Todd McFarlane on why King Spawn #1 sales are so high and what Spawn can do that Marvel and DC can't

King Spawn #1
art from King Spawn #1 Todd McFarlane cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

Todd McFarlane's King Spawn #1 has generated retail pre-orders of 497,000 copies to comic book stores, according to Todd McFarlane Productions (TMP). 

King Spawn #1 Puppeteer Lee cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

The issue, which goes on sale on August 25, is written by Sean Lewis and McFarlane, with interior art by Javier Fernandez, Brett Booth, Philip Tan, Stephen Segovia, McFarlane, and Marcio Takara.

If accurate the figure would make it one of the 10 bestselling comic books in comic book specialty shops (known as the Direct Market) in the 21st century, according to estimates by comic book sales tracker John Jackson Miller of Comichron. 

According to Miller's estimates, King Spawn #1 with its nine variant covers would rank as the 10th highest-ordered comic book in the 2000s, or as high as sixth depending on the sales criteria Todd McFarlane Productions is citing. 

TMP is counting "non-returnable" (the feature that makes the Direct Market the Direct Market) and "non-retailer exclusive sales." 

It's almost important to keep in mind these are sales to comic book stores - meaning how many copies retail stores ordered - and not necessarily sales to readers. 

The figures also don't include sales of digital copies, or sales of graphic novels to mainstream booksellers - such as the latest Dog Man, which has sold 903,000 copies so far this year.

King Spawn #1 David Finch cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

With those filters in place, King Spawn #1 trails only DC's Detective Comics #1000 (an estimated 574.7k units sold in 2019), Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man #1 (559.2k in 2014), Marvel's Secret Wars #1 (550.5k in 2015), Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man #583 (530.5k in 2009, co-starring President Barack Obama), and DC's Action Comics #1000 (504.2k in 2018) since 2000.

30 years of Spawn led to this

First introduced in 1992 and published by Image Comics (which McFarlane co-founded and still serves as president of), Spawn debuted to sales of 1.7 million copies, a figure that TMP cites as still the highest-selling, creator-owned comic issue of all time. 

Spawn helped elevate the then-superstar Spider-Man artist into an independent brand name and celebrity, and his enterprises have 'spawned' (apologies) a Spawn feature film (with another in development), an HBO animated series, an in-development TV series starring the Spawn supporting characters Sam & Twitch, a popular toy manufacturer with major licenses from all over the entertainment and professional sports' spectrum, and of course, a comic book line.  

The main Spawn comic book title hit 301 issues in 2019, leading to TMP cite as the "longest-running, creator-owned comic on the planet."

King Spawn is the latest in McFarlane's expansion of the Spawn line into a shared universe. A June special Spawn's Universe #1 generated sales of over 200k copies, according to TMP, and made it Diamond Comics Distributors' second-highest selling comic book of the month after Marvel's Venom #35, according to Diamond.

King Spawn #1 Greg Capullo cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

King Spawn more than upped the ante. 

"I'm a baseball guy, I love stats here so I'm trying to lose the word 'Image' when we're talking about how good this sold," McFarlane tells Newsarama. "Did we break 100 Image Comics records or something? Yes, that's a given. That's the low-hanging fruit. Let's go bigger than that. What are Marvel and DC doing in the 21st century? Let's start at that point and go all the way down."

"Do we think that a reboot of Amazing Spider-Man is a new comic book? I don't know. But here are the books that have outsold it: Action #1000 and Detective #1000, and what else?" he asks. 

"There's only one more book and that's the 2014 Amazing Spider-Man relaunch. It's just weird to say that that was a new ongoing monthly for the 12th time," McFarlane says, taking something of a shot at Marvel's frequent relaunch model. 

Clash of the Titans

McFarlane calls King Spawn a meta "David versus Goliath story" pitting his character against Marvel's Avengers. 

"Is there anything from Captain America that beats this? No. Iron Man? No. Hulk? No. Thor? No. That's why I'm thinking Spawn beat the Avengers," he says, although perhaps overlooking that Marvel's Secret Wars prominently featured all those characters. 

