“Somebody has to, in your life, at some moment, without knowing it, make some kind of impact on you.”
This was how Todd McFarlane opened up his panel this past Sunday at the Boston Fan Expo. It was titled “Todd McFarlane – Raw and Uncensored” and McFarlane was there to inspire minds. He started the panel by telling the crowd he wanted to see each of them on stage at some point in their lives. McFarlane wanted to inspire the next generation of creatives.
McFarlane walked through his life at the panel discussing clear moments that defined his career path. For him, it started with a television interview. McFarlane was a kid in Calgary, Alberta, who enjoyed reading any comic book he could get his hands on.
At the panel, McFarlane said he wanted to get into the comic book business but was discouraged because he assumed he had to move to places like New York City to make it happen. One day, he sees John Byrne doing an interview on one of the local channels in Calgary.
Byrne is a writer and artists of superhero comics. His works include Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four, and DC’s Superman.
“I’m going ‘oh my god, this is the best day ever’,” recalled McFarlane. In the interview, Byrne said that he lived in Calgary. That was McFarlane’s first moment he realized he could work in the comic book industry.
“Up to that point, I did not know or realize that you could live in Calgary and do comic books,” said McFarlane. “I thought it was this distant thing that I was never going to touch.”
When McFarlane realized that one of the best comic book artists in the industry was only a few miles away from him, that inspired hope within him that he could do the same thing. All he needed was that one moment.
McFarlane continued with another inspiring story at the panel where he had a chance to sit with Stan Lee and ask advice about making it into the comic book industry. It was at a small comic convention in Florida. McFarlane talked with Lee for four hours about comic books and working in the industry.
These moments peppered throughout McFarlane’s life helped him reach his goal of working in the industry. McFarlane is also making history in the very industry he thought he couldn’t get in. His comic, Spawn, will be the longest-running independent series in comic book history once its 300th issue is released this September 4th.
This panel was meant to be different. McFarlane only touched on his successes after explaining the work it took to get there. The success of Spawn came with working hard on each issue for 27 years and believing in the project enough to continue working on it. Now, McFarlane is working on a Spawn film.
McFarlane ended the panel with a few tricks he learned in the industry: always say ‘yes’ and assume you won’t get the job. He says that, by setting the bar low, you’ll be genuinely surprised when you get the job or you won’t be so down on yourself if you don’t get the job.
It was clear that McFarlane wasn’t there to brag. He wanted to be the person that inspired the next wave of talented comic book artists and writers in the industry. Even if it was just one person in the room.
To me, McFarlane’s most important point of wisdom in the panel was this: know your worth. It’s hard to value yourself when you don’t feel like you can do something. I’ve never met McFarlane but I can imagine there were days of doubts.
It’s odd witnessing these success stories in real time. I only ever hear about them secondhand or through inspirational profile pieces about some person who probably fudged the truth a little. I came from a small town that’s about 19 hours away from California and 29 hours away from New York City. I wasn’t taught that I could be successful with following my dreams. I was always discouraged.
Sometimes, it’s nice to hear people like Todd McFarlane tell me that the things I want to do are possible as I scrape along and try to accomplish the things I want to do.
If you don’t think you can accomplish the things you want to in life, just remember that you can. Why? Because Todd McFarlane said you could.
Images from Image Comics and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane.