Things I Can't Live Without: Todd McFarlane
BY John Fried
What to get for the boy with lots of toys? Ask Todd McFarlane
Occupation: Owner of a handful of eponymous, privately held publishing, toy, and entertainment companies, including McFarlane Toys, the fifth-largest U.S. manufacturer of action figures. The company sold more than 10 million toys in 2003, each carrying McFarlane's signature. Many of the intricately detailed figures hail from movies, including The Matrix, The Terminator, and Shrek, or are licensed figures of athletes. McFarlane can relate to the sports fanatics who buy his toys: He also owns a minority interest in the Edmonton Oilers NHL team.
Age and home: 43, Tempe, Ariz. (born in Calgary, Canada).
Annual revenue and employees: $60 million for McFarlane Toys; 126 total employees.
Background sketch: After making Marvel's Spider-Man series a top seller again in the late 1980s and early 1990s, McFarlane left with other artists to create Image Comics, now the third-largest U.S. comic book publisher. (Image's big seller is McFarlane's own Spawn series.) McFarlane recognized that there was an untapped segment of the market. "I didn't want to make kid toys or kid comic books or kid animation," he says. "I was interested in developing something for the kid who grows up and has disposable income, who doesn't want something cute and cuddly."
Heroic strategy: McFarlane was approached by many toy makers to license his Spawn characters, but feared they would sacrifice quality for volume. He decided to manufacture his own action figures, with an obsessive attention to detail that raised the bar for the entire industry.
Dark vision: His figures, McFarlane admits, often "take something everybody thinks is sugar and sweet and turn it on its head." His Twist Land of Oz series, for instance, features Dorothy in a tight leather S&M outfit, a zombielike Tinman, and a Scarecrow designed with, he says, "the emphasis on 'scare."
Things I Can't Live Without
Mark McGwire's 70th home-run baseball, bought for $3 million: "The home run is still the single best act in sports. It's the only activity in which the object leaves the playing field and the paying consumer gets to keep it."
Braveheart DVD, $15: "I love Braveheart because I consider being in business being at war. I should have been born 500 years ago, when you could go to your enemies and fight them with a sword. Nowadays you steal market share. Market share is not nearly as satisfying."
Action Comics No. 1, circa 1938, estimated value $500,000: "This is the Holy Grail of comic books because it's the first appearance of Superman. The history of comic books starts at that moment. It's the dawning of superheroes."
...and What I Covet
The Stanley Cup: "It's the most famous of all awards, and it has a storied history. Most people can't tell you how the Super Bowl award looks, but they know the Stanley Cup. It would make my Canadian brethren jealous if I could drive around with it in the back of my convertible."