BEAUOLOGY 101: THRILLIN’ and SKILLIN’
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by beau Smith
From 1991 through the year 2000, I worked for Todd McFarlane. I was his head of promotions, VP of sales, marketing, executive of Publishing, writer, you name it; I pretty much did whatever job Todd asked of me. It was a terrific job(s) and I really delighted in being there, from just five of us working for him, to the point where it was well over 100.
It was never dull. Never.
Boof and The Bruise crew #1. Art by Tim Harkins
Todd was one of, if not the most, interesting person I’ve worked for. He is really 50/50 on being creative and a very instinctual businessman. It seems that when Todd was in high school and college, it was a very creative time for him. As legend has it, those were the times when he came up with the idea for not only Spawn, but another interesting group of characters as well. Those characters were Boof and The Bruise Crew.
It was around 1993-94 when we at Todd McFarlane productions had a lot of company folks knocking at our door. The success and sales of Spawn as well as the start of McFarlane Toys, had everyone’s attention, especially those who saw a chance to do company with Todd and make some money. Walmart was one of those folks. Paul Burke, who had worked for Todd for a long time, was a real navigator in making this happen.
We had done some early company with Walmart a few years before, thanks to Paul, but now they were wanting to amplify that business. Being a family friendly retailer, the darker side of Spawn was a bit edgier than they really wanted to go. but they were very much interested in Todd creating something that would hit the ages of grade school to high school. That was when Todd dug into his old school notebooks and pulled out Boof and The Bruise Crew.
Todd’s schedule was, and is, hyper-intensive. His 9 to 5 day is jammed to the gills. He always made a point to shut off at 5 and dedicate the rest of the time to his partner and family, without fail. I can say that my greatest admiration for Todd has always been the fact that he is one of the best fathers and spouses I have ever seen. His art and company sense will always pale in comparison to him being a spouse and father.
Boof #1 Art by John Cleary
So, I was working in my office here in West Virginia when my fax device (You remember those…right?) starting spewing pages and pages of sketches and hand written notes from Todd. No sooner had I started cutting the pages from the roll (Thermal paper that came on a tube), when Todd called. He went on to discuss that this was what he wanted to develop for Walmart as a comic book and possibly toys, plush animals, trading cards, and more. He told me about coming up with these characters when he was in school and that they needed fleshed out with background, back stories, and character details. He wanted me to look them over and see if I would be interested in fleshing them out and writing a six issues series for the character Boof, aimed at high school kids that liked Beavis & Butthead as well as Ren & Stimpy (both very popular at the time with the general public and with Todd) and then another six issue series with Boof and The Bruise crew aimed at grade school and middle school age kids.
It didn’t take but a glance at the sketches to know that I wanted to do it. Besides, in those days, Todd paid very well and I didn’t want to miss out on that paycheck.
According to Todd’s notes, the character Boof and his pals were aliens from another planet and were on earth due to some spaceship malfunctions. He had given all the characters names; Boof, Bunny, Zeek, Opee, Caddy, and Sarge. It was up to me to fill in the rest. At the time, Todd was kinda busy with another character that he created called Spawn. You may have heard of him.
We tossed around the idea of providing the two series to the direct comic book market, but we knew there was really no demand for kid stuff or humor comics at the time. This was the early 1990s and mainstream superheroes were wearing the sales crown. If memory serves me correctly, we had a guaranteed pre-sell of 300,000 issues for both six issues series from Walmart. Not bad for a humor book, eh? Of course, they had the option for much more if needed.
Boof #1 Art By John Cleary
Todd and I talked about artists for the books at length. For the Boof series, we wanted someone who had a resemblance to Todd’s own work only much more exaggerated. Todd was always receiving submissions in the mail and pulling out the ones that interested him. one of those was from a young artist from Kentucky named John Cleary. John had done some tryout stuff for Erik Larsen on savage Dragon as well.
John was a very good kid and full of passion, but not a veteran of the business, so it was part of my job to help him along into the big pool. John’s style really was an exaggerated version of Todd’s. At times, it was like Todd on some sort of acid trip, which is a scary thought if you know teetotaler Todd.
