MICHAEL DAVIS: You’ve got a friend in me… a comic book story
For most people, comics are a small part of their lives. By that I mean if your comic book collection and your girlfriend were hanging by a cliff and you could only save one your choice would be simple.
Your choice would be simple, right? If not then you should really seek some professional help.
As much as I love comics I have never thought that comics would affect my life in any significant personal way. By personal I mean that outside of my love for the medium and income from the business, comics would not play a major role in my life. I have always thought that comics were an important but small part of my life.
Boy, was I wrong. Sometimes it’s the small things that lead to the big things.
My birthday is Sunday and I have been thinking about my life and my friends lately. Everybody in the comic book industry who knows me knows that Denys Cowan is my best friend. I don’t have a lot of friends (insert your joke here) but those friends I do have are great people. I know I’m a bit hard to get to know-truth be told people meet me and they either love me or (insert your next joke here) hate me.
Of those friends I consider among my best friends: Mike Stradford, Lovern Kindzierski, Roger Klohr, Jason Clark, Ehrich Van Lowe, Lee Speller, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, David Quinn and Denys. Of those guys Denys has been around the longest except for Lee, and we go back to Junior High. I would take a bullet for every one of those guys. That said, Denys and I grew up and went to school together – even if we did not know it.
So how do you grow up together and not know it? Here’s how. I grew up in Queens, New York: Jamaica, Queens then Rockaway, Queens then back to Jamaica, Queens. In all the years I lived in Jamaica, Denys literately lived around the corner from me and we NEVER met.
That’s nothing special until you consider that we went to the same specialized high school, The High School Of Art & Design in Manhattan and we still never met.
Consider this: Denys and I lived around the corner from each other, we rode the same bus, from the same bus stop took the same subway train from the same subway station everyday. We then had to walk the same blocks to the same school in Manhattan. We did this for years and never met. What are the odds?
How did we meet? Why did we meet?
We literally met at Marvel Comics years after high school because a mutual friend of ours thought that two black guys working (or in my case trying to work) in comics should know each other. We both resisted that meeting but our friend Darlene was smarter than both of us and arranged it. She asked me to have dinner with her one day and told me to meet her at Marvel where she was the receptionist. When I got there she asked me to Xerox something for her. I went to the Xerox machine and standing there was Denys Cowan.
I thought he was a real (insert bad word here).
I introduced myself and extended my hand, without looking up from the copy machine he coldly said, “I know who you are.” He did not shake my hand. Like I said, he was a real…(insert another bad word here). I went back to Darlene and told her that Denys was a real (you know what to do). Darlene then informed me that he was coming to dinner with us, which was her plan all along.
I was not happy, if Darlene was anyone else I would have simply left but Darlene was special so I stayed. I say was special because a few years ago she died. I often think about Darlene and miss her terribly. Well an hour or so later, we are all in the elevator going to the lobby. Neither Denys nor I acknowledged each other. In fact we were trying real hard to be “hard” and distant. That’s a black man thing… ask one… then run.
Darlene tried her best to engage us both in conversation. We were not having any, until she mentioned the I Love Lucy show. Well, Denys mumbled something about Desi Arnaz being one of the coolest guys ever. I mumbled in agreement and before we knew it we were actually talking to each other. Darlene was ecstatic… that was until Denys and I started singing a Desi Arnaz song at the top of our lungs in the middle of a Manhattan street. Darlene begged us to stop, we did for a moment then we started up again even louder. That was indeed the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Regarding Deny’s coldness at the Xerox machine I found out later that he was not being a (bad word) he thought I was being a (ditto) and we both misread each other.
Or we were both just young and stupid.
Denys and I started hanging out. I was amazed at how respected he was in the comic world. Remember this was years ago when we were both babies. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. I was entrenched in another world all together; although I loved comics and hung out at Marvel Comics I was a mainstream illustrator and had no real dealing in the comic biz. In fact I had not even been to a comic convention until Denys took me to one. He introduced me to all the players in his world; I did the same for him in my world. Part of my world was the New York nightlife-networking scene. There were many nights when Denys and I would hit the swankiest clubs. The goal was to meet and mingle with the elite of New York power brokers…and hang with the ladies. That hanging with the ladies did not always work out.
