If You’re Not There, You Just Won’t Get It – Conclusion, by Michael Davis
This is the last segment in this month long saga. If you are anything like me, you are sick of this. I mean four weeks of me reliving history is a bit much even for a guy who LOVES history. To that point, all I watch on TV is All My Children (the greatest show ever!), news, and The History Channel. I don’t even watch the shows I write or have created. I’m not kidding. I have never watched an episode of any show that I have been involved in.
I love history and I thought when I started writing this it would fill me with a wonderful sense of nostalgia.
Don’t get me wrong, Milestone is and will always be a BIG part of my life and career and I’m very happy to clear up some misconceptions about Milestone… particularly my involvement. Take a look at the previous installments to read about some of those misconceptions surrounding Milestone, Christopher Priest and DC’s “ownership” to name but a few.
Here’s my BIGGEST problem and the misconception that burns me to this day. There have been many, MANY articles and or books that have featured Milestone. A lot of them have said that I left Milestone quick, fast and in a hurry.
That, like the promise that Bush would be a good president, was a compete and utter lie. There’s more truth in the belief that the world is flat and women in L.A. don’t care about what you drive.
I was there the moment Milestone was created. I did not leave until two and an half YEARS after that. The writer Les Daniels (who’s books I enjoy, by the way) wrote in his book, DC Comics Sixty Years Of The World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes (1995) “A fourth partner, Michael Davis, quickly left to run Motown Animation.”
Les, I think I have all your books on comics and LOVE the way you write but what you wrote about me is just wrong. Wrong like sex without love… I mean wrong like “black hockey players.”
Two and a half years in the entertainment business is an eternity. You know Les; you could have called me, buddy. I’m easy to find. I’m the guy loudly bitching about people not doing their research. Writing that I “quickly left” about my time at Milestone is like saying that The Jackson Five were Michael Jackson’s first back-up band.
People thinking that I bailed is one of the reasons I’m getting a wee pissed writing this. Another reason is Ania. For those who don’t know, Ania was a black comic book company that came out right around the time of Milestone. Their books were no match for what we were doing at Milestone.
If Milestone and Ania were cars, Milestone would be a Rolls Royce and Ania would be a bus pass.
They knew they could never compete on a professional level so some in their camp went on a smear campaign against Milestone. At one point someone called us “house niggers,” implying, incorrectly, that we were owned by DC. Our response was to “not justify” their slams by addressing them. I fought like a mad man to respond to these guys loud and hard but I was outvoted. I still think that was a mistake. Those guys defined us to a lot of people.
One Milestone partner said “If some people believe what Ania is saying then we don’t want them as readers.” I did not get that statement then, I don’t get it now. For my money you crush those who try and define you unjustly. Dwayne tried to take the high road with Ania and suggested that we sit down with them so we can come to a meeting of the minds. I mentioned in this column before that Dwayne is one of the smartest people I know and the meeting with Ania was a smart move but I was dead set against it. I simply wanted to reduce these guys to rubble.
Forgetting Ania, one of the things that I loved at Milestone was that we were a true democracy. A democracy in which I was almost always outvoted but a democracy never the less.
By the time our deal was done at DC we at Milestone had a protocol worked out that helped shape what kind of company we would be. When DC invited us to a Milestone / DC comics retreat (and you thought I had forgot where I was when I left you last week), we were a confident if not cocky group. The retreat was at a swank estate on the Hudson River. We met during the day, had lunch while we met and ate dinner together in a fabulous dining room. The ideas from both sides were coming fast and furious.
I looked right into the eye of a DC executive and said “How about kissing my ass?” Well the DC executive looked me right in the eye and said, “Gladly, Davis. You have a great ass.”
OK, maybe I better tell you the whole story behind that exchange. No, no one from DC said I had a great ass and offered to kiss it but I did say to a DC executive “How about kissing my ass?” I said that because at the retreat we were having a discussion about just how real we wanted the language in the books to be. In retrospect I’m not sure why we were so hung up on that. In fact, if Milestone were originating today I’m not so sure we would pay a lot of attention to that. Did we want the Milestone books to be seen as more real because they were set in a mystical inner city? I’m sure we did, but times have changed so I’m not sure if we would go there now.
