Even though Eastern alum Todd McFarlane did not achieve his dream, he still managed to do pretty well for himself. McFarlane did not end up patrolling center field for a Major League Baseball team as he hoped; instead, he created Spawn and became one of the most influential comic book writers/artists in history. McFarlane was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and came to Eastern via Spokane Falls Community College by way of a baseball scholarship. “I was going to school [at SFCC] and playing baseball. In the summer of 1980, I ended up going back to Canada and playing on a traveling baseball team,” McFarlane said. “One of the Eastern coaches happened to be at one of the tournaments we were playing at. I ended up getting a scholarship.”
McFarlane ended up finishing one more quarter at SFCC, before transferring to Eastern as a scholarship baseball player on the team that still participated in the Pac-10 Conference.
“I would call myself, in all fairness, incredibly mediocre,” McFarlane said when asked of his baseball abilities. “Here’s what kept me around: I was the fastest guy on the team and I was left-handed.”
The Eagle center fielder certainly had more on his plate than simply baseball during his time in Cheney.
“It was a full-day regime,” McFarlane said of his time at the school. “I worked as a janitor at Showalter Hall for two and-a-half years. It was actually OK, because after a while I was able to help kids out who were lost. You could tell they were lost by the way they walked; we called it the ‘Showalter Shuffle.'”
One might think that McFarlane’s greatest memory at Eastern would come on the baseball diamond; in fact, it came inside a calculus classroom.
“I came from Canada and sometimes there was debate on whether our high school education was better. A lot of the calculus classes were a redo of what I already did,” he explained. “I remember acing all of the tests. When it came time for the final, the teacher asked ‘Is Todd McFarlane here?’ He said ‘Young man, you may leave. Since you’ve gotten 100 percent on all of the other tests, I’m going to assume you studied with the same fervor and would get a 100 percent on this as well.”‘
“You know the feeling when you hit a home run and take a while rounding the bases?” McFarlane continued. “I took the long way out of that classroom and did it with a bit of a swagger.”
During his time at EWU, McFarlane realized his future may not lie on a baseball field.
“The reality of the chances of being a major leaguer was going to be very, very, very remote, so I knew somewhere along the line I needed to get more options,” he said. “I was doing my studies and at night sending off samples of my sketches. I’d gotten hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters. About two weeks before I was set to graduate, I got a phone call from Marvel Comics asking me about a job.”
Post-graduation found McFarlane quickly working his way up the Marvel Comics chain. McFarlane began working on the original Amazing Spiderman series, and soon, Marvel gave him his own series, entitled Spiderman. Spiderman #1 became the best-selling comic book of all-time, selling 2.5 million copies.
Following his success at Marvel, McFarlane and other comic book writers and artists split off and formed Image Comics to gain more creative control over their characters. McFarlane used a character created while in high school as the main character in his comic. Spawn soon became a smash hit, selling 1.7 million copies when it shipped in May 1992.
“Spawn was a guy I created in Calgary in high school. The costume is almost intact from the time I was 16,” McFarlane said. “When we made Image and had to make a new guy, I went back to my roots.”
Flash forward to 2006, and McFarlane has his entertainment company, movies in the works, toys being produced, and music videos to direct, but he still has time to maintain his passion for baseball. McFarlane owns nine balls from the historic 1998 home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. McFarlane paid $3 million for McGwire’s 70th home run ball – the ball that broke the single-season home run record, until Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run- a ball McFarlane also owns.
“You overspend for a couple of baseballs and everybody thinks everything you have is priceless,” McFarlane joked of his collection. “It’s kind of cool to have the top three home run marks in Major League Baseball. I also collect baseball cards from when I was a kid. Some of those cards have just as much meaning to me.”
McFarlane also has ventured into the hockey world; he is a minority owner of the Edmonton Oilers, who played in last year’s Stanley Cup finals.
“It’d be a lot more fun to own the team if I lived in the city I’m invested in,” he said. “I’m the only owner that doesn’t live close enough to go check out the games.” McFarlane now resides in Phoenix, Ariz., with his three children and his wife Wanda, who also graduated from EWU and whom McFarlane calls “the smart one.”
“She followed me down from Calgary; we started to date when we were 13,” he said. “She got her degree in three years.”
So despite not becoming a professional baseball player, it’s easy to see McFarlane has achieved plenty in his life.
But if he still needs his baseball fix, he can get it: he coaches his children’s little league team.