Last week, on December 13, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Super News Live hosted an epic “Venom” digital release public block party.
The event featured live art entertainment, food trucks, props from the film, and of course a photo booth. Is it even a proper event if it doesn’t have a photo booth? That’s not all though, there was even a temporary tattoo station and a signing where Venon and comic book fans had the opportunity to meet Todd McFarlane.
The comic book icon is known for his work on the Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man franchise and for co-creating Venom. He also founded award-winning company McFarlane Toys which is one of North America’s top action figure manufacturers. Recently, he announced the cast for his upcoming film Spawn, which will star Jamie Foxx as the lead and Jeremy Renner as police detective “Twitch” Williams. You already know we had to find out the scoop for ourselves so we chatted with McFarlane about Venom and his upcoming directorial debut.
Check out our exclusive interview with Todd McFarlane below:
The Knockturnal: You were the first person to draw Venom and now years later we have this fantastic film out in the universe. What does that mean to you?
Todd McFarlane: It’s always flattering as a creative person whenever you do anything that you put pen to paper to and it goes on to live in other mediums, right? We all just think that whatever we’re creating whether it’s novels, or music, or comic books or something, toys, that you just think it’s gonna stay in that corner and whenever it branches out you go ‘ah it’s awesome.’ Obviously it took a 30 year trek to get there in terms of the movie and lots of different creative people taken the mantle of whatever it was that I helped start with David Michelinie, who was the writer. We helped nudged the boulder down the hill and people did cool thing. We did know though that early on when he appeared was that Venom was a villain, right? That his first appearance in 300, that the male got big and the next time he came back was in Amazing Spider-Man 316, we put him on the cover, the male got even bigger. So all of a sudden this character who was a bit of a throwaway to start with because I wanted to draw Spider-Man in his regular costume, so to me Venom is just a byproduct of me not wanting to draw Peter Parker in a black costume, so we just created this character which ends up basically being way bigger than we thought. We thought we would have a little bit of fun, put him in a corner who knows and instead he just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and people kept adding to it and you go look at that, the baby has gone on he’s now a college graduate and he’s doing ok on his own.
The Knockturnal: Now talk to me a little bit about your particular involvement with the film.
Todd McFarlane: Didn’t happen. Didn’t have much and that’s okay. Sony decided that they were gonna spend $100 million on something and whenever anybody spends that kind of money, they get to have 100% decision making. Then they handed it over to director Ruben Fleischer who is more than skilled enough to be able to make whatever creative decisions with his team and his crew. I talked to him after the movie when it first came out at the premiere and he was like ‘oh my god Todd, we should get together. I don’t understand how we didn’t talk,’ but it’s okay. Unlike other people it, doesn’t bug me right because to me … it’s actually more interesting to see how each creative group makes their interpretations of this thing that’s now called Venom. It’s no different than if you said, ‘hey get 100 artists in all mediums, give them the word Batman and let them go.’ You’re gonna 100 versions of it and within those 100 versions you’re gonna see some really cool stuff, you’re gonna see some average stuff, and then there’s gonna be some stuff that’s sort of below average, we’re gonna all rank it. I think what’s way more important is to just see the process of what happened. The medium of movies is way different than comic books because we have no sound, we have no music, we have no motion, right? We don’t even know what the voice was — all those years that we’ve been reading the Venom comic, we don’t even know what that voice was because each one of us we give it its own personality in our own brain. So all of this has to then be cemented into reality when you’re doing a film. So if I have any involvement with any character, I never look at whether they did anything that paid any homage to what I did. I’m just curious about the process of any creative input, on any character. I’m going, ‘wow those were interesting choices.’
The Knockturnal: It’s kind of like when there is a novel and it gets adapted into a movie. Do you think the Venom film did the comics justice?