There were some on the DC side that wanted hardcore language in the books. I was leaning that way also until I realized that having Static shout,Hey evildoer what the F**K are you doing? really would not help us with sales. Yeah, forget how real and cool having hardcore swear words in the books would be, the language would absolutely affect the bottom line.
There was no way in Hell that the bible belt and other parts of the country would accept comic books with that kind of speech in it. The solution was ingenious to say the least, we literally drew a line over the swear “words.” Nothing like that had ever been done in comics before, it was just smart. When the retreat was over I felt very good and I was looking forward to producing the books.
The first thing that we did was create the Milestone creative bibles. These were the complete overview of the Milestone universe. I was chosen to write the Static bible. I don’t remember who wrote the other three, but I’m sure that Dwayne’s direction was over all of them. Denys designed all of the major Milestone characters and my studio created a lot of the environments around our universe. At the same time Dwayne and Denys were staffing the books and Derrick was running the day-to-day business of Milestone. Among my official duties at Milestone were new talent development and convention organization. We were committed to expanding the industry and one of the best ways we could think of was to give new young talent a shot.
There were a lot of Milestone contributors who helped at the start of Milestone and there are some great stories there. However, they are not my stories so I’m ill equipped to tell them.
We launched Milestone officially at a reception held by DC at Comic Con International. That was our coming out to the industry. What a lot of people don’t remember is Image Comics introduced Milestone to the fans! Rob Liefield and I talked about doing some cross promotion between Milestone and Image before we had the DC deal. When we signed the deal it was Rob’s idea to introduce the Milestone principals to the fans during an Image Comic’s panel at Comic Con. How cool was that?
The Image guys were on top of the world at that time and their panels were an EVENT. So it was with great appreciation that we took a bow at the Image panel. I will never forget the Image guys and especially Rob for doing that.
When the books hit the stands we were a freaking SMASH! The only thing that outsold Milestone was The Death Of Superman. We were that big. To this day I still think that DC killed Superman to stop us from becoming the best selling books from them that year. OK, I know that’s not true, but think about it…
We were on top of the world. Over the next year we hit the comics world by storm. There were hundreds of news reports on us. TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers. WE WERE EVERYWHERE. It looked like smooth sailing from there on.
Except all was not smooth going at Milestone for me. I was supposed to draw Static but then I found John Paul Leon. Yeah, that John Paul Leon. He was a much better artist for the book than I was. I was supposed to move to another book but that never happened. That was a problem. It was a problem because I was not making a cent from my involvement at Milestone. My income was supposed to come from drawing a book. This was done so we did not drain the resources of the company. If I was not drawing a book, then where was my income coming from?
The partners were all supposed to have a pay or play clause in the contract. What that means is that DC would supplement our income if needed with work while we ran Milestone so that our standard of living would not be affected. Well for whatever reason, that never happened with me. DC never gave me any work to supplement my income. Now, I can’t speak for why that did not happen but I can tell you what I had to do to make sure I kept paying my bills. I had to look for other work and ran into a severe cash flow problem because of it. I was living off my savings while working to put Milestone together. BAD IDEA.
I was not drawing a book for Milestone nor was DC giving me any work so I did the only thing a black man could do in that situation.
I started pimping.
Yeah, I had few ladies on the street working for me.
NO, I did not pimp… but I thought about it. All jokes aside, I could tell you stories about that time and mistakes made on all sides of the problem but I won’t. To be clear, I made mistakes, DC made mistakes and Milestone made mistakes.
Here’s what I will tell you. I tried to do the right thing and have the dozen or so memos I wrote during that period to back it up.