Boof. Art By John Cleary.
John filled every panel up with art and added loads of detail. You could also tell that he really wanted to do superhero/horror stories because in each issue of Boof, all the characters looked evil, even when they were doing good deeds. By issue six, everything and everybody looked pretty scary.
Boof and The Bruise crew #3. Art By Tim Harkins.
For Boof and The Bruise Crew, we wanted a true Saturday morning cartoon look, very open and very friendly without being My little Pony. The artist I had in mind was Tim Harkins.
Boof and The Bruise Crew. Art by Tim Harkins
Tim, a Kubert school graduate and teacher, was already well recognized in comic books as a letterer for DC Comics, marvel Comics, as well as many other publishers. He was also a noted inker. What many in the comic book world didn’t know was that Tim was also a wonderful penciler and writer of strips and gags in magazines such as Cracked, CARtoons, and other humor related publications. Tim had a real Jack Davis style that could be comprehensive or very open. He was ideal for the job and Todd agreed. Tim also plotted the Bruise crew issues with me. We had a ton of fun and I really appreciated his knowledge of gag work.
With the creative teams all in place, we kicked the books into high gear and started the machine. I have to say, other than working with Pat Lee on Wynonna Earp, I had never worked with artists that stayed this far ahead of schedule and turned in such professional work. No cutting corners and no sloppiness. John and Tim were full throttle pros.
As we were working on the issues, word got out (not that it was any secret) of these books to the direct market. sellers were in somewhat of an uproar that they were not provided the books. They were right. They should’ve been provided the books, even though we knew they probably wouldn’t come close to matching the then current image Comics numbers. We still ought to have given them the chance to sell them.
We ended up working out a deal with Walmart so that we could offer the books to the direct market. The stipulation was that the books could be sold to the direct market six months after their release in Walmart. We also gave the direct market their own exclusive covers. Walmart didn’t have to do this, after all, it was their exclusive. but they wanted to work with Todd and this showed their passion to work with him.
Again, if my feeble memory serves me right, I think we sold best around 40,000 of Boof #1 and Boof and The Bruise crew #1 within the direct market with the rest of the series having lower sales in accordance to typical mini-series percentage drops. As we suspected, the direct market didn’t do gangbusters with the series because they were humor comics, but I was happy they were out there and readers got a chance to pick them up if they wanted.
Boof and The Bruise Crew. Art by Tim Harkins.
I have to admit, I really delighted in writing them and putting out something that wasn’t all gloom and doom. For a while, it really looked like both series were going to end up as TV animation series; there were a lot of studios that were knocking on the door. Both Boof series also came very close to being a McFarlane toys toy line. In the end, Walmart didn’t do as well with the comics as they thought they would and interest soon died out with them. They also had second thoughts on the ads that were in the books and the fact that Todd’s comics were not what you would call family friendly enough for Walmart. In reality, it all ended up the way we figured considering the market then and where interests were.
I would’ve loved to have seen the Boof series go into other mediums. In the Boof series, I modeled the kid characters after my own three sons by name, Nick, Dana and Brad, as well as our dog, Buddy. It would’ve been fun for them to see themselves on the screen and in video games.
I have to thank Todd not only for the terrific paycheck….but the total freedom he gave me in writing these books. Todd has always been terrific for hiring people for what they do best and then letting them do it. You just have to remember that he owns it at the end of the day.
If you get the chance to find Boof or Boof and The Bruise Crew, please give them a shot. (There are some available as back issues best here at Westfield. You can find them here. – ed.) They really have that 90s humor feel of Beavis & Butthead as well as Ren & Stimpy, lots of poop and fart jokes, over the top cartoon violence, and even a couple of catch phrases that ought to have caught on. On a personal note, I also doubled the size of my house and we purchased two brand new vehicles. thanks to you, Boof, for a while, I was thrillin’ and skillin’!
Not sorry for one money grabbin’ moment,
The flying Fist Ranch