It was years later when I figured why some of the ladies were not into us. It may have something to do with this incident. Denys and I were waiting for a subway train and these two gay guys started looking at us. We wondered why. I mean there we were minding our business wearing skintight jeans and sporting drippy jerri curls (think Michael Jackson Thriller album) so why on earth were these gay guys looking at us? As they approached we each decided it was the other one of us they were coming to talk to.
Denys: Yo man, they coming over to talk to you.
Me: No, not me, it’s you dude.
We were both wrong. They were coming over to talk to both of us. When they got there one of them said. “Hi. Are you guys musicians? “ Denys and I looked at each other, searching for the right manly phase that will send these guys a clear manly message. We both shouted (way too loud) ‘Musicians? NO! We’re ARTISTS!!”
Yep, that was really manly.
The funny (no pun intended) thing about that incident is we spent the next 45 minutes on the subway with these guys who turned out to be really cool. No, not that cool.
Denys and I have over the years had a major influence on each other. Denys is responsible for me getting into (so now you know who to blame) comics. I’m responsible for bringing him to L.A. Denys is responsible for turning me on to Frank Sinatra who I LOVE! I’m responsible for his video game playing. Denys is responsible for me listening to Howard Stern. I’m responsible for introducing him to his other, our other best friend Mike Stradford. We have gotten each other jobs. We have started businesses together. I could go on but you get the picture. The only person who even comes close to influencing Denys and I other than each other is our friend who’s name keep popping up here, Mike Stradford. Mike is so cool, Brad Pitt asks him for dating advice. Mike could make a lady mime speak up in the middle of her act.
Denys and I have been through a lot together. From almost getting killed when we walked into the wrong bar in Rosemont, Illinois to almost getting arrested because we were simply walking in Times Square when the cops decided we “fit the description.” In fact we have come close to dying together on more than a couple occasions. We were driving once when we ran into a center divider at 50 miles an hour; the car flipped and did a 180 turn. We ended up landing in the opposite lane going in the right direction. To this day we refer to that as our Bat-Man turn.
The closest we came to death is when Mike Gold, another guy I consider a real friend, was driving us around Chicago years ago. Mike was wearing what looked to Denys and me like “Cyclops” glasses. Those sunglasses looked just like the ones Cyclops from the X-Men wears. Denys and I were sitting in the back seat convinced that Mike would turn around, lift the glasses and destroy us with his optic blasts!
Denys and I have come a long way from the days when we would throw back a six-pack of Cherry Coke in the basement of his grandfathers’ house. We don’t see each other as much as we once did, which is crazy because we live 10 minutes from each other! In fact now that I think of it we have always lived 10 minutes or less from each other rather we knew it or not. That is the real problem with working hard you don’t get to see the people you want to as much as you would like. We may not see each other as much as we want to but we know we still have each other’s back.
Why did I call this article a comic book story? Because it’s the small world of comics that brought my best friend and me together. Comics that Denys and I still do even though our jobs (at separate companies) are to develop TV shows. In fact it’s comics that have led two poor kids from Queens to the great gigs we have now.
I started writing this to underscore the importance comics have played in my life on a personal level. I wanted to tie that into what comics may mean to you on that level also. But as I look at what I’ve written I now realize just how important Denys is to me.
Damn. That’s SO sappy, but what the hell. So Denys just in case you read this (as if you ever read my stuff you (insert bad word here), you’re my boy but Randy Newman said it best when he wrote these lines from his hit Toy Story song:
Boy, and as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see it’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me.
Hey, it takes a real man to dedicate a song verse to another man. I’m secure in my manliness. I have to go now. Grey’s Anatomy, uh, I mean The Man Show is on.
Michael Davis is a comics creator and the founder of the Guardian Line series of comics as well as being a television producer and writer. He was a co-founder of Milestone Comics and his artwork has appeared in Wasteland, Green Arrow: Shado, Green Hornet and The Question, among others.