In retrospect I can see everyone’s point. The partners at Milestone had to think about what was best for the business. I had to think about what was best for my family and DC had to think about what was best for them. It seemed the best thing for everyone is for me to leave. I did not want to go but this was around the time when Hollywood came looking for me.
At one point no less than three Hollywood studios as well as Motown Records were courting me. Why? Well I gave a speech at a university and a Hollywood bigwig saw me. He then called me and asked had I given any thought to Hollywood. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was being chased by a bunch of studios.
At each studio meeting I talked about Milestone and most were very interested but nothing could happen with Milestone because of the deal with DC and Time Warner.
Most likely you are asking, how could I have talks with major Hollywood studios and I was a partner with Milestone? I could because I was NOT exclusive. It’s hard to keep anyone exclusive when you are not paying him or her. Some funky stuff happened to give me my non-exclusive status but I’ll save that for the book I’m writing.
It was with a very heavy heart that I left Milestone to run Motown Animation and Filmworks.
It was clear to me that Milestone was not the place for me at that time. The way I did things and the way things needed to be done were at odds much too often.
Not really. In fact my first official act as President/ CEO was to call Milestone and hook them up with a Nintendo deal. Nintendo called me to ask about developing a video game that would have been the first game to feature black characters. At Motown we had no characters we were just getting started so I passed the deal over to Milestone. I have no idea why it did not work out.
So, except for some really shitty details this is my Milestone story. I have nothing to do with the current DC / Milestone deal that is going on now. I’m happy that Milestone is alive and kicking and wish Dwayne and Derrick nothing but great things with the line.
It’s funny really, Denys Cowan started Milestone and I was there at the inception but neither of us have any say over what happens in the future. That, however, is life my friends and as Frank says, riding high in April shot down in May.
That was a stupid quote for me to use. Both Denys and I are still riding high. In fact, in many ways we have never been higher.
You know, I’m not pissed anymore. In fact I feel damn good about Milestone and my part in its history. Dwayne and I have a project we have been developing and Denys and I are working on a project for ComicMix.
Hey, maybe we can get Derrick Dingle, Christopher Priest, Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan and myself and…
Hey, Barack Obama may be the next president, so anything is possible.
Well thanks for letting me share my story with you. I have to go back to work now. You know what they say…
Pimpin’ ain’t easy.
ComicMix is proud to offer Michael Davis’ Straight No Chaser right here, every Friday morning.
I think I may have been one of the people who did not want to respond to Ania. I thought, at the time, that responding to them gave them legitimacy. In retrospect, and after having watched a ton of cable news, I see that the media likes "two sides" to a story, as if everything can be reduced or magnified to two sides, and they'll always look for a conflicting viewpoint.
You took me aside back then and offered many reasons why we should not crush those guys. You were right to a point but what I thought then and think now is this; people are sheep. I have said that a million times right here at comicmix. If you let people define you then that's what they will take away with them. That said, I also don't think that people are stupid. Once you put the Milestone books next to those done by Ania no sane person would think they were any good. In fact Stevie Wonder could look at the Ania books and see they sucked. The problem I saw is that Milestone was EVERYWHERE and Ania was defining us to such a point that people were going into stores and asking for those 'books they saw on TV' and getting the Ania books. If anyone anywhere defines me or what I'm doing unjustly I will always make them accountable. I know there are those who want to take the 'high road' well when it comes to what I'm doing I will drive a truck right over someone on that road, stop back up and drive over them again. Dear Martha, you have always given me sound advise but I think that in the Ania case you assumed those guys had some class. They did not. YOU have class. Your point of views are tempered with fairness and thought for the other side. That is why I love you. But sometimes you just have to pimp slap some people…with apple sauce.
Sounds like the John Kerry-"Swift boat" stuff in 2004…and why Barack Obama can't afford to repeat that mistake when the GOP attacks.
Joe,THAT is a great comparison!
