One of the highlights of many
people's trip to the 2002 Online World Faire in Austin, Texas
this year was the opportunity to meet and learn a little bit
more about a person famous for his comics. That person being
Todd McFarlane, of course. The man behind the scenes of the
Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge expansion coming out
for UO in mid-February 2002. I doubt there are too many of
you out there who have never heard of Todd before, but for
those few who haven't, I would point you to some additional
information on his own website, www.spawn.com.
Probably his most famous work, as you may have guessed, is
the comic book hero, Spawn. To give you an idea of who Spawn
is, I quote directly from Todd's site:
Spawn follows the after-life of Al Simmons, once
the U.S. Government's best operative, who was betrayed and
murdered by his own men -- only to end up in Hell. There he
made a bargain with the Devil: in exchange for the privilege
of returning to Earth to see his beloved wife, Simmons must
become a HellSpawn, bound to lead Hell's Army in the upcoming
Armageddon. Unfortunately, the flawed contract returns Simmons
to Earth five years after his death, and he discovers that
his wife has married his best friend. Simmons, now known simply
as "Spawn," finds himself stuck in a Purgatory of paradox.
Although obligated to do work for the Devil, his still-human
soul compels him to become a better man than he was and to
make the Earth a better place than it is.
Using that simple premise, Todd turned his hero into a franchise,
selling well over 130 million copies of the comic book since
its original debut in May 1992. It is also published in 16 different
languages and reaches more than 120 countries around the world.
Not to mention the HBO series based on the comic that ran for
several years. To say that Todd is famous within the comic book
industry, and even outside of it, would be a major understatement.
So where does Ultima Online come into play in all of this,
you ask? Well, one other area that Todd expanded into back
in 1994 was the toy industry. Since that time he has grown
McFarlane Toys into the 5th largest manufacturer in the business.
Originally established to help promote action figure toys
based on his Spawn comics, he has now expanded his lines into
several other categories, including toys for famous movies
(Shrek), for music (especially KISS), for sports (most notably
NFL football, NHL hockey, and the upcoming NBA basketball
figures), and even for video games (Metal Gear Solid 2). With
this kind of background, he was the obvious choice for Electronic
Arts back in 1999-2000 when they decided a line of action
figures was needed for their now-defunct Ultima
Online 2, a world where the Past, Present, and Future
of Britannia were to meet and create a new gaming experience
from the original Ultima Online. Unfortunately, as many now
know, this game was cancelled by Electronic Arts back in March
2001. But not before Todd had already been commissioned to
create 6 figures [See Gallery Below] for
the game. Seeing the great job that he did on those pieces
though, EA still proceeded with their plans to work with Todd
by incorporating it into an expansion of the original UO,
the deal which Lord Blackthorn's Revenge is centered around.
As you may have already heard, Todd's work did not just stop
with the 6 figures. It actually expanded to the point where
his company designed over 30 unique creatures for our gameworld,
many of which are now being seen even prior to UO:LBR's release.
Creatures such as the Juka
Warrior and the Blackthorn
Juggernaut are good examples of what we'll all be seeing
over the next few months.
As luck would have it, a few of the Stratics News Team were
given the opportunity to meet Todd in person and talk to him
one-on-one. Included on the team were myself (Joshua Rowan),
Ce'Nedra Willow, Sparrowhawk, and Prescient Dragon. To be
perfectly honest, we were all a little too giddy with being
starstruck to get any kind of word-for-word interview out
of him. But there are a few items we discussed that I would
like to summarize:
Concluding our short but exciting interview with Todd, he took
the time to have his picture taken with us and also pulled out
a pre-production example of the upcoming Juggernaut toy [See
Below] so that we could see it close up. All I can say is that
if you like action figures, then you need to buy this thing
when it comes out next month, as they are very cool.
- We asked Todd if it had been his life-long dream to
be a comic book writer. To our surprise (or at least to
mine), he answered that his real dream as a kid had been
to become a major league baseball player. He loves sports.
Lives and breathes it, from the sounds of it. And in fact,
his attendance at Eastern Washington State University
was supported by a PAC-10 baseball scholarship. In the
end, he still got his degree in Art, but sports has always
remained an important part of his life. This is most evident
by his partnerships with many professional sports franchises
to create exclusive lines of action figures. He also mentioned
to us that he had helped design the third jersey for the
Edmonton Oilers (NHL). And of course there are the Mark
McGwire baseballs that he bought for over a million dollars
back in 1998.
- And speaking of the McGwire baseballs, we just had to
ask him what he ever did with them. It was great to find
out that he actually tours them around the country. He
first began taking them to all the major league stadiums,
then branched out into visits to many of the minor league
stadiums, from Triple A on down. And in the end he said
that he felt the money invested was well worth it because
of the happiness that he brought to so many baseball fans,
kids and adults alike. He pointed out that the minor league
showings were especially nice because his visits became
pretty big events for these smaller markets.
- So why did he get involved in Ultima Online, we wanted
to know. His answer was simple - "Fantasy Worlds are where
it all is" [sports aside, of course]. A directive that
he puts forth to his company when looking for new opportunities.
When the idea of working with Electronic Arts on that
very thing was presented to him, he couldn't pass it up.
And while not directly involved the exact design of all
30+ creatures that his company is doing for EA/UO, it
is from his imagination and conceptual philosophy that
his people draw from. We got the impression that Todd
doesn't actively play Ultima Online for inspiration, but
that he was definitely fully knowledgeable about the game.
- Finally, as humble and friendly as he was with us, we
really wanted to find out how he felt about all the fame
he's received over the years. Again, another quote from
him - "You don't really notice the here and now of the
effects of the excitement toward your projects". He expanded
on that by saying that half the time he is amazed that
he gets to do some of the things he's done. He pointed
out his opportunities to meet several rock stars as being
especially cool and sureal. But in the end he just felt
like a regular joe, exactly like the rest of us.
Heading back down to the main Faire, we were then treated
to an excellent seminar with Todd McFarlane as the main speaker.
Over the 1+ hour discussion he talked about the origins of
his comic book career (like working on Spider Man) and how
it came to be that Spawn was created in the early '90s. He
went over concept art for some of the UO creatures [See Below].
And he even took many questions from the fans. Later in the
evening, once the dinner was over, he then sat down and started
signing autographs. I wasn't surprised to see a long line
form right away. But what I WAS surprised about was the fact
that Todd took the time to speak to every single fan in that
line individually. I've never seen a celebrity do that with
such honest sincerity. Especially since it meant him staying
until nearly midnight to make sure everyone got to talk to
Meeting Todd McFarlane was a true honor for me. And for
the rest of the Stratics News Team. I thank him for the extra
time he spent with us. For the extra effort he put into making
the 2002 World Faire an event to remember. And most importantly
for the hard work that he and his company have put into making
Ultima Online's upcoming expansion one of the best yet.
Online Worlds FanFest 2002 Photos and Notes
Trip To The Online FanFest