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.
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