By David Kenney
"If you’re easily offended you won’t like Spawn," muses one comic geek in the documentary The Devil You Know.
The same could be said about Todd McFarlane. Creator of the immensely popular comic Spawn, McFarlane’s take-no-prisoners, eccentric attitude has riled many. From his adult-suited take on Spider Man to waging war on the comic industry by forming Image Comics, the former Calgarian pulls no punches; he just delivers knockouts.
In The Devil You Know, the comic guru’s life is drawn out exposing quite the animated character. Bringing McFarlane’s odd but interesting story to the screen is Toronto director Kenton Vaughan. As a non-comic fan, Vaughan. discovered McFarlane in 1996 via Forbes magazine. Then a researcher with the CBC financial program Venture, Vaughan. was intrigued with the "Canadian corporate rebel" who made millions through his comic empire.
"I thought it was odd that there was an article about this Canadian and I, who worked for a business magazine, had never heard of him," says Vaughan. "So I was curious."
Vaughan.’s interest led to a phone call to McFarlane for a Venture story that never happened. Regardless, Vaughan. still found McFarlane’s story "really interesting and really neat and not a very common story." Then in December 1998, Vaughan. pitched a McFarlane documentary idea to Canada’s National Film Board and got the green light.
"It is curious because here is this Canadian guy who’s done some really remarkable stuff and he’s not that well known in the country," says Vaughan. "Part of it is, I think, because his original medium was comic books. There’s still this notion about comic books not being a legitimate art form or creative outlet or business product."
Not that McFarlane is entirely comic based. In The Devil You Know, the Spawn creator’s cash-cow toy company, McFarlane Toys, and award-winning videos for rock groups Pearl Jam and Korn are showcased.
Yes, Canada’s relative ignorance of McFarlane is definitely a mystery. That mystery changed slightly last year. A self-confessed baseball addict, McFarlane purchased home-run king Mark McGuire’s record-breaking 70th homerun baseball. The Devil You Know even includes never-before-seen home footage of a tense but exuberant McFarlane phone-bidding $2.7 million for the baseball. Vaughan. says the baseball incident made McFarlane’s story even more interesting.
"Every now and then I’d say, ‘Don’t forget Todd, we were doing this before you bought the baseball,’" jokes Vaughan.
Equally interesting is Vaughan.’s choice of narrative for The Devil You Know. Instead of using the A & E Biography chronological style of force-feeding all the info, Vaughan.’s documentary allows the viewer to decide their opinion of McFarlane. Testimony from McFarlane, his family, friends, business associates, admirers and competition leaves varied impressions of the artist.
Especially compelling is the recollection footage of McFarlane’s wife Wanda. Her account of everything from Todd’s courting, to her fervent disapproval of one Spawn comic exposes a man who’s focused passion affects every aspect of his life.
While McFarlane might not be the most popular celebrity on the block, Vaughan. says the baseball fanatic is better than his overblown reputation.
"He is not the devil but he does devilish things," says Vaughan. "It’s the ambiguous hero thing."