Todd McFarlane: I think so … You can’t let a tail wag a dog too much, right? This is why it’s interesting whenever I read an author is a little bit disappointed that their book got translated to a movie. You know when you’re doing a novel, there’s prose in that, there’s no sound, there’s no music. You can do thoughts of people, so you can write down their thoughts. We don’t have that in a movie, so the dynamics of everything you’re doing from a book, a novel, which is slightly different from a comic book because at least you’ve got pictures, but from a novel to a movie — it’s a big change artistically. So I’m always amused when people go ‘oh they’ve made the wrong choice’ and you go ‘wrong choice? One’s a novel and one’s a movie.’ But did they try to stay as true as they could to some of the elements in the comic book? I think they did. Was it necessary? No because here’s what you and I know with a movie that’s now pushing a billion dollars in global revenue. Did the majority of people who went to go see this movie ever collect Venom? No. Did they ever read the Spider-Man comic books in which Venom was? No. Did they even buy comic books period? Forget what was in them, did they even collect comic books period? No. Just like The Avengers. No. Do they like two hour movies that have a lot of fun in it? Yes. You don’t have to be a comic book geek. As a matter of fact, as a movie goer, you just need to entertain people for two hours and you can’t get hung up on the forty, thirty, twenty year mythology of any of these characters because you’re gonna, like I said, let a tail wag a dog.
The Knockturnal: That is so true. Was there a specific scene in the Venom film that you liked best?
Todd McFarlane: There were a couple for different reasons. There’s a couple where he converted and he became big and for me –I’m gonna get selfish — all I wanted personally for me was not that it was loyal to the story or whatever, but I wanted to see a big Venom. Because when I created him artistically when I worked at Marvel that first time he was big and he would be the biggest thing on screen at that point. Especially in that time you know against a character like Spider-Man. So I got to see my bigness … I told Ruben, the director, ‘oh my god I got to see the big Venom that I created.’ The one that was in Spider Man 3, the Topher Grace character, that Venom wasn’t very big, right? Personally I was a little disappointed because to me he has to be like a gorilla. He’s huge.
The Knockturnal: This Venom was big and powerful.
Todd McFarlane: Right and then the other moment besides some of the cool big moments physically in Venom is a scene where Tom Hardy jumps into the fish tank and he starts eating the lobster. That’s the moment where you either decide whether you’re going for the ride completely or you’re not because if that scene is too goofy for you then you go ‘eh’ and you’re off the ride. But if you could go for that ride and go Tom is just being crazy with his split personality, he’s being schizophrenic and it’s gonna get fun and at times you know you’re gonna chuckle. If you can go ‘oh my god he’s in a fish tank eating lobsters … that’s kind of goofy,’ then you’re gonna go for the rest of the ride on this movie. So in a weird way, that scene I think whether people know it or not is the moment where you’re either gonna like this movie for two hours or you’re not. I haven’t heard one person come up to me ever and say ‘oh Todd he jumped into the fish tank, I can’t watch that movie anymore.’ Nobody said that which basically meant they all went for the ride. The majority of people went for the ride at that moment. I go good this is why we have the success of the movie. Sony and Ruben did so well with it.
The Knockturnal: You sympathize with him too, right? When the woman at the restaurant says she’s going to call the police, you don’t really want her to. In the back of your mind you’re thinking ‘let him go,’ even though he’s creating chaos and havoc.
Todd McFarlane: Well Tom prior to that, before people saw it, Tom Hardy came out publicly and said he was going to do something sort of schizo and fun and one of his examples was Ren & Stimpy. And so Ren & Stimpy if you’ve seen that cartoon is just goofy, fun and it doesn’t even have to make sense, it’s just very kinetic. So that moment when he jumped in I go ‘ah here’s this Ren & Stimpy moment’. He has a son that is a Venom fan and so Tom now wants to be like this cool dad, right? I don’t know how old his son is, but let’s say he’s in the range of 10 or something. I’m sure he’s proud of his dad doing The Revenant, but a 10 year old doesn’t understand that movie. He’s like ‘okay dad you were okay in that movie and I don’t understand why you’re dirty the whole time and how come you didn’t get to fight the bear?’ Now that you go and do Venom, he’s probably like ‘oh my god dad you’re the coolest guy’ and all the other kids on the block are like ‘oh my god your dad’s the coolest guy.’ So all of that has a value in that Tom Hardy wanting to impress his son means he gets to impress us at the same time because he’s not gonna let his son down. So we then get to see the results of him doing that and you get this cool performance from him.
The Knockturnal: What is your favorite characteristic of Venom? Is it the bigness and his size or is there something else that particularly peaks your interest?