A great conclusion to a great story Mr. Davis. Milestone obviously broke down many barriers within the industry, and it's a boon to you and the other founders that it's resonated with fans to the day. I've attended the Chicago Comicon now for 9 years in a row, and been to the DC panel every year. There's never been a year where someone didn't come up to the mic, and ask when Milestone would make a return. As a creator, so much of what you wrote resonates with me. My studio mates and I are democratic in our process of creating concepts, and I'd have it no other way. It's akin to George "I Swear Jar-Jar isn't in blackface" Lucas… when you hold a creation so tight to your chest… it gets strangled. When we create we bounce ideas off of one another because we each bring something to the table. By the sound of it, some of those Milestone creations may share some of who you are, too. I should also note my studio mates and I have to pimp to make money these days too. And in the south suburbs of Chicago… pimpin' ain't easy. Hope you got the book. Thanks for sharing some of your history with the comicmix readers.
Got the book-will look at it over the weekend when I get a moment. Thanks Marc.
Great series of articles.It really helped clarify things.
Having been involved situations wear staffs are small but creativity is high is always a wild dynamic.Add personalities, nitro and shake.The account, while the length (timing and all) was most likely tough for you was nicely detailed.Had one of those 'flashbacks' myself recently.It really gave me perspective.Peace.
Aw, I loved these essays. Y'know, the only time I see the word Ania in print is when I'm reading an article on Milestone. What did they put out? I've never even seen an Ania comic on the shelf.
If you goggle 'Ania' it may take you to an ebay page where you can find some of those books for around a buck. Here's the funny part about the Ania story, before they started up with us I brought every single one of their books to show support for what they were doing. I still have every one. Funny.
I did a search for 'aria comic book'.The results came up Anna Mercury.
Very enjoyable, Michael. Only, you sound… angry…In all seriousness, Ania always struck me as "black-guy comic book company" as opposed to Milestone's "comic book company which happened to be headed by black guys." You're absolutely right that Ania never had the level of craft or professionalism that Milestone did. I wanted to like their stuff, I've always had a soft spot for identity politics, but it was so mediocre I couldn't warm to it.
Mediocre would have been a step up. W A Y U P.
The fact that their books sucked had nothing to do with the fact that they were pompous assholes who were trying the oldest trick in PR: promoting yourself by pissing on the guy at the top of the heap. Trouble was, their arc was limp and their stream was weak.
Great article and thanks for bringing more of the facts rather than the rumor mill we've had to read for years. It always amazes me that people will root for the underdog to succeed but then when the underdog manages to garner some level of success, people turn on them.Instead of pigeon-holeing Milestone to pander to only one demographic, there was more of an attempt at quality stories with a different face/perspective than most readers were accustomed to. As someone who is a few shades short of albino, I thank you and all the people at Milestone for bringing something exciting into my life at the time.
Thank YOU Jeremiah. We did the books just for people like you.
I will quote Oscar Wilde:Punctuality is the thief of time.
Which comment should go with my wife's very fine column "Shipping Late" out now on this website.And, on topic: the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. Another quote.Better get back on patrol.
But, the Wilde quote was somehow appropriate here as well, John.
Michael, great column. (You didn't lose my interest. I was on vacation.) Thank you for clearing way some of the smoke from the mists of history surrounding Milestone. The early Milestone books were really good. I have a box full of them in the basement. But, they are just historical artifacts, documents from the past. Hopefully the new Milestone/DC project will breath new life into those great Milestone characters that have lain fallow too long. Hopefully the Milestone characters can breath new life into the DC Universe, where the killing and resurrecting of characters has become a macabre and tedious merry-go-round of story lines.And are you saying that you helped create Milestone, but you never had any "official ownership"? You were never bought out or paid much of anything for your work? Hmm. It seems this connets with Mike Gold's column this week on "Getting Screwed".
'And are you saying that you helped create Milestone, but you never had any "official ownership"? You were never bought out or paid much of anything for your work? 'I'm not saying that at all. If I was I would have said it. To be clear I was an official owner. When I left Milestone my lawyers negotiated my exit.
Welcome back by the way.
