This is something very different from my last post, although for various reasons it’s a favourite of mine. If Joel Peter Witkin’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience represents a high-culture response to Blake (in price at least, although some critics might object to that tag applied to the content of his photography), this plastic figurine from McFarlane’s Toys is very much the downmarket aspect of merchandising. I picked up this particular object for about £5 from eBay, but I do absolutely love it. I very much doubt that when Blake first presented his tyrant deity, Urizen, in the Lambeth prophecy America in the early 1790s, he thought it would be reincarnated as a plastic figurine aimed at kids – well, more accurately comic book geeks. I rather hope that he would have appreciated the thought.
I have a notion to do some work on Blake and comics in the coming months, and so have begun to collect various titles that reference Blake in some shape or form. Everyone, but everyone who knows something about Blake and comics knows about Blake and Alan Moore, the creator of V for Vendetta and Watchmen, who most recently wrote an epic novel, Jerusalem, that takes its title from the hymn and illuminated book by Blake. There are many, many others who lay claim to Blake as an inspiration, however, and one of the most inventive is Todd McFarlane.
McFarlane, most famous for his work on the Spider-Man series, is a Canadian-American comic book writer who has also produced material for some of the best-known and best-loved figures from comics in recent years, including the Incredible Hulk and Batman among others. My own interest in McFarlane, however, was piqued by his series Spawn, some of which I remember reading in the 1990s when they were first released by Imagine comics, but which I had long forgotten about.
Urizen first appears as a character in issue 93 (March 2000), and is identified as the “Dark God”, an epithet apparently chosen for its deliberate contrast to Blake’s original identification of this Zoa as the “prince of Light” (David Erdman, The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, p.307). Indeed, a descendant of William Blake, “Granny Blake”, also appears in the Spawn series – but I’ll return to Urizen and Granny Blake at a later date once I’ve collected the relevant issues of the comic.
In the meantime, this figurine stands apart as a fascinating piece of Blakeana for its own sake. McFarlane Toys, the manufacturer of this trinket, is a spin-off subsidiary of Todd McFarlane Productions and was formed in 1994 (originally as Todd’s Toys, though it changed its name a year later to avoid confusion with, of all things, Barbie’s younger brother). The company has received some criticism for the gory nature of some of its creations, but any company that works with the late, great H. R. Giger to bring his monstrous creations to life (or plastic) is fine by me. Since its formation, McFarlane Toys has gone on to become a business with a turnover of some $9 million and makes toys for acts as diverse as The Simpsons and the rock group KISS.
There is no date given for this particular figurine, but would clearly have been after 2000 when Urizen made his debut in the Spawn comics, and is listed as part of the Spawn series 2. Rearing upwards in a stance similar to his pose in the first comic, Urizen takes on the form of some hellish demon, a complete antithesis (which, as far as I can tell, is deliberate) to the Blakean original. I would hope that rather than spinning in his grave, Blake would have been pleased to see his Deistic nemesis revived in popular culture – and perhaps have half an eye on future royalty payments.