Sharper Image: After a two-year break, San Diego Comic-Con returned last year with, if not a bang, a moderate bump. It was one of those “should we, shouldn’t we” situations – comic books fans were craving normalcy and so they congregated as they are apt to do.

This is the first proper post-COVID (don’t jinx it) year, and Comic-Con (running next Thursday July 20- Sunday, July 23) is back again. This time though, it’s the writer’s strike that is playing hell with the schedule (a writer’s strike, incidentally, that we fully support). Marvel, fucking Marvel, is skipping it this year, as are Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Netflix and HBO. That’s some big names.

The absence of those corporate giants allows us to focus harder elsewhere, however. Image Comics will be there, and that umbrella also means that imprint Skybound Entertainment (founded by Walking Dead man Robert Kirkman) also will be there. Image has a few panels from Thursday to Sunday, with partner Todd McFarlane speaking at 10:30 a.m., on Friday, July 21.

Cool Spawn

Spawn (Todd McFarlane, Image Comics)

“Those are usually the opportunity to announce new and upcoming projects,” McFarlane says. “Most people already know what’s in the pipeline. For us, it’s about announcing a bunch of new titles and the creative people on the characters that are coming in. In ‘21 it was expanded from the Spawn comic book into what I call the Spawn universe. We do four books every month now, one a week, we have a book going to the printers. Then, from my point of view, it’s about how we are going to mindfully grow this potential. It took me almost 30 years to go from one book to two books.”

David Alpert is the CEO of Skybound Entertainment and a co-founder, alongside Kirkman. Alpert says that, for 25 years, his whole year was shaped around the San Diego mega-convention so it’s nuts that, due to COVID, he hasn’t been for the past four years. This one, he says, is a big deal for Skybound.

“Skybound itself is 13 years old, so I feel like we’re entering that awkward teenage period but we’re growing,” Alpert says. “We’re feeling ourselves out a little bit, and we separated ourselves a bit. (Previously,) we shared a booth with all the other Image guys. This is the first time that we’re having a full standalone Skybound booth on the floor. So we’ll have a whole big display, screens, a recording studio, and promotions for all of our content. It’s not just that we’ve reached a point where it’s 13 years, it’s also about the fact that is the 20th anniversary of the Walking Dead and Invincible, our two biggest titles. On top of that, we have a massive promotion around Impact Winter – that‘s the podcast that we’re doing with Audible.”

Both men agree that despite occasional over-enthusiasm from the attendees, Comic-Con is a place to embrace fandom, geekdom, in all of its forms.

Todd McFarlane Headshot

Todd McFarlane (Nick Morgulis)

“I like it because it continues to remind me of the magnitude of the group of geeks, and I use that word in a very broad sense,” McFarlane says. “Whether it’s people who like superhero movies, anime, video games, comic books or toys, whatever, I think it’s a big group of people. I think it’s cool to have all of them concierge in one place. When I was a kid and a closet collector, you had to hide it from everybody because everybody thought you were mentally arrested if you were a comic book collector. Fast forward and it’s all gone mainstream, which is kinda cool. It’s good for business, and more importantly it’s good for people to have others they can confer with.”

“I saw Comic-Con go from a gritty grimy fest and then it became really popular and the Marvel movies started happening,” adds Alpert. “You started seeing things like The Office and Parks & Recreation coming to Comic-Con and it was like, ‘Why are you here?’ It became more of a pop culture fest and then there was a backlash because it wasn’t what it used to be. We reached this modern point where it’s about celebrating fandom. If you’re willing to paint yourself like as Transformer or dress like GI Joe, this is the place for you.”


All eyes on Image and Skybound at Comic-Con, then. And, true to form, there’s much to be excited about from both. Image’s first panel is with “master storyteller” Jeff Lemire (Fishflies, Tenement, Cosmic Detective) on Thursday, before McFarlane on Friday and then a panel with Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Black Science). Other subjects covered include the intriguing “Massive-Verse,” and “Comic characters people love to hate.”

“Sometimes it’s even hard for me to keep track because it seems like every two months they have a book that’s cooler and better, and is gonna top the last home run that they had,” says McFarlane. “In all honesty, I usually get the details of what they’re announcing pretty close to the announcements themselves. We’re not built so that they have to get approval. That’s the cool thing about all of it. They just do what they want to with the long, long rope that we give them as part of their 100% ownership.”



Skybound’s three panels cover the new nostalgia-based WrestleQuest video game, the 20th anniversary of the Invincible comic book series, and the exciting new shared universe featuring Transformers and GI Joe.

“Not everything is about how I spent my time after school as a kid,” says Alpert. “But it’s also not not about that. I would rush home from the school bus to get there ahead of my sisters so I could control the remote control, so I could watch GI Joe and Transformers. In my mind, they were always together. It always bothered me that they never intersected. Why would you keep chocolate and peanut butter separate? So that was the goal here – take Hasbro and make it Reese’s Pieces.”

Sadly, the Go-Bots are currently not in the plans for that collision of franchises, currently dubbed the Energon Universe. But the GI Joe world popped up at the end of recent Transformers movie Rise of the Beasts.

“I think everybody sees that people want to connect these things,” Alpert says. “Everybody has different ideas of how that would work.”

On the subject of franchises, a rebooted Spawn movie has been in the works for some time. Production was halted by the pandemic and now the writer’s strike, but McFarlane says that hiring a director is the final piece of the puzzle.

“I’ve taken a step back on (directing),” the Image man says. “I’ve been a prisoner of my own success. I got a top flight team. Malcolm (Spellman) and Scott (Silver) writing, who wrote The Joker and new Captain America. Jaime Foxx starring. As the CEO, are we gonna walk into Hollywood and say that we’ve got an A team, plus Todd? I wouldn’t buy that pitch. So I had a call with some of the people involved and they breathed a collective sign when I volunteered to get out of the director’s chair. I understand.”

Mark Brooks Connecting cover

(Mark Brooks, Image Comics)

McFarlane‘s initial desire to grasp creative control after the 1997 attempt at a live action Spawn essentially flopped (despite an awesome soundtrack). At the present time, he’s yet to find a director.

“We want to know what kind of movie we have and take a script to the director,” McFarlane says. “We were expecting to be in the studios in June/July and we were on track, until the strike. They had to do what they had to do, which is put the pencils down. My guess is, probably 60 days, 90 at the most, after the strike ends, we’ll be in Hollywood studios making the sale. That’ll give us time to make the changes, find a director, and then come in with whatever it is that we’re selling. There’s still a big question of what we’re selling. One movie? A series of movies? Or the Spawn Universe, whatever that means?”

Besides the Spawn reboot, McFarlane has a lot of comic books and toys (through his McFarlane Toys company) coming out this year. He teases that the Spawn character will appear in a big AAA video game, though he can’t fully spill the beans yet.

“When I put my character into someone else’s world, I always say, ‘make him the coolest character in that world,’” McFarlane says. “That’s how you get approval. I have way more flexibility giving you approval if you’re bending the status quo than if I was a big corporation with a multi-billion dollar brand. I’m not that precious. Go have fun, and make him compatible with your current fanbase.”

Meanwhile, Skybound will be celebrating season 2 of the Impact Winter vampire-based podcast at Comic-Con, as well as season 2 of the animated Invincible show. And there’s more.

“We have a TV show in the fall on Freevee called Classified, which we shot in South Africa,” Alpert say. “We have a whole bunch of games including WrestleQuest. There’s a ton of comics, and Impact Winter will be huge. It’s hard for us to keep up with all the awesome stuff going on at Skybound, but I think it’s going to be a pretty big year for us.”

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