullo, McFarlane’s successor, cut his teeth on the title. As the regular Spawn artist, developed his own style that, while influenced by McFarlane, is wholly unique. Now, Capullo is the standard bearer over at DC Comics thanks to a lengthy run on Batman and the multiversal event Dark Nights: Metal.
As comic artists embrace new techniques available thanks to technological advancements, Spawn once again finds itself at the forefront of an artistic movement. Both former artist Brian Haberlin and current artist Jason Shawn Alexander make extensive use of digital techniques in their art. Admittedly, the artwork looks “off” or otherworldly, which actually works in the book’s favor. With Al Simmons and his supporting cast dealing with figures from Heaven and Hell, the unnatural aesthetic amps up the impending sense of dread befitting the superhero-horror series. If history can be used to predict the future, anticipate other artists borrowing similar techniques to enhance the storytelling of their own comics.
Spawn has not been a perfect series over its 300 issue run, though you’d be hard-pressed to find any series that is consistently great for even a third of that. However, its influence is undeniable. From pushing the boundaries of animation to its continued influence on superhero art, Spawn is the one Image launch title that continues to make substantial waves in the industry. It’s a legacy that Todd McFarlane can be proud of.