Todd McFarlane: For me there’s two things. One, you have to have the size just because to me in my mind that’s what he was — you have to be somewhat hulking and imposing and he has to be this big threat. When I created him with David, he was a villain and I wanted him to be way bigger than Spider-Man. Way bigger than Spider-Man and it couldn’t be a fist fight. He was gonna have to come up with another way to defeat him. And the other part which puts him in the category of your Punishers and your Wolverines and these characters who just don’t care — they’re reckless a little bit and fearless. They don’t care if they’re playing by the rules. There’s work that needs to be done and they’re just gonna get the work done, they don’t care. And so other characters you can include Spider-Man and Superman, they are gonna go by social norms of what a hero should do. Whereas the Wolverines and the Venoms of the world just go ‘dude, this is dirty work and we gotta get this dirty work done and you’re just gonna get dirty. Stop trying to be polite and clean with all of this.’ There’s an appeal to those kinds of characters I think not only adults but even kids like some of the characters that are kind of ballsy.
The Knockturnal: So talk to me about Spawn. I know this is your baby and I know you created it while you were still in high school. How cool is it that now you not only get to witness it come to life, but you’re gonna direct it as well. You must be so pumped and stoked for that.
Todd McFarlane: So from sixteen to today is forty years. So it’s been a slow road to get to a point where you can then say ‘I wanna do this’ and people will say ‘okay Todd.’ I mean I’ve put in four decades now to get to this point so it’s not an overnight success here, but I’ve got lots of ideas I’m willing to sell into Hollywood and let them do what they have to do and get other people. This one was one of the first things that I came up with when I was hoping to break into comic books. I came up with this character Spawn. I’ve let Hollywood play with some of my ideas and I’ve had mixed sort of reactions to it and I guess I’m just at a point where with Spawn specifically if it’s not gonna work then I want it to not work on my terms artistically instead of on somebody else’s. I don’t know … I’m just egotistical enough to think it’s gonna work. I think we can come up with a story that’s two hours that will entertain people without it having to be a big $200 million CGI extravaganza. Just do this tight, concise, supernatural thriller that still falls under the umbrella of superhero comic book movies but goes into a corner of just deadly, seriously dark drama that will scare the shit out of you from time to time. Nobody has tried that corner. I’m not saying that it’s a good corner or a bad corner, I’m just saying that superhero movies have a lot of untapped corners that have yet to be touched and I think there’s a hunger. I think there’s a hunger for somebody to go into that corner.
The Knockturnal: So you’re thinking of making it a little more Rated R?
Todd Mcfarlane: No. A lot more Rated R! Not a little bit. A lot more! Like completely serious. No goofy lines, no headquarters, no ray guns, no super villains, none of the above. Just drama and then you put the Boogeyman on. I can give you hundreds of examples of scary movies that do this. That if you take the Boogeyman or the creature out of those movies that the rest of the world is normal. It’s just a drama and then you drop the Boogeyman into these movies and you got a movie. So what’s John Carpenter’s The Thing movie if you take The Thing out of that? It’s a bunch of dudes sitting up in the Antarctic doing their job and trying to stay warm. There’s nothing else that’s fantastic in that movie. All the movies I’ve enjoyed when I was a kid growing up were the movies that had one fantastic element in them. Not three not five, not ten, one! For me, unlike films like The Avengers where you have to go ‘oh there’s twenty-five fantastic things, so I have to unplug my brain twenty-five times to get there,’ cause it’s a big, fun ride. In creep movies, you only have to believe in one thing and if you can get past the one thing, you can go for the ride. Do I believe there’s a Boogeyman in the haunted house? Okay and now the young couple, their car runs out of gas and they go into the haunted house and now the adventure begins, right? I’m not saying that’s what Spawn is … [but] if you can believe that there’s something creepy in that house, then you’ve got a movie because everything else is just normal. A car, a house, real people, telephone doesn’t work. Whatever it is, it’s all real adventures and it’s not fantastic elements. I just wanna tell that kind of a story in the superhero genre.
Venom is out now on Blu-Ray and 4k!
Venom comes home on Blu-ray & 4K 12/18! Make sure you know your options with these retail exclusive limited editions:
— Venom (@VenomMovie) November 28, 2018
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.