Milestone: If You’re Not There, You Just Won’t Get It, by Michael Davis
Denys Cowan and I were hanging out watching the crowds inside the convention center at the San Diego Comic Con. It’s 1991. As we walked the floor we were kidding around as always. Kidding around and looking at girls. Hey, that’s what we did when we walked the floor at conventions. We joked and looked at girls. We tried looking at guys but we both agreed that made us look pretty… gay.
We were having a pretty good time when Denys got quiet. I thought it was because of this real fine Asian girl we were looking at. Denys turned to me and said “We should start a comic book company that will create some characters of color.” I said, “That’s the stupidest idea I have ever heard. Will you look at that girl?” Denys did not look. That’s when I realized that he was being serious. I said “That’s a great idea.” After that we spent most of the rest of that day and evening talking about what the company could be and whom we should include. This is the first time I have really talked about Milestone outside of a VERY few interviews over the last 15 years. Milestone is the story of five – that’s right FIVE black creators and we all have a story tell.
Denys and I spent the rest of that day and evening talking about what the company could be and whom we should include. In 1991 there were ample black creators we could have included but we wanted to make sure we got this right. It’s important to note that we were not trying to be exclusive by only inviting black creators – we wanted to create black superheroes and wanted to do so with black creators first. If you really look at Milestone you will soon realize that we were never a black company, we were a black owned company. In truth we were a true multicultural company that counted among our talent many, many different races. We went out of our way to include talent from many different walks of life.
Latino, Asian, black, Jewish, straight and gay were just some of the diverse pool of creative geniuses we had working with us. And unlike other publishers welooked for diversity within the industry, and outside of it as well. Denys and I went through a lot of names, some well known, some not. Our criteria were simple – whomever we invited in had to bring with them three things: talent and vision, and we had to be able to work with these people. Denys is easy to work with unless you get on his bad side then watch out.
Me? Well, I’ve been known to be a bit of a pill. People get me or they don’t. Of the dozens of names we went over we settled on four: Christopher Priest, Dwayne McDuffie, Malcolm Jones and Derrick Dingle. I knew everyone on the list except Derrick. In fact Christopher and Dwayne were on a short list of people I gave then-President of DC Comics Jenette Kahn when I was asked to recommend black editor candidates.
Oh, you didn’t know that I was asked to supply DC comics with candidates that would be considered to be their first black editor? Why me?
Because that’s how I roll.
OK, OK, It’s a long story; let’s just say that I move in circles that most people would not believe. Remember that, it’s important to the story. Denys moved very fast building Milestone. By the time we got back from San Diego Denys had called everyone we talked about. Make no mistake: Milestone was Denys baby. He came up with the idea, he put the wheels in motion, and he was the driving force behind it. I was there from conception and co-signed but Denys had the idea. This was so much his baby that the company name was not just clever and precise but was inspired by the name of Denys son, Miles.
We spoke to everyone on the short list and the idea was met with enthusiasm from everyone except Malcolm Jones. I had known Malcolm since we both attended The High School Of Art & Design together. He and I were boys. Malcolm was a troubled soul for as long as I knew him. That said, we thought little of it when we asked him to join Milestone and he said, “No. It would never work.” We just thought that was Malcolm being Malcolm. Ever since high school Malcolm was a bit wired. Once when we were waiting on a subway train Malcolm was bumped by a rushing passenger when he did not get an apology he hit the guy so quick and so hard that I thought he had knocked the guy out. I’m from the projects and had seen a lot of things by the time I was 17 but that incident is one of the few that still sticks in my mind as simply unbelievable.
I knew (we all knew) that Malcolm was a troubled soul and I’m sad to say that when he committed suicide a few years ago I was not that surprised. Denys and I would often talk about how to deal with Malcolm and reached out to him many times. That does little to erase the feeling that we somehow let our friend down.
Christopher Priest and Dwayne McDuffie jumped in with both feet when asked about joining Milestone. Derrick Dingle took a bit of convincing. Derrick had a high-powered job at Black Enterprise magazine and was a bit hesitant about giving up that gig.
Hell, Derrick was always smarter than most people and he did what anyone would have done in his position, he thought about it. Derrick and Denys were childhood friends. They grew apart and grew up. One day Derrick just showed up at Denys house after years of being distant. I have always loved that story. I mean how freakin cool is that? Your best friend from childhood shows up at your door and he’s a bigwig at a huge magazine and you are a bigwig drawing comics. The same comics that you guys collected when you were boys in the hood together.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Derrick Dingle does not get a lot of press in the comics world, but trust me there would have been no Milestone without Derrick. When I first met Derrick I could tell that he just did not like me. That’s OK, I get that a lot. I was a bit lukewarm to Derrick also. Truth be told, I’m not that crazy about anyone who’s a black conservative. But now that I think about it, man, Derrick and I had the best talks. Him on the right, me on the left.
Like most people, Derrick assumed that because I was loud I had little substance. I assumed that because Derrick was so straightlaced that he would not take any chances. We were both wrong. In fact it turns out that Derrick Dingle took the biggest chance of anyone at Milestone. He left his job.
In 1991 Christopher Priest was a hotshot writer who went by another name then. I’m really not sure if Priest is giving a lot of press to that name change but just in case he isn’t, I’ll just use Christopher Priest or Priest here. Priest and I had a love/hate relationship. Sometimes he hated me, sometimes he didn’t. Priest is real serious about his craft and had little time for my antics. I, on the other hand, always liked him. I just loved the way he loved what he was doing.
When Priest was the Spider-Man editor at Marvel comics he once spent over an hour going over a painting I had done for one of the Spider books with me. I made all the changes he wanted and he still did not use the painting he commissioned in the first place. He said “It wasn’t good enough.” He was right.
I assumed we were cool because he gave me work, but he also once wrote a memo banning me from the Marvel offices. I was not happy with that but I let it go. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to that memo. It clearly showed me that Priest had certain buttons best left not pressed.
(By the way, his memo did not work. I knew way too many people at Marvel to be kept out.)
Heck, I used to watch All My Children in an executive’s office or in the conference room regardless if I had work there or not. In fact I did very little work at Marvel, but I hung out with Terry Stewart when he was CEO/chairman and had monthly lunches with Carol Kalish. I was building relationships, not just trying to get work. Terry Stewart did not hire artists. He was in charge of all of Marvel. So when we were shopping Milestone it was easy to get a meeting with Terry Stewart because I had a relationship with him. Remember what I said about moving in certain circles? If you have ever wondered how I pull off the things I do (as if you care) it’s all about vision and relationships. That and I’m Master Of The Universe … duh.
When Priest got involved with Milestone he went from zero to one hundred in about three seconds. He was that committed to say the least. We had that in common. He was committed and he wanted me committed.
Dwayne McDuffie was a sought-after writer who was working with Denys on Deathlok at Marvel. When I first met Dwayne I liked him immediately. He was a big guy with a movie star voice. He was also smart. Very smart. I know a lot of smart people and Dwayne is at the top of the list. When it came to whom we wanted on the Milestone team Dwayne was the one I was most excited about. He was smart to be sure but also he was without a doubt my favorite comic book writer. In fact he still is.
At the time of the Milestone deal Denys was at the height of his career selling millions of books with Dwayne with Marvel’s Deathlok. Denys was as hot as hot could be. My business was doing great. I had just moved into a multi-level loft and I was living the life of Riley.
All this was about to change … big time.
End of Part One.
Media mogul Michael Davis will reveal all next week.