The iconic creator cites both Spawn's longevity and consistency in an often inconsistent market as the reason the franchise seems to be experiencing a resurgence, along with a factor that doesn't get a lot of dialogue these days - the cover price. 

"I think it comes down to the popularity of the character, the longevity of the character, and the rich long history he has. It's monthly and not sporadic," McFarlane says. "And I think that once we get past the first issue (King Spawn #1 is $5.99), these are going to be $2.99 books. That's a bit of a unicorn right now. I think it matters to the consumer so if I deliver quality, that's how they stick around."

$2.99 is indeed a comparatively low cover price, with most of Marvel and DC's comic books coming in at $3.99 and $4.99. 

Gunslinger Spawn #1 Brett Booth cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

McFarlane also talked up the future additions to the new Spawn Universe, including October's Gunslinger Spawn and the team book The Scorched starring Spawn, Gunslinger, She-Spawn, and the Redeemer, along with "a few surprises."

The creator acknowledges Gunslinger Spawn is something of a wildcard as the character doesn't have a lot of history, even in the main Spawn title. But McFarlane says his action figure sells well.

"He just looks cool," says McFarlane. "It's going to be a different take on the character but still tied to this Spawn family," McFarlane exclaimed.

In the past, McFarlane has likened the Gunslinger to his own version of Marvel's Punisher or DC's Lobo.

"He's going to make Spawn look like a Boy Scout," McFarlane told us previously

Why Spawn works

"King Spawn is still Al Simmons, but this is something never-before-seen," McFarlane says, circling back to his just-shy-of-half-a-million-copies-seller. 

"I think also from a retailer standpoint, with Marvel and DC moving to other distributors, there could be some disruption, nobody wants that, but if it happens, I feel like there's a level of reliability with how these books are released."

King Spawn #1 Brett Booth cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

Launching any new comic book in 2021 is a gamble, even with McFarlane's industry cachet and pop culture standing, and going back to sport's analogies he says TMP simply operates with a different mindset than the 'Big Two' publishers.

"If you have a creator-owned title and you get 40-50k in sales, that's a home run," he says.

McFarlane explains that when an independent company like his doesn't have to answer to a major corporation, it doesn't have to move as many copies and that pressure to sell so many is "kinda diminished."

"If we check back in a year from now and all four of those books are doing 50k-plus? That's huge for my business model!" he exclaims. "That's a success. So that's the goal. Can I find a consistency of quality and sales? But long term? What can I add to this that gives value to retailers and consumers? What characters, stories, price points...all of that, to feel like it's moving things forward and on track."

On that note, McFarlane predicts success for Gunslinger Spawn - written by himself and Ales Kot with art by Philip Tan and Kevin Keane - based on King Spawn and Spawn's Universe's sales. 

King Spawn #1 Donny Cates cover (Image credit: Todd McFarlane Productions / Image Comics)

"I thought Spawn's Universe could sell 200k and on a good day King Spawn does 300k with Gunslinger falling somewhere in between," he says, explaining his math. "I hit the first two checkmarks so we'll have to see on the third, but I think it'll be a surprising success."

Finally, McFarlane says having more than one Spawn book will actually be freeing creatively. 

"Look, the very nature of doing multiple superhero books is doing some sort of repetition," he argues. "If you have multiple Batman books and he's fighting bad guys in them, I think people can handle two Spawn books. This is going to give me latitude and have more outlets to get really out there. 

"Having only one Spawn book sort of held me back from getting too crazy because it wasn't built for anything other than a single character. Now though, I can expand some of the stories and not have to be so myopic this time around."

Spawn of course ranks highly on Newsarama's list of the best non-Marvel and DC superheroes.

Lan Pitts likes watching, talking, and writing comics about wrestling. He has mapped every great taco spot in the DC and Baltimore areas. He lives with his partner and their menagerie of pets who are utterly perfect in every way.