THE DEVIL YOU KNOW: INSIDE THE MIND OF TODD MCFARLANE

3 Stars
Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 77 minutes
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If you don’t already know who Todd McFarlane is, well, then you probably won’t care. However, if you’re into comic books or action figures then you most like have already contributed to his staggering wealth. Who is he? I’ll try to keep this short. There was once this hyper Canadian kid who just wasn’t going to make it in professional baseball. Dejected, he poured all of his energy into his art and into breaking into the comic business. After a few years of dues-paying, he made it very big, particularly drawing and eventually writing Spider-Man. While seemingly at his height, he quit his secure job to start his own comic company with a bunch of other upstart talent. Rather quickly, he had created Spawn, a character than not only outsold Spider-Man but that McFarlane completely owned. He then spun his new child off in different areas, including later an adult animated show on HBO and a live-action feature movie. However, the area where he has really had the most impact was when he decided to create his own company to produce action figures. In the process he almost single-handedly created the current collector’s market for these toys. Last year McFarlane Toys released something like 100 figures. That included the likeness not only of Spawn, but of such properties as the Beatles, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Austin Powers, Akira, Major League Baseball, and the NHL among others. McFarlane was also in the news when he paid an ungodly sum for several of the actual baseballs hit, including the final one, during the 1998 season battle for the home run record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Kenton Vaughan’s documentary isn’t necessarily the most focused I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t do the standard of listing the subject’s accomplishments up front for anyone in the audience that doesn’t know what they are. While he does adequately cover Todd’s impact on the comic industry, Vaughan strangely fails to reveal the guy’s sizable impact on the toy industry. No, he’s not Mattel, but most of his cash at this point comes from that arena, to where he’s probably the comic writer or artist to have actually made more money than the two creators of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.
Then again, Todd himself doesn’t always come across as the most focused individual in the world. His life isn’t exactly “Behind the Music” territory either: no drug habit, no police record, no bad relationships. The only girlfriend he ever had is his wife, whom he’s known since they were both teenagers. There are a couple of other defining characteristics. Most people note that he comes off pretty cocky. Believe me, the attitude didn’t come with the millions. I met him at a convention nearly 12 years ago, before he was given his own Spider-Man book, and he was like that then. However, I’ve got to say that he doesn’t really look any different now, either. That’s the other thing you’ll notice. If anything, his speech and mannerisms often match that of a 15 to 17-year-old, which might actually be why he’s so successful. “Spawn” is not aimed at 30-ish intellectuals. In nearly every incarnation it’s exactly the sort of thing a moody teenage boy would think is cool. McFarlane isn’t deliberately trying to cater to that market. That’s just how he is.
Overall, I’d say that if you were not interested in Todd going into this movie, I don’t know that you’d care too much after. Then again, the title does begin, “The Devil You Know…” not “The Guy With That Comic and the Toy Thing”. If you’re like me and can look away from your computer to your left and see a whole bookshelf devoted to action figures, you’ll probably enjoy the ride. After all, anyone who spends $6 or 7 million on a bunch of baseballs can’t be all that normal.



Posted on June 14, 2001 in Reviews by
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