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INDEPENDENT COMIC BOOK FIRM TURNS THE TABLES ON `BIG GUYS'

Once dominated by the likes of Spiderman and Superman, the business of comic books has changed. One reason has been the work of Todd McFarlane, who created and owns the comic "Spawn."

McFarlane also is the co-founder of Image Comics, which publishes "Spawn" and has taken a 17 percent share of the American comic market away from industry giants Marvel, which publishes "X-Men" and "Spiderman," and DC Comics, which publishes "Batman" and "Superman." According to Image, "Spawn," is printed in five languages internationally and has sold more than 50 million copies since its debut in May 1992.Spawn, the hero, is a warrior named Al Simmons who battles the forces of evil. These include the awesome monster Malebolgia, leader of the Darklands, and his minions, like the cyborg killing machine Overtkill and the alien Violator.

Locally, the book has had a big impact on sales, according to Mimi Cruz of Night Flight Comics.

"It proved that somebody could produce a comic that isn't by a big company. He proved that one guy can be more successful than a big conglomerate. It's given hope to others."

Cruz says the demand is great, but it was more substantial before McFarlane lost readers due to an unconsistent publishing schedule and other ploys that bothered local comic readers.

"Basically it's the consumer saying, `I won't be played with.'"

McFarlane has also created a line of action figures that gathered awards for their detail and collectibility HBO has contracted to do six animated "Spawn" episodes, and a New Line Cinema film is scheduled for release in the fall of 1996, with special effects being handled by Industrial Light & Magic, according to Image Comics.

"Spawn" has won fans with its realism in its fantastic setting. In issue No. 29 the hero faces a family that is challenged with child abuse, and the hero learns that despite all his fantastic powers he cannot cure all ills. This is part of the movement of all comics to tackle more mature themes.

Cruz reports that other independent comics are selling well, including Chris Clairmont's "Sovereign Seven," Frank Miller's "Sin City," and especially "Star Wars" titles.