Given DC's current "pimping" of milestone properties into the lexicon of contiunity… I doubt sincerely, it will be a proper resurgence. Static is moving into the Titans, which could be good, if handled well… Icon looks to appear in Superman. I don't know personally. I guess as with anything, it'll come down to how it's handled. My hope personally, is that the characters don't lose their edge, and that their past isn't just skimmed retconned away.
Well, considering Dwayne will be writing the Icon stories (in JLA, not Superman), I'm confident in the quality of the characters remaining. But to be fair, considering the books came out over 15 years ago, is it fair to new readers to bring all that continuity with the characters? I'm not saying start from scratch, but I'll lay odds far more readers will know Static from the cartooon than the original comics. Re-introduce the characters with the same backstory et al, but don't be tied to everything that happened in the old books. I look forward to the first interview with Dwayne about the return of the characters. I'd love to know how much (if any) oversight he has over the use of the characters. He's been so protective of the characters all these years, I highly doubt he'll just cut them loose and not worry about how they're written or portrayed.I'm betting the appearances in Teen Titans and JLA are a big pilot season. If there's enough interest, then regular titles will follow. If not, they'll pop up every so often to keep the old school fans happy, but that'll be about it.
Vinnie,You got exactly what I meant. My ultimate hope is in keeping the characters true to their respective back stories, as opposed being "re-upped for the hip new generation!". I thnk Dwayne is a great writer, and will handle them well. Let us hope then that the final products are good, and fan turn out is big.
Marc,I don't think that DC is 'pimping' Milestone. I have had major issues with DC comics over the years but I have always said that DC does the best books in the biz. As a whole I think that DC is a very fair company who gives creators their due…but sometimes they just get caught up in silly personality shit. DC Comics is the best place for Milestone with the possible exception of Dark Horse. Man, it would have been cool to work with Mike Richardson on the Milestone books! As far as how DC handles these books-trust me Dwayne will not let them suck.Again to your DC 'pimping' statement-I would kill to see Paul Levitz in a lime green jump suit and big ass hat.
I'm mind my words then Mr. Davis, for sure. Don't let me misrepresent myself… I am a DC fan thru and thru. Of the 38 titles I subscribe to, 29 of them are DC. I agree they are (one of) the best book makers out there. I agree, Paul Levitz in a nice Pimp Suit would be perfect. And Didio needs a solid gold rope to wear around his neck. Maybe some high wasted slacks, and a diamond tipped cane.
I just wanted to say thank you for giving the 'rest of the story'… Milestone was that gift to those of us who longed to 'see us' represented in that almost singular genre that gave liberty to our imaginations. We could see ourselves as heroes. We could see ourselves as scientific geniuses. We could even see 'our' story through the eyes of a stranger in a strange land. But not as a victim or without power. Milestone was an oasis. And Milestone was a success in the visionaries commitment to excellence. Milestone was empowerment without the exploitation.And no matter what shakes out in the future….you KNOW that you and D were the catalyst points for the vision. And now so does everyone else. That truth can't be expunged. So again, Michael…thanks for the memories and the inspiration.p.s. I was very recently blessed to get your boy's ink on my copies of the first 3 issues of Hardware. So I be happy.
'And no matter what shakes out in the future….you KNOW that you and D were the catalyst points for the vision.'Thanks Reg, but Denys was the catalyst and I co-signed. However Dwayne,Derrick and Priest were just as important. I often think what would have happened if Denys would have said, "Let's do Milestone' and I would have said-"You stupid,waste of time. Let's sell crack and make some real money." Would Denys have abandoned the idea? Not likely, it was his baby he never would have left it in the dumpster like some people would have.Besides when we tried to sell crack, didn't work. We kept smoking the product.
"… but Denys was the catalyst and I co-signed. However Dwayne,Derrick and Priest were just as important."Michael, I hear you on both points….and both reflect your integrity. But I still submit that being at the event horizon of the creation of a cosmic singularity… is sumptin' that very few people can lay claim to. Knawmean? :-)